Modern medical knowledge has given us a very detailed understanding of the substances and structures that compose the human body. With the aid of modern technology, it has been able to probe deeply into the workings of organs, cells and even the minute organization of the DNA. However, even with this vast knowledge, it has not provided us with an understanding of the intelligences that initiate and coordinate all the various processes that go on within the human physiology.
Dhatu is usually translated as “body tissue,” but this definition does not address some important subtleties of meaning. For most people, the term “body tissue” implies something that has structure within the body like muscle or bone. However, not all the dhatus appear in solid form, nor do they always have structure, as in the case of blood. They exist in many forms: liquid, semisolid and solid.
The second component of the body as defined by Ayurveda is mala. The malas are those substances which the body normally discharges in the process of creating and maintaining the dhatus. Mala includes everything which is expelled because it is neither necessary for the body’s support nor beneficial to it. As was mentioned previously, it also consists of any substances which are separated from the dhatus and eliminated when the body tries to correct imbalances. During a chest cold, for example, we expel mucus from the lungs as a by-product of the body’s attempt to fight infection.
The last and most significant component of the human physiology is called dosha. Ayurveda considers this aspect of the body to be of vital importance because it is responsible for coordinating and directing all the structures and substances of the body. Knowledge of the doshas and their functioning give us the understanding of the intelligence that commands the dhatus and malas and gives the body its vast functional capability. The theory of the three doshas is the crown jewel of Ayurvedic science and the cornerstone of all its diagnostic and treatment modalities.
Elements which Become Dosha’s in the Body
Akash (Space), Vayu (Air) – Vata Dosha
Agni (Fire) – Pitta Dosha
Jala (Water), Prithvi (Earth) – Kapha Dosha
It would be incorrect to think of the doshas only as the three dynamic elements manifesting in the body. These active elements are always supported by the two unchanging elements, for change can only happen upon the foundation of non-change. Thus, vayu and akash combine to become vata dosha, which controls all aspects of movement as well as space within the body. In spite of this combination, however, vata dosha tends to primarily display the characteristics of vayu — the wind. The words,” dry, light, cold, quick, rough, minute” and “mobile” describe the characteristics of vata dosha.
Let’s first examine the upper part of the body from the head to the diaphragm. The organs in this area include the sense organs, tongue, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, trachea, lungs, bronchi, heart, pericardium and upper part of the stomach. Notice that these organs produce moisture in the form of watery secretions which are essential to the body. For instance, the tongue produces saliva which mixes with food and liquefies it enough to be swallowed. The eyes and nose Kapha zone secrete moisture to protect themselves and maintain their function.
How pervasive is the influence of the three doshas in human life? Not only do they govern specific areas of the body and their functioning, they regulate the physical and psychological development of various stages of life. Just as we divided the body into three distinct segments according to the dominant influence of a particular dosha, so we can divide our life span.
Now that we understand the relationship between the doshas and the elements, we can examine the doshas in terms of their functions in the body, especially the effects they have on the dhatus and malas. The Ayurvedic texts define dosha as that which is neither retained nor eliminated by the body. The doshas do not exist as retainable structures or materials, like the dhatus, nor are they substances which’ the body eliminates, like the malas. They have little or no obvious material form, and they cannot be easily seen or examined directly. The doshas play an active but somewhat invisible role in orchestrating the processes that create and sustain the body.
Digestion plays a very key role in Ayurveda’s understanding of human health and illness. Though Ayurveda contends that all diseases originate first in the mind, on a physical level this invariably manifests as a breakdown in metabolic function. Because of this, it gives great importance to the process of digestion, whereas modern medicine places much less emphasis on the body’s metabolic processes as the source of either health or disease.
Most people would define indigestion as the temporary inconvenience or discomfort that arises from eating too much food or eating foods that are too rich or spicy for our digestive process to handle. This description tends to place the focus more on the symptoms of indigestion than the process itself. Ayurveda offers a much more specific and comprehensive definition. It states that indigestion is both the inability to transform and assimilate food and the inability to eliminate metabolic waste products that result from the digestive process. Several things occur as a result of poor digestion.