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In Ayurvedic medicine, although the total system is quite complex, there is a dominance of one theoretical framework: the tridosha (three dosha) system: kapha, pitta, vata (the latter is also called vayu). These three serve both as entities and as influences in describing the body and its functions. To study Ayurveda is to become intimately aware of the three doshas, how to analyze their presence and activities, and how to adjust their influence.

The physical make-up of the body in which the three doshas are present is described primarily in terms of two patterns:

The reliance on a triad of influences on health and disease sometimes forces Ayurvedic medicine into a relatively simplistic system. The fact is that three entities and influences are too few to easily depict the complexity of human life. There are several other groups of influences that are utilized to further describe the nature of the world and the human body (such as the triad of the gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas), but the limitation of tridosha is overcome, to a large extent, by the fact that the foods and herbs used in gaining health have great diversity. Their unique properties force the practitioner to look beyond the basic three-entity pattern to the larger range of influences of the therapeutic substances. In other words, the complexity and uniqueness of the remedies induces one to go beyond the three doshas.

Several books on Ayurvedic medicine that have been presented to the Western reader expend most of their pages on classifying individuals and their symptoms into the three groupings by doshas, often in a way that is counterproductive. For example, people (or their body forms) might be classified into three "types" based on the doshas. Then, the author(s) may present foods, herbs, and physical therapies that are classified primarily by their effects on the three doshas. In fact, this is wrong thinking that has invaded the less well-trained members of the profession. All three doshas (as well as all three gunas, and all other groups of properties) are present and active in each human, and even when one is dominant, it does not rule all outcomes; similarly, each are present, to a certain extent, in all the remedies. The unfortunate oversimplification has damaged the potential of this intricate medical system to provide help to people in need. As stated by P. Kutumbiah in his book Ancient Indian Medicine: "The doctrine of the tridosha plays an important role in ancient Indian medicine. It is the basis of its diagnosis, pathology, and therapeutics. A correct appreciation of it is, therefore, essential for a proper understanding of Indian medicine....In the later medical works, it underwent great elaboration owing to the influence of the cosmological speculations and consequently suffered much violence to make it fall in line with them." The enforced alignment with so-called "cosmological speculations" (including astrological considerations, and what is today called bioenergetics) had a stifling effect because everything was forced to fit three archetypes, even when reason and experience indicated otherwise.