Vata - Pitta - Kapha

3 Doshas

Ayurveda gives us a rich framework for understanding our individual differences and how to harmonize with them to maintain balance, improve vitality, and resist disease primarily through (and this is the key) our choices in diet and daily routine. This framework is known as Tridosha.

The three Doshas are the abstract building blocks from which manifest creation arises. They operate at the subtlest level of life from which they influence the qualities of the surface level. From there,they maintain the connection to their unmanifest source.

Vata represents movement. It gives rise to Space (Akasha) and Air (Vayu). Pitta represents metabolism and transformation. It gives rise to Fire (Agni) and, in interaction with Kapha, to Water (Jal). Kapha represents structure. It gives rise to Earth (Prithivi) and, in interaction with Pitta, to Water (Jal). The qualities of the Doshas can be understood in terms of these five elements

The Doshas influence both mind and physiology. The three Doshas are interdependent. They are always present in varying proportions.

Each of us was born with some mix of the Doshas that characterizes the constitution of our fundamental nature (Prakriti). While it is a continuum, typically two Doshas have the most dominant influence. Less commonly, one Dosha predominates or all three are of comparable influence. Janma Prakriti is a function of the planetary influences at birth (Karma). The ruler of the rising sign gives the primary effect, which might be modified by planets occupying or aspecting that sign. The totality of our life experiences and the rulers of the current Dasa and Antardasa periods of time modify Janma Prakriti to create Deha (manifest) Prakriti. If our physical and emotional experiences, including habits of activity, sleep, and diet, are in disharmony with Prakriti, then there may be significant Vrikriti (deviation from Nature). Vrikriti is imbalance which sows the seed of disease. The radial pulse and other bodily characteristics reveal the state of balance of the Doshas, but it is not always easy to separate Vikriti from Prakriti—especially with longstanding bad habits.

When you understand the Doshas, you understand Ayurveda. Balance of the Doshas is the key to health. To maintain balance, Ayurveda advises us to apply the principle of similars (Samanya) and opposites (Vishesh). As you would expect, similars increase and opposites decrease. Therefore, we need to understand the qualities that characterize the Doshas.

Qualities of the Three Doshas
Vata Pitta Kapha
Cold Hot, Warm Cold
Light Light Heavy
Quick Sharp Slow
Dry, Rough Fluid Flow Sticky, Gluey
Subtle, Minute, Penetrating Slippery, Slightly Oily Oily, Unctuous
Clear, Non-Sticky Sour, Acidic Soft
Moving, Irregular Liquid Stable, Steady
Coarse, Brittle Pungent, Scorching Sweet

Balancing the Doshas

Given these qualities, one would expect that Vata would be balanced by heat, a calming, regular routine, and substances that promote heaviness and oiliness. This is the case. Similarly, Pitta is balanced by moderation and keeping cool. Like Vata, Kapha is balanced by heat. Otherwise, Kapha is opposite to Vata. Kapha needs stimulation, dryness and lightening. It is balanced by exercise and by light, dry, non-oily and rough substances.

Benefits of Balanced Doshas
Vata Pitta Kapha
Mental Alertness Vision Strength, Vitality
Enthusiasm Appetite Unctuousness
Respiration Digestion Firmness, Stability
Circulation Thirst Sturdy Joints
Movement Lustrous Complexion Affection
Normal Tissue Formation Contentment Courage
Normal Elimination of Wastes Softness Patience
Sound Sleep Steady Intellect Generosity

Everything in creation manifests qualities of the three Doshas in varying proportions. People with a predominance of Vata Dosha, tend to be naturally thin and lively. They typically have cold hands and feet, dry and rough skin, very quick minds, and irregular bowels. People with Pitta dominance tend toward medium build, reddish complexion, sun-sensitivity, hot-temper, competitiveness, and strong appetite. Those with Kapha dominance tend to be heavy, slow, and stable with a sweet, generous and calm disposition. They may be somewhat slow to acquire new knowledge, but have good memory. These are themes. Most people exhibit characteristics of several Doshas simultaneously.

Imbalance

Because Vata leads the Doshas and is associated with movement, it is most prone to go out of balance. Conversely, because Kapha is associated with structure and stability, it is the least likely to go out of balance, but when it does, serious problems can result.

Common Factors Causing Imbalance in the Doshas
Vata Pitta Kapha
Staying awake at night or insufficient sleep Over-exertion Sleeping during the day
Fear, grief, worry, stress Excessive talking Excessive sleep
Travel Summertime; exposure to heat or mid-day sun Lack of exercise
Excessive exercise, sex or mental activity Anger, hatred, jealousy, passion Lack of mental activity
Suppression of natural urges Fasting Over-eating
Irregular daily routine Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine Heavy, oily, cold, sweet, sour and salty food
Injuries, surgery, childbirth Hot, spicy, salty and sour food Childhood, springtime, cool and damp climates
Excess pungent, bitter and astringent taste; light dry, rough, raw diet; insufficient food Over-work, over-use of eyes especially with computer screens

Typical Results of Imbalance in the Doshas
Vata Pitta Kapha
Anxiety, Restlessness, Lack of Focus Anger, Impatience, Irritability Dullness, Depression, Laziness
Insomnia Awakening in Middle of Night Excessive Sleep
Rough, Dry, Cracked Skin Rashes Pallor, Excessive Oiliness
Constipation Hyperacidity Slow Digestion
Irregular Appetite, Underweight Premature Graying or Balding Obesity
Cold Intolerance Heat Intolerance, Hot Flashes Congestion
Headache, Backache, Joint Pains Intense Hunger or Thirst Greed

Food and the Doshas

Food plays a major role in health. The qualities of the diet influence the balance of Doshas in our physiology. Food can be warm or cold, heavy or light, taken in large or small quantities, etc. But if we are interested in having a general principle to know which particular foods to favor in our diet, we need to understand the Ayurvedic concept of taste (Rasa). Ayurveda describes six Rasas. Rasa is known from the initial contact with the senses, primarily via the tongue:

The Six Tastes
Taste Mahabhutas Examples
Sweet (Madhura) Water & Earth Sugar, honey, milk, cereal grains (wheat, rice, oats, etc.), sweet fruits, carrots, beets
Sour (Amla) Fire & Earth Lemon, unripe mango powder (amchur), tamarind, sumac, yogurt
Salty (Lavana) Fire & Water Mineral salt, black salt, etc.; salty condiments
Pungent (Katu) Air & Fire Hot spices such as black pepper, long pepper, chili powder and larger quantities of most other spices; radish, onion, etc.
Bitter (Tikta) Space & Air Most green vegetables
Astringent (Kashaya) Air & Earth Lentils, pulses and beans

Sweet, sour, and salty tastes bring balance to Vata. Sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes balance Pitta. Pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes balance Kapha. Even so, all six tastes are needed for good digestion and balance. So, it is important to enjoy variety and to include some of all six tastes in the main meal of the day. This helps to prevent cravings. Some foods are considered Tri-Doshic, meaning that they are suitable for balancing all the Doshas when taken appropriately. Examples would be ghee, basmati rice, milk, okra, and fennel seed. When thinking about diet, the first consideration is to eliminate Vrikriti. Once balance is restored, the optimum diet depends on Prakriti and the season.

Dravyaguna

In addition to Rasa, Ayurveda identifies several other categories of attributes (Guna) that characterize all substances (Dravya) in creation. With this knowledge, virtually anything could be used for therapy if applied with correct methods under suitable circumstances. Vipaka (aftertaste) is known from the final effect on the body. Virya (potency) is known from what happens in between the initial taste and the aftertaste. Virya is responsible for the action. In some cases, despite similarity of Rasa, Vipak and Virya, there is a difference in action. This is a special property called Prabhava. For example, a poison may act as an antidote to another poison. Other things being equal, Prabhava is the strongest determinant of total effect followed by Virya, Vipak and Rasa in that order.

The properties of drugs and food substances can also be classified in relation to the Doshas and Mahabhutas according to the following 10 pairs of opposite qualities:
Twenty-Fold Attributes
Guna (Doshas) Guna (Doshas)
Sheeta - Cold (V, K) Ushna - Hot (P)
Guru - Heavy (K) Laghu - Light (V, P)
Snigda - Unctuous (K, P) Ruksa - Rough/Dry (V)
Manda - Dull (K) Tikshna - Sharp (P, V)
Sthira - Static, Stable (K) Sara - Mobile, Unstable (V, P)
Mridu - Soft (K, P) Kathina - Hard (V)
Picchila - Slimy (K) Visada - Non-slimy (V, P)
Slaksna - Smooth (K, P)) Khara - Coarse (V)
Sthula - Gross, Big (K) Suksma - Subtle, Small (V, P)
Sandra - Dense/Solid (K) Drava - Liquid (P, K)
Vata (V), Pitta (P), Kapha (K) in order of applicability

You will find the Doshas every where you look. In particular, their qualities characterize the cycles of Nature. Understanding this variation is helpful in maintaining balance. Let's look briefly at the lifespan, the rhythm of day and night and the seasons of the year.

The Lifespan

Kapha predominates in childhood up to age 16-30, Pitta in middle age, and Vata beyond age 60-70. The same early - middle - late pattern is repeated in the sequence of the daily and seasonal cycles of the Doshas. It is also seen following main meals: Kapha (full stomach, heavy feeling) in the first hour; Pitta (active digestion and mixing of enzymes for the next hour or two); and Vata after about three hours (stomach/duodenum empties and food moves into the small intestine for further processing).

The Diurnal Rhythm

Natures flows in cycles of rest and activity. The cool, damp stillness of the morning from 6-10 AM is associated with Kapha. Then as the sun rises to its zenith in the sky from 10 AM to 2 PM, the influence of Pitta predominates. Vata takes over in the afternoon from about 2-6 PM. Then the cycle repeats. Kapha predominates from 6-10 PM, Pitta from 10 PM to 2 AM, and Vata from 2-6 AM.

The Diurnal Cycle of the Doshas

This cycle has practical application. If we take our main meal at mid-day, we enjoy better digestion due to the influence of Pitta. On the other hand, if we skip lunch, we can get irritable or damage our physiology. In the hours before dawn, Nature wakes up and becomes active. If we start the day at this time, we bring the enlivening value of balanced Vata into our activity. Traditionally, these silent, but lively hours before dawn have been said to be the best for meditation. Conversely, if we sleep much past 6 AM, we may be slow and groggy from the influence of Kapha. In the evening though, we are more likely to have a restful sleep if we go to bed well before 10 PM while the influence of Kapha still predominates.

Most of us have experienced the second-wind phenomenon of staying up past 10 PM and have also found, especially if working intently, that it becomes hard to fall asleep or sleep is less restful. We might also get hungry. This is due to the aggravation of Pitta. During the midnight peak of Pitta, our body is processing the events and nourishment of the day. It is also building bodily tissues (Dhatus). Rest promotes this transformation and integration. If we stay awake through the night or if we eat food during this period, the process is disrupted with potentially harmful effects. This nocturnal peak of Pitta influence also explains why people suffering from peptic ulcer disease classically awaken with burning pain in the middle of the night, but rarely have symptoms on arising in the morning.

The Influence of the Seasons

The Spring Equinox marks the beginning of the astrological year. In the northeastern United States, Kapha season runs from mid-March through June when the weather tends to be relatively cool and damp. Spring is the time when Nature renews herself. Thus, it is also a good time for physiological rejuvenation and detoxification, which is promoted by taking a lighter diet. In temperate climates, Pitta Season runs from July to mid-October when the Sun rises high in the sky and produces much heat. Correspondingly, Pitta increases in our physiology over the course of these months. Unchecked, this natural phenomenon could lead to aggravation of Pitta Dosha and give rise to Pitta-related diseases such as skin rash, fever, and acid indigestion. Thus, we find that we are more comfortable and resistant to disease during summer and early fall when we moderate the intensity of our work and exercise, avoid the mid-day sun, and favor foods that are cooling and have sweet (grains), bitter (greens), or astringent (beans) taste. Vata Season runs from mid-October through mid-March when the weather tends to be cold, dry, and windy. A warm, nourishing diet and a regular routine help to maintain balance at this time.