Our health pays the price for today’s fast-paced routine. When we fall sick, we pump in over-the-counter medication and rough it out. What if we told you that the changing weather, location and even your job profile can adversely affect your health because of your inherent nature? Surprised? Allow us to introduce you to the ayurvedic concept of doshas.
In an interesting interview, ayurvedic physician Dr Manikantan Menon spoke to Soulveda about the concept of doshas and the connection between Ayurveda and yoga. Excerpts from the interview:
Can you tell us about the ayurvedic concept of doshas?
There are three doshas–vata, pitta and kapha. These are biological energies that govern the human body, much like the departmental heads in an organisation. The internal and external systems of the body should function smoothly for it to be in perfect health. These energies dictate our physical aspects and are also connected with the mind.
What are they?
According to Ayurveda, the entire creation is composed of earth, water, fire, air and space–the five elements also known as the panchamahabhuta. Even doshas are characterised by these five elements. For instance, earth is an element that is still, water is cooling and moves downwards, fire rises against gravity and heats–it is their nature. By this definition: vata is formed by air and space, pitta by fire and kapha is formed by earth and water. The human body is governed by these five elements. For example, fire is in our digestive system and behind the functioning of our eyes.
Can you give us examples to explain how these doshas affect us?
If you have a little rigidity in the mind, you are not able to accept change, it indicates a lack of water element or kapha. On the other hand, the kapha element is dominant in a person with an accommodative mind. Vata or the air element is dominant if one has an active mind with several thoughts.
Can there be visible signs of a particular dosha dominant in a person?
On some days, you wake up enthusiastic and plan to get a lot done in the day, but you end up doing things at random without much productivity. This is a sample of a vata day. A pitta day is when you wake up angry and irritated for no apparent reason and blame everyone else for minor things. A kapha day is when you are really lazy and don’t want to move. If these reactions continue for a week or a month and are left unattended, you could be sowing the seed for an illness. How quickly you take remedial actions matters.
Is there an ideal dosha balance?
Balance for every individual is different. The ratio of three doshas at the time of birth determines the natural characteristics of a person. This is known as prakruti. It is also known as your element composition and is evident in every person’s characteristics. For example, a person with a strong vata tendency is likely to be active, talkative, agile and restless. These traits are attributed to the nature you are born with. As you grow, you eat certain kinds of food and engage in certain activities, all of which can disrupt your vata, pitta or kapha balance. They are also affected by external and internal stimuli. For example, if you eat a lot of spicy food, your pitta will be off-balance. The hot spices increase the fire element, which pitta is very sensitive to. As for external stimuli, hot summers add to pitta imbalance.
Can you explain this balance further?
Balances cannot be ascertained in measurement units. However, in theory, we can take the example of someone having 30 percent pitta, 35 percent kapha and 35 percent vata when in natural state. If any of the three doshas rises or diminishes above or below its natural level, say, the pitta rises to 60 percent, there will be an imbalance leading to diseases.
“Vata, pitta and kapha affect our physical and mental states. You need to know which dosha is dominant in your nature as it gets affected by changes in seasons and locations.”
How can a person find the ideal balance?
To find the ideal balance the prakruti has to be identified. For example, questions pertaining to attributes such as size of the eyes, skin tone, hair, weight, body build, attitudes and hobbies can give an Ayurveda expert a fair idea about the dosha dominant in the basic nature of a person. A slightly different parameter is used to identify what is out of balance. There is a considerable difference between balanced and unbalanced doshas. For example, a person dominated by the earth element is forgiving, calm and gentle, just like the earth–grounded, solid, strong and supporting. If there is a rise in kapha, the same qualities can lead to laziness and even depression.
Each individual has their own unique nature. While you inherit most of it from your parents, your own nature also adds to it. Factors like the time of birth, time of conception and the way the foetus has developed in the womb also add to it.
How do doshas affect our physical and mental states?
Vata, pitta and kapha affect our physical and mental states. You need to know which dosha is dominant in your nature as it gets affected by changes in seasons and locations. For example, different bodies respond differently to hilly areas and seashores, which is why all people don’t face the same health issues when seasons or locations change. If you know your dosha, you can be careful. At the cusp of the changing season, you can do something to prevent allergies or certain health issues. This something could be eating certain kinds of food, taking ayurvedic medication or changing your exercises.
How can one maintain the dosha balance?
Four aspects maintain the balance of doshas–your food habits, physical activities, your mental disposition and surroundings. For example, during winters, it is cold and windy, so the vata tends to go up. If you have a tendency of vata imbalance, you can switch to foods which will keep the balance intact. An expert opinion is mandatory for a correct diagnosis and this is where an ayurvedic doctor’s experience comes in. An ayurvedic doctor can tell a person about vata, pitta and kapha. However, the treatments differ. Some use treatments like panchkarma to detox the body, while others try to treat with medicines. Some add lifestyle corrections, while others add yoga practices.
So, can yoga help maintain dosha balance?
Of course. The mind and body are closely connected with prana–life energy. Yoga balances prana and brings balance and harmony between the body and mind. That’s why yoga practitioners should also have knowledge of basic Ayurveda while treating dosha imbalances.
Are yoga and Ayurveda mutually exclusive?
Yes, yoga and Ayurveda go hand-in-hand. In the early times, occurrence of diseases was rare because people practised meditation and followed a healthier lifestyle. Later, as lifestyle evolved, people began falling sick and the need for healing knowledge gave birth to Ayurveda. Initially an intuitive science, people began journaling the cure which grew into Ayurveda as we know it today.
Is yoga a part of the larger discipline of Ayurveda?
Yes. Ayurveda is based on the tripod principle of the body, mind and spirit–the support systems of life. If even one leg of this tripod malfunctions, the entire balance tips. Yogic science connects the three systems. For a layperson, yoga might bring to mind the physical aspects of asanas and exercise. But in fact, yogic science has eight parts as described by Patanjali Maharshi as Ashtanga yoga. On the other hand, you could call Ayurveda a lifestyle science. While following the Ayurvedic treatment principles, if you alter your activities, practise asanas and meditate, all these together constitute a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.
Do yoga and Ayurveda fall under the purview of science?
Anything that has a scientific background is science. There is evidence for the effects of yoga on the body. So it is called yogic science. On the other hand, ‘ayur’ means life and ‘veda’ means science. Collectively, Ayurveda is called life science.
Can we tackle common medical conditions like migraine, bronchitis or spondylitis by identifying our doshas?
Let’s take migraine. According to Ayurveda, migraine is not just one disease. There are seven categories of migraines that are caused by various dosha combinations. The root and manifestation of each category are traced by Ayurveda. It could be a vata-dominant migraine or a combination of vata and kapha or pita. Each combination differs slightly in severity and timing. There are five to ten questions that need to be answered before we arrive at a diagnosis. It has to be completely researched before we create an action plan.
To trace the root, Ayurveda follows a unique diagnostic method called Nadi Pariksha. The practitioner holds the Nadi (roughly translated as pulse) of the patient and carries out the entire scan of the physical and mental aspects of the patient. Nadi Pariksha is known to reveal more details about the health of the patient than any modern diagnostic method can.
Edited by Mallika Singh