Qualities of the Doshas
Excerpts from Maharishi Ayurveda and Vedic Technology: Creating Ideal Health for the Individual and World,
Revised and Updated from The Physiology of Consciousness: Part 2 by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Dharma Publications, 2016 available at Amazon Click Here
To fully understand the body types in Maharishi Ayurveda we must understand the qualities of each of the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. The principle of vata, as we have said, arises from akasha (space) and vayu (air). Vata is associated with movement within the body. It is involved with such vital functions as respiration, excretion, and neural control of sensory and motor function. People whose prakriti is predominantly vata (or “vata types”) are characteristically thin and light. They are rarely comfortable in the cold, dislike strong wind, and prefer warm, balmy weather, warm water, and warm food. They have a marked tendency towards dry skin, some constipation, and a variable appetite, sometimes strong, sometimes weak.
Vata types tend to be bright, quick to grasp new concepts, quick to learn, but poor on long-term memory. Vatas are also quick to conceive and initiate projects, but have difficulty in following through to the end. They are often highly creative, but they can be overemotional, with extreme mood swings. When vatas feel good they can be almost euphoric.
When vata dosh goes out of balance, there is a strong tendency towards worry and anxiety. People prone to this imbalance often overextend themselves even though they lack profound physical strength and stability. Vata types are susceptible to arthritis and hypertension. In general, they have a high sensitivity to all environmental stimuli, with a low threshold of pain. A classic vata syndrome is well illustrated by the story of the princess and the pea. Even after 100 mattresses have been stacked on her bed, the princess is still disturbed by the presence of a tiny pea under the bottom mattress.
The second principal body type, pitta, is based on a predominance of pitta dosh in one’s prakriti, which is associated with heat and metabolism. The elements of agni (fire) and jal (water) are the basis of pitta tendencies. Pitta is associated with such functions as digestion and thermoregulation. Pitta types share some of the characteristics of the vata types. They, too, tend to have agile minds; however, they have far more energy and staying power. They can be very aggressive, with a strong and penetrating intellect. They are well-organized and can be good, authoritative decision-makers. Their bodies can take a lot of physical discipline and abuse, and they frequently take over advantage of this attribute. General George Patton was almost certainly a characteristic pitta type. It is not pure coincidence that military people and athletes are frequently found to be pitta types.
When pitta is imbalanced, pitta types will typically have trouble controlling their anger from time to time, if not frequently. They may be impatient and difficult to deal with. Pittas have strong digestion, but they must always have their food on time to maintain their equanimity. Peptic ulcer is the classic pitta health problem. Whenever a skin disorder appears, regardless of the individual’s body type, it is an indication of a pitta imbalance. Pitta-type people have an aversion to hot weather and, regardless of weather, even the touch of their skin is noticeably warmer than that of a vata person.
The third principal body type, kapha, is based on a predominance of kapha dosh, which is associated with structure. In the fable of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise is pure kapha—slow and steady wins the race. Within the body, kapha is concerned with the structural basis of the physiology. Its characteristics of solidity and inertia come from the elements of prithivi (earth) and jal (water). Structures such as membranes and connective tissue, which underlie the connectedness and stability of the body’s different parts, are associated with kapha.
Kapha types tend to be more heavily built, with somewhat oily skin, and often have dark and thick hair. Digestion tends to be slow, and kapha people will often have a problem with overweight. Unlike vata types, they are not easily disturbed, and unlike pitta types, they are slow to anger. Their minds are tranquil and steady, slow to learn but slow to forget. Because they are not easily upset, they often are warm, forgiving, and agreeable. Negative tendencies of excess or imbalanced kapha can be dullness or sluggishness and the lack of creativity and ambition. Kaphas enjoy their heavy and deep sleep, but must have enough to be lively and focused the next day. The most predominant kapha health disorders are asthma and obesity.
Considering the potential importance of psychophysiological or body typing, it is remarkable that so little scientific research has been conducted in this area. Perhaps this is because of the great variability among individuals, or the lack of a fundamental understanding of the very real physiological foundation of such a diagnostic framework. As we have mentioned, research has been conducted on Type A and Type B coronary-prone behavior, but researchers are justifiably cautious about its accuracy and therefore its effectiveness as a reliable diagnostic tool.
I believe that the understanding provided by Maharishi Ayurveda could give the proper theoretical basis for a thorough scientific investigation of this area. Preliminary laboratory evidence is very revealing. In one study, subjects were assessed according to the procedures of Maharishi Ayurveda and also for Type A and B behavior. Significant correlations were found between individuals with a predominantly pitta (and to a lesser extent vata) constitution and the Type A coronary-prone behavior pattern, and between those with kapha constitution and the Type B behavior pattern, which is less prone to heart disease. In addition, kapha-type people had significantly higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels than vata people. Further, significant differences were also found in measurements of pulse rate, white blood cell counts, and EEG frequencies.
One of the most interesting investigations concerning the physiological basis of Ayurvedic body types was conducted in India by researchers at the University of Benares. In these studies an attempt was made to correlate the three main Ayurvedic body types with blood levels of three principal neurotransmitters. The findings over several studies indicate that the vata type has significantly higher levels of acetylcholine; the pitta, higher levels of norepinephrine; and the kapha, higher levels of histamine.
Recent studies have shown results that suggest that the Ayurveda system of mind/body types may be based on epigenomic considerations. In one study the individuals who exhibited the three most contrasting body types, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, showed striking differences with respect to biochemical and hematological parameters. Fifteen parameters in males and four in females, revealed significant differences. For example, lipid profiles like triglycerides (TG), total cholesterol, VLDL, LDL, and LDL/HDL ratio were higher in Kapha males when compared to Pitta and Vata males. In terms of gene expression, Vata group males showed a distinct up-regulation of genes involved in both the regulation of cyclin dependent protein kinase activity and the regulation of enzyme activity. In Vata females, over-expression of genes related to nucleocytoplasmic transport was observed. In Kapha males, down-regulation of genes of fibrinolysis involved in negative regulation of blood coagulation was observed. Pitta males exhibited significant over-expression of genes related to immune response.
Further research should provide a fuller physiological understanding of the Ayurvedic psychophysiological typing system and thus help to introduce it more widely to the West. On the basis of this system, Maharishi Ayurveda provides a comprehensive nutritional and dietary program specifically designed for each type. Further, it gives specific advice and procedures in regard to behavior, lifestyle, and physical fitness. Extensive knowledge exists in Maharishi Ayurveda concerning daily and seasonal biological rhythms with regard to individual body type. On this basis certain daily and seasonal routines are prescribed for better health.
Let’s consider why the knowledge of someone’s body type is valuable. Take the example of Anne, who was diagnosed as being angry. The modern physician, if he made the correct diagnosis, wouldn’t really have much to offer such a patient. He probably would prescribe some mild sedative, or, if the condition worsened, a tranquillizer or painkiller. He might refer the patient to a psychologist or psychiatrist, who would probably prescribe more sophisticated medication.
Maharishi Ayurveda, on the other hand, would treat the patient very differently. In Maharishi Ayurveda, as in most systems of natural medicine, the orientation is toward the patient, not the disease. Who is my patient? What is his or her body type? What are the tendencies towards imbalances that cause physical or mental disorders? After examining the patient, taking the pulse, and fully evaluating the patient’s body type, the physician would probably find, as in the case of Anne, that she was a pitta type. This would explain her tendency towards anger.
Further, the physician would question what foods the person had been eating. Certain foods are known to increase pitta and can actually cause anger to be expressed more quickly. He would also examine other relevant aspects of the patient’s life that might also aggravate pitta and further note the time of day and season, since both these factors affect how the pitta-type person is behaving. Western-trained physicians who are also trained in Maharishi Ayurveda are inevitably impressed by the importance of understanding the patient’s body type before trying to prescribe a treatment or prevention program.
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