In Ayurvedic philosophy, the five elements combine in pairs to form three dynamic forces or interactions called doshas. Dosha means “that which changes.” It is a word derived from the root dus, which is equivalent to the English prefix ‘dys’, such as in dysfunction, dystrophy, etc. In this sense, dosha can be regarded as a fault, mistake, error, or a transgression against the cosmic rhythm. The doshas are constantly moving in dynamic balance, one with the others. Doshas are required for the life to happen. In Ayurveda, dosha is also known as the governing principles as every living thing in nature is characterized by the dosha. The three active doshas are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata is a force conceptually made up of elements ether and air. The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The amount of ether (space) affects the ability of the air to gain momentum. If unrestricted, as in ocean, air can gain momentum and become forceful such as a hurricane.
Vata means “wind, to move, flow, direct the processes of, or command.” Vata enables the other two doshas to be expressive. The actions of Vata are drying, cooling, light, agitating, and moving.
Vata governs breathing, blinking of the eyelids, movements in the muscles and tissues, pulsations in the heart, all expansion and contraction, the movements of cytoplasm and the cell membranes, and the movement of the single impulses in nerve cells. Vata also governs such feelings and emotions as freshness, nervousness, fear, anxiety, pain, tremors, and spasms. The primary seat or location of the Vata in the body is the colon. It also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, bones, large intestine, pelvic cavity, and skin. It is related to the touch sensation. If the body develops an excess of vata, it will accumulate in these areas.
Pitta is a force created by the dynamic interplay of water and fire. These forces represent transformation. They cannot change into each other, but they modulate or control each other and are vitally required for the life processes to occur. (For example, too much fire and too little water will result in the boiling away of the water. Too much water will result in the fire being put out.)
Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, body temperature, skin coloration, the luster of the eyes, intelligence, and understanding. Psychologically, pitta arouses anger, hate, and jealousy. The small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, fat, eyes, and skin are the seats of Pitta.
Kapha is the conceptual equilibrium of water and earth. Kapha is structure and lubrication. One can visualize the Kapha force as the stirring force to keep the water and earth from separating. For example, if we take a pot, fill it to the half with water and then add sand to it, the sand will gradually sink to the bottom of the pot. (It separates from the water). The only way to keep the sand in equilibrium with the water is by stirring the mixture continuously. The Kapha force can be visualized as this stirring force in our body.
Kapha cements the elements in the body, providing the material for physical structure. This dosha maintains body resistance. Water is the main constituent of kapha, and this bodily water is responsible physiologically for biological strength and natural tissue resistance in the body. Kapha lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives biological strength, vigor and stability; supports memory retention; gives energy to the heart and lungs, and maintains immunity. Kapha is present in the chest, throat, head, sinuses, nose, mouth, stomach, joints, cytoplasm, plasma, and in the liquid secretions of the body such as mucus. Psychologically, kapha is responsible for the emotions of attachment, greed, and long-standing envy. It is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness, and love. The chest is the seat of kapha.