Learning to See the Doshas in Nature
When you think of Ayurveda, what comes to mind? Is it food, diet, or lifestyle? While all these are certainly part of the Ayurvedic system, Ayurveda is actually all around us and particularly apparent in nature. It is an incredible experience to simply look around and identify how Ayurveda is in everything that we behold with our senses.
A basic tenet of Ayurveda is that everything in the universe is made up of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. The elements then combine to form the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. The doshas are quite apparent in nature when we look through the lens of Ayurveda.
The sky and the cosmos are made of etheric space. Air is all around us. The fire element can be seen in flames and the bright sunlight. Water flows through all the aqueous bodies in our world, from a small stream to a vast ocean. Earth is present in the rocks, sand, mud, and trees.
A further way to identify Ayurveda in nature is through the doshas. We can define the doshas by their gunas, or qualities.
The Movement of Vata
Vata is the principle of movement. It is changeable, like the leaves, which alter their colors and then fall from their trees. We also view this alteration in the blooming of flowers and then their withering. Vata is dry and rough, like the bark of a tree branch. Think of trees swaying in the breeze. A gusty wind sweeps through our environment with the cold and mobile qualities of vata.
When animals are spotted in nature, it is often because they are displaying their vata-like tendencies. Sparrows chirping and flitting about display their active nature. Squirrels scampering in and out of trees, rabbits quickly hopping away, and deer darting into the woods, all highlight this fast-paced predisposition.
The Transformation of Pitta
Pitta is the principle of transformation. We see this process beautifully in a cocoon becoming a butterfly or a bee pollinating a flower. Think of all the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that grow worldwide. They grow from something very tiny, like seeds, into an edible or medicinal form. It’s a natural process that requires sunshine and some moisture; these elements comprise pitta dosha.
Ayurvedic herbs are derived from all different parts of plants—roots, leaves, flowers, fruit, and bark. Every herb has a specific healing action on the body and mind, and once consumed, these substances are digested and transformed, allowing the healing action of the plant to be transmuted internally.
Additionally, pitta is hot like the rays of the sun or the warm sand on a beach. Pitta is also light, like the brilliant sun shining on us. At night, the moon and stars display their luminosity, reminding us that all radiance can be described as the light of pitta.
Pitta is sharp like a ridge, the edges of a pinecone, or blades of grass. Pitta’s sharpness allows it to physically penetrate objects, which manifests in nature as woodpeckers using their sharp beaks to create holes or termites infesting wood to alter natural structures. Crows use their beaks as a tool and sharp implement, and elephants utilize their pointy ivory tusks as a defense mechanism.
The Structure of Kapha
Kapha is the energy of structure and lubrication. It is heavy like a mountain. Kapha is moist like the rain, the dew drops, and the snowflakes. Kapha’s solidity is reflected in stones, boulders, and dirt.
Trees are a majestic manifestation of the beauty of grounded kapha dosha, particularly in their trunks and roots. And the glorious waterfalls we enjoy exist because of the wet and heavy qualities of kapha. The sap from trees is also kapha-like in its sweet, sticky, and thick qualities.
Fog perfectly symbolizes the thick, slow moving qualities of kapha. Similarly, the clouds in the sky are also heavy, slow, cool, and moist like kapha. From our vantage point, they also appear to be soft and gentle, which are other qualities attributed to kapha dosha.
The Dance of the Doshas
Just as all individuals have all three doshas inherent within themselves, dual-doshic or tri-doshic manifestations can similarly be identified in our natural environment.
Let’s take a walk on the beach. The tidal waves are swift and quick like vata, yet cool and wet like kapha. When they become fierce and cause damage like a tsunami, they display the disruptive, transformative quality of pitta. If you were to find a piece of coral, it’s dry and porous like vata, but also earthy and grounded like kapha. The driftwood that has washed ashore is old, dry, and rough like vata, while also being static and heavy like kapha.
Have you ever seen a volcano erupt? We’d classify the hot, molten lava as pitta. The lava sliding down a volcano is active like vata dosha. Its hollow opening exemplifies the clear quality of vata dosha—which occupies empty spaces. Yet, the sturdy volcano is dense like kapha.
On the other hand, a glacier is heavy, cool, and traditionally static like kapha. However, with global warming (pitta), the glaciers have begun to melt. They can break off (vata) into smaller ice caps (kapha) and eventually melt (pitta) into the ocean (kapha).
We often hear about the damage caused by hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes. Vata is evident in their motion, while pitta leaves behind an altered environment, and kapha creates moisture in the rain and hail storms. Similarly, an earthquake can be an example of all three doshas interacting in nature. The ground (kapha) is transformed (pitta) by erratic activity and can create cracks (both vata).
Few systems have stood the test of time as Ayurveda has. One of the factors that contributes to its longevity is that it allows each of us to understand how Ayurveda manifests both within us as well as outside of us.
With this understanding, we use this knowledge to promote our own well-being. As we learn how the doshas manifest in nature, we become more aware of how the qualities of these doshas interplay in our bodies. Next time you’re out in nature, take a look at your environment through an Ayurvedic lens!