The great Physician, Charaka, found thousands of years ago that all organic and inorganic substances, as well as all thoughts, and actions have definite attributes. These specific properties of matter are termed as the Gunas in Ayurveda. Charaka described twenty Gunas in Charaka Samhita and he classified these specific attributes into ten opposite pairs.
In terms of modern science, Charaka defined the Gunas such that they:
- Highlight the potential energy of static substances or matter
- Bring about the kinetic energy of actions
- Describe the effect of thoughts on our body and action
The properties of matter or their Gunas and their actions are closely related. The potential energy of the attributes eventually turns into an action. This action releases the kinetic energy when the matter undergoes chemical transformation such as burning or digestion.
10 Opposite Pairs for the Properties of Matter, Thoughts, and Actions
|Guru (Heavy)||Laghu (Light)|
|Manda (Slow)||Tikshna (Sharp)|
|Sheeta (Cold)||Ushna (Hot)|
|Snigdha (Oily)||Ruksha (Dry)|
|Vishada (Clear)||Avila (Cloudy)|
|Sukshma (Subtle)||Sthula (Gross)|
|Sthira (Static)||Chala (Mobile)|
|Mrudu (Soft)||Kathina (Hard)|
|Sandra (Dense)||Drava (Liquid)|
|Shlakshna (Smooth)||Khara (Rough)|
Tridosha and the Properties of Matter (Gunas) – Relationship
One of the Ayurvedic principles states that Like increases Like. This means that when similar gunas come together, their quantitative expression increases. Similarly, Opposite decrease each other. Hence, when opposing gunas come together, they nearly cancel each other’s effect. The beauty of these principles is that they govern the result or EFFECT on our body of nearly everything possible such as food, physical activity, season, age, time, action, and thoughts.
For example, the summer season has attributes similar to those of Pitta Dosha – hot, liquid, light, mobile, and penetrating. Therefore, Pitta in the body will be increased in summers.
Vata or Air is defined in Ayurveda as light, subtle, dry, mobile, rough, and cold. Hence, in the fall season, which also exhibits these attributes, Vata Dosha increases in the human constitution.
Kapha is liquid, heavy, cold, sticky and cloudy. In the winter when these characteristics predominate in the external environment, Kapha Dosha tends to increase in the human body and thoughts as well.
The concepts governing Ayurvedic pharmacology, therapeutics, and food preparation are based on the 20 attributes. Through an understanding and application of the actions of the attributes, balance of the tridosha can be maintained.
The Gunas – Description, Sources, and Impact
The heavy quality increases Kapha and decreases Vata and Pitta. Guru promotes growth in the body.
Meat, cheese, yogurt, and sugar are heavy. Eating heavy foods may cause weight gain. Sleep is also heavy. Sleeping for 10 hours makes a person feeling heavy throughout the day. Eating and not doing much physical activity is also heavy.
To some extent we need the heavy quality for nourishment, groundedness, centeredness, and stability. However, too much of this quality slows digestion and metabolism, and creates dullness.
The light quality increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha. This quality makes the body alert and attentive.
But too much of this quality creates spaciness, ungroundedness, and instability. It creates insecurity, fear, and anxiety.
The slow quality increases Kapha and decreases Vata and Pitta. Rich and fatty foods induce this quality.
Manda creates sluggishness, slow action, relaxation, and dullness, as well as calm, quiet, and silence.
The sharp quality increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha. Sharp qualities are present in cayenne pepper and other spicy foods. The fire is hot and sharp.
This quality improves learning, concentration, understanding, appreciation, and comprehension. But excess Tikshna can cause ulcers.
The cold quality increases Vata and Kapha and decreases Pitta. Shita creates cold, numbness, unconsciousness, contraction, stagnation, fear, and insensitivity in the body.
Cold promotes accumulation of mucus, thus raising Kapha. The cold quality cools down Pitta, slows digestion and reduces immunity.
Exposure to cold weather reduces the natural resistance of the throat and may help promote a sore throat, if your internal fire, or Agni, is not strong enough to give protection.
The hot quality increases Pitta and decreases Vata and Kapha. The hot quality stimulates gastric fire, improves circulation, digestion, absorption, and assimilation.
But an increase in Pitta can make a person irritable and angry. Also, Ushna liquefies Kapha, removes it from the system and promotes cleansing. This is as eating hot curry, green chilies or cayenne peppers, which are hot; your sinuses begin to run.
Snigdha (Oily or Unctuous)
The oily properties of matter increase Pitta and Kapha and decrease Vata. Snigdha brings relaxation. It creates smoothness, moisture, lubrication, and vigor. It promotes compassion. Love is oily, liquid and nourishing because it has the quality of Snigdha.
The dry quality increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha. It creates dehydration and makes the stool hard and dry, causing constipation. Ruksha stimulates fire because fire is dry. This quality causes choking, constriction, spasm, and pain.
Dry weather causes aggravation of Vata under the skin, causing the skin to become dry, rough and cracked. Fear, nervousness, and loneliness are dry. Ruksha creates isolation, separation, and rejection. When a person is lonely, the dry quality is aggravated.
The smooth properties of matter increase Pitta and Kapha and decrease Vata. Cheese and oils increase Pitta, while avocado and ghee increase Kapha.
This quality lubricates and makes the body flexible. So, Shlakshna prevents osteoporosis and arthritic changes.
The rough quality increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha. Khara increases dryness, absorption, and constipation.
All raw vegetables are rough and provoke Vata, hence causing bloating. The rough quality is also present in garbanzo beans, adzuki beans, black beans, and pinto beans. Even after being cooked, they are still rough, astringent, produce gas, and increase Vata.
Sandra also means more concentrated. The dense quality increases overall Kapha and decreases Vata and Pitta. Meat and cheese are dense.
Sandra increases the compactness of the body and makes a person more grounded. Sandra promotes solidity, density, and strength. The firmness and solidity of healthy muscle tissue are Kapha.
The Drava also means less concentrated or diluted. Drava quality increases Pitta and Kapha and decreases Vata. The Drava dissolves and liquefies.
The liquid quality promotes salivation, compassion, and cohesiveness. Excessive intake of water will cause water retention and increase Kapha. This is as Kapha has the qualities of dense, liquid and salty.
The soft quality increases Pitta and Kapha and decreases Vata. Mrudu creates softness, delicacy, relaxation, tenderness, love, and care. It provokes mucus and increases Kapha in the system.
The soft quality calms Vata, because Vata is rough. Love is soft while anger is hot, sharp and penetrating; fear is dry and rough. Sleeping on a soft water bed increases Kapha.
The hard quality increases Vata and decreases Pitta. In later stages of the disease, it also increases Kapha such as when a tumor is formed. Kathina increases hardness, strength, rigidity, selfishness, callousness, and insensitivity in the mind.
In pneumonia, the lungs become hard. Sleeping on a hard bed increases Vata. Callouses on the hands or feet are Kathina.
The static quality increases Kapha and decreases Vata and Pitta. Sthira promotes stability and support.
Also, static quality brings to groundedness. Sitting quietly induces the static quality and brings stability and healing.
The mobile quality increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha. Chala promotes motion, shakiness, and restlessness. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are mobile.
Insecurity and shakiness come from mobile quality. Jogging, jumping, and physical activity is an example of Chala.
The subtle quality increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha. Many drugs and herbs are Sukshma.
For example, marijuana increases Vata and Pitta and makes a person spacey. Also, alcohol and aspirin are subtle and especially increase Pitta.
The gross quality increases Kapha and decreases Vata and Pitta. Sthula causes obstruction and obesity.
Meat and cheese are gross and increase Kapha.
The clear quality increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha. Vishada pacifies but creates isolation and diversion. The opposite of Avila is Vishada.
An excess of clear quality can manifest from too much cleansing, such as excessive enemas or purgatives.
Picchila (Sticky) orAvila (Cloudy)
The sticky and cloudy properties of matter increase Kapha and decrease Vata and Pitta.
Picchila causes cohesiveness in body and mind. In excess, it can cause attachment which is a sign of high Kapha. Avila causes lack of both clarity and perception. All dairy products are Avila and increase Kapha.
Characterizing TriDosha through The Gunas – Properties of Matter
Dosha and Gunas are so intertwined that more often than not, we will find specific Dosha to be defined by their attributes. This holds true during the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions.
Since Dosha is also defined as the specific energies, hence their effect on the body and mind is considered in terms of their specific attributes. Here is a summary of the classification of Dosha according to their Gunas in Ayurveda.
- Vata: Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear.
- Pitta: Hot, sharp, light, liquid, mobile, and oily.
- Kapha: Heavy, slow/dull, cold, oily, liquid, slimy/smooth, dense, soft, static, sticky/cloudy, hard, and gross.