Prakriti in Ayurveda
Let me start with what do you understand by Prakriti? Whenever we listen to this word, the first thing which comes to our mind is our nature. But let me introduce you to it’s actual meaning according to Ayurveda.
Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, is believed to be around 5,000 year old, and is considered to be the longest continuously practiced system of medicine. Long before blood tests, MRIs, CAT scans, EKGs, and x-rays, there was the eightfold examination process called ashtavidha pariksha. (Ashta means eight, vidha means fold or process, and pariksha means exam.) This check-up is still practiced today by Ayurvedic medical doctors and certified consultants.
When getting an initial consultation, plan to spend about an hour with the practitioner. The eightfold exam is a thorough process in which the consultant really gets to know you. It consists of examining eight areas of the body and bodily functions, all of which reveal places of balance and imbalance.
Ayurveda defines health as a state of physical, psychological, social and spiritual well being and is based on the theory of Panchamahabhoota (the five basic elements – Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth) and Tridoshas (three biological humors – Vata, Pitta and Kapha) which are present in each and every cell of the body along with mind and spirit. The equilibrium of doshas is called health and imbalance (Vikriti) is called disease (Ashtanga Hridaya, Sutra Sthana 1). Together these three doshas determine the physiological balance and constitution of the individual which is called as Prakriti in Ayurveda. Every person has all three doshas (physical humors – vata, pitta, kapha) and trigunas (psychological qualities – Satwa, Rajas, Tamas) in different proportions. However, depending upon the predominance of the five basic elements, three doshas and mental qualities in sperm (Shukra) and ovum (Shonita) at the time of conception, the individual prakriti is decided. Prakriti is also described to be influenced by maternal factors including the intra-uterine environment, food and regimen adapted by the mother during pregnancy (Matur Ahara Vihara). This basic constitution which is fixed at the time of fertilization generally remains constant through out the life of that individual. Ayurveda has also explained the food and lifestyle as per individual constitution including the factors which aggravate and pacify doshas (Vimana Sthana 1/21-25, Charaka Samhita, 2003).
To summarize, Prakriti, thus refers to genetically determined physical and mental constitution of an individual. Every person has his/her own unique constitution which determines the biological functions, response to environmental factors, drugs and also susceptibility to diseases making it one of the earliest known concepts of preventive and personalized medicine. The knowledge of prakriti and the ability to subgroup individuals based on their predominant prakriti, in Ayurveda system of health care, thus, is one of its important and unique specialties and essential tools. This not only helps to understand the mental and physical nature of a person in health but also to know the susceptibility to diseases which assists in promotion of health, prevention and cure of diseases. It may also be mentioned that Ayurveda system primarily aims at treating the cause of the disease (and not just the symptoms) by identifying the imbalance of the Tridoshas (Vimana Sthana 8, Charaka Samhita, 2003).
There are a large number of recognizable phenotypic features described for the prakriti types. Of these, the key features include the following:
Key distinguishing features for prakriti determination
- Thin body frame, does not gain weight
- Skin dry, rough, dark complexion, cracked
- Hair dry and splitting
- Quick performance of activities
- Variable and/or poor appetite.
- Physical working capacity less, resistance to disease usually poor
- Prefers warm or hot food and climate.
- Scanty perspiration, variable thirst
- Tendency for constipation
- Light sleep with many dreams
- Prone to anxiety, worry and depression, unpredictable nature
- Medium body frame
- Skin delicate, reddish complexion, warm to touch
- Good/excessive appetite
- Feels warm/hot sensation
- Prefers cold food and climate, intolerance to hot food and climate
- Tendency for loose motion
- Excessive thirst and perspiration
- Bright eyes, reddish sclera, yellow iris, sharp penetrating vision
- Hair soft, premature graying, baldness
- Intelligent, sharp memory, hot tempered, brave, jealous, aggressive, commanding nature
- Large, board body frame, tendency to gain weight
- Skin thick, soft, smooth, firm, glossy, fair complexion
- Good stamina but slow in physical activities
- Deep and pleasant voice
- Moderate appetite
- Moderate perspiration, low thirst
- Deep and sound sleep
- Large eyes, calm, stable with whitish sclera
- Hair thick, oily, wavy dark coloured
- Calm, cool, joyful, polite good nature
Combination of basic elements mainly Space and Air results in the formation of Vata dosha, Fire and Water elements form Pitta dosha, Water and Earth elements form Kapha dosha in the living body.
There are distinct properties of each dosha. The main properties of Vata dosha are – dry, cold, light, subtle, clear, rough, astringent taste, responsible for movements and catabolic in nature. Pitta dosha possesses properties of hot, unctuous, sharp, liquid, spreading, sour-pungent-bitter taste, responsible for digestion and metabolism, Kapha dosha possesses the qualities of cold, heavy, soft, oily, stable, slimy, sweet taste and anabolic in nature (Vagbhata’s Ashtanga Hridayam, Sutra Sthana 1/10-12, 2003).
There are seven types of physical prakriti viz., Vata, pitta, kapha, vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, kapha-vata and tridosha prakriti –(combination of all three doshas vata, pitta-kapha in equal proportions), and three broad types of mental constitution viz., satwa, rajas and tamas prakriti (Vimana Sthana 8/9,5, Charaka Samhita, 2003). Even though, Ayurvedic texts have explained the characteristic features of all seven types of physical and three types of mental constitution, only three main types of Prakriti viz., Vata predominant, Pitta predominant and Kapha predominant constitution are usually taken for the examination of a person/patient.
About the Author
Dr. Pashupati Nath is a well renowned Ayurvedic Doctor (MD),a coach and a consultant. With 18+ years of experience as an Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Pashupati Nath works with his patients to help them unearth dormant capacities that lead to more fulfilling life through the physical,psychological and spiritual way of Ayurveda