Thursday, July 7, 2011

What is a Dosha?

Read any article on Ayurveda and you are likely to see some mention of the three Doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. What exactly are Doshas and what do they have to do with our well-being?

According to Ayurveda, the five fundamental elements that make up the universe--space (Akasha), air (Vayu), fire (Agni), water (Apu) and earth (Prithvi)--also make up the human physiology. How do these elements work within us? Looking at the elements from the point of view of what they do in the physiology, rather than what they are, Ayurveda describes three biological humors or psychophysiological energies called doshas. There are three doshas, called Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and each is mainly a combination of two elements. Vata dosha is made up of space and air. Pitta dosha is a combination of fire and water. Kapha dosha is made up of water and earth. Each of these doshas are further divided into five sub-doshas. Together, the doshas orchestrate all the activities that occur within us.
The combination of the three doshas that you inherit at conception is called your Prakriti or original constitution in Ayurveda. While it is not unheard of for people to have nearly equal proportions of the three doshas or just one very predominant dosha as their Prakriti, most people have two doshas that are more or less equally dominant, with the remaining one less dominant. Thus, there are ten classic types of prakriti possible--Vata-Pitta-Kapha, Vata (where Vata is much more dominant than either of the two other doshas, Pitta, Kapha, Vata-Pitta (where Vata and Pitta are the two major doshas with Vata being slightly more dominant than Pitta), Pitta-Vata (where again Vata and Pitta are the two major doshas, but Pitta is slightly more dominant than Vata), Vata-Kapha, Kapha-Vata, Pitta-Kapha and Kapha-Pitta. Of course, each of us has a unique doshic thumbprint, and an Ayurvedic healer performs an Ayurvedic pulse assessment to discover that unique doshic make-up and the exact nature of imbalances in order to recommend a very individual program for restoring balance.
For good health and well-being to be maintained, the three doshas within you need to be in balance. That does not mean they need to be equal, unless you were born with equal doshas; it means that you need to maintain your original doshic make-up or Prakriti through life as much as possible to maintain good health. Unfortunately, factors such as the dietary choices you make, the lifestyle you lead, the climate where you live, levels of environmental pollution, the work you do, the nature of your relationships with people and even just the passage of time can cause one of more of the doshas in your Prakriti to increase or decrease from its original level in your constitution, creating vikriti or imbalance. If this imbalance is not corrected, you eventually lose your good health. That's why restoring balance is the central theme of the Ayurvedic approach to health.
While it is ideal to follow a personal program of balance laid out by an Ayurvedic healer after an Ayurvedic pulse assessment and a question-answer session designed to discover your precise needs for balance at a given time, a well-designed questionnaire can help you assess for yourself if you need to balance one or more doshas, and diet and lifestyle tips and herbal formulas can help maintain or restore balance.

Next Time: Determining your Dosha

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