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The three doshas and the five great elements they are composed from

Dosha (Sanskrit: दोषः, IAST: doṣa) is a central term in Ayurveda originating from Sanskrit, which can be translated as "that which can cause problems" (literally meaning "fault" or "defect"), and which refers to three categories or types of substances that are believed to be present in a person's body and mind. Beginning with twentieth-century Ayurvedic literature, the "three-dosha theory" (Sanskrit: त्रिदोषोपदेशः, tridoṣa-upadeśaḥ) has described how the quantities and qualities of three fundamental types of substances called wind, bile, and phlegm (Sanskrit: वात, पित्त, कफ; vāta, pitta, kapha) fluctuate in the body according to the seasons, time of day, process of digestion, and several other factors and thereby determine changing conditions of growth, aging, health, and disease.[1][2]

Doshas are considered to shape the physical body according to a natural constitution established at birth, determined by the constitutions of the parents as well as the time of conception and other factors. This natural constitution represents the healthy norm for a balanced state for a particular individual. The particular ratio of the doshas in a person's natural constitution is associated with determining their mind-body type including various physiological and psychological characteristics such as physical appearance, physique, and personality.[3]

The Ayurvedic three-dosha theory is often compared to European Humorism although it is a distinct system with a separate history. The three-dosha theory has also been compared to astrology and physiognomy in similarly deriving its tenets from ancient philosophy and superstitions. Using them to diagnose or treat disease is considered pseudoscientific.[4][5][6]

Role in disease[edit]

The Ayurvedic theory of doshas describes how bad habits, wrong diet, overwork, etc. may cause relative deficiencies or excesses which cause them to become imbalanced in relation to the natural constitution (prakriti) resulting in a current condition (vikriti) which may potentially lead to disease. For example, an excess of vata is blamed for mental, nervous, and digestive disorders, including low energy and weakening of all body tissues. Similarly, excess pitta is blamed for blood toxicity, inflammation, and infection. Excess of kapha is blamed for increase in mucus, weight, oedema, and lung disease, etc. The key to managing all doshas is taking care of vata, that is taught to regulate the other two.[7]

By evaluating individual habits, emotional responses, pulse, and body type, practitioners of Ayurveda determine their current condition and adapt their practices accordingly, prescribing Ayurvedic treatments focused on alleviating any doshic imbalance (illness) using herbs, lifestyle changes, and practices such as pranayama, meditation, and yoga postures.


The doshas derive their qualities from the five elements (Sanskrit: पञ्चमहाभूत; pañca-mahābhūta) of classical Indian philosophy.

  • Vāta or Vata is characterized by the properties of dry, cold, light, minute, and movement. All movement in the body is due to properties of vata. Pain is the characteristic feature of deranged vata. Some of the diseases connected to unbalanced vata are flatulence, gout, rheumatism, etc.[8][9] Vāta is the normal Sanskrit word meaning "air, wind," and was so understood in pre-modern Sanskrit treatises on Ayurveda.[10] Some modern interpreters prefer not to translate Vata as air, but rather to equated it with a modern metabolic process or substance.[1]
  • Pitta represents metabolism;[1] It is characterized by heat, moistness, liquidity, and sharpness and sourness. Its chief quality is heat.[8] It is the energy principle which uses bile to direct digestion and enhance metabolism. Unbalanced pitta is primarily characterized by body heat or a burning sensation and redness. Pitta is the normal Sanskrit word meaning "bile."[11] It is etymologically related to the Sanskrit word pīta "yellow."
  • Kapha is the watery element. It is a combination of earth and water. It is characterized by heaviness, coldness, tenderness, softness, slowness, lubrication, and the carrier of nutrients. It is the nourishing element of the body. All soft organs are made by Kapha and it plays an important role in the perception of taste together with nourishment and lubrication. Kapha (synonym: śleṣman) is the normal Sanskrit word meaning "phlegm."[12]
5 types of vata dosha[13] 5 types of pitta dosha[13] 5 types of kapha dosha[13]
  1. Prana vata - Governs inhalation, perception through the senses and governs the mind. Located in the brain, head, throat, heart and respiratory organs.
  2. Udana vata - Governs speech, self-expression, effort, enthusiasm, strength and vitality. Located in the navel, lungs and throat.
  3. Samana vata - Governs peristaltic movement of the digestive system. Located in the stomach and small intestines.
  4. Apana vata - Governs all downward impulses (urination, elimination, menstruation, sexual discharges etc.) Located between the navel and the anus.
  5. Vyana vata - Governs circulation, heart rhythm, locomotion. Centred in the heart and permeates through the whole body.
  1. Pachaka pitta - Governs digestion of food which is broken down into nutrients and waste. Located in the lower stomach and small intestine.
  2. Ranjaka pitta - Governs formation of red blood cells. Gives colour to blood and stools. Located in the liver, gallbladder and spleen.
  3. Alochaka pitta - Governs visual perception. Located in the eyes.
  4. Sadhaka pitta - Governs emotions such as contentment, memory, intelligence and digestion of thoughts. Located in the heart.
  5. Bharajaka pitta - Governs lustre and complexion, temperature and pigmentation of the skin. Located in the skin.
  1. Kledaka kapha - Governs moistening and liquefying of the food in the initial stages of digestion. Located in the upper part of the stomach.
  2. Avalambhaka kapha - Governs lubrication of the heart and lungs. Provides strength to the back, chest and heart. Located in the chest, heart and lungs.
  3. Tarpaka kapha - Governs calmness, happiness and stability. Nourishment of sense and motor organs. Located in the head, sinuses and cerebra-spinal fluid.
  4. Bodhaka kapha - Governs perception of taste, lubricating and moistening of food. Located in the tongue, mouth and throat.
  5. Shleshaka kapha - Governs lubrication of all joints. Located in the joints.

Prana, tejas, and ojas[edit]

Yoga is a set of disciplines, some that aim to balance and transform energies of the psyche. At the roots of vata, pitta and kapha are believed to consist of its subtle counterparts called prana, tejas and ojas. Unlike the doshas, which in excess create diseases, this is believed to promote health, creativity and well-being.

Doṣa Bhūta Composition Mānasa doṣa (guṇa) Characteristic
Vāta Vayu, Ākāśa Sattva Prana, the life force and healing energy of vata (air)
Pitta Agni, Jala/Āpas Rajas Tejas, inner radiance and healing energy of pitta (fire)
Kapha Pṛthvī, Jala/Āpas Tamas Ojas, the ultimate energy reserve of the body derived from kapha (water)

Ultimately, Ayurveda seeks to reduce disease, particularly those that are chronic, and increase positive health in the body and mind via these three vital essences that aid in renewal and transformation. Increased prana is associated with enthusiasm, adaptability and creativity, all of which are considered necessary when pursuing a spiritual path in yoga and to enable one to perform. Tejas is claimed to provide courage, fearlessness and insight and to be important when making decisions. Lastly, ojas is considered to create peace, confidence and patience to maintain consistent development and sustain continued effort. Eventually, the most important element to develop is ojas, believed to engender physical and psychological endurance. Aims to achieve this include Ayurvedic diet, tonic herbs, control of the senses, a devotion and most importantly celibacy.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Susruta; Bhishagratna, Kunja Lal (1907–1916). An English translation of the Sushruta samhita, based on original Sanskrit text. Edited and published by Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna. With a full and comprehensive introduction, translation of different readings, notes, comparative views, an index, glossary and plates. Gerstein - University of Toronto. Calcutta.
  2. ^ Wujastyk, Dominik (1998). The Roots of Ayurveda : selections from Sankskrit medical writings. New Delhi: Penguin Books. pp. 4, et passim. ISBN 0-14-043680-4. OCLC 38980695.
  3. ^ Shilpa, S; Venkatesha Murthy, Cg (2011). "Understanding personality from Ayurvedic perspective for psychological assessment: A case". AYU. 32 (1): 12. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.85716. PMC 3215408.
  4. ^ Hall, Harriet (21 November 2019). "Ayurveda: Ancient Superstition, Not Ancient Wisdom". Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  5. ^ Raghavan, Shravan (21 November 2019). "What Are The Dangers Of Legitimizing Ayurveda?". StateCraft. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  6. ^ Kavoussi, Ben (10 September 2009). "The Golden State of Pseudo-Science". Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  7. ^ a b David Frawley, Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, 1999[unreliable source?]
  8. ^ a b Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford, 1899
  9. ^ Vata Dosha
  10. ^ "Sanskrit Dictionary". Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  11. ^ "Sanskrit Dictionary". Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  12. ^ "Sanskrit Dictionary". Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  13. ^ a b c Govindaraj, Periyasamy; Nizamuddin, Sheikh; Sharath, Anugula; Jyothi, Vuskamalla; Rotti, Harish; Raval, Ritu; Nayak, Jayakrishna; Bhat, Balakrishna K.; Prasanna, B. V. (2015-10-29). "Genome-wide analysis correlates Ayurveda Prakriti". Scientific Reports. 5: 15786. doi:10.1038/srep15786. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 4625161. PMID 26511157.[unreliable source?]