The Three Humors or Life Forces Vata, Pitta, and Kapha

Ayurveda is a complete system of wellness, based in the natural world.

The Ayurvedic view of the world and the human system is richly metaphorical and scientifically precise.

Ayurveda views all matter as composed of five basic states, often called elements. These are the building blocks of everything that exists, including ourselves.  Previously, in the article What is Ayurveda, I laid out the cosmology upon which Ayurveda is based. In short, this ontology views the material world as a duality comprised of both spirit and matter. The body, mind and emotions are seen as part of the material world, constantly changing and subject to different rates of change.

Tri-Dosha Theory lays out how the three body types manifest physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ayurvedic teachings have been codified and practiced for over 2500 years, so we have both an abundance of experiential knowledge and a growing body of scientific research to back this wisdom. We are also able to accurately predict how each body type will tend to go out of balance as well as how to restore our innate equilibrium.

The five elements are: space or ‘expansion’, air or ‘movement,’ fire or ‘transformation,’ water or the ‘liquid state’ of matter and earth or matter’s ‘solid state’.  The elements move from subtle to gross forms and are evident in the natural world, as well as the body, mind, and emotions.

Space manifests as the distance around or between objects. In the body, it is represented wherever there are spaces or cavities, such as the nose, mouth ears or anus.  In the mind, it’s the pause between thoughts. Emotionally, it is a feeling of emptiness or longing.

Air manifests as movement like a breeze or wind. In the body, it is breathing, the nervous system, the movement of food through the digestive tract. In the mind, it’s the movement of thought. Emotionally, it is the love that moves between us.

Fire is, well, fire.  It’s hot, it cooks and transforms. It’s the biological manifestation of digestion and metabolism and the fire and light found in nature, the body and mind.  It provides light, warmth, and luster to skin. In the mind, it’s our ability to transform ideas into reality. Emotionally, it is passion and creativity

Water is found in oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, and puddles.  Throughout the seasons, it’s observed as rain, sleet, ice, and snow. In the body, it’s all fluids and in any location where there’s wetness. It includes tears, saliva, mucous, sweat, pee, and spinal fluid.  In the mind, its seen as fluidity of thought, dreams, and imagination. Emotionally, it represents the unctuous expressions of love such as touching, kissing, and hugging.

Earth is the foundation and solidity upon which we build. In the body, it is our structure and is seen in the skin, skeleton, muscles, and organs. In the mind, it is seen as stability, calmness and patience.  Too much earth is represented by heavy emotions, such as doubt and hopelessness.

The elements combine together to form the three constitutions or body types

Vata is a combination of air and space.  Pitta is fire and water and Kapha is earth and water.

When these elements combine, they are said to have certain qualities such as: Heavy or light, hot or cold, moist or dry, mobile or static. For instance, earth is considered to be heavy, whereas space and air are light and cold. Water is moist and fire is hot, dry and light. In the body, these qualities manifest as symptoms when they are increased.

Vata is considered to be dry, light, mobile and cold. It provides motivation and energy for all the physiological functions of the body.  On the positive side, it promotes, energy, movement, vitality growth and change. On the negative, excess vata accelerates degeneration, disease and the aging process. 

Like the wind, vata types move quickly. They have light bodies and emotions. They are happy and carefree, with a light appetite, digestion and elimination. They are so excited by life that they crave adventure and forget the little things, like regular meals and sleep. They chill easily and always carry extra layers. Their inquisitiveness and love of adventure promotes constant change in career, homes, relationships, interests, and travel. This continuous movement is stimulating and energizing. In excess, however, it can be disturbing and destabilizing.

Psychologically, vata supports sensitivity, creativity, adaptability, and wide comprehension.  In excess, it leads to agitation, fear, anxiety, and emotional swings. Vata is the main factor behind physical and physiological disease, and vata's qualities increase with age.

Pitta is hot, oily/moist, light, and sharp. It is the biological humor of fire and manifests primarily through the digestive system. Too much pitta causes the mind and body to overheat and burn up. It is the process of digestion, metabolism, light, warmth and luster in the body. In excess, pitta is heat, inflammation, toxicity, fear and bleeding.

Like fire, pitta types usually have a higher body temperature, good digestive fire and a strong appetite. Mental giants, they are focused, competitive, charismatic and they make things happen. They have a tendency to overwork, so learning to relax and just ‘smell the roses’ is encouraged. Otherwise, they can develop intense tendencies that cause them to burn out in later life.

Psychologically, pitta grants courage, strong will, good intelligence, perception and leadership skills. In excess, pitta creates anger, envy, jealousy, aggression, and criticism. Pitta governs our adult phase of life from 20-60 years.                                      

Kapha  is the biological humor of water, and is the main factor of positive health and longevity.   Kapha promotes proper development of all bodily tissues and fluids, providing the body with stability, lubrication, fertility and endurance.   As with all good things, excess creates problems.  These include: dampness, coldness, heaviness, slowness and denseness in the body, resulting in an accumulation of water, mucous and fat.  This inhibits movement, proper circulation and blocks perception. 

When Kapha is balanced, it is protective, soothing and nurturing. Too much, and it becomes heaviness, congestion and blockage, inhibiting positive change and development.

Kapha types are relational and loving. They are devoted parents, partners, and patient friends. Because of their generally steady emotions, they are likely to remain calm in a crisis, it takes quite a bit to get them angry. They tend to have long term relationships with their work, family, and friends. These long- term tendencies can make parts of their lives sticky, promoting desire, greed, attachment and clinging to the past.

Childhood is the kapha stage of life, in which tissue and mucous production is high. Kapha provides us with endurance, strength and support