The term Dosha in Samskrit means ‘a fault, defect or weak point’ in general. It is also used to indicate someone’s noxious quality, crime, guilt or offense. However, in the context of Ayurveda, this term ‘Dosha’ by default, refers to the 3 biological units or bio energies in the body that control entire functioning of the body. According to Ayurveda, Sharira doshas and Manas doshas are separate entities that control the function of body and mind respectively. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are 3 sharira doshas while Raja and Tama are 2 Manas doshas. All of them have a some specific role and function that is vital for life.
The entire physiology and pathology in Ayurveda depends upon the status of 3 fundamental functional units in sharira viz. Doshas, Dhatus and Malas. Among these 3 units, Doshas are always the first to get disturbed by various avtivities, dietary factors, seasonal fluctuations, time of the day and several other factors. Once vitiated they further cause damage to Dhatus, Malas and other components of Sharira and initiate the process of disease development. Thus, Doshas have been given prime importance. In the normal state of equilibrium, they support the body and when vitiated produce the disease. Doshas thus play important role in the pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of the diseases. Similarly Manas doshas Rajas and Tamas are responsible for disturbances in the normal functioning of the mind.
Sharira Dosha or Tridosha
वायुः पित्तं कफश्चोक्तः शारीरो दोषसङ्ग्रहः| (Char Samh 1.57)
vāyuḥ pittaṁ kaphaścōktaḥ śārīrō dōṣasaṅgrahaḥ|
Meaning: Vata (also called as Vayu), Pitta and Kapha are the 3 Sharira doshas.
Vayu or Vata dosha is the leader of these 3 doshas. It is believed to be the chief controller of all the functions and activities of living body. Moreover, without Vata doshas the other 2 doshas can not manifest them fully. Thus it comes first in the order of 3 doshas.
The word ‘Vāta’ is derived from the verb ‘Vā’ which means Gati (motion). This Doṣa is responsible for all the movements in the body.
This biological unit is said to be dry, cold, light, subtle, mobile, non-slimy and rough in its characteristics and can be pacified by drugs that have opposite properties (i.e., creamy or oily, heavy and thick in their property).
Vata dosha is one and the single energy present all over the body. It is believed to be present in each and every minute part of the body. However, in order to increase the ease of understanding of its function, associate site and modality of treatment; Ayurveda acharyas have described its 5 types.
The 5 types of Vata doshas have specific site in the body and perform specific function. These 5 types of vata doshas are as follows
- Prana Vayu
- Udana Vayu
- Samana Vayu
- Vyana Vayu
- Apana Vayu
In depth description on Vata's role in the body can be found in classical Ayurveda treatises.
Function of vata dosha
Vata dosha controlls all the activities and movements in the body. Various types of vata are responsible for following functions- Salivation, coughing, eructation, sneezing, respiration, deglutition, phonation, secretion of the gastric juice, retaining the food in the stomach or intestine for the required time, helping in absorption of processed and digested food material. Further it also controls elimination of the semen, urine, faeces etc. The movements related with the delivery of fetus are also governed by it. Pulsation of heart and blood circulation, movement of eyes, limbs etc. are caused by vata dosha. Apart from these activities, unvitiated vata dosha in balanced state is also responsible for generation of enthusiasm, vitality, complexion etc.
The word Pitta is derived from the root ‘Tapa’ which means heat (Santapa). This Dosha is responsible for Pachana and Parinamana (digestion and metabolism) in the body.
Pitta is hot, sharp, mildly unctuous, viscous, sour, mobile and pungent in nature. Pitta can be readily pacified by drugs and food articles having opposite properties i.e. coolants, sweets, bitter and astringent substances.
Acharya Sushruta and Vagbhata have classified Pitta dosha into 5 types on the basis of its sites and functions. The 5 types of Pitta are as follows,
- Pachaka Pitta
- Ranjaka Pitta
- Bhrajaka Pitta
- Alochaka Pitta and
- Sadhaka Pitta.
In depth description on Pitta's role in the body can be found in classical Ayurveda treatises.
The most important function of Pitta dosha is digestion and metabolism. It is that bio energy present in the body which is responsible for bringing out any type of conversion, transformation or change in the nature of any substance from outside world into the bodily substance. Thus it is the bodily form of Agni element in the Purusha. Apart from digestion, various other functions performed by Pitta dosha are to provide pigmentation to the skin, hair etc, power of vision, discrimination of colors and formation of Rakta from the essence of food. Pitta dosha is the one which is responsible for intelligence and ego and thus, Pitta dosha also co-ordinates all the functions of the mind and body.
Kapha is also called Shleshma. This bio energy is responsible for maintaining the proper water balance, hydration, moisture, connection between any 2 or more body elements and maintaining unctuousness required for optimum functioning of all the Sharira kriya (functions and movements of body). It represents the Jala mahabhuta (water element) of the universe inside the Sharira of Purusha.
Kapha is heavy and dense, cold, soft, unctuous, sweet, immobile and slimy in nature. It can be subsided by drugs and food articles possessing properties like dry, hot, sharp and pungent, bitter, astringent taste.
Acharya Vagbhata has mentioned 5 types of Kapha on the basis of particular function and site of action. These are as follows,
- Kledaka Kapha
- Avalambaka Kapha
- Tarpaka Kapha
- Bodhaka Kapha
- Sleshaka Kapha
When in the balanced state, Kapha dosha performs the function of moistening the food ingested. It also protects the digestive organs from being hurt by the Pitta dosha which is required for digestion and is sharp and hot in nature. The Kapha dosha present in oral cavity aids the sensory organ for taste to perceive Shadrasas (6 tastes) of various substances. Kapha dosha is keeps check on the movements of various body parts and ensures optimum lubrication, hydration and moisture at joints to minimize the friction and maintain strength. It also performs the crucial function of providing stability and nutrition to the mental faculties located in the Shira (The head region).
Doshas and Panchamahabhutas (Association between Doshas and 5 basic elements)
Panchamahabhuta (5 basic elements of nature) theory and Tridosha theory are among the basic theories of Ayurveda. The theory of Tridosha fundamentally brings Mahabhuta theory into a practical, usable and understandable format for its application to the cause of human health. It forms the basis of Ayurvedic physiology and subsequently paves the way to its clinical application. Tridosha refers to 3 doshas viz. Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These 3 doshas are believed to be the compounds which are made through a differential combination of Mahabhutas. It is believed that, every dosha is composed of all 5 elements but 1 or 2 of them have dominance in each dosha making it a unique compound. Each dosha, therefore, represents the physiological functioning of a living body, which eventually is the property of its component material. Ayurveda's idea of disease and health is conceived around this concept by identifying a balance of Tridosha and eventually that of the Panchamahabhuta representing health. An imbalance of Mahabhuta, therefore leads to qualitative disturbance of physiological functions subsequently identified as a disharmony of dosha causing a disease.
The functions of input–output, throughput and storage or incidentally of Vata, Pitta and Kapha are primary requisites for the existence of any living system. In turn, these are considered to be the manifestation of compositional complexity of a person. Consequently, a Mahabhautic root to the Vata, Pitta and Kapha is identified as described in Table below. By observing the function of their representative dosha, a deficit or the excess of the Mahabhuta can be identified as the cause behind the state of sickness or health.
|Sr NO||Predominant Mahabhuta||Representative Dosha|
|1||Akasha + Vayu||Vata Dosha|
|3||Jala + Prthvi||Kapha Dosha|
Significance of Doshas
Doshas are the forces that create the physical body. They determine conditions of growth, aging, health and disease. Typically, one of the three doshaspredominates and determines one's constitution or mind-body type. By understanding individual habits, emotional responses, and body type, practitioners can adapt their yoga practice accordingly. The same applies for Ayurveda treatments focused on alleviating any doshic excesses (illness) via powerful herbs and/or through the improvement of general lifestyle practices such as pranayama, meditation and yoga postures.
There are clear indications when there exists an excess of a dosha, throwing the system off balance. For example, with excess vata, there can be mental, nervous and digestive disorders, including low energy and weakening of all body tissues. With excess pitta, there is toxic blood that gives rise to inflammation and infection. With excess kapha, there is an increase in mucus, weight, edema, and lung disease, etc. The key to managing all doshas is taking care of vata, as it is the origin of the other two
Individual constitution is determined at birth and is the same throughout life. The three general types are determined according to the predominant Dosha, but combinations and variations also exist. Two Doshas may exist in equal strengths. The balance of Doshas will show typical conditions and tendencies towards excess.
Manas commonly correlated with mind is one of the integral components of one’s life. Vedas and Bhagvadgita hava clearly mentioned that Satva, Raja and Tama are the 3 properties of manas which carry individual significance. Among these 3 properties Ayurveda makes differentiation and considers Satva as Guna (Good quality) of mind while Raja and Tama are regarded as Doshas of mind.
मानसः पुनरुद्दिष्टो रजश्च तम एव च|| (Char Samh 1.57)
mānasaḥ punaruddiṣṭō rajaśca tama ēva ca||
In addition to Vāta, Pitta and Kapha which are the bodily Doṣa, there are two Mānasa Doṣa viz. Rajas (passion) and Tamas (darkness). Mānasa Doṣa may be held responsible for mental diseases.