Dosha 101

 Human Elements

Understanding the Ayurvedic concept of ‘dosha’ and how it manifests in your body is perhaps the single most important concept for your wellness and longevity.

Translating into Western concepts, we can describe the doshas as correlating with the humors of wind, bile and phlegm, to borrow from Tibetan and early Greek medicine. But understand that Tibetan medicine is built from a core of Ayurveda and the Greeks’ concept of humors almost certainly comes from Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the source of these ideas. Perhaps the mis-translation of the dosha concept into an understanding of substance in the blood may be why the traditional Greek medical understanding of humors was ultimately discredited, and modern Western medicine emerged as a result.

The concept of ‘dosha’ may be 10,000 or more years old, because the oral tradition from which formal writing about Ayurveda emerged goes back into ancient prehistory. Ayurveda is the oldest systematized medical system in the world, recorded in the written language called Sanskrit, which is the precursor of all Indo-European language. Writing about Ayurvedic concepts began perhaps 5,000 years ago, and the medical textbooks, still in use, date back as far 2500 years, predating the oldest Chinese Medical texts by over 200 years[1].

A core concept in Vedic Philosophy, central to Yoga and Ayurveda, is the principle of five element theory. The Vedic five element theory is a little bit different than that of Chinese Medicine; of particular note is the systematic arrangement of the five elements on a continuum of subtle to gross. (See Diagram). The understanding is that these five elements are a basic nature of how physical reality is constructed and organized.

The three doshas arise directly from an understanding of this five element theory; the doshas are in particular how the five elements manifest and operate as the substances of living tissue. In other words, the doshas constitute the human body, and a correlate implication is that understanding the doshas of a given individual will provide insight into the constitution (Prakruti) and the state of balance or imbalance (Vikruti) of that individual.

Vata Dosha is composed of space and air, and is the presentation of these two elements in the body. Pitta is the presentation of the fire element, and to some degree, hot or warm water. Kapha is the manifestation of cool water and earth in the body. (This transformation is shown in the diagram.)

While a great deal more can be said about the five elements and the three doshas, one core concept is that there are ten pairs of qualities (Gunas), which can describe all physical substance. Thus the Doshas have Gunas, and in fact, so do the five elements. A given person, because of their unique Dosha combination will therefore manifest more of certain qualities and less of others. This is why each person is unique, and why people have different appearances, preferences, experiences and so forth. These principles apply the physical level, and interestingly, also have implications for the mental realm as well.


The Ten Guna Pairs
(The twenty qualities of physical substance, arranged as pairs of opposites)






Fast / Sharp

Cool / Cold

















Mobile / Variable

Sticky / Cloudy








Qualities of the Doshas
(In Individuals, and States of Imbalance)

Some Qualities of the Vata Individual


Irregular Metabolism

Slender Body

Long Fingers,

Delicate Features

Gets Cold Easily

Best with 9 hrs of sleep

Difficulty with Digestion


Some Qualities of Vata Imbalance



Bloating and Gas

Cracking of the Joints

Dryness (skin, bowels)

Anxiety and Fear


Talks Fast, Feels Ungrounded

Some Qualities of the Pitta Individual


Ruddy Complexion

Medium Build


Keen Intellect

Small Teeth

Sharp Gaze

Body Oils, Body Odors


Some Qualities of Pitta Imbalance




Rashes, Redness, Rosacea





Some Qualities of the Kapha Individual


Slow Metabolism

‘Big Boned’

Larger, Broader features

Thick Hair

Pearly Fingernails

Melodious Voice

Forgives Easily


Some Qualities of Kapha Imbalance




Fatty Stools




Craving for Sweets

©2012 Boulder Ayurveda, LLC. 302 Pearl Street, Boulder,CO 80302









[1] If the Suwen, perhaps the early part of the Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic (Huangdi Neijing) was written in the second (or parts in the third) century BC, per consensus of scholarly opinion (ref:, then the collected sayings of Charaka (Charaka Samhita, circa 500BCE) would be 2-300 years older, notwithstanding the written Atharva Veda, which is the earliest presentation of Ayurvedic concepts, circa approx 5000BCE.

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