A pivotal concept in Ayurveda is the theory of the 3 doshas, or tridosha. This theory explains how and why energy moves in certain predictable patterns in nature. Since humans are part of nature, this system describes us and our inner workings. It gives a rationale for why some people always get heartburn after eating tomato sauce, while others don’t, and why some people are naturally good at downhill skiing while others excel at Trigonometry.
The word dosha refers to an organizing principle or pattern in nature. The ancient masters or rishis (literally translated as “seers”) noticed that certain qualities show up in nature together, like a constellation of stars, and move in predictable ways.
They observed 3 primary organizing patterns in the world, and they correspond to combinations of the 5 major elements. Since there is no equivalent concept in the English language, we can use the Sanskrit terms for these 3 forces: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata dosha is the pattern of energy made of a combination of Air and Space (or Ether). When certain Air qualities are present, more often than not, specific Space qualities are there too – it’s a predictable, observable fact. Vata is the most mobile dosha (since it has a lot of Air quality), and it is at play whenever there is movement in nature – when wind blows the trees, when a rabbit’s leg muscles contract and he leaps, or when someone sneezes a piece of dust out of their nose.
Pitta dosha is made primarily of Fire (although there is a little Water in there, too). In any instance of heat or transformation, Pitta is at work – when the sun heats the desert floor, when an apple core decomposes in your compost bin, or when your face flushes as you step up to the karaoke mic.
Kapha dosha is composed of Water and Earth. The heaviest dosha, Kapha is present wherever there is stability and structure – in the form of a boulder, or the stillness of sleep. Kapha also governs lubrication, including the moisture in the atmosphere or a lake, and the moisture in the mucus membranes of the body.
The 3 doshas interact and influence each other in nature to maintain an overall equilibrium, balancing out each other’s qualities. This gives rise to various cycles, like the seasons, and the daily rhythms of temperature and light. At times, one dosha will be dominant, and then naturally give way to another dosha, creating a dynamic yet balanced whole.
The tri-dosha is a beautifully comprehensive and complex way to describe the inner workings of nature, a useful map that becomes more clear the more you learn about it and look for it.
We will now look at each of the 3 doshas in greater detail.