This is Part 2 of our series on Ayurveda and Health written by guest expert Lynne Stewart, B.Sc. MBA (Owner/Instructor SOL BARRE, Pilates & Yoga; Speaker/Writer, SOL Wellness). Read Part 1 on Ayurveda 101 here.
The foods we choose to eat each day provide nourishment and energy and we engage in this practice daily to satiate and stay strong. One of the most fascinating things I learned from Ayurveda is that food choices today directly impact our health for approximately the next 40 days.
The path that food travels is through what Ayurveda calls the Dhatus – also translated as tissues. Each Dhatu nourishes the next tissue beginning with plasma and moving through the 7 Dhatus completing the cycle at the reproductive tissues. Beyond the reproductive tissues this nourishment builds Ojas or our life’s energy and immunity.
Ayurveda allows us to explore and understand our own unique constitutions. Our constitutions are a combination of doshas, which are a combination of the elements: earth, fire, water, air and ether. Constitutions are unique to each individual, and are basically determined at conception. Ayurveda calls this your Prakriti. Throughout your life, the demands of your day, the changing seasons, or environment, can affect you. Your Prakriti can be affected by elements present in food, atmosphere, activity, and other influences and these create what is called your Vikrati, or your current state. The difference between your Vikrati and your Prakriti is considered to be your imbalance, which can result in feeling poorly. As we seek our way back to our Prakriti or balance, we can use food, sleep, and activities (such as breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, nature, etc.) to affect a change and return us to better health.
In this article we are going to explore the Dhatus (tissues) to gain insight into ways we can use the approach of “nourishing” to build better health. This concept of “nourishment” may stand in stark contrast to the concept of detoxification. Nourishment is a “building” type of endeavor whereas “detoxification or cleansing” is a “stripping” type of pursuit. Depending on one’s current state of health, strength, and constitution, choosing between nourishing and detoxifying is an important decision to make for a successful healthy outcome.
Let’s explore what the Dhatus are and learn a bit more about foods that support the different tissues.
Rasa is plasma and is the first tissue that benefits from nutrition. This is a “watery” product that nourishes the entire body, including lymphatic and breast milk. Nourishment in this tissue results in a feeling of “satiation” which leads to good physical and psychological health. This tissue and its nourishment is of primary importance to breast milk. Any type of busyness or intense focus can be depleting. A lack of hydration or too much heat or spice in your diet can also be depleting. Consider the importance of salt and sweet in the context of hydration as opposed to just plain water. Oils are also considered beneficial to improve this tissue if dehydration occurs.
Raktu is blood and is the second tissue in this cycle. This tissue is considered to have the element “fire” present in it and invigorates and creates a strong mind and passion. Consider that the liver and bile are influenced by “fire” and we learn that anything that overheats can create issues in the liver. So a key thing for good blood health is to find a balance between cool and hot. Intense focus, intellectual stimulation, or spicy foods can all contribute to too much fire in the blood which overall leads to inflammation and potentially dangerous health issues. It is just as important to find a healthy balance in the mind as it is in the foods eaten. Nutrition affects this dhatu between 2 and 8 days after.
Mamsa is muscle and is the third tissue. Muscle is influenced by the “earth” element and can reflect strength and self-confidence when in balance. Different types of activity are ideal based on the dominant dosha in a person’s constitution. Kapha is present usually in larger framed individuals. Their best activity would be aerobic in nature. The Pitta constitution would be better with a more moderate strengthening program instead of aerobics. The Vata dosha is much better balanced through breathing, meditation and calming approaches. Foods that have the “earth” element present include grains, which are considered sweet also. Nutrition affects this dhatu up to 15 days after.
Medas is fat and is comprised of water and earth. A balanced and nourished medas dhatu manifests in the capacity to give love. If this dhatu is high, one’s emotions are of attachment, at times beyond what is balanced. In general, the view of medas is that if it is in excess the best remedy is lighter foods such as vegetables, and adding spice to the diet. If there is too little medas then using the sweet taste that is present in carbohydrates builds the element of “earth” back in. This tissue is affected by foods within up to 22 days from ingestion of food.
Asthi is bone and is influenced by the elements “earth” and “air”. This tissue gives structure and the psychological ability to stand up for oneself. If there is a weakness then earth needs to be added in the form of sweet foods. If there is inflexibility or stiffness then the “bitter” taste in the form of vegetables is recommended.
Medha tissue is the spinal cord, brain and nerves and is influenced by the elements of “water” and “air”. These elements in balance help to regulate the flow of nerve impulses (air) and protect against excessive motion (water). The nervous system is quite affected by the intake of stimuli through senses other than food. Things such as meditation and breathing are ideal to balance this tissue. Foods that are sweet can be cooling and nourishing for this tissue. Nutrition affects this dhatu up to 36 days after.
Shukra dhatu is the final dhatu and the site of reproductive tissue and contains the essence of all the prior Dhatus. Health in the context of confidence, bright eyes and luminous skin reflect a balanced shukra dhatu. Water is the key element to build this tissue up; nourishing and building foods such as milk are recommended. A natural creativity reflects a balanced shukra dhatu.
The point of this information than can be to recognize that good health may take up to 40 days to fully manifest, which is why there is such importance placed on the new mom and the time she takes at the beginning to rebuild her body, find balance and most importantly nourish and build health back to the reproductive tissues and ultimately to Ojas. Any illness or imbalance that seems to be present in any one of the tissues can be addressed by foods or activity to bring better flow and health to the entire system.
Next week we will be discussing the six different tastes.
Taste’s Intelligence – Why Is My Child Such a Picky Eater? If everyone is exactly the same, we should all eat exactly the same. But do our bodies, metabolism, shape, age, energy, personalities all look the same? Is it possible our choice of foods and tastes that appeal to us are different for some intelligent reason? Children, unaffected by processed foods and sugar, may be just about the most intelligent eaters around. Let’s see what they know about good health and food choices.