One of the components of Āyurvedic medicine is the concept of Doṣa. A Doṣa is a physiological principle that operates in our organism. Traditionally within Āyurveda, there are three Doṣas: Vāta, the airy principle of movement, Pitta, the fiery principle of transformation, and Kapha, the earthy principle of substance.
Every person has all three acting within themselves, but different people’s physiologies tend to emphasize some of these processes over others. If these principles are acting in a balanced and harmonious way then we are healthy, but if one or more of them begins to overstep its bounds then we will be on the path towards disease.
How do we recognize these Doṣas? Āyurveda explains that each Doṣa has specific qualities, called guṇas in Sanskrit, that it expresses. They are described in great detail at times, but the Aṣṭāṅga Hṛdayam, one of the primary texts of Āyurveda, gives a nice succinct summation in Chapter 1:
तत्र रूक्षो लघु शीतः खरः सूक्ष्मश्चलोऽनिलः |
पित्तं सस्नेहतीक्ष्णोष्णं लघु विस्रं सरं द्रवम् ||
स्निग्धः सीतो गुरु्मन्दः श्लक्ष्णो मृत्स्नः स्थिरः कफः |
Tatra rūkṣo laghuḥ śītaḥ kharaḥ sūkṣmaś calo’nilaḥ |
Pittaṃ sasneha tīkṣṇoṣṇaṃ laghu visraṃ saraṃ dravam ||
Snigdhaḥ śīto gurur mandaḥ ślakṣṇo mṛtsnaḥ sthiraḥ kaphaḥ |
- Aṣṭāṅga Hṛdayam, Sūtrasthāna, Chapter 1, Verse 11
It explains that the qualities of Vāta are: Dry, Light, Cold, Rough, Subtle, and Mobile.
The qualities of Pitta are: Oily, Sharp, Hot, Light, ‘fleshy-smelling’, spreading, and liquid.
The qualities of Kapha are: Oily, Cold, Heavy, ‘clay-like’, and stable.
How we see or interpret these qualities is part of the subtlety and assessment practices of Āyurveda.
Which qualities seem to predominate in ourselves? How do they affect our health and our lives in positive or negative ways? Which qualities are predominating in the foods that we eat? These are the kinds of questions that we would look to in Āyurveda.