The principles of Ayurveda are based on the concept of tridosha, or the system of three doshas. The three doshas, known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are dynamic forces with distinct characteristics that shape all things in the universe.
In humans, the doshas control all mental, emotional, and physical functions and responses, and also determine the state of the soul. They produce natural urges and individual preferences in food. They govern the maintenance and destruction of bodily tissue and the elimination of waste products.
Each person is born with a unique prakriti (Sanskrit for “essential nature”), a constitution or personal blueprint composed of varying amounts of influence from each of the three doshas. Each person’s prakriti describes the unique harmony or balance between the doshas that is necessary for that person to experience perfect health.
In the Ayurvedic view, an imbalance between the doshas produces a condition called vikriti, a Sanskrit word that means “deviated from nature.” Vikriti results from an overexpression of one or two doshas (usually the dominant dosha)and a diminished expression of the other dosha. This imbalance can be caused by eating the wrong foods, chronic mental stress, physical overexertion, negative emotions, or poor sleeping habits, and will eventually lead to the development of disease, obesity and/or mental disorders. As a result, to prevent disease, each individual must maintain the doshas in, or restore them to, their proper balance.
Only a small percentage of people are purely Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Each of us possesses a proportion of all three doshas. In many cases, two doshas combine to determine our dominant physiological and personality traits.
Vata, translated as “wind”, has the elements of ether and air, and controls all movement in the body, including the flow of blood to and from the heart, the expansion and contraction of lungs that makes breathing possible, and the contractions that push food through the digestive tract.
The person with a Vata prikiti is typically of slight, thin build, and demonstrates great enthusiasm, imagination, and vivaciousness. Vata types grasp new concepts quickly, but forget things easily. They have bursts of mental and physical energy, love excitement and constant change, and display dramatic mood swings. Vatas tend to have irregular eating and sleeping patterns.
When out of balance, Vata types experience dry or rough skin, constipation, tension headaches, cold hands and feet, anxiety and worry, fatigue, poor and irregular appetite, insomnia, arthritis, and difficulty maintaining their ideal body weight. The Vata constitution is characterized by swift change, and, as a result, it goes out of balance more easily than the other doshas.
Pitta, related to fire, controls metabolism and digestion and regulates appetite. Pitta types are often of medium build and medium strength and typically have blond, red, or light brown hair with freckled or ruddy skin. The basic theme of the pitta constitution is intensity.
Pitta types are ambitious, self-disciplined, enterprising, articulate, intelligent, and outspoken. When in balance, they are warm and loving; out of balance, they can be demanding, sarcastic, critical, argumentative, or jealous. Unlike Vata types, Pittas experience intense hunger and cannot skip meals.
When out of balance, Pitta types experience rashes, inflammatory skin diseases, heartburn, peptic ulcers, visual problems, irritability, premature graying or baldness, and tend towards compulsive behavior (e.g. alcoholism, eating disorders, etc.).
Kapha, derives from water and earth, and controls the structures of the body, giving strength and physical form to cells and tissues. Kapha types are of solid, powerful build and display great physical strength and endurance. A primary characteristic of the kapha prikiti is contentment.
Kaphas are relaxed, affectionate, serene, slow to anger, forgiving, happy with the status quo, and respectful of the feelings of others. They tend to require lots of sleep, have slow digestion, and moderate hunger, though they find comfort in eating.
Kaphas typically enjoy good health, but tend to become obese more often than Vata or Pitta types. When out of balance, Kapha types may may experience colds and flu, allergies, sinus congestion, depression, lethargy, asthma, and joint problems.