Yoga, Ayurveda and Yoga Therapy

Introduction of the Doshas

We've been putting together the pieces of a puzzle in our discussions so far. First, we introduced the Kosha Conceptual Model which explained the Yogic view of Self. Next, we introduced a brief bit of the Samkhya Philosophy which gave us a brief overview of the Yogic view of the Mind. It related Purusha, Prakritti, and the Gunas.

The next piece of the puzzle is the relationship of the inorganic world to the organic framework of the body. This discussion describes the relationship of Yoga and Ayurvedic Medicine and introduces the tools of Ayurveda: the three Doshas.

Yoga helps us to improve the balance, clarity and the overall steadfastness of the Mind. Yoga uses the model of the three Gunas to achieve this end. Ayurveda maintains and restores balance in all of the functions and qualities of the body. The model for this is twofold: 1) the Five Elements model and 2) the Tri- Dosha model. Ayurveda explains how dietary and environmental conditions affect the body's' function and qualities. In addition to healing the body, Ayurveda treats psychological dysfunctions based on the Guna Model as well.

The first Model of Ayurveda classifies the inorganic qualities of our physical world (a form of Prakritti). These qualities are the five forms of matter (the five elements): earth, fire, water, air and space. It is not the purely physical entities these elements represent that are of importance. It is the qualities associated with each entity that has meaning. For example, take water. The qualities of water are its wetness, coldness and liquidity. The qualities associated with each element define its usefulness. These five elements make up the sum total of our inorganic world and defines the realm of Nature (Prakritti…everything not Pure Consciousness.

The human body though, is a complex biological system made up of organic matter. The five inorganic elements won't work to classify bodily functions and qualities. Ayurveda groups these functions and qualities into three groups called Doshas in Sanskrit. The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Vata Dosha is related to the air and space (ether) inorganic elements. Its key qualities are dryness, lightness and cold. Vata controls movements of all types in the body including breathing. The seat of Vata Dosha is in the large intestine. Vatas' main tissue disorders are dehydration, tissue depletion and debility. Vata diseases are nervous system disorders, weight loss, insomnia, arthritis and mental agitation.

Pitta Dosha is related to the elements of fire and water. Its key quality is metabolic heat regulation and as such, controls all digestion and heat producing functions in the body. The seat of Pitta Dosha in the body is the small intestine. Its main physical disorders are bleeding, infection, inflammation and fever. Pitta diseases are the blood disorders, ulcers, infections and inflammation.

Kapha Dosha is related the elements of water and earth. Its key qualities are coldness, stability, and the ability to bind structures together and thus, its key function in the body is the maintenance of the structural integrity of the body. Kapha is responsible for the formation of new tissue, hydration, lubrication, protection of the body against the elements and nutrition. Kaphas' main physical disorders are excessive tissue development, increased mucus, adipose (fat) tissue and water retention in the body. Kaphas' main site in the body is the stomach. Some examples of Kapha diseases are: obesity, asthma, heart disease, edema and diabetes.

Aryurveda describes physical illnesses in terms of imbalances in the doshas. These imbalances are described as either being an excess (too much) or a deficiency (too little). Bringing the Doshas into balance involves 1) deciding which Dosha is out of balance and 2) deciding whether and increase or decrease is needed. Further complicating the issue, Ayurveda has established 20 key qualities and has distributed these amongst the Doshas. Just as the elements had qualities associated with the inorganic world, the Doshas as well, have qualities associated with the organic world. Each Dosha can have between 6 and 11 qualities associated with it. Some of these qualities are shared between two or more Doshas. It is the effects of the qualities that are regulated up or down that restores the Dosha to its balanced state.

This discussion of Ayuvedic Medicine and the introduction of the Doshas completes our short introduction to the relationship of Yoga, and Ayurvedic Medicine. We can now begin to see how different the Eastern Healing Tradition is from the Western Model of Medicine. We can begin to see how much emphasis the ancient system places on treating the individual person as a completely unique and complex biological entity. In the next section, we will begin a discussion of the various techniques used in the Practice of Yoga Therapy.