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Ayurveda, the five Elements and the three Doshas
April 2, 2021

Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that can be broken down to its roots to understand its meaning. The word ayur means life and longevity; the word veda means pure knowledge. In fact, the Vedas are volumes of sacred texts almost 3000 years old in which many different teachings finally moved from the oral tradition to the written, including Ayurveda. 

Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old science, which had its birth in India. It is believed by many to be the oldest healing science still known to man. It covers every aspect of the human mind, body, and spirit, with its focus on happy, healthy longevity. From when to wake up, all the way to how to take care of your skin, it is all included in the teachings of Ayurveda – the knowledge of life. 

In the Beginning… Five Element Theory
To understand Ayurveda, one must first know that its foundation lies in the three forces: Creation, Change, and Destruction (sattva, rajas, and tamas in Sanskrit.) These three forces are called gunas. One guna cannot be without the others, everything that exists goes through these stages. When the gunas interact with one another, the result is the five elements: Ether (space), Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Everything we see, touch, think, and experience has some combination of these elements within. Each element carries specific attributes that make it unique. In life, none of the five elements ever exists alone as each successive element is born from the one before it. Think of Ether as the vastness of the cosmos. This space is the home for all objects in the universe, namely energy. When sattva, rajas, and tamas take a hold of this universal energy in space, the result is air, the first state of matter. When air shifts through the three stages, it starts to move around, causing friction. This action produces heat and light and fire is born. As this pattern continues, fire liquefies matter and a new cycle starts as water comes forth. As the water goes through its stage of destruction, it evaporates, and earth solidifies from what is left behind. Then the process starts over again, and it is happening all around us all the time. 

It Comes Together… The Three Doshas
As mentioned above, the five elements are rarely independent of one or another. In fact, so often are they found in certain combinations that these groupings have been given names. Ayurveda calls them the three doshas. Dosha literally means impurity, as in two elements mixed together. These combinations are as follows: Ether + Air = vata, Fire + Water = pitta, Water + Earth = kapha. In the more common sense, dosha refers to a quality in a person, place, or thing. These qualities come from the attributes of the elements themselves. For example if a person has a vata quality, they may be cold (space) and very mobile (air.) The following chart lists the attributes of the elements, and in turn, the doshas. A reminder to readers that water is an element that appears in both pitta and kapha dosha.

VataPittaKapha
EtherAirFireWaterEarth
DryRoughLightFluidMoist
LightMobileSharpFlexibleDense
VastColdHotSoftHeavy
ColdDrySlightly OilyMoistOily
TransparentThinPenetratingHeavyCold

What’s My Constitution: Prakruti Explained
The idea of attributes pertaining to elements may seem on the surface to be a bit abstract. On closer examination however, it makes complete sense. When applied to a person, place, or thing, these attributes come to life. Everyone knows that wind is mobile, cold, and drying. Therefore, it is easy to draw the conclusion that wind is Vata. The same would apply to a person who cannot sit still, is always cold, and has chronically dry skin. Every person on this planet has some amount of each element inside of them, and therefore we all have some vata, pitta, and kapha. What makes a person unique is the amount of each element they have. A person is never just pitta, but may be predominantly pitta, with vata secondary and kapha bringing up the tail end.

Understanding the doshas is the key to maintaining a state of balance within the body, mind, and emotions. Each dosha contains both strengths and weaknesses, as well as inherent tendencies and susceptibilities. By knowing your own personal constitution (known as your ‘prakriti’), and adapting one’s lifestyle to match, it is possible to extend the state of health far longer than if one falls into the negative tendencies common to their predominant dosha

Curious about your own Prakriti? Discover your personal elemental make up by taking our online quiz.

Note- there are a number of multiple choice questions which will take less than 5 minutes to complete. At the end of the quiz you will be shown your prakriti, with tips on what is likely to throw you off balance and easy ways to restore your balance.

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