As we all know, the doshas are biological forces responsible for the substance, function and energy of the body. Although we each have all of the doshas within us, one of the doshas predominates in each individual and determines their particular constitution. Depending on our habits and proclivities, we are considered to be a vata, pitta or kapha type.
When imbalance in one of the doshas occurs, disease results. In treatment of disease, the ayurvedic doctor recommends herbal treatments and dietary and lifestyle changes that will reduce the excess or increase the deficiency to restore balance.
Pitta is composed of fire and water. When these two elements are combined, as in corrosive liquids like acids or alkalis, they have the strength to transform, burn and convert substances into different forms. Consequently, pitta energy is responsible for digestive conversions, transforming the substances that we consume into blood, bones, muscles, etc., through burning, dehydrating, dilating, cleansing, liquefying, and other transforming processes.
Because metabolic conversions take place in all cells of the body, pitta is found everywhere at the cellular level. Its main site, however, is in the abdominal region, where it metabolizes food through the action of enzymes and other intestinal secretions. Pitta also provides heat and energy to the body; maintains body temperature and hormonal levels; ignites the desires of hunger and thirst; provides color, odor, texture and luster to the skin and other body components; sharpens the intellect and memory; and builds characteristics such as daring, courage and will.
Pitta dosha is transported throughout the body mainly through the blood, although the lymphatic system also carries pitta to minute cells.
Mental Aspects of Doshas
In addition to their physical responsibilities, the doshas also control mental energies.
Vata energy, as mentioned in the last issue, is a very active and mobile force. It controls all the functions of mind: thinking, imagination, dreams, and all neurological and psychological functions associated with the mind. Unbalanced mental vata energy can result in restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, skepticism, indecisiveness, fear, unstable thoughts, distractions, mood swings and spacey feelings, etc.
Pitta energy represents the fire of the mind or the mental fire necessary for will power, determination, mental strength, capacity to make desicions, courage, love towards life, goals and ambitions, optimism, intelligence and creativity (originality) etc. Unbalanced pitta shows lack of interest in life, anxiety, depression, negative thinking and mental dullness. In addition, hormone and enzyme secretions are disturbed.
Types of Pitta
There are five types of pitta, each responsible for a specific area of activity. These types are pachack, ranjak, sadhak, alochak and bhrajak pitta.
Pachack is responsible for digestion and metabolism and is found in the duodenum and the intestines, the site where the main process of digestion (breakdown and conversion) takes place. Pachack pitta represents the digestive fire in the form of enzymes. In addition to digestion, this pitta governs the formation of all other types of pitta in the body. Since all the body structures and energies are formed as a result of proper digestion and metabolism, normal functioning of pachack pitta is important for health.
Ranjak pitta is formed in the liver and relates to the color and odor of blood, urine, fecal matter and other substances. Discoloration of these substances indicates improper functioning of ranjak pitta and problems in the liver.
Sadhak pitta is present in the heart area and is responsible for most mental and physical activities. Because it relates to concentration, good will, courage, good work, daring, capacity, intelligence, sharpness, positive thoughts and energy, it enables us to achieve our life goals.
Alochak pitta is present at the site of vision–the eyes–and at the point between the eyebrows–the spiritual "third" eye. This pitta transforms the reflection of an object on the retina into an image and thus initiates vision, both physical and spiritual.
Bhrajak pitta is present in the skin tissue, giving it color, luster and aura. It maintains body temperature by throwing off excess heat through sweating. It allows ointments, oils, etc. that are applied externally to penetrate the deeper skin layers so they can effectively reach the site of requirement (such as joints, organs, brain, etc.).
Effects of Unbalanced Pitta
Substances, climate and lifestyle having qualities or properties similar to the pitta dosha will aggravate this energy, whereas those with the opposite qualities will calm it down. An excessive intake of any of the following will prevent pitta dosha from performing its normal functions: hot, spicy or sour foods; fried, oily, fermented, stale and "fast" foods; incompatible combinations of foods; artificial colorings and flavorings; sour or unripe fruits and alcoholic drinks.
Lifestyle factors that aggravate pitta include exposure to sun, hot weather, indoor heat, chemicals, corrosives and strenuous exercises. In addition, mental tensions, austerities, fighting, fasting, cruelty, jealousy, competition and greed can cause the pitta energy to become unbalanced.
Unbalanced pitta leads to improper digestion, elevated body temperature, burning sensations, ulcers, irritation, redness, skin disorders, hemorrhages, piles, acidity, disturbed sleep, eye problems, loss of confidence, malabsorption of food, malnourishment, loss of appetite or excessive hunger and thirst, discolorations of the skin and body substances such as urine and blood, etc., reduced or excessive secretions of hormones and enzymes, and improper formation of the types of pitta energy and body tissues which are dependent on pitta. Ultimately, the body becomes weak and cold.
To balance pitta, certain herbs, climate and lifestyle changes are recommended. (Note: The key is keeping cool: avoiding heavy exertion in the sunlight or during the hottest times of day, and eating foods which promote a cooling efect on the body). All of the doshas are interdependent. Vata, the primary biological force formed by air and space requires the right amount of pitta and kapha held within it for proper balance. Pitta depends upon vata for its enervation and movement and upon kapha for its support. Kapha needs vata for stimulation and movement, and pitta for warmth.
Aparna Bapat, B.A.M.S. (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery), is a senior faculty member and Academic Dean at the Sai Ayurvedic College and Ayurvedic Wellness Center. She has been a dedicated international Ayurvedic Specialist (Vaidya), consultant, and educator since 1990 and is a member of the Board of Directors, National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA). She studied Ayurvedic medicine at the University of Pune, faculty of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery. She was a Senior Lecturer at the College of Ayurveda in London, U.K. Dr. Bapat is the author of numerous articles on Ayurvedic medicine and related themes, has made multiple television appearances, and is one of the premiere lecturers, scholars and practitioners of Ayurveda in the West today. She is also on the faculty of the New Jersey Institute of Ayurveda, in Montclair, New Jersey. She does consultations, treatments and conducts Ayurvedic cooking classes.