Ayurveda and the Dosha-Guna Typologies
A few months ago, we posted our first entry on Ayurveda in an effort to disseminate this discipline's benefits with regards to our health and our practice of Yoga. As mentioned there, determining an individuals' energetic or doshic type (Prakruti), its current state and/or imbalances (Vikriti), and the factors involved in this –whatever the lifestyle, emotional, and psychological aspects triggering a certain imbalance– is Ayurveda's main thing.
Indeed, Ayurveda believes that most disease is a manifestation of a lack of 'Sattwa Guna' or lack of harmony/balance at the level of our doshas. And so, both gunas and doshas seem to be very important when it comes to it. But what are these?
The Three Mahagunas and the Three Doshas
The gunas are the three main cosmological qualities of all of nature. These are the grand qualities of Sattwa Guna (harmony and light), Rajas (the energy of transformation), and Tamas (inertia and death). You can think of these metaphorically, if you wish, or else as qualities that are equally important and necessary for life as we know it to exist. Everything that is needs both movement, transformation, and rest. They are all part of the 'masterplan' or cycle of life, in a way, and each does its fair bit.
The term dosha, on its part, refers to "the subtle forces that animate our physiology and psychology" *; which is another way of saying that, when the three cosmological forces of Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas are showered by prana (life force), the three doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha manifest in the realm of the material –they take form. And so, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are the biological equivalent of what Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas are meant to represent at a cosmological level, more or less.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha
The three doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, then, are a means of speaking of how much of the five basic elements of Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth there is in one single thing. In Ayurveda, all manifestation is in some way (in)formed by/from the combination of these five different elements. Since we already spoke in some detail about this in an earlier entry, we'll skip this bit in here; but for a more elaborate explanation of the relevance of these elements, check our previous post. As a result of this, air and ether, for example, are the two elements predominant in the dosha of Vata; fire is the characteristic element in Pitta; and earth and water those abounding in Kapha. Again, what does this mean? Well, it actually means a lot of different things.
Indeed, Ayurveda tells us that all the tissues, systems, and organs in the human body have a certain ratio of one or more of these three prana-infused doshas. Our tissues, for example, are mainly Kapha-predominant, and so, they're abundant in the water and earth elements, which is another way of saying that they tend towards a certain level of moistness and stickiness, a certain consistency even, and whatever the effects of this may be. Similarly, the digestive system is mainly Pitta, which makes it fiery and combustion-prone, full of symbolic 'fire,' and thus, an ideal setting for activities such as digestion where different types of substances and materials need to be broken down and 'burnt' for further absorption. Or, for example, the nervous system which is mainly a Vata-predominant circuitry, thus electrical and air-like in action, making it ideal for the communication of information at high speed.** Thus, though we all have and exhibit qualities of the three doshas at different levels of our biological composition, depending on how much of a certain dosha is inherently more abundant in us overall, we will speak of a 'Vata-, Pitta-, or Kapha Type of person.'
In real life, it is fairly uncommon to find someone who is 100% Vata, or 100% Pitta, or 100% Kapha, for example, and way more frequent for most of us to be some combination of two (or the three) of these. And so, we rather speak of 'degrees of doshic alignment' in our composition and of the dominance of one or two over the other(s).
Hence, speaking about someone as 'a Vata Type' or 'a Kapha Type,' for instance, is a helpful way of explaining why the predominance of that particular dosha makes us tend toward specific behaviors, attitudes, sports, food items and flavors, intellectual and physical endeavors, psychological and emotional struggles, as well as to suffering from certain ailments over others. And so, how much of Vata, Pitta, and/or Kapha there is naturally in us at the point of our birth –which is considered as our 'zero state'– will determine our Prakruti or 'natural disposition.' This will be the state that will be most inherently sattwic or harmonious for us, because sattwa can look and feel different for different types of individuals. Our Prakruti is, therefore, a sort of individualized baseline or blueprint we can consult at any point of our lives in order to determine how far off we've moved from our own 'sense of balance' and, also, how to best go back to it in our particular case.
Sattwa Guna is thus given a great deal of importance both in Ayurveda and in Yoga because sattwa is that quality of harmony, equilibrium, right measure, and natural intelligence able to bring us back to balance whenever we've gone too far from it.
Knowing our Ayurvedic constitution, then, can be very helpful in bringing us back to 'good health' before or after any major ailment manifests, as well as for determining things like the types of foods that suit best and worst our specific type, what season of the year is more advisable for some of our enterprises, or what parts of the bodymind we'll have more of a tendency to struggle with because of our particular nature. Additionally, it can also help us know what specific type of Yoga and yogic practices are best for us in general and in particular times of the year, of the day, or for the particular stage of life we're in.
Balancing the Doshas
Overall, a lot of Ayurveda therapy nowadays is geared at reducing existing doshic imbalances and bringing greater sattwa into our lives, because, though we all have a natural baseline, chances are our life experiences and choices may move us away from it at different points. Subtle lifestyle changes, tweaking out some of our routines, and harmonizing what we ingest at all levels are some of the ways we can help our own system come back to equilibrium. But equilibrium, as said before, can look very different depending on whether we have more of a Vata-, Pitta-, or a Kapha-type in us, and also on the specific dosha that goes off-balance at any particular point (Vikriti). Indeed, the magic of Ayurveda resides in how this discipline is able to play with both what's naturally harmonizing for us because of our constitution, and what's most advisable for us at a particular point in time given a specific imbalance. For example, someone may be naturally a Kappha type according to her constitution, but struggle with a Pitta imbalance in her early 20s, and with a Vata imbalance in her late 40s... This will mean that different strategies will be relevant at each point and that the signs or manifestation of the imbalance may similarly take different forms. And though there are, of course, general recommendations depending on our natural type, there's quite a bit of individualizing and tailoring possible when it comes to Ayurveda, precisely because of the strong lifestyle and contextual component to it. But as said before, that's food for a few other entries (at least!) which we will be delivering in the upcoming months!
* Yogarupa Rod Stryker's words in an in-person training.
** Dr. David Frawley Yoga and Ayurveda. Self-Healing and Self-Realization.