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What is dosha?

ayurveda and yoga
ayurveda and yoga

The Sanskrit word dosha means "fault," "defect," and "darkness." It comes from dush, which means "to become corrupt or bad; to sin." The Charaka Samhita, a classical text of Ayurveda, uses the word to identify excesses that can lead to illness.

Dosha is your constitutional type. It is determined by the relative proportions of the three doshas vata, pitta and kapha in your body. According to Ayurveda, each person inherits a unique physical and psychological constitution. This constitution, often referred to as your prakriti, is your starting point.

It remains relatively stable throughout your lifetime, even as your physical appearance and health change with age.

Your prakriti is influenced by many factors, including heredity, diet, lifestyle and the environment. Ayurveda recommends that you take steps to maintain or restore balance in your body and mind according to your individual needs.

The three doshas vata, pitta and kapha are biological energies that govern all bodily functions. They exist in everyone in varying proportions and are responsible for different functions in the body.

To enjoy a balanced mind, body and spirit, our unique dosha constitution needs to be in balance. When we are out of balance when stress levels spike or we stay sedentary for too long we become more susceptible to illness.

The Three Doshas

The doshas play a dynamic role in our lives, constantly changing in response to weather, conditions and stress. The tendencies we develop, good or bad, are manifestations of those changes.

The three doshas are the combination of two primary elements: vata (ether + air), pitta (fire + water), and kapha(water+ earth). The link between the doshas and their physical, mental, and emotional life qualities allows us to understand how each of these three forces manifests itself in our lives.

Vata (ether + air)

Vata dosha is the lightest, driest, coldest and only mobile of the three doshas in Ayurveda. As such, its primary action is movement of all bodily or mental circulation of blood; joint movement; breathing and neurological impulses.

Even though vata is responsible for movement, the structures and humors it moves are often connected to other doshas. For example, while blood circulation (another form of movement) occurs in a pitta body type, it is still under control by vata which provides the force or push that makes this happen.

The vata dosha governs all the nerves of your body, including those in your ears and bones; as well as the large intestine. Your mind and behavior are affected by your mood when you feel happy, the world looks different from when you’re sad. It affects spontaneity, flexibility in thinking (even if it feels like there's nothing left of yourself to give), creativity and worry or anxiety as well.

Pitta (fire + water)

Pitta is a combination of fire and water, though it’s most often associated with the fiery dosha because fire is responsible for pitta's main function: transformation.

The flames of pitta are what allow us to digest food, initiate hormonal shifts such as puberty or menopause and transform the way we see something into a thought (vata is movement itself; pitta takes perception and makes it cognition).

It facilitates the mind’s ability to process ideas, and governs our skin, eyes, blood chemistry involving liver enzymes that are crucial for creating a sense of safety and so-called emotional heart and brain.

Pitta dosha is often referred to as the "fire" element, and it is responsible for the sharpness of mind, confidence, and organizational skills that you need to get things done. Anger, frustration, and judgment are also controlled by it.

When pitta is in balance, you are able to think clearly and make decisions quickly. However, when pitta is out of balance, you may experience anger, frustration, and even burnout.

Kapha (water + earth)

The kapha dosha, the element of water and earth that represents growth, structure, protection is what provides us immunity. With its heavy and stable qualities like those found in water or soil by itself kapha naturally governs your adipose tissue (fat), mucosal linings that cover all human organs to protect them against illness , joint fluid(synovial) ,and lymph system.

It’s also related to the phases of digestion occurring in the mouth with saliva's kapha fluid helping digest food physically; and in the stomach, where its lining helps produce enzymes that break down nutrients.

Kapha governs the functioning of your respiratory system and physical heart, as well as brain function. In relation to emotions and the mind, kapha is associated with love, compassion for others but it can also make one feel stuck or sad.

Insight Into Your Dosha

Vata, pitta and kapha are present in everyone; when it comes to applying Ayurvedic concepts to our own lives, we should know how much of each exists within us. Knowing your doshic combination will help you see where in life you'll thrive, map out the types of support and self-care needed, find harmony in work and relationships.

-You may be a single doshic type and have predominantly vata, pitta or kapha characteristics. To be either means that you are still able to observe traces of every dosha but one will stand out more than the other two.

-You may be a dual dosha, meaning two doshas are prominent and the third is less pronounced. The most common dual-doshic combinations are vata-pitta (air + fire), pitta-kapha (fire + water), and vata kapha (space+water).

-Tridoshic people possess all of the doshas in equal amounts, which is a very rare condition. Yet because it's so uncommon, most assume that they are tridoshic when first beginning to learn about Ayurveda. This is because we all possess elements of each dosha in varying amounts. However, it’s often the case that a person will feel one or two doshas more strongly than others when deeply reflecting about their own personality.

Although we each have all three doshas within us, one of them is usually more predominant. Once you know your dosha type, it becomes easier to make choices in life that will support your health and well-being. Ayurveda is a complex system, but understanding your dosha is a great place to start on your journey to self-knowledge and self-care.

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