Derived from Ayurveda, the doshas are used in yoga therapy to help recognize and mitigate physical, energetic and mental imbalances that occur in the individual. The doshas are composed of combinations of the five great elements. For example in vata dosha air and space elements predominate and in pitta dosha fire and water do. In kapha dosha, it is earth and water that are predominant. The three doshas can be construed as “constitutional types.” Each dosha displays specific physical and mental/emotional characteristics.
Kapha, pitta, and vata are present in all things and beings but to varying degrees in each one. People generally have one dosha that’s dominant and one that’s secondary. Some rare, exemplary persons are said to be tridoshic, having a natural balance between the doshas. This person is said to have a sattvic mind, which is to say calm and clear.
The three basic principles of rajas (energy), tamas (matter) and satva (intelligence) all act on creation as it is made manifest. Collectively, they are known as the three gunas. They show up in the Samkhya philosophy of Kapila around the sixth century BCE. They are part of the 24 tattwas and give rise to the mind, the five organs of perception, the five organs of action, and the five gross elements, whose combination in turn constitutes the dosha of an individual. From sattva guna (principle of light or intelligence) the five organs of perception arise (the nose, tongue, ears, eyes and skin). From rajas guna, the organs of action arise (the hands, feet, mouth, anus and genitals). From tamas guna, the five gross elements (mahbhutas) arise (earth, water, fire, air and space).
When imbalances in an individual occur, they can reflect congenital and environmental circumstances. Faulty habits, trauma, conditioning, environmental toxicity and karmic history all can play a part in establishing an imbalance. The goal of yoga is to bring back balance and restore harmonious function within and between all aspects of the human being and nature.
Each of us has from birth, a signature dosha called our prakruti. This innate constitution is believed to be dependent upon our parents’ state at the time of our conception and our karmic history and samskaras (patterns). Many things can cause us to move away from what is naturally most balanced for us. What takes you away from this natural center?
We can also have an acute imbalance causing one or more of our doshas to need pacification or activation, this is called our vikruti our current inner environment. For example, my prakruti is pitta-vata (which means by nature, I have strong pitta tendencies and mild vata tendencies) but currently my vata is most out of balance. I could do things to pacify the excess vata or I could also work to strengthen kapha dosha, the least strong dosha present. To help me come into balance, for example, I