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Chapter 3 - The Three Doshas
introducing the doshas
Each person is made up of their own special mix of the three fundamental energies, or doshas. Although we can't see them, the three doshas are responsible for all processes of the mind and body. They affect our physical makeup and our mental and emotional qualities. Like the foundations of a building, these underlying forces determine who we are, what we like to eat, how thirsty we get, and how much sleep we need. They influence our reactions to stress and our predisposition to illness. They even affect how compassionate, relaxed, or talkative we are.
From the moment of conception, each person has a unique blend of the three doshas. This underlying constitutional type, which makes up the essential part of our being, is known as prakriti. Prakriti is the basic constitution and tendencies we are born with. Each individual's prakriti, just like his or her fingerprints, is unlike anyone else's.
Superimposed on our underlaying prakriti is the way we lead our lives. Life is a never-ending flow of fluctuating factors. In fact, as we move through life, change is the only thing that doesn't change. We are constantly nudged to grow, alter, and adapt as we are confronted by the ongoing alteration of conditions around us. This process called life really keeps us on our toes, and although the underlying constitution we were born with doesn't alter, the expressions of it do. Our special mix of the three doshas changes from minute to minute, day to day, and season to season. The doshas influence how we eat, drink, sleep, work, play, exercise, and express ourselves. Climate, season, time of day, and stage of life all have an effect, too. This day-to-day variance, like a layer superimposed on the prakriti, is called vrikriti. Vrikriti refers to the temporary states of flux in the doshas.
identifying the doshas
Vata, the moving force, expresses itself in kinetic energy. It takes care of all motion in the body and mind. It moves food through the digestive system and is involved in nerve conduction, blood circulation, and the skeletal and reproductive systems. It is active in the flow of thoughts and emotions. Vata has qualities of airiness, dryness, cold, and motion.
Pitta, the transformative force, gives the power of transformation. It has moist, sharp, and hot qualities. Pitta is most active in the digestive system, giving us the ability to change nutrients into energy. Pitta is hot and fiery. It gives a person determination and focus.
Kapha, the binding force, provides structure. It has earthy, watery, oily, and cold qualities. Kapha charges us with the potential energy needed to maintain the entire system. Kapha gives weight and stability to the organism. It oversees lubrication, including gastric juices and fluids in the joints.
All doshas are active at all times but in varying degrees-this is why different symptoms and behaviors manifest. The digestive system offers a good example of how the doshas work together. The mobile element Vata is involved in chewing the food to start the process of breaking it down. The Kapha secretions of the salivary enzymes and gastric juices complete the job. The Kapha force also lubricates the food so it passes easily from mouth to stomach. As a catalyst, Pitta supplies digestive fire so the food can be broken down by enzymes and made ready for absorption. The food moves to the small intestine (a Vata organ), where it is absorbed and transformed into energy (a Pitta force). The nutrients are carried around the blood (Pitta) for delivery to the cells that need them (Vata). Any food not absorbed is transported through the colon for excretion (a Vata action).
Life is a dynamic interchange among the three doshas. Any alteration in one affects both of the others. Once you begin to understand the actions and interactions of the doshas, you will gain the knowledge and develop the intuition you need to bring yourself back into balance before you stray too far from your innate state of equilibrium.
finding a healthy balance
Our doshas are the lenses through which we view the world. As the old saying goes, "It takes all kinds," and there are as many variations of "normal" as there are people on the earth. Vata types tend to believe that it's normal to be always on the move and that to be any other way is just odd. For forward-looking Pitta types, strong determination and ambition are part of the usual mode of existence, and they find someone who lacks those qualities difficult to understand. Kaphas can experience lovely serenity and contentment by staying right where they are. Taking things slow and steady is normal for them, so they might not understand the ambition of Pittas or the way Vatas are forever coming up with new projects.
Just where a healthy balance lies is different for each person. Each dosha achieves its own beauty when it takes advantage of its particular qualities and finds a good balance with the others. While the Pitta traits of ambition and drive are considered admirable in our society, they are not so attractive when they turn into ruthlessness and hardness because of a lack of Kapha compassion and serenity. In conversation, Vata types are vivacious, quick-witted, and charming, but without the caring open-heartedness of Kapha, gossipy jokes can turn ugly. Although brimming with new ideas, a Vata may never turn a single one into reality without some of the stability of Kapha or the drive of Pitta. Kapha, with its solid foundation, risks never getting started without some of Vata's enthusiasm or Pitta's determination.
Managing your life is like running your own business. To be successful, you need Vata to think up and champion ideas born of creativity and enthusiasm. The ambition, drive, and determination of Pitta are needed to see the ideas through to completion. And the steady, reliable, sustaining force of Kapha is essential, since it doesn't mind the routine work that must be done, and it has the stamina to keep things going when Pitta and Vata have tired.