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"A man's action is only a picture book of his creed."

- Sir Arthur Helps, English writer

Understanding Pitta Dosha

By Deepa Apté on 27 February 2013

Following on from last issue’s article, I would like to write in detail about the Dosha Pitta. As we all know there are five natural elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth. These five elements in turn combine with each other to give rise to three bio-physical forces (or Doshas): Space + Air = Vata Fire + Water = Pitta Water + Earth = Kapha

Let us now see in detail how the Dosha Pitta reflects itself in the various physiological functions of the body.
Pitta is a result of fire and water. And it is believed that 80-90 percent of the Pitta Dosha is fire and only 10-20 percent of this Dosha is water. Yet this proportion or combination is of immense importance to show the functions of Pitta itself.

Thermal regulation:
Due to dominance of the fire element, Pitta shows itself through the thermal regulation of the body.
All processes involved in heat production and regulation of body temperature is governed by this Dosha.

Sweat production:
Pitta is fire and water and likewise even sweating is a Pitta Dosha function.
When we do any physical exercise or hard physical labour we first feel hot, which is an effect of fire element and its only later that we start sweating which is an effect of the water element. Therefore both these elements are involved in the function of the body.

The most important function of Pitta in the body is digestion.
When we say digestion it’s not the whole digestive tract but only that part of the tract where digestion or transformation of food takes place.
We could compare this function of Pitta to that of cooking.
When we feel hungry and want to eat food, one would generally think of cooking food before eating.
Therefore one takes some rice/vegetables or meat in a cooking pan and adds some water to it and puts it over fire for it to be cooked.
After a while when the food is cooked, one would say that it is ready to be eaten.
In this same manner, when we eat food, the body looks at this food as raw or uncooked food which needs to be cooked (digested) before it can be eaten (absorbed).
This process of cooking takes place in the area of the small intestine or duodenum where ayurveda believes the digestive fire (enzymes) resides.
This fire (digestive fire) then will cook this food and once cooked (digested) the body treats this as food (nutrients) that is ready to be eaten (absorbed). Therefore fire is very important for digestion of the food.
Ayurveda says that one’s health revolves around this digestive fire or Agni. Just as the earth revolves around the sun, our own bodies or Ayurveda itself revolves around the digestive fire or Agni.

Liver and pancreas:
All other organs that work in conjunction with digestion are a part of Pitta Dosha. Therefore liver and pancreas are Pitta Dosha organs as their functions relate to digestion too

Red blood cells:
One other important function of Pitta lies in the blood circulation.
As we already know the movement or circulation of the blood is governed by the Vata Dosha.
But the red blood cells in the blood are governed by the Pitta Dosha. Formation of the haemoglobin requires heat or Pitta.
Therefore not only the red blood cell production but also the functions of these cells are governed by Pitta Dosha.

Spleen is also a part of Pitta Dosha. Every time the blood circulates through spleen, it helps to filter out all the damaged red blood cells. It will repair and put the cells back into the circulation if it is possible. If not these blood cells are completely removed from the circulation and broken down. When blood or haemoglobin is broken down, it produces haeme and then bile which is then metabolised by the liver.

Ayurveda gives immense importance to the five sensory functions. They can also be divided into Vata, Pitta and Kapha sensory organs/functions.

Pitta sensory function is:

Example: even if one were to see normally but is in a closed dark room, he will respond by saying that he can’t see anything at all. But when someone lights a flame or candle in one corner of this dark room, the individual will turn towards this flame and say yes I can see. This means to be able to see one requires light. And this light is after all fire element.

As mentioned earlier, the earth revolves around the sun which is the biggest ball of fire known to us. We wake up when the sun wakes up or rises and we go to sleep when to sun goes to sleep or sets. So our daily lives revolve around fire element too.

Skin is an important part of Pitta Dosha.
Skin, as a part of sensory function i.e. touch, belongs to Vata.  But skin as an organ itself is a part of Pitta Dosha
Skin reacts best to sunlight (or fire).
One may get tanned, sun burnt when under direct sunlight. This is again the effect of fire element on skin.
Some people say that they are sensitive to sun, get easily sun burnt or suffer from skin related ailments when under sunlight.
As we know melanin production takes places when sunlight comes in contact with the skin.
Therefore skin as an organ is a Pitta organ.

Other system in the body that belongs to Pitta Dosha is the endocrine system. All metabolic functions in the body are Pitta related.
When we talk of digestion, it’s not merely the digestion of food which is Pitta-governed, but the digestion every thought, visual perception, every external stimulus is related to Pitta.
When we hear something or see something, that external thought first needs to be digested by the body or mind or the brain and this external stimulus is then absorbed by the system. This is what leads to the concept of understanding.
Pitta is responsible for all transformations in the body. The food is digested and transformed into nutrients.
External visual perception is digested and transformed into an image.

The important qualities of Pitta are:
Heat: Good appetite, strong digestive fire, body temperature is higher than normal, dislike of heat, early greying of hair.
Oiliness: Oily skin which is soft. dislike of oily food
Fluidity:  Excess sweating, passing of excess urine, loose stools tendency towards diarrhoea, excess thirst.
Sour: Acidity, teeth sensitive towards sour fruits, excess salivation, sour eructation.
Sharpness: Accurate memory, sharp teeth and sharp facial features with a pointed nose and penetrating eyes.
Pungent: Burning sensation on skin, including eyes, throat and stomach, feelings of anger and hatred.
Spreading: Spread of any infection of the body e.g. a rash, acne etc, and tendency towards desiring fame.

To summarise, some of the bodily functions of Pitta Dosha due to the presence of fire and water elements are:
Heat and energy production
Liver, spleen, pancreas
Skin lustre

This forms a short and clear summary of Pitta Dosha in the body. In the next issue I shall explain Kapha Dosha in detail.

Dr Deepa Apté is a fully qualified Indian medical doctor (Bachelor of Medicine; Bachelor of Surgery, India), a qualified Yoga teacher and an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner. She lectures widely on Ayurveda and Yoga (both in the UK and Germany) and regularly has articles published in the press. After having run successful practices in India and Germany, she now runs her practice from London. She also teaches courses to trained therapists on various treatment techniques in Ayurveda.

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About the author

Deepa Apté

Ayurvedic practitioner, Medical doctor, Yoga instructor

Dr Deepa Apté MBBS (India), YLA, BYV, ITEC, MICHT is a fully qualified Indian medical doctor (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, India), a qualified Yoga teacher (specialising in Hatha Yoga…  Read full bio