Ayurveda: the Formation of Disease through Dosha Elevation, Weakened Metabolic Fire/Agni, and Increased Toxins/Ama
Ayurveda looks at the formation of disease in the body as the function of two primary factors: One is elevated or unbalanced Dosha (Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha), and the other, is the formation of Ama, a kind of toxic sludge that spreads from the gut through the channels/shrotas and tissues of the body, when the Metabolic Fire or Agni is weakened by a diet and lifestyle inappropriate to your Dosha and/or that ignores the natural laws of living.
The natural laws of living in Ayurveda includes eating foods in a way that respects the digestive fire Agni, cultivating a lifestyle that promotes healthy digestion of food and experience, that is congruent with the seasons, and that includes adequate rest, recreation and deep relaxation. Implied, too is the cultivation of a mental culture that keeps the mental Doshas from elevating pathologically through meditative practices such as mindfulness meditation, tai qi, traditional yoga, and even religious practices.
How Doshas Become Unbalanced
The natural tendency of your Doshas is to increase, that is their essential nature. Because humans have a nervous system that is hard wired by its fight/flight/freeze response, unless we learn wise methods for dealing with our natural imperfect tendencies towards aggression/anger, nervousness/fear, sluggishness/withdrawal, and unless we learn what kind diet and lifestyle will pacify our Dosha, our Dosha will increase. Doshas originate in the gut, which is why they are so affected by diet. The seat of Vata is the Large Intestine, of Pitta the Small Intestine and Pancreas-Liver-Gall Bladder, of Kapha the Stomach and Lung. When Doshas pathologically elevate, they spread to the tissues throughout the body where they predominate, and over time, mixed with Ama, cause disease.
How do we keep our Doshas in check?
Living With the Seasons
First of all, our Doshas increase in the different seasons, Vatta Dosha in Autumn/Early Winter, Kapha in Late Winter/Early Spring, and Pitta Dosha in Late Spring/Summer/Early Autumn.
Vata Dosha also increases in dry, windy or cold weather any time of year, Kapha in rainy, damp, or cold weather, and Pitta in hot or hot and humid weather. Vata increases with long nights and Pitta with long days.
So during these times of year and climatic conditions we need to adjust our diets and lifestyles to “go with the flow” of nature. Chinese Medicine and Tibetan Medicine and Islamic and Greek Medicine all say the same thing. If we, for example, eat more warming grounding food in late Autumn, we keep our Vata pacified, that is, we prevent it from increasing. But if during Late Winter/Early Spring, when it is cold and damp, or during the Monsoon season when it is cold and damp, times when Kapha is NATURALLY elevated, we drink iced beverages, cold beverages, or coconut water, all of which are very cooling, we will aggravate, or increase Kapha.
While this pathological increase of Dosha effects anyone, it will be most pernicious in the case of the person who is themselves dominated by that Dosha. So a Vatta-Pitta has to exercise the most care during Vatta season first and Pitta season second, whereas for the Pitta-Vata it is reversed.
A Diet and Lifestyle Appropriate to Your Unique Dosha Combination
I have written elsewhere on this site about the importance of a diet and lifestyle appropriate to your primary and secondary Dosha. Suffice to say, you need to know your secondary Dosha as well as the primary, and the unique way they manifest in your bodymind. That is what you find out in an Ayurvedic consultation. Because they manifest uniquely, for example, one Pitta type might get eczema and have normal bowels, another might get heartburn and diarrhea with normal skin, you must adjust you diet both to pacify Pitta, and to pacify your particular expression of Pitta.
Importance of your Secondary Dosha–Two Examples
Kapha-Pitta Body, Pitta-Kapha Mind
I know a heavy set, large boned, slow moving woman with thick hair, large eyes deep like the ocean, a thick flat nose, large lips, large mounds of flesh on her body, but who also if you notice carefully or get to know her, has an intensity in her eyes, and in her voice, even though she speaks very slowly, like a typical Kapha. She is sweet, but sharp. I have seen her get jealous very easily and needlessly intense. On the other hand, I have noticed then when her Pitta is pacified, when she changes her lifestyle and diet, so that she is calmer and happier, which in this case actually involves eating a diet that pacifies or reduces her Kapha (the excess water of Kapha elevation bottling up the fire of pitta, like a pot of hot boiling water) her sweet Kapha is increased and her hot Pitta is decreased. And though she is a Kapha-Pitta physically, she is a Pitta-Kapha mentally. She has all the drive and intensity of Pitta, is highly organized and successful in her profession, and this occurs in a fundamentally large, thick, smooth, regular body, with the exception that, rather than have cool smooth skin, she has hot oily skin, and, key point, she gets headaches in summer if she goes out in the hot sun. That is a classic physical Pitta symptom occurring in a mostly Kapha body. I think that is a symptom that is almost halfway between the body and mind, because I have only observed this symptom, headache in hot sun, in people with Pitta minds as well as element of Pitta in the body.
So, obviously, this person must not go out jogging or hiking in the middle of the day in the summer, she must protect herself from the sun, though if you just took a quick look at her you would notice that she is Kapha dominant. This is why the sub Dosha as equally important as the primary Dosha. Even though on the face of things, you would look at her and immediately think: oh, Kapha dominant.
Vata-Pitta Body, Vata-Pitta Mind
Another case is a patient of mine who presents with a Vatta-Pitta body, but in a very mixed way. Vatta frame–irregular bone structure, with weak muscles, fine Pitta hair, but dry like Vatta, dry skin like a Vatta that is prone to inflammation like a Pitta. Mentally he is hot tempered, but not so aggressive as other Pitta types. And he is naturally philosophical and very chatty and creative like a Vatta. Disorganized, which shows the lack of Pitta, too. He came to me for Acupuncture treatment for his arthritis, a Vata symptom, along with his disc herniation, which he developed at a very young age, another Vata proclivity, that was worsened by his very tight muscles, a Pitta symptom.
What is interesting about this case, as he is a Vata-Pitta, compared to the earlier case, who is a Kapha-Pitta, is that this man LOVES to sun bathe, especially at the beach, provided it is hot and there is little or no wind, and it makes him feel great. Why? Because he is fundamentally cold, like a Vata, profoundly so, whereas Kapha tends to be more cool and wet, hence the western term, phlegmatic. The cold of Kapha is more the natural coolness of water, whereas the cold of Vata is the profound cold of space. Also, our Kapha-Pitta, as you will recall, was Pitta-Kapha mentally, so she was more susceptible to the hot sun, whereas our Vata Pitta is Vata-Pitta physicially and mentally, so as he is Vata dominant his need for heat trumps any potential non-tolerance of the sun, provided there is little or no wind. Aversion to wind is a dead give away for Vata dominance. Why? Because like increases like and Vata IS wind incarnate. And wind is cooling, and Vata abhors cold. Also, as he is a Pitta secondary Dosha, he loves jumping into the ocean and feeling the cold water on his head. This is a Vatta Pitta. He also loves hot tubs and hot springs, but feels a great need to keep applying cool water to his head and scalp when in such a super charged hot environment that has to elevate Pitta dramatically.
Primary Dosha vs. Secondary Dosha
Most people are “bi-Doshic”, that is, their body-mind is characterized by the nature of two Doshas, one of which is more dominant, or greater, by proportion. So we speak in terms of the primary and secondary Dosha. But everyone is unique. Person A could be Pitta-Vatta with a very very strong Pitta dominance, meaning very pronounced Pitta characteristics and only slight Vata, whereas person B could also be Pitta-Vata, but with a smaller difference between the dominant and sub-dominant Dosha. Also worth noting, is that there are many different ways for a Dosha to express itself, so you could see Pitta e.g., in your sharp features and red skin or you could see it in your fast digestion and impatient nature, that is why no two people are identical. Some few people are tri-Doshic, which means they are characterized by all three Doshas in equal proportion.
So if you are a Pitta-Vatta your natural tendency will be to experience elevation of Pitta and Vatta. The more overwhelmingly Pitta you are, the greater the tendency.When Doshas are elevated they collect in the digestive tract. The unbalanced Dosha will effect the digested, or poorly digested nutrients waiting to nourish the tissues, and also the waste products themselves. Over time, as the Dosha accumulates because of pathological elevation, it spreads to the tissues associated with that particular Dosha, and also to any tissues (dhatus) or channels (srotas) that are already weakened or damaged.
Since the Doshas become pathologically elevated through indiscretions of diet, activity, or lifestyle, this is why it is so important to have a clear understanding of your particular Dosha pattern, which is never just a single Dosha. No one is a Pitta, or a Vatta. Everyone is at least a Pitta-Vatta, or Vatta-Kapha, and the degree and unique manner of the mix is critical to understand, and though on line forms that tell you your Dosha are interesting and a decent starter, you can’t really figure out your complex Dosha from them. For one thing, feeling the pulse is a critical piece of the puzzle, as is examination of the tongue, and listening to the voice. Those forms also don’t usually ask about the menstrual cycle which is also vital in the case of females.
The degree of Dosha disturbance is a function of both time, and severity of causes. One may have a diet matched to one’s Dosha with a regular occasional indiscretion that only catches up to you after many years, or one can have a diet and lifestyle that assaults one’s body-mind. Here we have a veritable home invasion in which an army of strangers collects quickly in an ante-room before proceeding to invade every room and closet and cupboard in the house, turning everything upside down and creating a very strong disease.
How much any one thing disturbs Dosha depends on how closely it matches the Dosha. Vata is aggravated by substances and experiences that are cold, dry, and light. So, an iced beverage in Summer will aggravate a bit, but an iced beverage with dry crackers and raw kale (which is light and also bitter) for dinner even more. Have that meal while camping in the desert on a cold dry windy autumn night, and you have a perfect scenario. Now have all this while living in the desert driving 2 hours a day, and watching lots of horror movies and constantly multi-tasking with high tech devices and you are guaranteed some good solid disease.
Relationship Between Agni, Ama, and Dosha Elevation
Keeping your Doshas balanced also involves cultivating strong Agni/Digestive-Metabolic Fire. In Ayurveda almost all disease originates with weakness of Agni. When Agni is weakened it allows for the accumulation of Ama Digestive-Metabolic toxins. They have an inverse relationship. Everything that strengthens Agni prevents Ama accumulating. Everything that weakens Agni leads to Ama accumulating. Everything that increases Ama (such as Dosha elevation) weakens Agni. Everything that reduces Ama strengthens Agni. The beginning of health is to protect and engender Agni and prevent Ama.
According to Charaka, the father’s of Ayurveda, “…the balance and aggravation of the Doshas is at all times due to the relative strength or weakness of the digestive fire/Agni. Therefore one must always protect the digestive fire, and prohibit all activities which might weaken it.”
This is because when Agni is strong, it is much harder to elevate or aggravate your Dosha, and if it does elevate temporarily, your body can accommodate such elevation. Likewise, if you have Ama accumulation then you are much more susceptible to the effects of an elevated Dosha
copyright eyton shalom march 2014 san diego ca all rights reserved use with permission