Ayuveda looks at the formation of disease in the body as the function of two primary factors: One is elevated or vitiated (in Indian English) Dosha (Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha), and the other, is the formation of Ama, which can loosely be translated as Toxic Material.
The nature of Dosha is to increase pathologically, unless we take measures to pacify this natural aggressive tendency; measures of healthy living in lifestyle (rest, relaxation, meditation, exercise, processing mental emotional stuff) and diet (eating appropriate to the season and your dosha).
When doshas are elevated they collect in the digestive tract, just as a stranger enters a house through the front door and waits in an ante-room. Pitta collects in the small intestine, pancreas, liver and gallbladder, Vatta in the large intestine, and Kapha in the stomach. The elevated dosha will effect the dpoorly digested nutrients waiting to nourish the tissues, and also the waste products themselves. Over time, as the aggravated dosha accumulates, it spreads to the tissues associated with the particular dosha, and also to any tissues (dhatus) or channels (srotas) that are already weakened or damaged, often, as a result of prior elevations in dosha.
How do the doshas become vitiated? The doshas become vitiated through indiscretions of diet and activity, or lifestyle. This is why it is so important to have a clear understanding of your particular dosha pattern, which is never just a single dosha. No one is a Pitta, or a Vatta. Everyone is at least a Pitta-Vatta, or Vatta-Kapha, and the degree and unique manner of the mix is critical to understand.
The degree of dosha disturbance is a function of both time, and severity of causes. One may have a diet matched to one’s dosha with a regular occasional indiscretion that only catches up to you after many years, or one can have a diet and lifestyle that assaults one’s body-mind. Here we have a veritable home invasion in which an army of strangers collects quickly in an ante-room before proceeding to invade every room and closet and cupboard in the house, turning everything upside down and creating a very strong disease.
How much any one thing disturbs dosha depends on how closely it matches the dosha. Vata is aggravated by substances and experiences that are cold, dry, and light. So, an iced beverage in Summer will aggravate a bit, but an iced beverage with dry crackers and raw kale (which is light and also bitter) for dinner even more. Have that meal while camping in the desert on a cold dry windy autumn night, and you have a perfect scenario. Now have all this while living in the desert driving 2 hours a day, and watching lots of horror movies and constantly multi-tasking with high tech devices and you are guaranteed some good solid disease.
Keeping your Doshas balanced also involves cultivating strong Agni/Digestive Fire. In Ayurveda almost all disease originates with weakness of physical or mental digestive fire. Weakness of Agni and accumulation of Ama have an inverse relationship. Everything that strengthens Agni prevents Ama accumulating. Everything that weakens Agni leads to Ama accumulating. The beginning of health is to protect and engender Agni.
ccording to Charaka, one of the father’s of Ayurveda, “…the balance and aggravation of the Doshas is at all times due to the relative strength or weakness of the digestive fire/Agni. Therefore one must always protect the digestive fire, and prohibit all activities which might weaken it.”
Unfortunately, the standard USA diet and lifestyle is probably the most weakening to the digestive fire in human history. Lots of gigantic iced beverages, lots of cold foods, a lack of spices, lots of sweet bland and heavy foods, lack of variety, an overabundance of damp producing wheat and meat in the diet, a lack of vegetables, especially green ones; eating old wrecked foods, such as week old prepared foods and frozen foods; eating without regards to the seasons for example drinking Coconut Water in winter or cold rainy weather; rushed eating; eating at the computer or t.v.; not going to the bathroom when there is urge; over exercise like running marathons, and under exercise, by a lifestyle characterized by excessive speed and stimulation with lack of deep relaxation,
Digestive fire/Agni is seen to be normal when there is
*no discomfort after eating
*no belching with the meal
*a light feeling after eating
*a feeling of satisfaction and well being after meals
*regular excretion of wastes
*normal consistency of wastes (bm like a ripe banana)
*wastes have a mild odor
Digestive fire is weakened by overuse of cold and liquid substances. This is really critical. I have seen many many patients who have damaged their Agni by force feeding water because of the misinformation about drinking 8 glasses of water a day. There is absolutely no science and no tradition behind this idea.
In the 1920’s an American scientist did research on how much fluid an average adult male American consumes in a day; that includes the water in your steak, in your green beans, in your espresso, even in your dried apricot. He concluded the average was 8 oz. Somehow, chiropractors and naturopaths grabbed onto this tidbit and began prescribing 64oz. of water a day. Try drinking that much. It is not easy. It completely cools and dilutes your digestive fire. Water is inherently cool, that is why in the desert when you come upon moist soil it is cooler than dry soil. Sometimes in their zeal to combat the ravages of the industrial revolution on workers in England, naturopathic minded physicians went to the opposite radical extreme. We see that in the heavy use of purgative laxatives, as well.
Ayurveda believes in paying attention to your thirst, and drinking when thirsty. The problem is that many people get busy and ignore their thirst. The remedy is to pay attention, not to force feed cold fluid.
So Agni/digestive fire is weakened by over consumption of liquids and cold foods, and that includes over consumption of raw food, especially for Vatta dominants; especially by iced beverages, particularly in cold weather and in winter; by overeating ; by over consumption of heavy foods such as wheat and meat, especially if cooked without spices or eaten without condiments of pickles, which stimulate agni; by eating before the previous meal is digested; by improper food combining; by a lack of fermented foods; by bread made with baker’s yeast, not natural sour; by consumption of food at the wrong time–meaning not matched to the season, climate, your age, or your health condition; by sexual over activity and by overwork; by lack of exercise (a quick way to stimulate agni is to go for a 45 minute walk); and by mental causes–excessive amounts of loneliness, fear, anger, sadness, worry, greed, envy, etc.
How does weak Agni lead to disease? When Agni is weak Ama forms. Ama literally means “raw, unripened, uncooked” Sadly, it refers to food that is absorbed into the body without having been completely digested first. (This is akin to what Chinese medicine describes as a failure of the Spleen’s transformation and transportation mechanism, which leads to accumulation of dampness and stagnant Qi in the Triple Burner.)
This undigested material cannot be processed. It is like sending incorrect input into your computer. It crashes. In our bodies this undigested material, Ama, is toxic; it served to clog our channels of communication, and to disrupt normal physiological functions. Instead of our body getting the pure essence of foods “rasa” (the arisal of the clear in Chinese medicine) as its essential nutritive substance, instead it gets a foul, sticky substance that clogs the channels/srotas, and impairs the tissues/dhatus. Ama is the substance then, that nourishes disease. And mental Ama arises when the mind is unable to digest experience, leaving it stuck and sticky.
Even in the case of infectious diseases, the exposure to disease-causing micro-organisms only causes disease in those folk whose interior milieus are vulnerable and weakened.
The following is a quick summary of ways to engender Agni and prevent Ama:
Agni is engendered and Ama prevented by
• eating while relaxed in an appetizing setting
• chewing well enough
• starting with a little soup, ending with a little tea
• avoiding iced or chilled foods and beverages
• avoiding excessive raw food depending on your dosha
• eating according to your dosha and age
• eating with the seasons
• stopping when you are less than full
• not overdrinking with the meal
• including all 6 tastes in a meal
• eating food that is freshly prepared, or less than 24 hours old if cooked
• sipping some tea after a meal
• going for a brief stroll after a meal
• using spices and herbs in cooking
• using digestive herbs and spices as medicine
• starting the day with some ginger root or fennel tea
• appropriate physical activity (but away from meal time)
Agni is weakened and Ama formed by
• eating foods inappropriate to your dosha
or the season or your current health state
• eating the same foods all the time
• drinking too much fluid with meals
• resisting the urge to eat
• eating old or frozen food
• too much rich foods
• consuming poisonous food: pesticides, drugs, etc.
• eating too much of any one taste
• staying up late, eating late at night
• insufficient exercise
• unprocessed feelings, conflicts, etc.
Ama is removed from the Body-Mind by
• Pranayam (Deep Breathing)
• Meditative Practice and “Personal Growth” type work
• Moderate Sweating through exercise appropriate to your dosha
(e.g. Pitta type must not run under hot sun)
• Dietary Practices such as Mono Diet Fast:
• Fasting that does not damage Agni, appropriate to Dosha
• Herbs like Trifala, Guggul, and Neem
• Panchakarma treatment involving Warm Oil Massage, Special Diet,
. Mono-diet Fasting, Silence, followed by appropriate expurgation therapy.
copyright eyton shalom, 2010 san diego , ca, all rights reserved use with permission