Introduction to Ayurveda

The Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and their respective subtle essences: Prana, Tejas and Ojas, are the intelligent vital forces that govern all psycho-physiological functions in the body and mind respectively. They construct the body and serve to maintain it in a dynamic state of health. However, when these vital forces are aggravated, due to improper gross or subtle factors, the body-mind complex begins to suffer and the disease process begins. Keeping these forces in-check is the key to optimal health and longevity. This is the science of the Tri-Dosha (three biological humours) that is the practical basis of Ayurveda.

The three Doshas (and their subtle counterparts) derive from Purusha, the unbounded, timeless, infinite conscious substratum, which mixes with Prakriti, the pre-manifest or primordial matter. This mixing or ‘mating’ gives birth to the entire universe. Purusha is said to have the threefold nature, Sat-Chid-Ananda. Sat is Being or Life, Chid is pure unconditioned consciousness or Light, and Ananda is Bliss or pure unconditional Love. Thus Prana is Life, Tejas is Light and Ojas is Love. They are the subtle or spiritual energies, and work in the domain of the mental faculty. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are their material counterparts, their dense forms, and control all gross physiological functions. On the physical level, an understanding of the Doshas is very useful as they provide the key to understanding the way we work, as well as the key to maintaining health and well-being.

Each Dosha is responsible for three primary functions in the body. Vata relates to movement, including nervous functions. Anything that moves in the body does so thanks to Vata. Pitta relates to transformation, thus is responsible for all metabolic functions. Pitta gives heat to the body. Kapha relates to cohesion, it builds the body then holds it together and nourishes it at the same time.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha are everywhere in the body, working together, they are responsible for the growth, regeneration, maintenance and even decay. Vata gives us mobility. Pitta gives us the ability to digest, assimilate and transform things. Kapha provides the structure, support, stability, and lubrication. No aspect of the body or its functioning cannot be explained by the Doshas. They create and animate the body and maintain a dynamic state of health. However, when aggravated, they are the causative factors of disease.

Each dosha enables two normally un-cooperative Elements (categories or states of matter) to work together in a dynamic partnership. There are five elements in total, Ether/Space (Field), Air (Gaseous), Fire (Radiant), Water (Liquid) and Earth (Solid). Space acts as the container for Air, Water and Earth. Fire is the radiant force that enables one state to change into another. These are the ‘Five Great Elements’ or categories of matter that form the substance of the material universe, including our body.

Vata is the vital force that manages ‘Space’ and ‘Air’, Pitta manages ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’, and Kapha ‘Water’ and ‘Earth’. In this way one can think of each Dosha as comprising two Elements, one main Element, and one supporting element.

Vata is the intelligent vital force that manages Air that is contained by Space. I.e. one must have the limits (defined by Space/Field) of a container to harness the power of Air/wind. E.g. the air we breath in is contained in the space of the lungs.

Pitta is the intelligent vital force that manages Fire that is contained by Water. I.e. if Fire did not exist in a Watery container in the body, it would burn us up. E.g. Digestive acids and bile, these are forms of Fire contained in Water.

Kapha is the intelligent force that manages Water that is contained in Earth. I.e. without some form of physical container, the water would just flow away. E.g. in the body, the structural elements that contain our liquid aspects (mainly plasma and blood) contain the element of Earth.

The task of the Doshas is difficult due to the opposing qualities inherent in the Elements, or states of matter. This is why they are called Doshas, which in Sanskrit literally means ‘that which goes out of whack’ or ‘that which stains things’.

If a Dosha fails to do its job, the equilibrium between the two Elements it manages is lost. At this point, the imbalance between the two elements governed by that Dosha creates the effect known as an aggravated Dosha. This can be a situation where one or both of the Elements of that Dosha increases or decreases relative to the individual’s prakriti (birth constitution). As vital forces, the Doshas are constantly in motion, in fact, Vata, the Dosha that gives movement, is considered the lead or prime Dosha as it gives mobility to the other two, who would otherwise be lame and incapable of performing their proper roles.

It doesn’t take much to cause a Dosha to become cranky. Any number of factors can bring about a situation where the Dosha just can’t perform its managing role. For example, Vata relates primarily to the Element of Air, which like air or wind is mobile, erratic, cold and drying. Due to the universal law of cause and effect (like increases like) we can aggravate Vata by subjecting ourselves to sufficient doses of erratic behaviour, to much motion (always on the go), or exposure to cooling or drying factors like a cold wind or cold foods, or drying foods (like crackers) and drying soaps, for example.

If a Dosha remains aggravated for long enough, it will begin to accumulate in it’s primary site: one of three parts of the digestive system. Vata’s primary site is the colon, Pitta’s is the small intestine and Kapha’s the stomach. At this stage we experience symptoms that reflect the qualities of the aggravated Dosha.

Vata, due to its drying airy nature, will create any or all of these symptoms as it accumulates in the colon: constipation, cramping, bloating and wind.

Pitta, due to it’s fiery nature, creates acidity, burning sensation around the navel, and diarrhoea.

Kapha due to its heavy watery nature produces nausea, heaviness after eating and accumulation of phlegm in the stomach (evidenced by an increase of phlegm in the throat and or a pale stool with phlegm possible inside).

If this process of aggravation and accumulation is not reversed, the accumulated Dosha will overflow from the primary site, spilling into one of the other sites, or moving out of the digestive tract entirely into the other aspects of the body. The vitiated Doshas seek out week spots in the body, and eventually manifest as what we commonly refer to as a disease or illness proper. According to Ayurveda, if the cause is not treated, i.e. the aggravated roaming Dosha, the problem will eventually become chronic.

Doshas are not accumulating when we have a smooth-running digestion, i.e. one that is free of pain, to many gurgles and excessive or malodorous wind, one that regularly produces one or two comfortable bowel movements each day, formed like a ripe banana, which float just under the surface of the water.

According to this understanding, the key to health is to prevent the Doshas from accumulating in their primary sites in the digestive system, thus cutting off the disease process before it becomes complicated and harder to treat. Keeping the Doshas from becoming aggravated requires us to:

1. Understanding the nature or qualities of Doshas and the signs of aggravation.

2. Develop the ability to ‘read’ the level of Doshic activity in to our own body, especially in the digestive system, as this is the primary site for the Doshas.

3. Use the law that opposites balance to help us choose beneficial experiences and actions.

This process is the art of Ayurvedic living for practical daily health maintenance, disease prevention, and longevity.

The three Doshas are present in all of us, at every level of bodily functioning. Yet at the same time, we are all unique and are usually made in such a way that one or two of the Doshas are stronger or more prevalent in our make-up. This is because we are all made up of the Five Great Elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, and that we usually have an extra dose of certain Elements. For example, if we are born with more Space and Air than the other elements, the Dosha of Vata will be the most likely to go out of balance and thus we would need to pay special attention to managing that Dosha.

This is where the idea of the Ayurvedic body type, or prakriti comes in. In this example, the individual would be referred to as a ‘Vata type’ or a pure Vata. One can see that there are thus seven primary body types defined as: Vata, Pitta, Kapha (the pure types); Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Kapha and Vata-Kapha (the dual types) and finally the mixed or balanced type, Vata-Pitta-Kapha. Of course, your type is just a generalisation. But it is a very useful one that can save you years spent experimenting, finding out your nature by trial and error. It is possible to define the prakriti more specifically, i.e. V=4, P=2, K=1, for example, or to say “I am a Vata type physically, but have more of a Pitta (Tejas) personality”.

Ultimately, there are no limitations in the way in which the Doshas and Elements can give rise to your unique mind-body profile, prakriti. However, for most situations, including general health maintenance and longevity, it is sufficient to understand your type in its most general sense, e.g. “I am a VP type”.

Prakriti, your nature or constitution, tells you which Doshas are most likely to become aggravated, and thus cause problems. However, no matter what your type, you can still end up with an aggravation of any of the Doshas. Once the Doshas are unstable, and have become aggravated, accumulated etc, prakriti is masked by the imbalance. This imbalance is called vikriti.

Ayurvedic health regimes are designed to make sure that the Doshas stay aligned with prakriti—this is a key point. Unless we have been living ‘intelligently’ we will most likely have a degree of vikriti. Thus, it may be necessary to apply short-term remedial measures to return vikriti to prakriti (health). Thus, your current Doshic landscape, unless you are in tip-top health, is vikriti and will possibly mask your true constitution, prakriti. For example, a Vata type might have an excess of Kapha, such as congestion etc. In this case one might incorrectly conclude that Kapha was the constitution. However, with the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner, or at least a well designed body-type questionnaire, one can find out their prakriti without too much difficulty. It is wise to know your prakriti as it can guide you in the way you live, long term. Ayurveda is a well developed holistic health system that offers detailed dietary, exercise and lifestyle guidelines in accord with the seven possible types. These are used for health maintenance and require a minimal degree of understanding to effectively implement them into our lives. Once in place, they can be fine tuned and adjusted to cater for our specific situation.

Once we know our constitution and understand the qualities of the Doshas, we can begin to use balancing factors to keep them in-check. It is best to find out your constitution with the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner. However, many books are now available that usually use a diagnostic questionnaire. These can be helpful in the event that you cannot meet up with a practitioner.

The ancient Rishis or seers of Ayurveda concluded that all matter, gross and subtle (physical and mental) can be understood or categorised by 10 pairs of opposite qualities or attributes. Thus the Elements and the Doshas can be quantified or described by a subset of these twenty attributes. The main qualities of the Doshas are as follows:

Vata—primarily dry, cold, light and mobile (erratic). Just as the wind is drying, cooling, lightening and agitated.

Pitta—primarily hot, moist, light, mobile (flowing). As in blood or acid excretions in stomach and intestines.

Kapha—primarily cold, moist, heavy and slow. As in phlegm or water confined to a limited space that stagnates.

If we look carefully at our body and how it functions, we will start to see the Doshas in terms of the above qualities. Whether we have identified our basic nature (prakriti) or a more recent imbalance (vikriti), the basic action needed is to reduce the excess Dosha or Doshas, using natural methods, by the law that opposites balance.

Our environment, both outer and inner, influences the Doshas through the law of cause and effect, i.e. like increases like. The weather, the food we eat, the people we spend time with, the kind of exercise we do, even the way we speak and think. In fact, anything that we witness as a sensory reception, or anything we do in response to those sensory perceptions, has the ability to augment or pacify any of the Doshas.

For example, sitting in front a TV for long enough will aggravate Prana and thus Vata through the fast changing pictures (30 frames per second). If we watch TV for hours on end, Kapha, which has a power of inertia, will also become aggravated through a lack of movement.

Another example, excessive travel due to the high amount of movement quickly augments Vata dosha. Even a basic understanding of the Doshas, their qualities, and how they are bothered and pleased, can help us navigate through daily life with greater ease and overall benefit.

Everything we touch, hear, see, smell and taste can be described in terms of the 10 pairs of opposite qualities. Thus certain experiences will either increase or decrease (pacify) a Doshas, depending on their qualities. Likewise, everything we do, be it with our hands (being creative), our feet (moving about, exercise), our mouth (speech) or our genitals (sexual activity), any action—there will be an effect on the Doshas.

In summary. Realise that for health and well-being, the three Doshas must be kept in a state of positive functioning, that is, in alignment with our prakriti. This is done by moderating what we receive and give out so that our sense perceptions and actions serve to balance the Doshas through the law that opposites balance.

Alex Duncan, Ayurvedic Educator, lives in the South of France where he runs Gardoussel Retreat offering Ayurvedic consultations and various Ayurveda & yoga workshops and retreats. Contact Alex on (France): +33 (0) 4 66 60 16 78.

What’s my dosha (mind body type)?

The science of Ayurveda demonstrates that we are all made of the same elements as everything in Nature. Based on 5,000 years of observation, it recognizes that people generally fall into specific combinations of those elements. Ayurveda calls these combinations “doshas” or mind body types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

The doshas are powerful aids in understanding each human being’s unique responses to food, to experiences, to stress, and to the environment. Vata, Pitta and Kapha offer valuable insight into the imbalances that can lead to illness and disease. And they are excellent guides to self-awareness and to the choices that can restore and maintain good health.

If you are new to Ayurveda, the following general descriptions will begin to give you a sense of your dominant mind body type(s). Most people are a combination of two (Pitta Vata, for example, or Kapha Pitta), while a small percentage of people have all three doshas in equal portions.

As a rule of thumb, a bi-doshic or tri-doshic type should make seasonal adjustments for balance.  A Pitta Vata type generally would find it helpful to balance Pitta in the summer (Pitta season) and Vata in the fall and early winter (Vata season). Someone with Kapha would work on Kapha balancing during the late winter and early spring.

For more information, read Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra, MD, a good basic introduction to the doshas and Ayurveda. It’s available by visiting our store or by clicking on the link above.

If you have several of the following characteristics:
*  a thin body frame
* dry, rough skin
*  prominent veins and tendons
* cold hands and feet
* small, dark eyes
* a restless nature
* a preference for warm seasons and climates
* a love of new places, people and experiences
* a tendency towards nervousness and worry
* a tendency toward dry stools or constipation
 You have a significant amount of VATA.

If you have several of the following characteristics:
*  a medium frame
* oily, sensitive skin (often with moles and or freckles)
* blond or reddish hair (or thinning, early graying or balding for men)
* warm hands and feet
* blue, green, or hazel eyes sensitive to bright sunlight
* an intense, sharp, in-command nature
* a strong intellect
* a tendency towards irritability or anger
* a tendency toward loose, hot stools or diarrhea
You have a significant amount of PITTA.

If you have several of the following:
*  a large frame
* big bones and strong joints
* pale, thick, cool skin
* thick lustrous hair
* a large round face
* large round blue or brown eyes
* an excellent memory
* a calm, stable nature
* a tendency toward inactivity
* a tendency toward fluid retention and/or respiratory congestion
 You have a significant amount of KAPHA.

Ayurveda Frequently asked questions

What’s ayurveda?
Ayurveda is defined as the science of natural or  holistic living. Its the first natural or holistic medicine. Originated about 6,000 years back around Himalayas it quickly spread to Tibet (Tibetan medicine or Tibetan Ayurveda) and then to China (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Japan (Japanese healing systems such as acupuncture) to the east. Sri Lanka, middle east and most Asian countries follow its principles in ‘natural medicines’ and ‘natural therapy’. Its used on differently for each person. Its very simple. Its scientific.

How dos Ayurveda compare to Chinese medicine, Herbalism and Naturopathy?
Chinese medicine deal with most physiological aspects life. Naturopaths and herbalists use modern science to understand the disease and use “naturally derived chemicals” and supplements to correct it just like your local G.P. Its progressively moving towards ‘evidence based medicine’ by almost fully abandoning holistic approach. Ayurveda attempts to remove the cause, while addressing the disease process, keeping it holistic and natural. It utilizes wisdom from all healing systems.

What does a ‘natural doctor’ do in health management?
Interestingly, the 6,000 year old Ayurvedic laws and principles of health, disease and management (healing) are essentially the same in modern medicine. The difference is the holistic approach. Ayurveda specialises in accelerating the healing with natural products and time-tested techniques for the benefit of the whole mind and body. This is what we call holistic. An Ayurvedic / natural doctor or physician attempts to address a condition so that the client heals faster with less side effects making the condition more bearable.

How many herbs and therapies are used in an Ayurvedic clinic?
Over 21,000 herbs are used in India. 7,000 of them are scientifically studied and categorized.  Over 500,000 recipes are found in various Ayurvedic text books. An Ayurvedic physician would have immediate access to over 10,000 recipes and 2,000 single herbs. Many Ayurvedic doctors alter the traditional recipes to suit the client. Including panchakarma, purvakarma, shodhana, rasayana and paschat karma there are over 30 therapies and their variations.

Whats dosha?
Dosha is the most misunderstood term in Ayurveda. Doshas are functional units. Its based on three universal life-triggers. Everything is and can be classified into three dosha category.

What is an Ayurveda diet?
Ayurvedic diet is a holistic nutritional approach based on over 30 individual factors that accelerates healing while resting and nourishing the entire body. The common notion that its based on your body type is inaccurate, unscientific and illogical.

Ayurveda Recipes
Ayurvedic recipes are those put together for a specific health condition with six flavors, at least four textures. Ingredients are all natural, harvested in season and locally. Combination is synergistic and eaten before sunset.

Is Indian cooking Ayurvedic?
Indian cooking may not be Ayurvedic cooking. Ayurvedic cooking uses local, seasonal and natural ingredients and simple processing methods. Most Indian meals are, sadly, over-cooked, over-spiced and grain predominant.

Whats dosha diet?
Dosha diet is one of the basic classifications of food items. There are dozens of other factors in health and diseases. Before clinical application we need to consider over 30 different other individual factors such as agni, vayah, balam, rtu, shareera and so on. Dosha diet addresses a just dosha. Addressing just dosha can be detrimental in 99% of the health conditions.

What is body-typing?
Ayurveda uses for different body typing techniques to understand what are you designed for. Dosha typing is one of them. Body type is entirely different from body, tendencies, personality and preferences. The current dosha-based body type analysis is virtually useless as all the five categories are squashed into something totally unintelligible.

Ayurveda massage
Ayurvedic massage is an amazing tool to rest your mind and body to accelerate healing. Its performed on a daily basis during Panchakarma. The original technique is drawn from the oldest martial art system called Kalari Payattu. In abhyanga massage a trained therapist uses one of the 700 different herbal oils.

How old is Ayurveda?
Based on the modern historians, Ayurveda could be 3,000 to 6,000 years old. Considering Australian Aboriginal stories it could be 60,000 years old. Age has nothing to do with the efficacy of something. Most views and principles of Ayurveda are extremely similar to our modern science!

What is dosha balancing?
Traditional Ayurveda talks about normalizing and correcting health issues. It doesn’t use the word balancing, ever. If a dosha is excess it needs to be brought back to normal. Its called normalizing. E.g. a heat / acidity excess is normalized using alkalizing techniques. By definition ‘balance’ doesn’t work with health or healing.

What is body type balancing?
This concept is a basic mistake by modern ayurveda gurus. Pathology needs to be normalized or corrected and physiology needs to be supported. Body type is neither a mistake or nor a health condition. None needs to or can ‘balance’ /correct it. Body type tells us what we are designed for.

What is panchakarma cleansing?
These are five advanced therapies performed by a fully trained ayurveda doctor. Each therapy takes at least 3 weeks in a fully equipped ayurveda hospital. A week to prepare mind, a week to prepare body, cleanse and a week to bring them back to normal diet. No one needs all the five. Requires round the clock supervision, counseling during the therapy and innumerable herbs for this.

Isn’t it life about ‘balance’?
Balance is defined as ‘an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady’. Guess what would happen if everything in our body or life is equal to each other! Equal amounts of – iron and calcium or diastolic and systolic pressures! Life and health are about priorities, not balance.

About Ayurveda Elements & Australian Ayurveda Academy
Ayurveda Elements & Australian Ayurveda Academy were born in 1996 in Cairns, the tropical paradise of Australia.Moved to Sydney in 1997 and evolved into a complete Ayurveda center quickly. Established a successful training and treatment center in Sydney’s north shore. Runs educational and training programs in India and Bali apart from Australian cities. Has conducted over 300 presentations during the past decade at various Australian centers.

What does Ayurveda Elements offer?
Offers workshops, seminars and certificates in Melbourne, Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney and Cairns. Conducts south India disorders), tours and helps clients with health resort referral. Uses traditional and modern compounds sourced locally and imported from India. Specializes in back pain, neck pain, weight loss and bowel diseases.

What is Ayurveda good at?
Ayurveda is fantastic with all aspects of health maintenance, prevention and cure. We successfully treat health conditions like allergies, arthritis, bursitis, back pain, colitis, dermatitis (skin digestive hair loss, hepatitis, irritable bowel syndrome / disease, migraine, nasal allergies, neck pain, thyroid conditions, ulcerative colitis, tendinitis and more. Has clinics and training programs in Melbourne, Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney and Cairns.

What are the specialties of Ayurveda Elements?
We specialize in fertility disorders, bowel (colitis, irritable bowel etc.), autism, back and neck pain.

What’s common to most diseases?
Stress damages digestion resulting in ama (toxins). Toxins migrates into channels and end up in weak tissues. Body is all tissues. Tissues attack the toxins, resulting in inflammation and sometimes infections. They are called ‘itis’ as suffix to the tissues affected. This is the story of most diseases.