The ayurvedic way to lasting health
Author: Wolfgang Schachinger, MD
Undigested food residues accumulate in the body and hinder its smooth functioning. Even modern medicine has to acknowledge this by now. Dr. Wolfgang Schachinger shows why, from the Ayurvedic point of view, it is not only a question of what we eat, but also how we detox the food.
Human life takes place in the field of duality. The apparent opposites of “nourishing” and “purifying” contribute to health and vitality in old age. Modern, science-based nutritional science is essentially concerned with the ingredients of food. Nutritional values, vitamins, carbohydrates. Also – sometimes questionable – calculations of daily requirements for essential nutrients.
Ayurveda, like other traditional natural healing methods, is additionally concerned with how food is processed in the body.
The individual reaction to different foods, the eating behavior and the elimination of “waste” that cannot be used by the body are included in the nutritional teachings and systematically described. The elimination of these “wastes” is of a special importance. This is for the maintenance of health. Large parts of the classical texts of Ayurvedic medicine deal with the systematic elimination of these wastes. They are considered to be the cause of diseases and premature aging. These texts still set a high standard for the training of doctors. We colloquially refer to this elimination as “purging”.
THE THREE DOSHAS AND THE FLAVORS
All foods categorize on the basis of their taste and properties. Thus they assign to the regulating principles of physiology. These would be the three doshas vata, pitta and kapha. These regulating principles express themselves in the individual constitution and reaction state of each person. According to the basic Ayurvedic principle “samana vishesh siddhant”, food should support the individual balance of the doshas. (“Samana vishesh siddhant” means like-mindedness strengthened, opposite-mindedness reduced)
The six tastes sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and tart, which can be present in a meal, have an effect on the three doshas. Also on the pairs of opposites: warm/cold, dry/oily and heavy/light. Each of these six tastes and qualities affect the composition of the doshas. They do that in the intensity in which they are in the food.
Thus, if Kapha dosha dominates in a person’s constitution and reaction state, he/she is characterized by the qualities of heavy, oily and cold. This manifests as a strong physique, and if imbalanced, as overweight. Also a tendency to not detox water and fat, and a tendency to have a rather cool body temperature or cold extremities. The diet should therefore be light, dry (i.e. low in fat) and warm to balance. Furthermore, the tastes of pungent, bitter and tart should dominate in the diet. Because these also balance excess kapha.
AGNI – THE DIGESTIVE – THE DETOX – FIRE
After the body absorbs food, the digestive tract “cooks” it. At least according to the ancient texts. This process, which takes place in the upper digestive tract, refines the food in the digestive pulp. The pulp can enter the body through the fine channels of the small intestine. The “cook” in the body is “agni”. This is the digestive/detox fire that corresponds to the individual life energy. Only a strong agni ensures that the ingested food refines. A healthy Agnis can completely transform the food into healthy body tissues and juices.
If Agni is weak or disturbed, parts of the ingested food remain undigested. They irritate the processes in the organism. Interestingly, the ideas in the classical texts are almost identical to the modern view of chronic inflammation. Inflammation in the intestines leads to “leaky gut”, the leaky digestive system. From the perspective of modern medicine, undigested particles of ingested food then penetrate the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. They irritate the immune system, leading to further inflammatory reactions.
The Ayurvedic texts state that the food, which is broken down into the finest particles, is distributed throughout the body via the lymph. Gradually it transforms into the seven body tissues. For this purpose, a strong and well-functioning Agni is also essential.
If Agni is overtaxed, the body tissues are not sufficiently supplied with vital substances, which leads to a weakening of the entire organism.
THE THERAPY OF NUTRITION AND DETOX
The Vedic Rishis have introduced an admirable systematic for this form of therapy. In order to achieve maximum efficiency, the cleansing therapy happes in several successive steps. These correlate to a mechanical cleaning process. For example in a dishwasher, in which there is a preliminary and main washing cycle and a final drying program. The phases of an Ayurvedic cleansing regimen are pre-treatment (purva karma), main treatment with elimination (pradhana karma) and an after-treatment (paschat karma). Each of these phases can take different lengths of time. Also in a different intensity. They can take between several days and weeks.
In order to soften the incrusted waste products, a light diet is followed during the first phase of a cleansing cure. Also “Solvents” for the deposited toxic substances are added. These are metabolism-stimulating, usually very bitter medicinal plants that stimulate liver detox. Then oily substances follow. Usually in the form of ghee (clarified butter), that dissolve fat-soluble toxins from the tissues. This is of particular importance in our time, as the food industry exposes us to a massive load of organic substances, for example herbicides and pesticides, solvents or flavor enhancers. They spread all over the globe.
During the main cure, pleasant oil massages and heat applications are administered as preparation for the elimination via the gastrointestinal tract. The purging therapies do not sound very modern and enticing. Still in the overall package of a Pancha Karma cure they are a negligible inconvenience. In the subjective perception of the cleansing cure, the incredibly pleasant oil massages, which two therapists ideally performe synchronously, dominate so strongly that the strenuous eliminations become meaningless.
About the author
Wolfgang Schachinger, MD, is medical director at the “House of Health” in Ried im Innkreis, Austria, a health care facility offering Maharishi Ayurveda and modern medicine. Dr. Schachinger is a board member of the German Society of Ayurveda and deputy director and lecturer of the German Ayurveda Academy.
This article appeared originally on the German Homepage Tattva Viveka: Richtig ernähren und entschlacken