Dosha, Dhatu and Mala - The Fundamentals of Human Body
By Dr. Nutan Pakhare
Modern sciences attempt to understand the human body by simply dividing it into structures (anatomy) & its functions (physiology). Right from the smallest unit of the body called the cell, to the most complex organ systems; we find specialisation and a separate set of study for each part of the body. This is not bad, but from the holistic point of view specialisation in one area may not be that effective in recognising earlier signs of concerns developing in other but connected areas.
This brings us to Ayurveda, which in fact tries to approach the body in its entirety. Ayurveda clearly states that any absurdity arising within the human body be it physical, mental, emotional or even subtle than that is the result of imbalance. This imbalance in the body harmony may be caused due to ‘N’ number of factors (like eating unsuitable foods, excess travel, less sleep, etc.) but it’s early signs can be seen in the very fundamentals of the body out rightly. These fundamentals are characterised into 3 categories and are described by Ayurveda as
“Dosha Dhatu Mala Moolam hi Shareeram”
That is, it talks about:
- Tri Doshas (3 constitutes );
- Sapta Dhatus (7 basic elements); and
- Tri Mala (3 forms of waste excreted from the body).
Although these fundamentals are classified into 3 separate groups, they are interdependent and thus exert great influence on each other. Any disturbance in one of these does bring the related effects on the other two. Hence, from a health perspective, it becomes important to learn about them and practice a living which suits and caters to these fundamentals.
So let us try to acquaint ourselves with each of them.
TRI DOSHAS: The theory of “tridosha” forms the rock solid base of the entire ayurvedic knowledge and system of health management. Every other theory, practice & treatment mentioned in the Ayurved prominently revolves around the” tridosha theory”and how to restore its balance. In Ayurveda, Health and disease are explained in terms of Samya or Samyoga (HOMEODYNAMIC balance) & Vaisamya (imbalance) of doshas, dhatus and malas.
What are the tri doshas?
Tri dosha in English for simple understanding can be labelled as 3 constitutions that essentially govern body harmony. Whereas if we try to understand it in Sanskrit for exact translation, tri refers to ‘three’ and dosha means ‘fault or disease’, that is the 3 components that are the root cause of any and every disease in their imbalance state. They disturbes Agni and Dhatu in the body before manifesting any disease.And hence, they have been termed as “DOSHAS”. However, when these 3 components bring health in their hemodynamic balance, state and nurture body they are referred to as “Tri Dhatus”, (coming from the word “Dhatu” meaning mineral or metal, but in context of body it is taken for supporting entities to the human body.)
So these tri dhatus or tri doshas are: Vata; Pitta and Kapha. They can also be roughly translated as the wind; bile & phlegm respectively or wind,sun and moon energy.
VATA, as it is referred to as wind, it predominantly governs all the ‘movement related activities’ of the body. (As the nature of the wind is “to Move”) So be it voluntary or involuntary movements as in like expansion and contraction of lungs; beating of the heart; blood circulation; nervous impulses; moving of the limbs; excretion; to nearly everything that’s been moved and circulated in & out the body sphere is only made possible because of the Vata.
Along with that the mind and its all functions are also governed by Vata. (Doesn’t our mind keep on wandering all the time!? This wandering nature is influenced by vata! Mental health disorders such as stress ,anxiety and depression are also linked with irregular flow of Vata inside us.
Obstruction, blockage, accumulation or excess flow of vata in the body is not good either. This results in dominance or subjugation of Vata in the body which then thereby affect the associate functions. Affected functions then start manifest into chronic symptoms (e.g., knee pain) and these symptoms with time culminate into acute diseases to even disorders (e.g., arthritis).
Vata can be managed through regular exercise (which provides good blood flow and movement to every part of the body); eating food that provides energy and freshness; optimum sleep and regulated breathing.
Try it: Observe your body for a day in everything that you do. Try to list all the movements that you make throughout the day.
- Drinking water…..
PITTA or bile is predominantly related to digestion, assimilation and absorption. Food and other sources of life (sunlight, air) available in nature needs to be manipulated into simpler forms for the body to absorb and utilise them. This task of integration is only possible because of Pitta functioning appropriately. However Pitta is not just active on the physical level, but mentally and emotionally too it serves a function.
Mental attitudes (for example like openness to new things or rigidity/ orthodox mind-set, etc.) and Emotional maturity (able to move –on; letting-go; or holding on to the past, fixations, etc.) are all out product of either balanced or Imbalanced Pitta.
Pitta can be regulated through light, agreeable and easily digestible food; meditation; and catering the attitude of openness & freedom (from past and future ties).
Try it: List some of your mental attitudes that have either helped you or have prevented you from succeeding. Attitudes that need acceptance- digestion- assimilation and absorption in your life.!
KAPHA also known as phlegm serves the important function of protection, lubrication, repair and maintenance of body cells, tissues and organs. It serves as a barrier for external micro biomes and maintains the homeostasis and metabolism of the body. It is because of the Kapha that the body gets a smooth structure; strength; stableness & potency. Emotionally and mentally, a balanced Kapha dosha breeds the quality of forbearance and steadfastness.
As Kapha is associated with stability and groundedness, excess of Kapha dosha directly affects the functioning of Vata (which is related to movements) which can bring about breathing ailments; depression; lack of enthusiasm; low blood pressure; heaviness in the body and overall sleepy and drowsiness.
Whereas lack of proportionate Kapha results in aggravated Pitta dosha resulting in burning sensations in abdomen/ stomach; acidity; ulcers; high body temperature; frictions in the joints; temper issues; impulsive decisions and pervasive irritability.
Kapha dosha can be regulated through various self-care methods like having a warm oil massages; eating freshly cooked hot meals; shat kriyas(6 yogic cleansing process); warm water bath; and following regular timely sleep patterns.
Try it: Try any of the above mentioned practices to balance your Kapha dosha. Document your experience after that.
So this was a crisp introduction to the tri dosha. Let us end this topic with a thoughtful quote: “if your body & mind were a hand written story, then Vata is the ink, Pitta is the pen, and Kapha is the paper. Each one is vital!”
SAPTA DHATUS: As we have seen, the tridoshas determines the health or illness within the person. This is because they have a direct effect on the Sapta dhatus -also known as the seven primary elements that make or break the body.
These 7 fundamental elements that constitute the body are described in Ayurveda as:
- RASA (रस); Plasma
- RAKTA (रक्त); Blood
- MAMSA (मांस);Muscles
- MEDA (मेद ); Fat
- ASTHI (अस्थि);Bones
- MAJJA (मज्जा); Bone Marrow
- SHUKRA (शुक्र) Sperms and Ovum
Rasa (chyle or plasma) is basically a digestive fluid containing the essence of nutrients and minerals derived after eating and digestion of food in the stomach. It is the main source of nourishment (Preenan) for the entire body system and the rest of the dhatus. Rasa when absorbed by the intestine gets transformed into a more condensed and thicker substance called Rakta (blood).
Rakta receives its red color because of the heat of the Pitta. Rakta, being rich with nourishing elements is transported all throughout the body 24*7. Hence, Rakta is also said to serve the very important function of Jeevan i.e for sustenance of life. Rakta, when absorbed and utilized in the body, gets transformed into a more condense and thicker form called Mamsa (tissue/ flesh).
The function of Mamsa Dhatu is to provide support and protection (Lepan) to bones and other vital organs. Movements of the limbs and other day to day activities are possible because of healthy Mamsa Dhatu.
After Mamsa, there is formation of Meda (fat) in the body. The chief function of Meda Dhatu is lubrication (Snehan) of the muscles and the bones. Meda is also responsible for energy generation and keeping the body warm.
Post Meda dhatu there is formation of Asthi (Bones) in the body. It is because of the bones that the body gets its upright structure. Bones perform the function of holding (Dharan) the body together, mobility and strength.
After bones, there is formation of Majja (Bone marrow) that essentially fills (Pooran) the bone cavities making the bones stronger and less susceptible to fragility or fractures. Majja is also the store house of essential fats and blood cells which are used during the times of need.
Lastly, the majja too gets reduced and transformed into concentrated thick substance called Shukra (gametes/ sperm/ ovum) which performs the function and responsibility of continuance of the species through pregnancy and childbirth (Garbha utpatti).
So these were the seven Dhatus, each supporting one another, and the former ones making way for the development of the subsequent ones. However, the soul of all 7 dhatus is the Ojas (vitality or Bala), most of the time also labeled as the 8th dhatu. It is because of the Ojas that all other dhatus work in their optimum health. Just as Ghee is to milk, so is the Ojas to the dhatus. Deterioration of Ojas can lead to deterioration of the body and even death. Whereas enhancement in Ojas leads to growth, enthusiasm, contentment and positive outlook towards life.
So this is how the entire body system gets generated, maintained and even discarded with time and utility.
We saw the generation and the maintenance part. Now we reach upon the last but equally important division of the body system –Mala (excretory materials).
MALA: Excretion of the waste matter is as important as ingestion and digestion. As one eats and digests daily, it is also necessary to release the unwanted, unnecessary and unrequired by-products of the metabolic functions time to time. This waste that comes out at regular intervals is referred to as “MALA” (मल) in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda has given classification of two types of Mala that a human body generates as a result of consumption and maintenance, and they are:
- Sharira Mala –Waste products of physical body
- Dhatu Mala – Waste products from the metabolism of tissues
Sharira Mala includes: Pureesh (stool); Mutra (urine) and Sweda (sweat). They are the form of waste that gets generated as a part of the entire body process (e.g. like digestion; filtration; heavy exercise, etc.) Sharira Mala requires immediate release and hence their expulsion is brought to the awareness through bodily signs and urges.
Whereas, Dhatu mala is the result of the growth, wear & tear happening at the cellular and tissue level.
Ayurved has given list of these dhatu wastes, they are as follow:
And their respective
Karna mala (ear wax);
Netra mala (eye discharges);
Nasa mala (nasal discharges);
Asya mala (oral discharges);
Roma Kupa Mala (sebum);
Prajanana mala (smegma)
Roma (body hair);
Charma sneha (sebaceous secretion);
Netra vit (thick secretion from the eyes); Pureesha sneha (fecal mucus)
Timely dispelling of these malas is essential for the health and wellness of the entire body system; otherwise their accumulation can lead to infections and diseases.
Know more about our Ayurveda Anatomy and Physiology course.