Lecture Note: “Understanding the Concept of Prakriti” by Prof. Kishor Patwardhan

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Understanding the Concept of Prakriti

Prof. Kishor Patwardhan,
MD Kriya Sharir, Ph.D ,
HOD dept of Kriya Sharir,
Faculty of Ayurveda, IMS, BHU

based on the lecture available at ‘Ayurvedic Principles of Human Physiology’

 Prakriti
Fundamentally, no two individuals are exactly similar, not even twins. Therefore, each individual is unique, and people are often classified based on common attributes such as their date of birth, sun signs, race, caste, gender, religion, economic class, region, and so on. Many classifications of human beings already exist and are being used.

Ayurveda classifies human beings based on physical, psychological, and physiological features. Physical features may include the shade of skin, hair, muscularity, body frame, etc. Psychological features may include food preferences, reactions in specific situations, mental abilities, memory, and behavioural patterns, while physiological features include the frequency of eating, bowel movements, intensity of hunger, depth and quality of sleep, and intolerance to heat and cold. Ayurveda considers these parameters to classify human beings into different categories, which it calls Prakriti.

Prakriti is the sum total of an individual’s physical, physiological, and psychological traits. According to Ayurveda’s principles, one’s Prakriti is determined by the dominance of the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

Dosha

Doshas is a term that indicates the fundamental and mutually reciprocal mechanisms responsible for maintaining homeostasis and thus, health. When the state of equilibrium is disturbed, the result is often ill health and disease. The meaning of Doshas is that the three Doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, have been ascribed specific functions in the body. For instance, Vata is the initiator, the motive force, the major controlling mechanism, responsible for divisions, sensory perceptions, and movements. Pitta performs functions such as the production of heat, energy, digestion, and metabolism. Kapha performs functions like giving strength, resistance, protection, immunity, and growth. Ayurveda proposes that a specific attribute of a Dosha has a causal relationship with the specific trait expressed in an individual. Each Dosha has specific attributes. For example, Pitta is Ushna, heat, and this attribute leads to enhanced digestive and metabolic activities. Similarly, Kapha is Sita, cold, and this attribute leads to sluggishness in digestive and metabolic activities. Vata is Chala or mobile, making an individual more active, while Kapha is Stimita in nature, making the individual less active. Based on these attributes, individual traits in a person are manifested. The table displayed in the video shows the different attributes of particular Doshas, with opposite and equal attributes.

For instance, Vata is dry, whereas Kapha is Snigdha, Vata is Laghu, Kapha is guru. Vata is Sita, Pitta is Ushna. But Kapha is also Sita. So, Sita guna is similar or common to Vata and Kapha, whereas for Pitta it is the opposite. Similarly, here, the Parusha, roughness is there for Vata, but the opposite is there with Kapha. Vishada, non-sliminess is opposite to that of Vijala.Chala is opposite to that of Sthimitta. Similarly, Drava and Sandra are opposite. Drava is the feature of Pitta, whereas Sandra is that of Kapha. Sharp (Tikshana) is the attribute of Pitta, whereas Dull the opposite one, is the feature of Kapha. Similarly, there are some individual attributes which are unique to each dosha. So, this is very important to understand before we start discussing on Prakriti.

Vata Prakriti

In general, this is how we can summarize the features of an individual with Vata Prakriti. So, if the dominant dosha is Vata in an individual, then these will be certain important feature. There will be some other minor, less important features, but these are very easy to be captured in a clinical setup.

For instance, a lean and thin body frame, typical for Vata people who are usually not obese. They are unstable with respect to hunger, bowel movements, sleep, and determination, because of Chala guna of Vata. They are unstable with respect to determination. Mostly they are timid in most of the situations. Quickness is again another feature of Vata, leading to the traits such as quick to get started.  If you assign any task to Vata person then he or she will immediately start. He will be the person who would start that task very quickly.

They will be fast and quick to grasp the things but at the same time they are also quick to forget and they are also quick to catch illnesses and diseases. So, these are the effects of quickness that is the feature of Vata. Cold intolerance is a very common feature that is seen among Vata individuals.

Their skin and hair are mostly rough and dry a typical feature. Then unstable bonding with people another feature of Vata Prakriti.Cold intolerance is a common feature, and their skin and hair are usually rough and dry. They have an unstable bonding with people.

Pitta Prakriti-

They have a very strong hunger and good digestive abilities because of the Tikshna and Ushna Guna of Pitta. They also have excellent analytical skills, and leadership qualities. They develop early baldness and greying, easily get irritable, and sometimes are short-tempered. They often have numerous moles, freckles, and pigmented patches on their body, as Pitta is the Dosha that gives color to most of the structures in the body. Intense body odor is another feature of Pitta, as is heat intolerance. This is because of another attribute of Pitta that is to have a bad smell and heat intolerance because already Pitta is Ushna. These people with Ushna dominant personalities, will have heat intolerance as a very important trait.

Kapha Prakriti

Kapha individuals typically have a strong, muscular body and an attractive physique, along with an attractive voice. Their skin tends to be oily, and they often have thick, shiny hair. Kapha individuals tend to be slow and steady in starting tasks, eating habits, working out, performing exercises, catching diseases, grasping information, forgetting things, and maintaining body postures. Kapha is associated with resistance power, and immunity, so they often have good immunity and are less susceptible to catching diseases. Although they may be slow to grasp information, once they do, they tend not to forget it because they also have a slow memory. They do not frequently change their body postures and are generally stable. Kapha individuals also have a cold intolerance and tend not to be irritable. They are typically calm and composed, and they tend to form strong bonds and relationships with others. These are some of the specific traits observed in Vata, Pitta and Kapha Prakriti individuals.

An individual’s Prakriti is determined by the dominance of one, two, or three doshas expressed in that person. However, most people are not dominated by a single dosha, and the majority of people are mixed. Although Prakriti is determined genetically, several environmental factors contribute to its manifestation. In Charaka Samhita, the role of environmental factors is elaborately explained. Sushruta mostly focused on genetic basis, ‘Shukra Shonita, sanyoge, yobhaved, dosha utkataha, Prakritirjaya te thena’. Sushruta has mostly placed emphasis on genetic basis or inheritance whereas Charaka while explaining Prakriti has discussed the factors which are other than genetic factors like environmental factors. For example, Mathura Ahara Vihar Prakriti, Kalagarabhasya Prakriti, and so on. Charaka’s explanation of Prakriti is more complete, and on the basis of one, two, or three dominant doshas expressed in an individual, there are seven possible types of Prakriti: vata, pitta, kapha, vata pitta, pitta kapha, vata kapha, and samadoshaja.

Recent developments in the context of Prakriti

Recently, with growing understandings in the field of genetics, there has been an individualized approach to therapeutics that has received impetus. Many workers have investigated the possible association of constitutional types with genetic makeup, metabolic abilities, and chronic diseases. There have been several efforts to see whether certain physiological or biochemical tools can be used to establish a link between constitutional types and other health-related parameters. These are certain recent developments that are taking place in the context of Prakriti.

Assessment of Prakriti

When assessing an individual’s Prakriti, it is important to note that it is a state of normalcy, and though there may be some dominance of one or two doshas, it is within the normal limits for that particular individual. There are several difficulties encountered in determining one’s Prakriti, such as age, physical and psychological status, presence and absence of any illnesses, and seasonal influences that tend to distort the outcome of the Prakriti determination exercise. For instance, elderly people tend to exhibit dominant features of Vata due to dry and wrinkled skin. These features of Vata are likely to be exhibited dominantly in extreme winter as well. A depressed, overeating individual is likely to present with dominant features of Kapha due to depression. Differences in the subjective perceptions of physicians can make the assessment ambiguous, resulting in high inter-rater variability. The absence of definite recommendations for identifying one’s constitution to be either due to a single dosha or due to two dosha.

The absence of definite recommendation for identifying one’s constitution to be either due to a single dosha or due to two dosha is another problem. So, there are no set guidelines whether a person’s Prakriti has to be identified with single dosha or Dvandvaja because almost always there are more than one dosha that contribute in an individual. Also, there is no data available to show the dominance of a particular type of Prakriti in a given population, no such studies are available.

Examples of some standard tools for Prakriti assessment:

 The standardized, validated and universally acceptable tools to assess Prakriti also are not available and this makes the situation even more difficult. There are a few good tools that are available to assess Prakriti. One of them is displayed in video. We have designed it and it has been validated and tested for its reliability to a reasonable level. It is published in a good journal but the problem with this tool is that it is self-reporting tool. This tool has to be handed over to the patient and or person and then the person will report. There are possibilities that the person may not report it properly or the doctor might assess some traits more easily than the patient himself. So, there are certain problems with self-assessment kind of Prakriti questionnaires. CDAC came out with a very good tool called ‘Prakriti Vichaya’ Ayu Soft software and that has been used quite widely and there are several papers that have been published based on this AYU Soft Prakriti assessment tool and recently Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences has come up with ‘Ayur Prakriti Web Portal’. This is a tool that has been standardized and it is available. Ayur Genomics, IGIP group of researchers they have developed their own tool to identify Prakriti.

There are multiple tools available and people use different tools for their research work and that is the problem with the generalizability of the results of these research findings. So, we need to resolve this issue of multiple tools and finally we need to one day come out with a single tool that would become universally acceptable.

Few examples of recent researches:

  • “Genome-wide analysis correlates Ayurveda Prakriti, whole genome expression and biochemical correlates of extreme constitutional types defined in Ayurveda”. Also has shown that there is some considerable correlation between whole genome expression and the individual Prakriti.
  • “EG-LN1 involvement in high altitude adaptation revealed through genetic analysis of extreme constitutional types defined in Ayurveda”.
  • “Traditional medicine to modern pharmacogenomics, Ayurveda Prakriti type and CYP2C19 gene polymorphism associated with metabolic variability”. This is the paper that suggests the correlation between metabolic variability and this genetic polymorphism. This was one of the early papers in this domain HLA gene polymorphism and the concept of Prakriti in Ayurveda.

Expectations out of a good paper that is based on Prakriti based research:

We have come out with a recent paper where we have suggested some good reporting practices for Prakriti based research. This is the paper that we have authored and we have outlined the problems that are there with the assessment of Prakriti and how one should report the papers or research findings based on Prakriti and what are the minimum expected descriptions that should be there in such papers.

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