Last week we looked at the Ayurveda principle of including all six tastes in every meal in order to assure balanced nutrition — and balanced doshas. This week we will explore the building blocks of both the doshas and the six tastes: the five “mahabhutas” or primordial elements of creation. These elements are earth (prithivi), water (jala), fire (tejas), air (vayu) and space (akasha). These elements combine in different ways to make up the three doshas and the six tastes.
Vata is a combination of space (akasha) and air (vayu).
Pitta is a combination of fire (tejas) and, in lesser amounts, water (jala)
Kapha is a combination of earth (prithivi) and water (jala)
Sweet is dominated by earth and water (prithivi and jala)
Sour is dominated by earth and fire (prithivi and tejas)
Salty is dominated by water and fire (jala and tejas)
Pungent is dominated by air and fire (vayu and tejas)
Bitter is dominated by air and space (vayu and akasha)
Astringent is dominated by air and earth (vayu and prithivi)
How the Tastes Affect the Doshas
Sweet, sour and salty tastes increase kapha and decrease vata
Pungent, bitter and astringent tastes decrease kapha and increase vata
Pungent, sour and salty tastes increase pitta
Sweet, bitter and astringent tastes decrease pitta.
As an example, we can see how vata, being made of the combination of air and space, would be aggravated by the bitter taste, which is dominated by air and space, as well as by the pungent and astringent tastes, which both contain the element of air. Qualities are increased by similar qualities and reduced by their opposites.
There are also additional pairs of food properties that can affect the balance of our doshas. These pairs are: heavy and light, cold and hot, and oily and dry.
Heavy and Light:
Heavy foods increase kapha and reduce vata
Light foods increase vata and reduce kapha
Cold and Hot
Cold foods increase kapha and vata and reduce pitta
Hot foods increase pitta and reduce vata and kapha
Oily and Dry
Oily foods increase kapha and reduce vata
Dry foods increase vata and reduce kapha
Not only do these qualities affect the doshas, they can also be natural signals regarding the nutritional value of the food. For example, heavier foods are harder to digest than lighter foods. If a person has a low digestive capacity, that person should take care to favor lighter foods. In the same way that a large log can snuff out a fire, too much heavy food can overload even a normal digestive system. This will result in the creation of ama, or impurties in the body. Common heavy foods include meat and oil and fatty foods.
Next week we will look into improving digestion, avoiding ama, and look at the difference between balancing and purifying diets. Ideally an Ayurveda consultation with an expert in pulse assessment will allow you to pinpoint the tastes and qualities of food that are best suited to balance your doshas and to enhance your digestion.
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