We are diving into the world of Doṣa. It is complex – partially because it requires some unlearning. I love this quote from Ganesh Mohan that speaks to the importance of waiting for right knowledge before consuming it!
What are Doṣa? (and Why are They so Confusing?)
Doṣa are, in some ways, shorthand for other things.
They are combinations of select 20 Guṇas (qualities) aka 5 Mahā Bhūtas (Elements) that serve as protectors (and destroyers) of the Dhātus (Tissues) of the Deha (Body).
The 3 Doṣa are Vāta, Pitta, Kapha. They are made of combinations of elements.
- Vāta : Air + Space (Vāyu + Akaśa)
- Pitta : Fire + Water (Agni + Jala)
- Kapha : Earth + Water (Pṛthivī)
The 5 Elements (Pancha Mahā Bhūtas) are made up of combinations of Guṇas.
- Air : light, dry, sharp, fast, mobile, rough, cold etc.
- Space : light, cold, stable etc.
- Fire : hot, sharp, fast, mobile, light, dry etc.
- Water : spreading, wet, heavy, dense, cold, oily, gross etc.
- Earth : heavy, cold, dense, stable, gross etc.
So, when we think of Doṣa, it is best to think minimally of their elements, but even better, would be to figure out which of the 20 Guṇas you are experiencing.
Here are the 20 Guṇas as a reminder. You can make the lists above more complete as a fun self-assignment!
- Guru (Heavy) – Laghu (Light)
- Manda (Dull) – Tīkṣṇa (Sharp)
- Śita (Cold) – Uṣṇa (Hot)
- Snidgha (Oily) – Rukṣa (Dry)
- Ślakṣna (Smooth) – Khāra (Rough)
- Sandra (Solid) – Drava (Liquid)
- Mṛdu (Soft) – Kathina (Hard)
- Sthira (Stable) – Cala (Mobile)
- Sthūla (Gross) – Sukṣma (Subtle)
- Picchila (Sticky) – Viṣada (Clear)
Doṣas Rarely Function in Isolation
Because of this, it is important to note that you may not experience all of the Guṇas associated with a particular Doṣa. This is NORMAL. We are not theoretical beings, so it is likely that
- You will experience some but not all of the Guṇas of a particular Doṣa
- You will experience a combination of a few Guṇas related to more than one Doṣa
- By observing the Guṇas you are experiencing, you may realize that a Doṣa different than what you have expected is acting up.
Where do Doṣa Live?
They generally reside spread throughout the body – and are within every cell – but they have sthānas (home sites) where they tend to collect and can be managed without much fuss if addressed quickly.
Kapha (Earth + Water) – Urdhva Bhāga (Upper Body)
Pitta (Fire + Water) – Grahaṇī (Stomach Area)
Vāta (Air + Space) – Adho Bhāga (Lower Body)
What Does this Mean?
This means that when Kapha begins to accumulate, you will likely notice its guṇas first in your upper chest and throat. So, this would feel like sticky, slimy, heavy, coldness up there – Mucus! And, that is totally normal and is to be expected – especially after leaving a season where Kapha is also accumulating – like after Winter. After Winter season (Śiśira Ṛtu), the Kapha that has accumulated in us and our environment flows out due to the intensification of the Sun’s rays. This is a natural occurrence that comes with Spring Season (Vasanta Ṛtu). We expect this to happen because it is the flow of nature – rivers and lakes begin to have normal flow again at this time also – it is easy to manage.
What is the Quantity of Healthy Doṣa?
There is a general process of Doṣic accumulation in the body. When there is a mild increase of Doṣa, it will be in its “home-site.” This will provoke little inconvenient symptoms, like what I just described happening in Spring Season. We often brush these off, or cover the symptoms with over the counter medication.
If we are attended to these symptoms at the moment we experience them, the quantity of Doṣa will decrease and nothing out of sort will happen further. We’ll just feel “more like ourselves.” This can be cared for with diet and lifestyle – including Yogāsana.
If however, we ignore the increase of Doṣa, they will continue to manifest and eventually be forced to spread out of their “home-site.” This encourages them to become actual named disease conditions (Rogas). This would be how Kapha and its Guṇas end up in areas other than its homesite, and make it difficult to get out without more intensive therapies. Thus, this cannot usually be treated with simple lifestyle practices – and i these stages, Yogāsana is an inappropriate assumption of treatment.
Doṣas Protect the Body! How?
Doṣa, in proper proportion, maintain the balance of the body and assist in preventing svabhāva uparama (the natural movement of body toward decay.) They rise and fall in quantity because of particular hetus (caustive factors – things we eat and do etc). Dhātus, the tissues of the body, are made of Doṣa (ie. Guṇa) but unlike Doṣa, they have form and are more stable. The reason it is important for Doṣa to be pliable is that when they rise and fall because of the things we engage with daily, the Dhātus can remain stable. If the Doṣa were not present, then any improper snack would immediately affect the actual construction of the body, which would make life so so difficult.
How are They the Destroyers of the Body?
If Doṣa rise and increase (vṛddhi) in the body without being attended to, they will eventually affect the structure of the body – ie. affect the Dhātus whom they were originally protecting. This is because as the Doṣa increase in their homesite, they put pressure on that physical site, causing it to change.
Then, when they eventually spill out of that homesite and travel throughout the body, wherever those particular Doṣa end up, they will also cause structural damage. This is because those areas are not built to hold that particular Doṣa in large quantities. For example, Kapha in the upper chest is manageable because it belongs there. But, when it is pushed into the homesite of Pitta, which is ruled by different Guṇas, the area cannot sustain it and then we experience the Guṇas of Kapha in the site of Pitta. This could be experienced as sluggish digestion, nausea after eating, fullness after eating, lethargy, lack of hunger etc etc.
Additionally, the increase of one Doṣa will either cause the increase of decrease of another. Since every individual body is built to hold a particular proportion of Doṣa (Prakṛti), when that proportion becomes significantly disturbed, we experience significant (dual doṣic) discomfort as well.
Can I “Be” a Doṣa?
In summary, No.
Even though we are born with a certain Prakṛti, there are so many things that challenge the possibility to be living in that nature. For example, in the 9 months of pregnancy post conception, how realistic is it to expect the mother to live perfectly in a way that support the rarely know Prakṛti of the fetus? Most women work, exercise, live in imperfect conditions, eat imperfect food. Furthermore, how many mothers are actually able to have their dream, complication free birth that lasts 1 hour? So few! Or, how many of us have had a childhood free of chickenpox, broken bones, fast food, staying up all night – or an adulthood with no overdoing it, no under-doing it, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs of any kind etc. etc. etc.
Firstly, I want to stay loudly that None of this is a problem. This is life. It is messy and imperfect.
It is only a problem for those who are committed to identifying with our Prakṛti as who they are, even if it is not their present experience.
And, actually doing so can bequite harmful because identifying with something we are not experiencing causes cognitive dissonance. This leads us to restricting ourselves from reality to “be a certain way.” This obviously would not lead us to health in any stretch of imagination.
What happens in those Doṣa tests?
Likely, if the Doṣa test is asking the right questions, and we are in a clear state to properly answer them, those tests are likely revealing a current or longstanding imbalance – which would show us Vikṛti, not Prakṛti.
The Next Steps for Health :
Caraka saw this coming because people are bound to identify with something to feel real and stable, and so thousands of years ago he specifically stated :
Some scholars hold the view that living beings cannot have a balanced state of Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha in their body because they are accustomed to the intake of diets which are seldom balanced. Therefore, according to them, some individuals have a Vāta Prakṛti and some have a Pitta Prakṛti and the rest have a Kapha Prakṛti. This is not correct because physicians take an individual to be healthy only when Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha in the body are in a state of equilibrium which then allows health to represent the natural state of the body. It is with a view to maintaining good health that all types of treatments are prescribed. That state of the body is a most cherished one. Therefore, there are individuals having a balanced state of Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha in their body….Prakṛti means a normal state and there should be no dominance of one or the other doṣas in the body of such individuals. (Ca.Vi.6.13)
Because Doṣa are so easily affected – by food, season, age, activity etc – they are constantly changing. Identifying with something that is unstable is unwise. Since we only notice Doṣa when they are out of balance, at that time they are a sign of disease. This would not be worth identifying with. When we are healthy all 3 Doṣas are present in the proper proportions and we do not notice. We should not celebrate tolerating disease by labeling them who we are.
What to Do?
Most of the Doṣa quizzes out there are either a marketing scheme to get you to buy what you identify with or they are an oversimplification of Āyurveda, and will likely provide poor results. So, let that go and then think critically.
- Get familiar with the 20 Guṇas and start to see and name them in your daily life.
- Notice how these Guṇas will change with activity, food, season, and age.
- Practice balancing them when you notice these changes with opposite Guṇas. (ie. Balance Dryness with Oiliness)
- If you notice significant increase of Guṇa that persists, this is likely Doṣa, so take action to avoid further complications.
- Remember that Doṣa are amūrta (without form) and so you cannot be one. You are not a Doṣa, you are a Soul in a Body made of Doṣa and Dhātu.