According to ayurveda, one of the oldest branches of the vedas, vata, pitta and kapha are formed from combinations of the five elements that make up our universe. For thousands of years, it has been understood by many that our bodies are composed of these same five elements that make up our external environment. When these elements combine in the human physiology, they create three governing principles, or doshas, which must be kept in proper balance in order to maintain good health.
Of these three primary doshas, vata governs them all. Air and space are combined to form vata. Fire and water govern pitta; and water and earth, kapha. The attributes of each dosha, along with the specific combination within each individual help determine the individual's physical, mental and emotional characteristics and tendencies.
Everything that moves, fluctuates or changes is governed by vata. Ayurveda explains that without air and space, life would be unable to progress, shift or take motion. As in the exterior world, vata dosha is responsible for all movement within the body. This involves all forms of motion in the mind and body such as circulation, elimination, peristalsis, respiration, nerve impulses and the thought process. Vata qualities include changeability, airy, cold, moving, quick, light, dry and rough.
Vata type people are small boned, quick moving and speaking, with dry skin and small or irregular appetites. Out of balance vata can cause poor memory, worry or anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and weakness, arthritis, hypertension, constipation or rough, dry skin. In order to balance it in the physiology, the opposite qualities need to be introduced: getting plenty of rest, warmth in food and environment, heavier, oily foods with sweet, sour or salty tastes.
Pitta controls all forms of transformation and metabolism in the mind and body such as assimilation, digestion, metabolism, the immune system and processing sensory information. Pitta type people have medium builds, strong appetites, strong intellects and dislike hot weather. They are also articulate, intense and orderly with fiery personalities.
An overabundance of pitta can cause excessive body heat, anger, impatience, skin and eye problems, heartburn and ulcers. Pitta dosha is balanced by its opposite qualities: cool environment with cool, heavy, oily diet that is sweet, bitter or astringent.
Kapha qualities include cold, heavy, slow, soft, steady, oily, sticky and sweet. Kapha controls all forms of fluid balance and structure in the physiology such as water retention, mucus, physical strength, natural tissue resistance and proper body structure. People with predominantly kapha body types are large boned, strong with an even temper, affectionate and forgiving, methodical, earthy, and slow to forget.
Kapha types will show a dislike for cool, damp weather. Too much kapha may cause laziness, dullness, overweight, asthma, and depression. Kapha dosha is balanced by its opposite qualities: more exercise, less oversleeping, light, dry, hot foods with pungent, bitter or astringent tastes.
The north winds of winter are associated with the environmental vata. Vata season is between November and February when the cold, dry weather of winter aggravates our internal vata dosha. Pitta season is between July and October when heat is experienced as hot and combustive. Kapha is between March and June during the wet, heavy season.
Each seasonal change soothes and balances the effects of the previous season. Vata cools the accumulated heat from pitta season, kapha replenishes the moisture of drying vata season and pitta warms the cold wetness of kapha. At the end of each season, there will be an accumulated influence found in the body. Our bodies need an opportunity to balance any influences a particular dosha may have established.
The three primary doshas are also evident within the circadian cycle, all in local standard time.
Vata is dominant between
- 2:00am and 6:00am
- 2:00pm and 6:00pm
Pitta is dominant between
- 10:00pm and 2:00am
- 10:00am and 2:00pm.
Kapha is dominant between
- 6:00pm and 10:00pm
- 6:00am and 10:00am.
During the early morning hours between 2:00am and 6:00am, vata is moving the toxins and impurities out of the nervous system. Ayurveda also recommends the importance of rising prior to 6:00am so that we may maintain clarity and flexibility. If we sleep past vata time and into the following kapha time, we will be dull, lethargic and stiff. During the afternoon vata time between 2:00pm and 6:00pm, our clarity and intensity is at its highest. This is the best time for mental work or activity. If for any reason we are feeling sluggish or sleepy during this time, it is due to improperly digesting our noon meal. This makes it especially important to not submit to sleep.
During midday pitta time, 10:00am to 2:00pm, while the sun is at its highest, our digestion is at its hottest and most efficient. Our largest meal of the day should be eaten as close to noon as possible to ensure proper digestion. During the nighttime pitta, between 10:00pm and 2:00am, it is important to be resting as our digestion takes this time for its cleansing cycle. The heating qualities of pitta take this opportunity to cleanse our systems of any undigested food.
This is why our first impulse in the morning is to evacuate our bowel and bladder of waste. We blow our nose, cleanse our ears, eyes, mouth, and tongue of accumulated congestion, which is considered the residue from undigested food. It is especially important to not eat during nighttime pitta because without this cleansing opportunity, undigested food (ama) and toxins accumulate.
During kapha time, between 6:00pm and 10:00pm, we will begin to settle down and feel ready for sleep. It is important to go to bed before 10:00pm so kapha is still influencing our nervous system. If we wait until pitta influence begins to take hold, we will begin waking up and feeling hungry. Kapha time is the easiest time to fall asleep and the first couple hours of sleep will be more valuable if complimented by kapha.
According to the ayurvedic tradition, our routines should be in line with vata, pitta and kapha circadian and environmental cycles to ensure our bodies of proper functioning. Improper sequencing is the ultimate key to imbalance, which brings on disease. Along with establishing our routines, appropriate food will help keep each dosha in proper balance.
Because vata leads the other doshas, it should be our primary concern when addressing imbalances in the system. Often times by balancing our vata dosha, this will bring pitta and kapha back into balance. Ayurveda explains that these lifestyle adjustments will create harmony on all levels of the mind, body and spirit. By addressing the vata, pitta and kapha tridoshas, our lives will be enriched on every level.