Ayurveda is the science of life based on the Vedas, the Hindu books of knowledge and wisdom. More than four thousand years old, Ayurveda is perhaps the most complete system of living, embracing not only medicine, but also philosophy, psychology, lifestyle, and health.
Ayurveda is based on the idea that the universe is composed of five basic elements. The five elements, known as the panchamahabhutas, combine to form the three vital energies, the doshas. The mix of the three doshas in each of us, an inherited trait, determines our physical constitution, called prakrti.
When the five eternal substances – earth, water, fire, air, and space – combine to form the human body, they do so by creating three vital energies, or doshas. The three doshas construct and maintain our physical beings, and they determine, by their proportions, our unique characteristics and traits.
Vata is the most powerful of the doshas. Formed by the interaction of space and air, Vata is movement, the body in motion. It is the energy of respiration, heartbeat, nerve impulse, and muscle contraction. As such, it circulates the blood and lymph, draws and expels air from the lungs, moves food through the digestive system, and eliminates waste. Individuals with a Vata-dominant body type tend to be thin and active, but lack the stamina for prolonged activity and therefore often depend on caffeine and sugar for stimulation. The dryness of the Vata constitution and the consequent creakiness of their joints make them seem almost brittle. Restlessness, hyperactivity, curiosity, and creativity mark the Vata-dominant personality, as do rapid, chaotic speech and frequent changes of mind.
Pitta is formed by the interaction of fire as energy of change and water as agent of change. The polarity of these two elements plays an important role for Pitta. Pitta regulates the body, controlling its metabolism. It is the body in transformation. Thus it handles digestion of food, release and absorption of hormones, production of heat, and cooling. Where Vata moved nerve impulses to and within the brain, Pitta converts those impulses to thought. The Pitta-dominant body type typically manifests itself in a well-proportioned, muscular frame. Pitta-dominant types tend toward lighter, more sensitive skin, often overly sensitive. They are usually active, particularly in sports, where they can be fiercely competitive. They are passionate and dedicated, but can be overly competitive, intolerant, and irritable.
Kapha combines the structural properties of earth with water in its role as lubricant. It builds the body and forms its structure: skeleton, muscles, organs, ligaments, tendons, and skin are the work of Kapha. And Kapha lubricates the body, ensuring the smooth function of joints. With strength, stability, and solidity, Kapha is the body in repose. Kapha-dominant individuals have big bodies and big bones, thick hair, strong, big teeth, and large, attractive eyes. They move slowly and gracefully, and exhibit great endurance. They are similarly slow to anger, and their loyalty makes them valued friends. Physically, Kapha-dominant individuals tend toward obesity; mentally, they can be selfish, greedy, and easily offended.
Our physical constitution and our health both depend on the balance and interplay of the tridoshas. But to fully understand the energies that combine to create a human, we must also look at the three gunas, the psychic energies that constitute the mind.
The most basic idea of Ayurveda is the concept of balance. We are healthy and happy when our doshas are properly balanced. Most disease results from an imbalance of our doshas. To heal the disease, the Ayurvedic practitioner attempts through various treatments to restore the balance.