The humors are called "Doshas" in Sanskrit, meaning what spoils or causes decay, as they are not only the forces which produce and sustain the body in their normal condition but those which when out of balance serve to destroy it. Death is inherent in life. Even our normal process of metabolism is not only growing new cells but causing old cells to die and be discarded. Growth and life must eventually turn into decay and death. Health in the body thus consists in the right balance of the creative and destructive forces of the Doshas.
Each of the biological humors is composed of two elements; the first which provides for its primary force, the second which gives a medium for its manifestation. Vata consists of air and ether; air is its active side and ether or space its medium or field of movement. Pitta consists of fire and water; fire is its active side, water or oil is its field of combustion as fire cannot exist directly in the body without destroying it. Kapha consists of water and earth; water is its active force and earth its container.
Yet the biological humors are not the same as the elements. They are forms of the life-force working through and animating the elements. They are different aspects of the soul. The elements in themselves are inanimate. They are never really alive but can be activated by the biological humors like a wire is by an electric current. This life force is reflected from the soul, our eternal being, upon the physical body by the lens of the mind. Hence embodied life is always temporary. What comes from the inanimate elements and is formed of them must return to them. Similarly the life-force which comes from the eternal must eventually return to it. The current of life eventually must wear out the wire of the body. Nevertheless, life can still be prolonged far beyond its ordinary limits and Ayurveda gives us many keys to this process.
Vata is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle and agitated in qualities. It is the root of the humors, tissues and waste materials of the body. In its natural state it sustains effort, inhalation, exhalation, movement, the discharge of impulses, the equilibrium of the tissues and the coordination of the senses.
Pitta is oily, penetrating, hot, light, unpleasant in odor, mobile and liquid. It governs digestion, thermogenesis, visual perception, hunger, thirst, lustre, complexion, understanding, intelligence, courage and softness of the body.
Kapha is wet, cold, heavy, slow, sticky, soft and firm in qualities. It gives stability, lubrication, holding together of the joints and such qualities as patience, calm and devotion.
The Constitutional Types
The biological humors as the predominant forces in our body become the main factors which determine our psycho-physical constitution. According to Ayurveda we are not all alike physically nor do our bodies react in the same way. Each of us is a unique combination and proportion of the biological humors.
Hence Ayurveda generally divides individuals into three types relative to the predominance of the three humors in their nature, as Vata, Pitta or Kapha. From these seven basic types are distinguished, pure Vata, pure Pitta, pure Kapha, dual Vata-Pitta, dual Pitta-Kapha, dual Kapha-Vata and a balanced, triple or Vata-Pitta-Kapha type.
Some Ayurvedic doctors give numbers to represent the proportion of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in the body or in the disease process, like Vata 4, Pitta 2, Kapha 1, showing a high Vata state. But there is no standard way of doing this and each practitioner may do it differently.
Vata people, those in whom the biological air-humor predominates, are said to be unusually tall or short, thin, bony, with prominent veins, and generally poor tissue development. Their complexion may be dull or lacking in lustre, with possible brown or dark discolorations, with dry or cracked skin.
They possess variable appetites, tend towards constipation or hard stool, have scanty sweat or urination, are intolerant of cold and wind and though they have immediate energy have low endurance and stamina.
Vata types are nervous, restless, hyperactive, excitable and may suffer from insomnia or difficult sleeping. They are changeable, curious and adaptable, with sensitive and quick minds and reflexes, are often talkative and can be absent minded. They tend towards insecurity, fear and anxiety when emotionally out of balance, can be easily disturbed and are prone to worry.
Pitta people, those in whom the biological fire-humor is highest, are average or moderate in build and height, with good muscles. They have good circulation, warm and oily skin, ruddy complexions with possible redness of face or eyes, with delicate hair and possible early greying or balding.
They have sharp appetites, much thirst and sweat easily. They tends towards loose elimination and have profuse urination and commonly have yellow discoloration of the stool or urine. They are intolerant of heat and sun and tend to bleed easily.
Pitta types are aggressive, dominating, with leadership potentials, good speakers and workers. They are critical, perceptive, intelligent and have sharp memories. They tend towards irritability and anger when emotionally out of balance and are prone to conflict and argument.
Kapha people, those of the biological water-humor, tend towards overweight, are stocky or well built with good development of tissues. They have white, pale and moist skin, abundant and thick hair and large eyes. They have constant appetites but slow metabolism and are intolerant of cold and damp. They have abundant bodily secretions and often have too much mucus in their systems. They are slow in movement and find it difficult to get going but possess good endurance and generally strong immune systems.
Kapha types are calm, stable, devoted, loyal with slow but steady minds and memory. They may suffer from lethargy, lack of motivation or excess sleep. Their emotional imbalances are towards greed, attachment and depression. They can be possessive or sentimental.
We should remember in the delineations of the three types that their excess features are exaggerated for purposes of identification. No one of them is necessarily better or worse than the others. What is important is to live in harmony with our nature and its higher potentials, not to try to change it.
Each type tends towards certain diseases. Vata types tend towards nervous system disorders, anxiety attacks, insomnia, arthritis, constipation. Most wasting diseases and diseases of old age are of a Vata nature. Vata has the greatest number of diseases because as the most fundamental of the biological humors its imbalances can have greater consequences.
Pitta tends towards fever, infection, inflammatory diseases, hyperacidity, ulcers, skin rashes, bleeding disorders, liver problems. Kapha has congestive disorders, colds, flus, bronchitis, pneumonia and diseases of edema and excess water. Though each type may get any disease, each tends more towards diseases of its same qualities.
One of the humors when high can damage the others as well. For example, high Kapha can clog the channels and the nerves and cause epilepsy or strokes, thus resulting in Vata disorders.
It is important that we know our individual constitution and how to deal with it. Ayurveda prescribes diet, herbs and life-style per constitution. Generally we can all do well with a sattvic life-style, with pure, natural vegetarian food, peaceful, compassionate and humane living. When out of balance, however, we should always consider diet and herbs according to the deranged humor. For this we should consult an Ayurvedic practitioner.
Ayurvedic Anatomy and Physiology
Ayurveda has its own system of anatomy and physiology considering not only the gross body but also the currents of life-force and connections with the subtle body. It recognizes five different types each of Vata, Pitta and Kapha according to their different sites and functions in the body.
The Seven Tissues (Sapta Dhatus)
Ayurveda views the body as the development of seven tissues. These are plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow and nerve tissue and reproductive tissue (rasa, rakta, mamsa, meda, asthi, majja and shukra in Sanskrit). They form a concentric circle from the gross to the subtle. Those more gross nourishes those more subtle which in turn serve to support those more gross. Diseases of the deeper tissues, like nerve and bone, are usually much worse than those of the superficial, like plasma and blood
The Channel Systems (Srotas)
Fourteen channel systems are recognized in Ayurveda, with sixteen in the female. These are similar to the meridian system in Chinese medicine but include most of our physiological systems as well.
Three exist to bring nutrients into the body. These are the channel systems of breath, food and water. Seven exist to support the seven tissues. Three exist to eliminate waste-materials from the body, the systems of the feces, urine and sweat.
The mind is a special system in itself connecting to the nervous and reproductive systems.
The female contains two special systems, those of menstruation and lactation, which operate alternatively. Diseases are classified according to the humors, tissues and channels systems they effect.
By David Frawley > The American Institute of Vedic Studies > www.vedanet.com