The qualities of the 5 elements correspond to the 3 doshas. The elemental qualities are below:
- Ether/Space: dry, expansive, cold, empty
- Air: moveable, changeable, light in weight (actually has some small weight), dark in color, cold
- Fire: hot, transformative, light in color, light in weight (but heavier than air), upward moving
- Water: cool, soft, liquid, moveable, fluid, heavy
- Earth: cold, heavy, dull, solid, stable, dense
The word “dosha” in Sanskrit means something that can change or something that can go wrong. These forces are within our bodies and in the world around us and can change and shift and morph. When we consider the doshas, we must remember that these are energetic qualities that exist not only within our own bodies, but within the world around us, and they are constantly shifting and changing. By maintaining a fluid balance among these forces, we can best maintain health and well-being, including through food. The three doshas correspond to the associated qualities of the elements.
The elemental qualities relate to each dosha.
- Vata: Ether and Air
- Pitta: Fire and some Water
- Kapha: Water and Earth
The qualities of vata are: dry, cold, light in weight, dark in color, rough in texture, clear, dry, astringent, subtle, moveable, changeable, expansive, irregular, and dynamic.
In the body, vata governs: physiological processes related to movement (including movement of the body, movement of the digestive system), creativity, grace and balance, movement of thoughts and electrical impulses, the spark of excitement that drives us, the generative force for all action.
When balanced, vata is: graceful, smooth, light, mobile, intuitive, creative, lyrical, dry.
When out of balance, vata is: spacey, forgetful, overly dry or dried out (includes creak joints, skin, digestive system, hair, nails), hypersensitive, sensitive to stimulation, dry cough, hiccups, difficulty staying asleep, difficulty with memory.
Things that throw vata out of balance are: excess stimulation, overly dry foods, a preponderance of raw foods, an excess of bitter and astringent tastes, not enough sleep, stimulants such as caffeine, the windy and dry fall season, travel, airplane flights, lots of talking, overwork, unreasonable expectations.
Bring vata back into balance with: warmth, oiliness, regularity (including at regular times each day), rest, quiet, soothing music, soft touch/massage, soupy liquid foods, the sweet taste (healthy sweets), salty and sour foods. Vata is related to the senses of sound (the air element, since sound waves move via air movements) and touch (since the ether element, the space around all things allows us to feel touch).
The qualities of pitta are: hot, pungent, oily, sharp, liquid, spreading, sour, red or yellow in color, intense, and fiery.
In the body, pitta regulates: processes related to: transformation, digestion, enzymatic changes, discernment and judgment, body temperature, visual acuity, sweat, thirst, condition of the skin, and hormonal balance.
When balanced, pitta is: passionate, focused, discerning, productive, truth-seeking, energetic, patient, driven, able to stay on task, and thrives in competition.
When out of balance, pitta is: like a forest fire burning everything in its path, inflammatory, red and irritated, angry, loud, judgmental or overly critical.
Things that throw pitta out of balance are: too much heat, excessive stimulants, direct sunlight—particularly in the eyes, overly pungent foods, alcohol, too much sour, criticism.
Bring pitta back into balance with: sweet tastes (healthy sweets), sweet scents, cool colors in the environment, water (drinking water, showering or bathing and especially swimming), early morning light, moonlight, darkness, bitter leafy greens, bitter and astringent aloe vera, astringent beans, antiinflammatory spices like turmeric, and cool peppermint.
The pitta dosha governs the eyes and eyesight, so pitta is related to sight. Wearing sunglasses on sunny days, decorating space with soothing colors and wearing cool hues can help balance fiery pitta through sight.
Qualities of kapha are: solid, slow, heavy, stable, unctuous (oily), soft, predictable, dense, sweet, liquid, cloudy, sticky, cool, lubricating, protective, and loving.
In the body, kapha regulates: processes related to structure, shape, cohesion, stability, growth, lubrication (including the lubrication in the joints, in the digestive system, in the lungs and the skin), tears, fat, taste, strength, and love.
When balanced, kapha is able to love unconditionally, has a healthy balance of muscle, fat, bone and other tissue, resplendent with stamina, sleeps well, demonstrates good memory and focus, protective, has appropriate attachment.
When out of balance, kapha is: sluggish, heavy, puts on excess weight, dull, sleeps too much, hard to arouse, jealous, clingy, congested, full of mucous, dense, difficult to change.
Things that throw kapha out of balance: are excessive amounts of sweet, predominance of cold foods, heavy foods, sleeping during the day or sleeping excessively, old, fried or tamasic foods, wet, cold damp climates, cloudy days, rainfall, the middle of the winter.
Things that bring kapha back into balance: are bitter, astringent and sour foods, dry heat (sauna or desert), physical exercise and activity, pleasant smells, stimulating and invigorating herbs and spices such as rosemary, mints, ginger, wind, dry brushing, and hot drinks.
Ayurvedic proverb empowers us to remember that the food we eat throughout the day is the basis for our health and well-being and also contains our medicine.
The definitions of health from an Ayurvedic perspective, are much more inclusive than what we may think of the meaning of health. Health is not only physical, it includes our relationship with our sense of purpose, our sense of our spiritual health, the health of our mind and our emotions. It includes the strength of the tissues in the body and the proper elimination of waste products.