Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Three Doshas

Scott Gerson M.D., Ph.D. (Ayurveda)    
The Three Doshas

The Five Elements

Everything in the universe is made up of combinations of the Five Elements (Pancha Mahabhutas). This includes the human being which also acquires a soul or spirit. These five elements are known as:
  • ·         Space or Akasha
  • ·         Air or Vayu
  • ·         Fire or Tejas
  • ·         Water or Apa
  • ·         Earth or Prithvi
These five elements, it should be understood, derive from and are expressions of an unmanifest and undifferentiated Creative Principle, which is One. These five elements are to be understood in a material sense as well as a subtle sense. By earth we are to understand not only the terrain of our planet or the iron in our red blood cells and spleen, but also the quality of steadfastness of mind, strength of one’s moral fiber, one’s slow and quiet undeterred advancement towards a goal, and the resistance to the manifestations of others. By water we mean to imply the cohesive aspects of reality which flows into and holds things together, perfectly and simply witnessed in the ubiquitous H20 molecule. And the other elements too were intended by the ancient vaidyas (physicians) to communicate the essential universal principle inherent in a particular element. By fire we mean the universal force in nature that produces heat and radiates light; it is our passion to pursue despite obstacles and delays; it is what burns away the cloak of ignorance (avidya) and allows the Truth to shine with brilliance. Fire removes doubt from the mother-substance of human heart and replaces it with joy. Air is that transparent, rarefied, kinetic force which sets the universe in motion; it moves the blood through the vessels, wastes from the body, thoughts through the mind; it moves the birds to warmer climates in winter, it moves the planets around their suns. Space is the subtlest of all elements which is everywhere and touches everything; in the mind it is the vessel which receives all impressions, in the heart space accepts love; space is receptivity and non-resistance to what is true.

Thus these Five Subtle Elements (Pancha Mahabhutas) form the basis for all things found in the material creation, from a grain of sand to the complex physiology of every human being. Balancing these elements in just the right way for each unique individual is the key to maintaining health and treating disease should it arise, whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual.

The Tridosha

The five elements can be seen to exist in the material universe at all scales both organic and inorganic, from peas to planets. When they enter into the biology of a living organism, man for example, they acquire a biological form. This means that the five elements are coded into three biological forces which govern all life processes. These three forces are known as the three doshas, or simply thetridosha.. The tridosha regulates every physiological and psychological process in the living organism. The interplay among them determines the qualities and conditions of the individual. A harmonious state of the three doshas creates balance and health; an imbalance, which might be an excess (vrddhi) or deficiency (ksaya), manifests as a sign or symptom of disease. 

The three doshas are known as Vata, Pitta , and Kapha.

You can think of these three doshas as fundamental biological energies which regulate all the life processes of an individual. And as we will discuss later, although all individuals are made up of these same three energies, we all have them in unique proportions. The doshas obtain their qualities by virtue of their elemental composition as we can see in the simple diagram below.
Each of the three doshas is composed of two elements as shown here:

Elements Composing The Tridosha

Vata
Space (Akasha)
Air (Vayu)


Pitta
Fire (Tejas)
Water (Apa)


Kapha
Water (Apa)
Earth (Prithvi)


 Thus, Vata is composed of space and air, Pitta of fire and water, and Kapha of water and earth.. Vata dosha has the mobility and quickness of space and air; Pitta dosha the metabolic qualities of fire and water; Kapha dosha the stability and solidity of water and earth. Interestingly, the Sanskrit entomology of the word dosha gives it the meaning of “blemish, that which darkens”. This alerts us to the fact that when in balance these force are life-supporting but when imbalanced they are the agents of disease and misery.

More Insights on The Tridosha 

Doshas are of two varieties: saririka (bodily) and manasika (psychological, of the mind). This is often a point of great confusion in Ayurvedic circles. Let’s look at these two types of doshas more closely. The saririka doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. They are what we mean when we use the term “tridosha”. They are material in form, yet can manifest in aspects of mind as well. Generally, they are intimately connected to physical activities. The manasika doshas are Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva.. These are often referred to as the three gunas, or three qualities, of the mind. Manasika doshas have reference only to the mind and mental activities.
An intimate inter-relationship exists between these two types of doshas. In fact, according to Charaka, derangements in one arena is always accompanied by changes in the other (Charaka Samhita, Sarirasthana 4,35-36.).
However, greater importance is attributed to the tridosha (bodily doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) as the primary causative agents of disease. For every individual, each dosha has a unique quantity (pramana), quality (guna), and action (karma) in the physiology. Equipoise of these three attributes with respect to an individual engenders health. When this balance is disturbed through indulgence in foods and habits which are similar in nature to a specific dosha, this causes vriddhi--increase--in that dosha; food and habits of a dissimilar nature to that dosha will likewise cause its kasaya, or decrease. This is the Ayurvedic doctrine of “like increases like”.
Thus if you are cold and you drink iced water or eat ice cream, you will become colder; similarly if you are hot and you consume cayenne peppers or other pungent tastes, you will become hotter. Or if you are dry and you spend a long period of time in a strong wind, you will lose more moisture due to evaporation and become drier.
If these examples seem simple and common sense, then you have learned an important feature of Ayurvedic wisdom: its always simple and intuitive.

Vata Dosha
The term vata stems from a Sanskrit word "vaayu" which means “that which moves things”; it is sometimes translated as wind. It is composed of the elements space and air--the lightest and subtlest of the five elements. It is considered in some ways to be the most influential of the three doshas because it is the moving force behind the other two doshas, which are incapable of movement without it. Vata dosha is responsible for all the somatic activities and sensations. It is the intelligence which channels perceptions (temperature, pressure, sweetness, lightening, violin music, etc.) through the appropriate sensory organs, converts them into internal psychological events, and then orchestrates the appropriate response via the organs of action. it is responsible for all movements in the mind and body: the movement of air in and out of the lungs, the flow of blood through the circulatory system, nutrients through the alimentary tract, and thoughts through the mind. Vata promotes a healthy balance between the thought and emotion and gives rise to creativity, activity and clear comprehension.
Because, among other functions, Vata regulates the nervous processes involved with movement, thoughts, emotions, eating, drinking, elimination, and our general functioning, its disturbance can often have far-reaching consequences.
Here is a table which summarizes the manifestations of a balanced or unbalanced (excessive) Vata dosha:

Effects of Vata Dosha

Effect of Balanced Vata
Effect of Unbalanced (Excess)Vata
Proper coordination of all body functions
Body functions impaired or disorganized.
Normal movements associated with eating, digestion, and elimination
Movements for eating, digestion, and elimination disturbed (bloating, constipation, gas)
Mental activity controlled and precise
Mental agitation, confusion; impaired memory
Control of the organs of perception and the organs of action
Perception and action are inappropriate; senses are dulled; responses untimely
Stimulation of digestive juices
Deficiency of the digestive juices
Desire to lead an active life; vitality, curiosity and natural interest
Loss of energy and joy for life
Normal drying of occasional mucous discharges
Persistent bodily discharges
Normal respiratory function
Shortness of breath, dry cough, disturbance in respiratory movements
Normal sleep pattern
Insomnia, light or interrupted sleep
Excellent energy level
Non-specific fatigue, anxiety, worry, cold-intolerance, depletion of Life Force

Pitta Dosha

The term pitta comes from the Sanskrit word pinj meaning “to shine” (according to Sir Monier-Williams its exact entomology is a mystery). It carries the meaning of “that which digests” and is associated with the idea of being yellow-tinged or bilious. In its widest sense, Paittika digestive function includes all chemical and metabolic transformations in the body as well as processes which promote heat production (i.e. conversion of iodine to triiodotyrosine in the thyroid gland). Pitta also governs our ability to digest ideas and impressions and to therefore perceive the true nature of reality. It stimulates the intellect and creates enthusiasm and determination.
Pitta is often regarded as the “fire” within the body. Think of it as the energy stored in the chemical bonds of all the organic substances which make us up: its encoded in our hormones, enzymes, organic acids, and neurotransmitters. Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text, teaches that pitta functions in digestion, heat production, providing color to the blood, vision, and skin luster.
Here is a table which summarizes the manifestations of a balanced or unbalanced (excessive) Pitta dosha:

Effects of Pitta Dosha

Effect of Balanced Pitta
Effect of Unbalanced (Excess)Pitta
Strong and complete digestion
Incomplete digestion; poor differentiation between nutrients and wastes
Normal heat and thirst mechanisms
Irregular body temperature, disturbed perspiration, unregulated fluid intake
Excellent vision
Impaired vision
Good complexion; healthy facial tone and coloration
Variable, blotchy skin color, inflamed; unhealthy appearance
Hair lustrous and usually slightly wavy
Irritable, anxious, driven, obsessed
Courageous, cheerful, focused
Loss of energy and joy for life
Stimulated, open intellect
Dullness of reasoning faculty
Steadfast concentration on the truth; disciplined, responsible
Spiritually impoverished
Efficient assimilation of foods
Heartburn, peptic ulcer, irritable bowels, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, alcoholism


Kapha Dosha

The term kapha derives from the Sanskrit word "shlish" which means “that which holds things together; to embrace; coherent”. In fact, one of the other designations for kapha appearing in some of the older literature is shleshma.. It is the force which provides structure to everything from an individual atom or cell to the sturdy musculoskeletal frame. It gives strength, stability, and endurance--both physical and psychological--and promotes human emotions and capacities such as love, compassion, empathy, understanding, forgiveness, loyalty and patience. One very important function of Kapha dosha in the human body is that it governs immunity and resistance against disease; it’s energy promotes self-healing and the ongoing processes of self-repairs of which we are largely unaware. Where Vata and Pitta effects become active in the body, Kapha acts to limit and control these two forces and prevent their excessive activity. The two mahabhutas which compose Kapha are water and earth. Together, these two prototypical elements form the fundamental protoplasm of life. Kapha imparts mind-body-spirit stability and resilience. It is the anabolic force in the body which governs the formation of neuropeptides, stomach linings, and all new cells and tissues of the body which are constantly being destroyed and re-created.
Here is a table which summarizes the manifestations of balanced and unbalanced (excessive) kapha dosha:

Effects of Kapha Dosha

Effect of Balanced Kapha
Effect of Unbalanced (Excess)Kapha
Excellent nutritional status; firm musculature, strong bones
Poor nutritional status, flabby, fatigued
Adequate moisture and lubrication throughout the body
Dry; decreased mucous and saliva
Well-knit joints
Loose joints, prone to sprains
Stable, compact, and strong physique
Soft and weakened physique; obese
Sexual potency, strong immunity
Sexual impotency, sedentary, diminished immunity
Calm, forgiving, understanding, patient
Intolerant, insecure, jealous, rude
Strong digestion, regular appetite
Slow digestion, appetite unregulated
Physiological amounts of respiratory moisture
Excess mucous production

Peace  love  harmony

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