A simple guide to the doshas and how they affect you
The five elements of nature: space, wind, fire, water, earth. Everything in nature is made up of these five elements. These are expressed in the human body through three forms of energy called 'doshas' (a Sanskrit word that has no English equivalent). Vata is wind and space, Pitta is fire and water, Kapha is earth and water.
We each have our own unique, individual balance of these energies (called your prakriti, your true nature), so no two people are exactly alike. Our predominant dosha is what gives us our primary physical and mental characteristics. This ancient Indian theory is what we today refer to as our DNA.
The doshas are subtle energies; you can't see them. They are the biological forces that support and protect the body, and are responsible for all the body's functions. Each governs different functions, so all three are crucial to our health. Don't think you must only have one or the other, and define yourself as a Vata person, a Pitta or a Kapha.
Vata is wind and space. It's the energy behind all movements in the body. Breathing in and out, muscular movement, nerve impulses, digestion and elimination, circulation of blood, nutrients nd wastes around and out of the body, and inititation of all the body's natural urges. It also governs movement inthe mind and speech, and gives us the mental quality of enthusiasm. It's located mainly in the colon large intestine) as well as the nervous system, heart, head, pelvic area including lower back, chest and throat.
Pitta is fire (and some water); it is the energy behind all digestion and transformation that takes place in the body. That's not only metabolism of food, but metabolism in the tissues, organs, at a hormonal and cellular level. It controls our temperature, hunger, thirst, vision, taste perception and gives us lustre and softness in the body. It also enables our mental digestion – how well we process the mental impressions that we consume – and gives us the mental qualities of passion, intelligence, understanding and courage. It's located mainly in the small intestine and the skin, as well as the brain, eyes, liver, spleen and blood.
Kapha is earth and water; it is the energy behind our structure, strength, stability, growth, cohesion and lubrication, immunity, and gives us the mental qualities of forbearance, tolerance and patience. It's located mainly in the lungs and heart, as well as the sinuses and throat area, stomach, cerebrospinal fluid and synovial fluid in the joints.
The doshas create health when they are in balance. They make all these functions happen. But they cause imbalance and ill health when they are out of balance (meaning when there is an excess of that energy in the body).
Why you need to know your prakriti (nature)
Each mind-body type thrives on different foods and different lifestyle habits. The cooling foods that calm down fiery Pitta types would not go down well with a cold Vata person. A light, dry Vata person needs nutritious, grounding, moist foods, whereas a heavy Kapha person, who easily puts on weight, would soon feel rubbish on that sort of diet. They need lighter, drier, spicy foods.
Once you eat and live according to your type, your health rebalances, you have more energy, and your mind has more clarity. You feel more in tune with nature and yourself, meaning less stress, less drama and life flows better.
Jacqui Gibbons is an experienced Ayurvedic health coach, currently training as a yoga teacher, and will be offering yoga and Ayurveda workshops in London in 2019