How and why do we move?
Movement is essential to life and can take many forms. Ayurveda says that life is movement and that everything that exists is essentially movement-based. This agrees with modern science that states that matter is essentially energy or vibration.
Now look at yourself and the other people around you. How do they move? Why do they move? What is causing there movement? Ayurveda says that nothing moves without Vata Dosha. Vata is defined as “that which causes things to move”. It relates to kinetic energy and the force of gravity. On a physiological level, Vata is the ‘master of all movements’. However, both Pitta and Kapha have a role to play. The style of our movement will change according to which Dosha is dominant in that particular aspect of movement (breathing, walking, talking etc)—all the while working through Vata as the main Dosha involved. We can define three basic ‘styles’ or movement:
- Vata movement (Vata moving influenced by Vata)
- Pitta movement (Vata moving influenced by Pitta)
- Kapha movement (Vata moving influenced by Kapha)
Whenever trying to understand the Doshas we must recall the essential nature and the states of matter they emerge from, control or belong to (depending on how we think of the Doshas). From this basic vocabulary we can derive a language of movement that will allow us to understand which Dosha facilitates which kinds of movements. Consider how we might begin to describe an object and how it moves:
- Speed. How fast of slow is the movement?
- Direction. Does the direction remain the same? Can it change? Is it steady, unsteady? When direction changes, is it smooth, erratic, slow, fast?
- Rate of change (acceleration). How does the object accelerate or decelerate? Quickly, slowly, in a steady or unsteady fashion?
- Rhythm. When considering cyclic or repeated movements (like gait, breathing, heart movement) is the movement regular or irregular? Smooth or jarred?
- Dynamics. Within all the above characteristics, to what extent is the nature of the movement capable of occupying a large dynamic space or a more constrained dynamic space?
When looking at these aspects of movement or vibration, we can use many of the qualities of the Doshas and map them to the above parameters.
- Vata is light, rough, unsteady, dry, subtle (small-scale), clear (not sticky)
- Pitta is light, smooth, sharp, fluid, slightly oily, subtle, clear (not sticky)
- Kapha is heavy, smooth, viscous, oily, sticky, gross (big-scale), steady, dull (not sharp)
The object can either be physical (locomotion, hand movement, voice etc) or mental (movement of thoughts).
- Vata is very quick, erratic or unsteady (though it can be steady for short periods of time), very light, detailed (subtle, refined). Vata is naturally mobile.
- Pitta movements can be moderate to quick, precise (due to the lightness and keenness of fire), fairly steady (due to the fluid nature of a hot liquid), Pitta is naturally mobile.
- Kapha is slow, directional (due to the stability and resistance of water and earth), steady
Any behaviour can be attributed to a cause Dosha. There is no effect without a cause. No matter what the behaviour, we must ask what was the reason or motivation behind the action. Consider movement. This can mean how we move about in life (general displacement) or how we walk (closer inspection of movement) or how we talk (use of speech) etc.
Vata at origin of movement: unsteady, rapid, no reason other than for curiosity
Movement for no reason—except for curiosity to discover, or for the stimulation, or for the experience—not for any profound understanding, just for variety and for the sense of freedom of movement. Vata is happy to go along for the ride, for the fun of the experience. Vata wants to take a new route home just to see what it is like.
Pitta at origin of movement: steady, brisk, must have a reason:
to understand or accomplish or to transform something
Pitta has to have a reason to move. It can move in one direction or in several directions, so long as the movement achieves something. What is achieved? Understanding, a sense of accomplishment, to realize a goal or complete a project. The movement will be structured and planned so as to be as efficient as possible, if not, a random kind of movement (adventure) would have to be coupled with some ongoing deeper-understanding of the situation that is happening.
Pitta will travel and explore but there is more intellectual interest, a burning desire to know what is at the other end and to really understand it and its potential value, either selfish or humanitarian. Pitta won’t want to take a new route home, since they are usually set on the direction efficiency (get home, get things done) unless discovering the new route might glean some useful information that might be of use at a future point (what is at the other side of the hill, could that be an alternative route home in the case of bad weather?).
Kapha at origin of movement: slow, steady, reserved, must have a reason:
create stability and security
Kapha only moves if it has to. Kapha likes to conserve energy so doesn’t really like to move to quickly or too often. Kapha likes security and stability so will often perform repeated movements in the same style as before. This in itself creates stability and security. Kapha does not really like to discover or understand, since both of which require movement or reduction and separation.
Understanding the motivation behind our movement helps us to undertand which Dosha or Doshas are dominant in our psychology.
BLOG UPDATE (2014) – Your Brain Was Designed To Master Movement
Check out this TED talk which for me adds strength to the validity of the Ayurvedic insights into the primacy of Vata Dosha.