A fleeting glimpse of Ayurveda: The Science of Life and Health
Although meat is mandated in Ayurveda for debilitated patients, for warriors (Kshatriyas) and for those who overexert themselves, it is very heavy for digestion, putrefies faster than other foods and produces Ama (internal toxins) quickly. Unless you exercise strenuously, regular meat eating will increase fat rather than flesh.It promotes speed rather than endurance, which is not good for Vata-affected individuals. Meat overheats the mind and warms the body, but even in cold climates, it should not be used to excess. Today's meat is also of poor quality, full of antibiotics and other drugs, taken from feedlot animals who never exercise so that all their Ama remains in their tissues.
Esoterically, the fear felt by the animal as it waits to be slaughtered and the hatred it feels for the human who slaughters it change the composition of its flesh and increase fear and anger in whoever eats it. The more the violence involved in the collection of our food, the greater the violence in our lives. Also, because digestive wastes are partly excreted in sweat, a meat-eater sits in his or her own odour daily, breathing in chemicals which promote fear and anger, and projecting this fear and anger out at others.
Food articles to which you should never become habituated because they are too heavy to be properly digested include unchurned yoghurt, pork, beef, mutton, dried meat, dried vegetables, molasses, and cheese, as well as any foods which are very cold, very hot, thoroughly tasteless, or too intense in taste.
Garlic and onions are both Rajasic and tamasic, and are forbidden to Yogis because they root the consciousness more firmly in the body.
The Ritual of Eating
Do not eat when angry, depressed, bored, or otherwise emotionally unstable, or immediately after any physical exertion.
Bathe, or at least wash your hands, face and feet, before you begin to eat.
Sit while eating, in an isolated clean area. Face east if possible, the direction of the sun, the earth's source of heat and fire. Eat alone, or with people you know and trust. Ensure that all your sense organs are satisfied by providing your dining room with pleasant music, fresh flowers, and the like.
Avoid habitual use of restaurants. Most people who sell you food are more concerned with their own profits than with your digestion. Satiation is not determined by how much you eat. A small amount of food presented to you lovingly will satisfy your soul, whereas large heaps of food from a fast-food restaurant may temporarily fill your belly but will leave your mind and spirit unsatisfied.
Only someone who loves you should be permitted to cook for you. Cooks in India are often selected from the priestly class so that there is at least some chance that while cooking some spiritually uplifting vibrations may be transferred into the food. Women should not cook when they are menstruating because they are undergoing a cleansing process and should be relaxing instead.
It is best if your right nostril functions when you eat, since it increases your digestive fire. You can cause it to function by lying on your left side for a few minutes before the meal, By plugging your left nostril, by closing your left nostril with the middle finger of your right hand and breathing rhythmically through your right nostril for a few minutes, or by hooking your left arm over the back of a chair.
Once all is in readiness, pray. Give thanks to Nature for providing you with food, and thank whichever deity you worship for being alive to eat it. Approach each food item with reverence and love, even if you are served something which you dislike but must eat. Suppose your mother-in-law, whom you dislike, serves you rutabagas, which you hate. If wishing to maintain family peace and you eat the rutabagas under duress, those vegetables will carry your dislike and hatred deep into your system and disturb your balance. Consume your food, even if you dislike it, with respect for the sacrifice it is making for you, and it will carry the harmonising power of your prayer inside you instead.
Before you begin your meal, feed someone else. Traditionally in India a five-fold offering is made: to the sacred fire, a cow, a crow, a dog, and another human being, who might be a child, a beggar, or anyone else outside one's own family. This is a practical thanks to Nature, a feeding of some of Her children in gratitude to Her for providing you some of Her other children as sacrifices for consumption. And, it is another way of controlling Ahamkara (egoism), an admission that the food is intended not for mere self-gratification but for the greater good of all beings. Feed anyone - a pet, a plant, a neighbour, a stranger- so you can experience a little of Nature's joy, the joy which a mother feels when she feeds her children and watches them grow and develop in consequence.
concentrate on your meal. No television, radio, stereo or conversation should distract your attention. Observe silence while you eat; sit and chat afterwards. Chew each morsel slowly and attentively many times. When feasible, eat with your hands so that your skin can send temperature and texture cues to your brain.
Just as our bodies are made up of trillions of independent cells, we are all little cells in the universal organism. Like our cells, each of us humans has an individual existence but none of us is "free' enough to live independently of the whole. In fact, everything which exists in the external universe has its counterpart in a living being's own personal internal universe. Every cosmic force is represented, in altered form. The flow of nutrients into the body and wastes out of the body cells also characterises the continuous flow of nutrients and wastes into and out of plants, animals and humans.
There is therefore no inherent difference between, say, cooking your food in a pot on the stove and cooking your food in the pot of your stomach on the stove of your internal digestive "fire". Both use heat to prepare the food for easier assimilation. Flames are used on the external stove and acid and enzymes on the inside, but the principle of cooking is identical to both.
The Rishis (seers) used the theory of the Five Great Elements, more properly known as the Five Great States of Material Existence, to explain how the internal and external forces are linked together.
The Five Great Elements are:
Earth. The solid state of matter, whose characteristic attribute is stability, fixity or rigidity. Earth is stable substance.
Water. The liquid state of matter, whose characteristic attribute is flux. Water is substance without stability.
Fire. The power which can convert a substance from solid to liquid to gas, and vice versa, increasing or decreasing the relative order in the substance. Fire's characteristic attribute is transformation. Fire is form without substance.
Air. The gaseous state of matter, whose characteristic attribute is mobility or dynamism. Air is existence without form.
Space. The field from which everything is manifested and into which everything returns; the space in which events occur. Space has no physical existence; it exists only as distances which separate matter.
The Three Doshas
These Five Elements condense to the Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which are effectively Air, Fire and Water respectively.
Vata is the principle of kinetic energy in the body. It is mainly concerned with the nervous system, and controls all body movement.
Kapha is the principle of potential energy, which controls body stability and lubrication. The tissues and wastes of the body which Vata moves around are Kapha's province.
Pitta controls the body's balance of kinetic and potential energies. all of Pitta's processes involve digestion or "cooking", even if it is the cooking of thoughts into theories in the mind. The enzymatic and endocrine systems are Pitta's main field of activity.
At the cellular level Vata moves nutrients into and wastes out of cells. Pitta digests nutrients to provide energy for cellular function.
The cell's structure is governed by Kapha. In the digestive tract Vata chews and swallows the food, Pitta digests it, Vata assimilates nutrients and expels wastes, and Kapha controls the secretions which lubricate and protect the digestive organs.
In the mind Vata retrieves previous data from memory for comparison with new data. Pitta processes the new data and draws conclusions, which Vata then stores as new memories. Kapha provides the stability needed for the mind to grasp a single thought at a time.
These three are forces, not substances. Kapha is not mucus; it is the force which when projected into the body causes mucus to arise. Pitta is not bile; it is the force which causes bile to be produced. Vata is not gas, but increased Vata causes increased gas. Vatta, Pitta and Kapha are called Doshas because the word Doshas means "things which can go out of whack." When Vata, Pitta and Kapha are out of balance with one another the system is bound to lose its own balance.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha are all essential to life, but can cause great harm if they are allowed to fall out of harmony with one another. This two-faced personality exists because they are Doshas, things which are often in error. This is not really their fault, because they have such difficult jobs to do. Kapha must overcome the mutual indifference of Water and Earth and make them work together. Pitta must conquer the natural animosity which Water and Fire feel for one another. Vata is forced to use the inert Space to try to control the capricious Air. It is in fact surprising that they function as well as they do.
Because they are so reactive the body cannot afford to store them within itself for long, any more than a nuclear power plant can afford to store radioactive wastes. They are therefore eliminated from the body regularly in the course of performing their functions. The force of Kapha is continually expelled from the body via mucus, Pitta is regularly expelled through acid and bile, and Vata is eliminated both as gas and as muscular or nervous energy.
The Six Tastes
How much of each Dosha your body produces depends primarily on which Tastes you consume. The tastes influence the balance of the Doshas in the body. Like the Doshas they are derived from the Five Great Elements. They have profound effect on all parts of the organism and not merely the tongue.
Sweet. Composed mainly of Earth and Water. Sweet increases Kapha, decreases Pitta and Vata, and is cooling, heavy and unctuous. It nourishes and exhilarates the body and mind, and relieves hunger and thirst. It increases all tissues.Sweet produces satisfaction or satiation. Overindulgence in Sweet Taste leads to its negative aspects, complacency and greed. Intense complacent effect increases the naturally inert, complacent Kapha, cools the anger of Pitta and comforts the fear of Vata.
Sour. Composed mainly of Earth and Fire. Sour increases Kapha and Pitta, decreases Vata, and is heating, heavy, and unctuous. Sour refreshes the being, encourage elimination of wastes, lessens spasms and tremors, and improves appetite and digestion. Produces the searching outside oneself for things to possess. Sour causes evaluation of a thing in order to determine its desirability which selectively enhances certain appetites. Overindulgence in evaluation leads to envy and jealousy, which may manifest as deprecation of the thing desired, as in the "sour grapes" syndrome. Envious effect increases Kapha if envy of another's success incites you to obtain further success for yourself. Otherwise Pitta will increase as jealousy mutates into anger over the raw deal you feel you are getting from life. Envy does help reduce Vata, by focusing and heating up your consciousness.
Salty. Composed mainly of Water and Fire. Salty increases Kapha and Pitta, decreases Vata, and is heavy, heating and unctuous. Salty eliminates wastes and cleanses the body , and increases the digestive capacity and appetite. It softens and loosens the tissues. Salty Taste increases zest for life, which enhances all appetites. Overindulgence in zest leads to hedonism, the craving for indulgence in all sensory pleasures physically available to the body.
Pungent. Composed mainly of Fire and Air. pungent (which is hot and spicy like chilli peppers) increases Pitta and Vata, decreases Kapha, and is heating, light and dry. Pungent flushes all types of secretion from the body, and reduces all Kapha-like tissues such as semen, milk and fat. It improves the appetite. Pungent Taste is productive of extroversion, the tendency to excitement and stimulation, and particularly the craving for intensity. Overexcitement and over-stimulation leads to irritability, impatience and anger (pungent language or a sharp retort). Pungent Taste increases Pitta by actively increasing the flow of hormones and digestive juices, making it easier both to digest and to manifest anger. It relieves Kapha by decreasing self-satisfaction, and temporarily relieves Vata by permitting expression of bottled-up resentment. In the long run, however, Pungent increases Vata by exhausting the organs and glands, which, "dries you out", limiting your ability to project aggression or unhappiness outwards.
Bitter. Composed mainly of Air and Space. Bitter increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha, and is cooling, light and dry. Bitter purifies and dries all secretions, is anti-aphrodisiac, and tones the organism by returning all Tastes to normal balance. It increases appetite, and controls skin diseases and fevers.Bitter Taste produces dissatisfaction , which produces a desire to change. When you have to swallow a "bitter pill"' its bitterness dispels your self-delusion and forces you to face reality. Too much disappointment leads to frustration, which confirms your system in bitterness. Grief is also bitter.Bitter is best of all Six Tastes. As Dr. Vasant Lad says, "Bitter is better." in small amounts Bitter helps balance all other tastes in the body. Just as mild dissatisfaction with yourself or your situation impels you to change, Bitter dilates channels which are too constricted, thus reducing Kapha and its complacency , and constricts those which are overdilated, thus reducing Pitta and its anger. Overuse of Bitter increases Vata as dissatisfaction and continuous change induces insecurity and fear.
Astringent. Composed mainly of Air and Earth. Astringent (which makes your mouth pucker) increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha, and is cooling, light and dry. Astringent heals, purifies and constricts all parts of the body. It reduces all secretions, and is anti-aphrodisiac. Astringent Taste produces introversion, the tendency away from excitement and stimulation. Excessive introversion leads to insecurity, anxiety and fear. Astringency causes contraction, which makes you "shrivel like a prune." and clamps the "cold, bony hand of fear" around your throat. Astringent taste constricts, drawing one away from the self-satisfaction of Kapha, and the self-aggrandisement of Pitta. Its constriction increases fear of insufficient sensory "nutrition" and leads to increased Vata.
All these tastes are essential for proper functioning of the organism, and reach us primarily through our food.
Your Personal Constitution
Your personal constitution, which is your individual metabolic makeup, helps determine how much effect specific tastes and emotions have on you. This is why everyone who eats the same food does not necessarily suffer from exactly the same mental and physical effects from it. When all the members of a family enjoy a meal together, each individual's tastes and emotions will be affected according to his or her own individual taste and emotional balance.
Your inborn metabolic pattern is called "Prakrti", which also means Nature, She who is the first creation. [See page "Maya"].
Your constitution is that set of metabolic tendencies which determine how your body and mind will instinctively react when they are confronted by a stimulus.
Knowing your constitution allows you to know your body and mind better. You learn why there is no need to feel guilty for your dietary preferences, or for your mental traits like anger or fear. Once you understand that these traits are determined by your constitution, lifestyle changes can help your organism minimise their influence.
Your constitution also influences your emotions.
Your personal constitution was determined by the state of the bodies of your mother and father at the time of your conception. That certain sperm which could best endure the conditions prevalent in those two bodies won the race to reach the ovum, and its genes mingled with the genes in the ovum to form the new child. Your constitution is influenced by your parent's genetics, by your mother's diet and habits during her pregnancy, and by any abnormal events at the time of your birth. Once your personal constitution and its accompanying tendencies have been set they cannot be permanently altered. Like your genes, you have your constitution for the rest of your life, like it or not.
You can ,however, learn to adjust for your constitution so that you are less affected by its distortions. You can learn how to prevent health imbalances and how to best treat them when they arise. You can know the prognosis of any disease you might contract, and you can determine which rejuvenation program will be best for you. Through study and use of Ayurvedic principles you can also understand why your spouse, children, relatives, friends, neighbours and co-workers do the things they do, and determine how best to interact with them for maximum inter-personal harmony. You can plan meals for your family according to what is best for each of their prakrtis.
Because every individual is composed of a body, a mind and a spirit, the ancient Rishis of India who developed the science of Life organised their wisdom into three bodies of knowledge: Ayurveda, which deals mainly with the physical body; Yoga, which deals mainly with the spirit; and Tantra, which is mainly concerned with the mind. The philosophy of all three is identical; their manifestations differ because of their differing emphasis.
Ayurveda is mostly concerned with the physical basis of life, concentrating on its harmony to induce harmony of mind and spirit.
Yoga controls body and mind to enable them to harmonise with spirit, and tantra seeks to use the mind to balance the demands of body and spirit.
Ayurveda was designed by the Rishis specially for those individuals who want to enjoy the world healthily. Its daily and seasonal routines, dietary guidance, therapeutics and doctrines of antidotes for the side-effects of addictions can keep you hale,hearty and having a high time well into your senescence if you can restrict yourself sufficiently to follow these precepts strictly. You must consciously choose how much you wish to indulge, which determines how healthy you will be.
Published with the kind permission of Dr. Robert Svoboda
Robert E. Svoboda, B.A.M.S. is the first Westerner ever to graduate from a college of Ayurveda and be licensed to practice Ayurveda in India. He graduated in 1980 from Tilak Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya in Pune, where world-renowned author and Ayurvedic Physician, Dr. Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc., was one of his professors. Since that time he has traveled extensively around the world, lecturing and conducting workshops on Ayurveda. Dr. Svoboda has traveled to more than fifty countries in the world, understands six languages and has authored several books. Dr. Svoboda consults with people privately.
Dr. Svoboda's website address is www.drsvoboda.com
*Click Here* for a list of his authored books from Vedic Books.
Copyright © 2006, Robert Edwin Svoboda. All rights reserved.