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You Are What You Eat - The Seven Dhatus in Ayurveda
You are what you eat! As yogi, nutritionist, and Ayurvedic health educator, I love helping people understanding why eating good-quality food is such an essential part of health and longevity, two core values promoted in the field of Ayurveda.
Ayurvedic Perspective on Food
Let me begin this article with the basic reminder that real food grows in the earth, within rich, nutritious soil that absorbs all the other elements—water, fire, air, and ether—in order to thrive. Every time you eat wholesome foods, you bring the elements into your body and they become your body. From an Ayurvedic perspective, it takes about 30-35 days for the foods you eat today to transform into your seven tissues (dhatus). This range of time is assuming that you are able to digest what you eat without creating ama (toxic sludge, slimy obstructions).
A lot of factors may influence your overall ability to digest and assimilate the foods you take in which it is why it is important to eat when you eat;
respect the foods you eat by saying a short prayer before meals;
stop eating when you no longer have hunger to maintain strong jatharagni (digestive fire);
minimize the intake of cold drinks while eating (to keep strong jatharagni);
rest for 10-15 minutes after eating to give your food the time it needs to mix with the enzymes, bile, and hormones in your stomach.
At the end of the 30-35 day cycle, I hope you will come to appreciate how and why you are what you eat.
Ayurvdeva and Tissue Transformation
Here’s a simple map to walk you through the flow of tissue transformation:
The first layer of your tissues that is formed is called rasa, which includes the main fluids in your body such as plasma and lymph, and for women their breast milk and menstrual blood. Rasa keeps the body juicy! And if the body is well hydrated, it will make you feel satisfied on a deep psychological level.
Healthy rasa leads to healthy blood and will make you feel invigorated rather than tired or anemic (which are indicators of vata (depletion) in your blood).
Invigorated blood supports new muscle tissues. With healthy muscles, a person tends to feel courageous and self-confident to take on physical challenges.
After mamsa come fatty tissue development, an essential component for our well-being and offers oiliness and lubrication to the tissues of the body. When medas is healthy, a person may notice ease in both giving and receiving love.
Bone strength is based on all the tissues that develop before it does. With strong bones, you will feel the urge to stand tall, maintain good posture, and learn some bone strengthening activities to prevent the typical diseases that come from over- or underuse.
Majja (nervous system):
The integrity and strength of your nervous system is directly related to your food. If you eat foods with low nutrient value, your nervous system will not do well under stress. Foods with higher nutrient content will help build more resilient tissue to deal with the stress of day-to-day living. A sign that your majja is healthy is that you find it easy to relax and remain calm.
Shukra (reproductive fluids):
The last phase of transformation produces the fluids essential for sustaining life or creativity.
Herein lies a way to see why eating good food will help build lasting health and stability. The yogis have a word to describe the purest, more refined essence of your tissues; they call it ojas. When you have good ojas, your skin shines like a newborn baby and you feel stable, satisfied by simple pleasures, and not easily distracted. I hope you continue to enjoy the journey of observing with all of your senses how your food is transforming from something outside yourself to become a part of you.
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Eat well and enjoy the benefits of a healthy Ayurvedic diet, try this recipe by YogaUOnline's Kate O'Donnell.
Melina Meza Bell has been sharing her knowledge of Hatha Yoga, Ayurveda, and whole foods nutrition with yogis around the world for over 20 years. Melina pioneered Seasonal Vinyasa, an innovative multi-disciplined approach to well-being, and is the author of the Art of Sequencing books including her latest, Asana Modifications.
Since 1997, Melina has been teaching yoga at 8 Limbs Yoga Centers in Seattle, Washington, where she also is Co-Director of their 200- and 500-Hour Teachers’ Training Program.
Currently residing in Oakland California, Melina facilitates year-round yoga and Ayurveda workshops and retreats for new and experienced practitioners. From her very first class in 1993, she has never stopped exploring the physical, mental, and spiritual practices passed down from the ancient sages. Yoga has been the “launching pad” that has rocketed her into a life journey of cultivating the disciplines necessary to gain insight and wisdom integral to being healthy, compassionate, and radiant, as well as how to share those gifts with others.