The concept of the three doshas (tridosha in Sanskrit) is one of the most important in ayurveda. The doshas are made up of specific combinations of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). Because they are derived from the five elements, the doshas are also present in everything that exists.
VATA = Ether + Air
PITTA = Fire + Water (Pitta is pronounced with a short "i" as in "it", so it's "pit-a", not "peeta.")
KAPHA = Water + Earth (Kapha is pronounced "kuffa").
Once you understand them, the doshas become a handy way to describe everything from the weather to emotions to foods to objects to colors. They also govern the ways our minds and bodies react to changes in our environments. The easiest way to begin to learn the doshas is to understand what they do to your body and mind.
VATA represents the principle of movement. It governs breathing, blinking, heartbeat, neural and muscular movement. Vata also governs movement within the cytoplasm and across cell membranes. The main sites of vata within the body are: colon, bones, hair, skin (specifically the sense of touch), ears, bones, thighs and pelvis. Emotionally/psychologically, vata is associated with flexibility, creativity, fear, anxiety and loneliness. Vata times of day are sunset and sunrise, the hours from 2:00 to 6:00, a.m. and p.m. PITTA represents the principles of metabolism and transformation. It governs digestion, absorption and assimilation of food, information and sensory experiences. The main sites of pitta in the body are: small intestine, gray matter of the brain, sweat glands, liver, spleen, gallbladder, blood, eyes and skin. Pitta is responsible for understanding, intelligence, anger, hatred and jealousy. Pitta times of day are 10:00 to 2:00, a.m. and p.m. Note that noon, the heat of the day, the time when digestive fire is strongest, falls under pitta time. KAPHA represents the principles of structure and moisture. It creates cohesion and fluidity, lubricates joints and maintains immunity. The main sites of kapha in the body are: lungs, white matter of the brain, lymph, synovial fluid, stomach, pancreas, sinuses, mouth, nose and throat. Kapha is love, compassion, forgiveness, loyalty, greed, possessiveness and attachment. Kapha times of day are 6:00 to 10:00, a.m. and p.m.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha are used to describe body types, personality traits and emotional states. When an ayurvedic practitioner works with you, one of the main things he/she is assessing is your state of balance or imbalance. In the following sections on Prakruti and Vikruti, we'll see how the doshas are used to determine the bodily constitution of an individual and ways we address imbalances in the doshas.