These five magnificent all-embracing energies form the 3 doshas known as Vata Pitta and Kapha which become the diagnostic tool for healthy living through diet (ahara) and lifestyle (vihara). I will briefly discuss the doshas below and expound on them in greater detail in the following series.
Before proceeding I would like to state that Kapha is pronounced as Kapha as in Kapa with an aspirated “h” and not “kafa”
Vata the Principle of Movement
At a structural level, Space (Akash) is seen in the cavities of our bodies (mouth, nostrils. respiratory tract etc). The second element Air/Movement (Vayu), is the force behind all movements in our body (ie pulsation of the heart, movement of muscles, expansion and contraction of lungs etc). Together they combine to form the force called “Vata” which governs the Principle of Movement both in body, mind and emotion.
Pitta the Principle of Transformation
The Fire Element (also known as Agni or Tejas) is the energy of “transformation” and with combination of water, forms the force called Pitta which is referred to as the Principle of Transformation and controls all the digestive system, metabolism and all kinds of transformation, including thoughts transformation.
Kapha the Principle of Stability or Cohesion
Water, the fourth important State is vital for the functioning of tissue and organs and manifests in the body as the fluid eg blood, mucous etc The fifth element, Earth, is represented by body mass and shape or the “binding force” eg. muscles, bones, cartilage, etc. A combination of Water and Earth result in the force called Kapha and is known as the Principle of Cohesion and Stability and is responsible for all lubrication and stability in the body.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha as functional tool
Simply put, the five elements of Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth are the Great States and the combination of these make up the 3 Doshas called Vata, Pitta and Kapha which form the functional understanding of the body for Ayurvedic physicians. We should understand the doshas in terms of their attributes and qualities eg Vata has attributes such as vastness, coldness, subtleness, mobility etc while Pitta has qualities such as transformation, heat, penetrating, illumination etc. Kapha has attributes such as cohesiveness or stickiness, heaviness, slowness, oiliness etc. In another words, Ayurveda regards the human body as a combination of substances or dhatus (tissues) derived from the 5 Elements.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha (VPK) are energetic forces that govern the functional intelligence of the body and are responsible for the entire operation of the body mind and emotions. When we see the body from an overall function, Vata being the principle of movement, controls all body movements (internal & external eg peristalsis, heartbeat etc) and the nervous system. Pitta governs all types of transformation or digestions including “thought digestion” while Kapha balances and governs body’s cohesiveness, stability and lubrication.
If we break the functions down into smaller levels such as the cellular level, Vata moves nutrients and wastes in and out of cells while Pitta transforms nutrients into energy for cellular function and Kapha governs cell structure and gives it the stability. At the digestive level Vata governs peristaltic movements, assimilation of nutrients and expulsion of waste, Pitta transforms all raw food to nutrients while Kapha provides lubrication and retains the nutrients. At the mental Level Vata retrieves and stores information from old and new memories, while Pitta processes and draws conclusion from the information while Kapha provides the stability needed for mind to grasp and retain the information.
Vata is force that governs the potential in a person. A person with a balanced Vata can be considered to be quick thinking, effective etc while aggravated Vata can lead to excessive movement and can result in stress and other Vata related disorders such as Parkinsonism, nervous disorders etc. Pitta is also interpreted as “willpower” or the “fire in a person’s eye”. A person with a good balance of Pitta will be able to absorb subjects/ topics and transform blueprints into successful projects. However an imbalanced Pitta can lead to aggression, anger and other “heat” related diseases such as burning sensation etc. Similarly a person with a good Pitta can absorb nutrients well but when off balance, it leads to several skin related diseases. A person with balanced Kapha is said to be physically strong with a good body mass and strong immune system. He is also emotionally well grounded and empathetic. By the same token, imbalance in Kapha can lead to excessive attachment, possessiveness, laziness and other kapha related disorders. Osteoarthritis is inferred as imbalance or low kapha (ie lack of synovial fluid) and a patient is treated to balance the kapha.
The dynamic interplay of VPK at the body, mind and emotional level sustains life and maintaining the balance of VPK is the key to health. And maintaining the balance is through diet, lifestyle, therapies and herbs etc and these too comprise the 5 Great Elements and 3 Doshas.
Vasanthi Pillay is the President and Founder of the Ayurveda Association of Singapore (AAOS) and the Director of Innergy Ayurveda and Yoga Pte Ltd and the Yoga Ayurveda Institute (YAI). She conducts several Trainings and Workshops on Ayurveda in Singapore and Asia to help people understand the fundamental principles of Ayurveda so that they can apply the principles as a preventive medicine for their families and themselves. Vasanthi works with 2 large conventional hospitals in Taiwan in assisting them with training and integrating Ayurveda and Yoga into the healthcare system. She is also working with Montessori Schools in China and
Taiwan in educating the parents and teachers in incorporating a holistic diet and lifestyle program for parent-child education. Vasanthi who has worked in a highly stressful corporate world, developed a keen interest in mind-body relationship. This prompted her to take up her Yoga Instructor Course in Bangalore India in 1995 and several Ayurveda Courses. Vasanthi also holds a Bachelor of Arts (NUS) majoring in Philosophy, Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (SIM) and Post Graduate Diploma in Banking and Finance (UNSW, Australia). Vasanthi’s collaborates with M S Ramaiah Indic Centre for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (Bangalore) to offer certificate programs on Ayurveda and Yoga.