There are Three Pillars of Health that pervade, interpenetrate, and integrate the subtle and gross bodies. Although we speak of them as three separate principles, they are in essence three expressions of one life-sustaining power. This power adopts these three fundamental forms in order to create, preserve, and destroy whatever is necessary for the expression of embodied existence.
When we neglect the Three Pillars, Prana (lacking direction), degrades into Vata, the dosha (flaw) of instability and extreme catabolism; Agni (lacking focus), degrades into Pitta, the dosha of deficiency and improper metabolism; and Ojas (lacking order), degrades into Kapha, the dosha of excess and disproportionate anabolism.
The first of these forms or expressions is Prana, the life force. Prana is the animating principle that confers action to every layer of existence. In the layer of ego, Prana manifests as the sound vibration in the core of the heart. In the layer of intellect, Prana is the organizing pattern that communicates and maintains higher order. In the layer of mind, Prana quickens the senses of cognition and action, bringing perceptions from the environment to the mind, and communicating the mind’s reactions to the environment. In the layer of energy, Prana establishes the central and peripheral flow patterns that provide the reliable connection between the mind and the physical body. In the physical layer, Prana regulates the functions of the heart and the lungs, and governs all transport of sensations and material particles throughout the organism.
When Prana is flowing unimpeded, we feel invigorated and alert. We have strong vitality and enthusiasm, and there is healthy appetite, proper elimination, normal tissue formation, and sound sleep.
When Prana is unprotected, it becomes Vata. Vata has the qualities of cold, dry, light, mobile and rough, and is therefore aggravated by foods, activities, emotions, and weather with similar qualities.
Common Vata disturbances include fear, anxiety, restlessness, absentmindedness, chronic indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation, cracking joints, frequent colds, and arthritis.
The second of these manifestations is Agni, the power of assimilation. In the layer of ego, Agni manifests as the principle of austerity and service. In the layer of intellect, Agni is the capacity to recognize, accept, and understand truth, as communicated through sound vibration. In the layer of mind, Agni is the ability to digest perceptions and experiences, and to organize them in ways that allow us to react rationally to changing events. In the layer of energy, Agni is the warmth that allows and sustains our internal homeostasis. In the physical layer, Agni is the ability to digest and assimilate nutrients from the external environment, and to transform them into extensions of the self.
When Agni is well regulated, intellect is composed, perception is keen, emotions are controlled, digestion is sound, there is proper bodily heat and thirst, and the skin becomes soft and lustrous.
Unregulated Agni becomes Pitta. Pitta has the qualities of hot, sharp, oily, liquid, light, and spreading, and is therefore aggravated by foods, activities, emotions, and weather with similar qualities. Common Pitta disturbances include anger, impatience, criticism, jealousy, inflammations, skin irritations, loose bowel motions, and hyperacidity.
The third among these expressions is Ojas, the energy of preservation. In the layer of ego, Ojas manifests as the determination to sustain a lifelong sadhana, or spiritual discipline. In the layer of intellect, Ojas is the perseverance of correct discrimination, and attachment to the instruction of the preceptor, the saints, and scriptures. In the layer of mind, Ojas restrains excessive pleasure and aversion, and confers equipoise. In the layer of energy, Ojas bestows endurance for longevity, and efficient resistance to challenges from other living entities and the environment. In the physical layer, Ojas provides cohesion, lubrication, and stability to every bodily tissue, organ, and structure.
When there is sufficient Ojas, we experience contentment, courage, and dignity. The body is properly proportioned and strong, and the skin is smooth and moist.
When Ojas is not cultivated, it becomes Kapha. Kapha has the qualities of heavy, slow, cool, oily, damp, smooth, soft, and static, and is therefore aggravated by foods, activities, emotions, and weather with similar qualities. Common Kapha disturbances include envy, lust, greed, attachment, increased body weight, colds, congestion, sluggishness, water retention, and bronchitis.