Ayurveda and Health
The word used in Ayurveda to describe health is “Swast”. Swast simply means “to be Established in the Self.” This Self is understood to be a body-soul-spirit composite.
Ayurveda says that there are two requirements to be healthy:
- When digestion, absorption and elimination happens at a 100% efficiency and
- When one’s elemental constitution (the combination of the 5 elements that everyone is born with and makes them unique) is intact throughout the life.
Then one is said to remain in a healthy state. Let’s break this down:
Digestion and absorption
In Ayurveda digestion is said to be orchestrated in the body using Agni. Agni is said to be the digestive fire in one’s body. It is the driving force of cellular energy which comes from our mitochondria. Our sex drive, enzymes and neurotransmitters would not exist if it were not for Agni. Our sleep, mood and digestive fire depends on Agni.
There are two processes of digestion that happens in the body. The first is through the digestive fire in our stomach and small intestine and this is accomplished by Jatharagni. The second happens on a cellular level in our different tissues. This is known as Dhaturagni.
Apart from the stomach, digestion takes place in the 7 tissue layers in the body. Once food is digested and absorbed in the intestines it passes through blood plasma. Blood plasma undergoes its own digestive process and then pushes the more subtle nutrition to the blood then to the muscle and then fat. From fat to bone and from bone to bone marrow. From bone marrow to seminal fluid. By the time the food makes its way to the seminal fluid it has become very refined and subtle.
Via the use of spiritual practices, yoga and meditation, this seminal fluid can then be transmuted into what is known as Ojas (the vitality, pranic health quotient or subtle energy field that surrounds the body)
We accumulate waste largely through our food and liquids and via the air we breathe. The body has 4 main channels of eliminating waste. These are via the outbreath in the lungs, perspiration, urine and feces. If we are not breathing properly, exercising regularly and going to the toilet daily then we start accumulating more toxins then we are releasing. Over time, this creates a huge burden on the system and sooner or later manifests as disease.
In addition to this, Ayurveda encourages us not to resist certain natural urges. Urges like sneezing, coughing, laughing, crying, burping, releasing gas are all encouraged in Ayurveda as the body uses these mechanisms also to release. Keeping these urges constrained over a period of time will lead to ill health and disease.
In next weeks topic we will discuss the second aspect of health: The five elements and how they make up our physical and psychological constitution.