Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Concept of Ama

Ama, which can be translated as ´raw´ or ´unripe´,  is undigested food, thoughts or emotions, leading to toxicity. Physical and mental confusion is the result of intake not being processed, broken down and separated into the useful, to be assimilated, and waste elements, to be expelled. When agni is not working properly, there is bound to be ama. 
Ama could also be called toxins, sludge or bad kapha. It has a sticky quality (pichila) and once it enters cells or clogs strota  it's hard to remove. It circulates in the body  and passes through any strota looking for a weak place to lodge and can block the strota themselves. Injury or wear and tear can also create the conditions for ama in the form of inflammation. Although inflammation may be an immune response to attack it always causes some damage itself and the more chronic the inflammation, the greater the damage. 

Everywhere in the body in the dhatu, is either nirama or ama, well made dhatu or weak and toxic dhatu. Ama can collect in different places, causing blockage or inflammation which prevents nutrition reaching the dhatu or organs to nourish or repair them. (Although ice can be applied in new injuries (where calor, dolor, rubor, tumor (heat, pain, redness, swellinng) exist) heat should be given to reduce ´cold´ chronic injuries, increasing blood supply so that nutrition can arrive. Heat opens the strota and blood washes inflammatory ama from the tissues.) 

According to Ayurveda, ama while in the GI tract can be treated and discharged with detoxification and cleansing treatments, ie therapeutic vomiting, purgation or enemas. However in later stages of imbalance, an overload of ama will overflow from its orginal site, blocking strota and impeding the pass of nutrients, and lodging in weakened, damaged or badly made dhatu. Ghee, taken internally, as well as massage and fomentation is used to aggravate the dosha, dislodge fat soluble toxins and bring them back to the digestive tract from where they can be expelled. 

Symptoms of ama

  • heaviness, lethargy in body or mind
  • lack of energy, apathy
  • lack of appetite, slow digestion, cravings
  • white coating on tongue
  • mucus in the stool, sinking stool, offensive smell
  • bad breath
  • nausea
  • ama has a blocking effect on body
  • blocks channels of nutrition, even mental channels, ie thinking clearly
  • eating well but still feel tired, because nutrition is not arriving to dhatus
  • cravings due to fake appetite (fake agni) usually for carbohydrates

Qualities of ama

Avipakvam incompletely digested
Asamyuktam non homogenous
Durgandham foul smelling
Picchila sticky, slimy
Strotorodha blocking of the channels
Gaurava heavy
Sadana fatiguing
Anila mudhata disturbance of physiological state of Vata

Aggravating factors:

Early morning, night
Rainy season

What supports agni?

  • rest, exercise.
  • hot water and fasting once a week
  • ginger tea with honey
  • steaming 
  • light foods, soups
  • if sedentary, a little exercise
  • hot sand detox, salt water, hot springs
  • best herb - dry ginger
  • ''shuntee'' amapanchana - digests ama
  • eat slowly, chewing 32 times
  • mostly vegetarian food, esp if working with knowledge
  • trikatu power – equal parts dry ginger, black pepper and long pepper

When ama increases, agni decreases: when agni is balanced, ama decreases.

However, proper advice from an Ayurvedic doctor should always be taken. Ama combines with Vata, Pitta or Kapha dosha. Some of the actions which promote agni may aggravate Pitta or Vata when taken out of context or without proper diagnosis. The approach should always be gentle and moderate, taking into account rogi pariksha, diagnosis of the specific person.

The Ayurvedic approach to nutrition is also holistic – with a focus on spiritual, mental, social, and physical nutrition rather than on the specific macronutrient  content of food. It is good to follow the simplest routines above, such as adequate rest and light exercise, before panchakarma and for those people who are too weak to do panchakarma. Ama has a blocking effect on the body's strotas and can block even thoughts and feelings.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Concept of Agni part 2

Agni (part 1 here)converts food to energy, which is responsible for all the vital functions of our body and so the source of life, complexion, strength, health, nourishment, lustre, ojas (vital-yet-subtle energy) tejas (fire and light)and prana. Balanced Agni 
(neither too low, nor too high: just high enough to completely metabolise food, without leaving any of it undigested or half-digested) means perfect digestion and optimum health.

Main types of agni
There are 13 main types of agni (jatharagni, 5 types of bhootagni and 7 types of dhatvagni (dhatu agni)) in the body, although it must be remembered that agni is present in every cell of the body and in all cellular metabolic processes.

Food digestion process (Ahar parinam pak)
Firstly jatharagni in the stomach/ duodenum (gastric juices) breaks down food to aharasa, which is similar to a nutritional juice called quilo. (This metabolic process takes place in the gastrointestinal tract, up to and including absorption through the intestinal walls.Aharasa, after being absorbed from the intestines, goes to the liver where it is further broken down by 5 types of bhootagni (akashagni, vayuagni, agniagni, jalagni, prithviagni) into a finer nutritive juice (rasa dhatu) which contains all the components of the dhatu.

Post-digestive tissue assimilation process (Dhatu parinam pak)
This fine nutritive juice can be considered preliminary rasa dhatu, which is further metabolized by rasa dhatu agni and separated out to form a) pure rasa dhatu (pure plasma); b) its upadhatu (sub-tissue/by product); c, preliminary rakhta dhatu (the subsequent tissue, blood); and d, mala (waste).

This rasa dhatu (along with prana collected from the lungs) is sent to the heart via Rasa vaha strota (strota are channels in the body belonging to specific systems, in this case plasma). It is then pumped by the heart to each of the seven dhatu through each respective strota. Here it´s important to understand that each of the 7 dhatu has its own agni (dhatvagni) and its own strota channel.

Each dhatvagni metabolises and extracts the components needed to manufacture and repair itself. Then these fine components are further metabolized by each dhatvagni to make the subsequent dhatu and in this process some dhatu upadhatu (sub tissue) and dhatu mala (waste) are formed too.

However the final dhatu, shukradhatu (reproductive tissue and hormones), is metabolised by shukra agni to create and repair itself and does not form either by products or waste but only ojus, the pure essence of the dhatu, life force or immunity.

What are the agni formed of?
 They could be regarded as enzymes and all are created by their respective dhatu, which can be found through the whole body. For example, shukradhatu creates sex hormones which function through the whole body, though shukradhatu may be/is concentrated in the reproductive tissue. If dhatu are not made of good quality, it means the dhatvagni themselves will not be made of good quality either and so proper metabolic function may be affected..

Rasagni is present throughout rasadhatu, that is wherever it is circulating in the body. In fact it is formed of aharasa itself. It must be remembered that the function of all agni is not only to digest (break down the raw materials of food, aharasa and subsequent dhatu) but to transform, ie what is broken down to its basic molecules is built back up in ways the body can assimilate. (We can compare this to the breakdown of proteins into amino acids by peptides (enzymes) which will later recombine to form plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone marrow and reproductive tissue.)

There is no organ which is only made of one dhatu, they are always mixed, eg muscle, bone, blood, Processes are happening continuously in all organs and cells of the body. All cells are metabolically active and taking part in many complex overlapping processes.

Dhatu parinam pak                 Transformation of tissues (tanmutras subtle qualities)
Dhatu                                       Upadhatu (by products)
rasadhatu                                 breast milk, saliva
rakhtadhatu                             bile, menstrual blood
mansadhatu                             earwax
medadhatu                               sweat
asthidhatu                                nails, hair, teeth          
majjadhatu                               eye gunk
shrukradhatu                           no waste, only ojas =immunity

Impairment of agni/type of imbalance
Mandagni 'slow' (hypo-functioning) due to Kapha, eg lactose intolerant, dyspepsia, indigestion, steatorrhoea (fat in the stools),
Tikshnagni 'sharp' 'quick' (hyper-functioning) due to Pitta, eg acid peptic disorder, Gastro-Eosophageal Reflux Disease (GERD/Acid reflux)
Vishamagni (erratic) due to Vata, eg Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colic, Spasm, diarrhoea

What affects agni?
Stress, bio-rhythms, age, physical activity, and life-style all affect agni functioning. The quality of agni and metabolism decreases with age, more ama accumulates and the quality of dhatu also declines.We shouldn't challenge agni, but support it by choosing easily digestible foods, eating smaller portions, and eating at the right times of day, etc. 

Agni can be deranged by the following:
1. Not enough ‘fuel’, in which case the fire goes out. This can result from a lack of food, the person may be starving for nourishment and lacks proper thinking capacity and knowledge.
2. Too much ‘fuel’, in which case the fire also goes out. This can be due to an overloaded system, eating when not hungry or already full, overthinking, overstimulation, too many thoughts, toxic thinking.
3. Not enough exercise puts the fire out.  Some exercise should be taken every day for at least an hour, and it should be playful and fun, such as gentle sports, dance, yoga, swimming.
4. Too much physical or mental overload. Stress, whether physical or mental, working too hard, overthinking, overstimulation are all detrimental to the body. Too much exercise or exercising too hard also stresses the body. We should only exercise to 50% of our capacity and never to the point of breathing through the mouth. Even too much reading, travelling, internet, television, phone can also aggravate Vata and reduce agni.
5.  Disease. By definition agni is low during illness, and so only easily assimilated foods like clear soups, rice soup, kichari should be taken in small portions. Rest is also advised.
It's good to remember that mental and emotional self-control and a positive attitude are important. Nervousness, grief and stress all affect agni, mostly by aggravating Vata. Remember to be an observer, don't allow anything to disturb you too much.

 “You are only as healthy as your digestion” and “all disease begins in the gut” said Hipokratis. 

“When food is digested improperly because agni [the digestive flame] is low the undigested food becomes vitiated [disturbed] and collects in the stomach. It is known as ama [toxins].” – Astangahrdaya Samhita

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Concept of Agni, part 1

We have already briefly looked at agni (Sanskrit for ´fire´ and cognate with the Latin ´ignis´) in a discussion of the concept of five elements. To recapitulate, agni as a principle represents heat and light, combustion, metabolism and transformation.
Fire has been revered in virtually all cultures for its provision of light, warmth, and its ability to transform raw materials into food. In some cultures, including the Vedic, fire is still considered sacred and fire rituals play an important role in worship and cultural and religious rites. Fire transforms the gross into the subtle, both physically and mentally. (The god of fire, dispeller of the night, ‘’the radiant one’’ of the Rig Veda, with fierce sun-like energy, who both purifies and ´´eats up´´ the dead, as well as carrying the sacrifices of humans to the gods, is also called Agni.)  

The sun, without which we could not live, turns raw material, plants, into energy for humans through photosynthesis, and cooking transforms raw material into more digestible food. The digestive flame completes this process by breaking down food so that it can be separated, nutrition can be assimilated and waste products expelled. Agni is not only responsible for the breakdown of dense physical matter in the form of food, but for the digestion and assimilation of other information, sensory experiences and emotions. (Everything we ingest provides information of some kind and is either necessary or unnecessary, and beneficial or harmful, to our bodies and minds).

Agni works in our digestive tracts as stomach acid and digestive enzymes, in our brains as information is processed, in our eyes as light is perceived and transformed into images and in our skin where it determines temperature. In fact its presence throughout the cells of the body is responsible for all metabolic functions As such it is vital to significant transformations of the body – digestive function, cellular metabolism, mental perception, and overall health and well-being.  
Psychologically, fire is the light of intelligence but is also anger, hatred, criticism and competitiveness. The guna of fire are hot, sharp and spreading. We use ´fiery´ or ´hot´ to describe the temperament of someone who is easily roused to passion or anger.
Ayurveda has described the underlying function of digestion and metabolism in our body as agni and Charaka stated that balanced agni is one of the most important factors in a person being healthy and leading a long life. Digestive fire, agni, is a function of pitta. Both aggravated and weakened pitta will mean disturbed agni whereas balanced pitta will mean balanced agni. (We should remember, however, that all dosha are involved in digestion. Vata controls appetite and hunger mechanisms and the transport of digestive enzymes, while kledak kapha is responsible for stomach mucous.)

Agni should be balanced for excellent digestion and good health, neither too low, nor overly high: just high enough to completely metabolise food without leaving any of it undigested or half-digested. Agni should transform food into nutritional rasa that can be absorbed by the body. If agni is too low, food is only half cooked, creating ama (literally the toxic result of undigested food particles) in the body, if agni is too high, food is burnt up too quickly and insufficient nutrition is absorbed.

“Due to the purification of the body, the capacity of digestion and metabolism is enhanced, normal health is restored, all sense organs start working with vigor, old age is prevented and diseases cured.” – Charaka Samhita Ch. 16 Sutra 17-19

Friday, January 8, 2016

Concept of Mala

Mala are different forms of waste matter, by-products formed as a result of the various metabolic and physiological activities continually taking place in the body. Purisha (stool), Mutra (urine) and Sweda (sweat) are considered the main three. They maybe used to identify pathology by imbalanced dosha, or dushya, or cause it if they are not eliminated properly The name Mala is derived from the idea that the principle property of waste is toxification (Malinikaran).

Poor digestion and elimination, and the consequent build up of wastes, is considered a key cause of illness in Ayurveda. As a result of a range of processes continually being carried out in the body, the intake of food and liquids is digested and absorbed, while waste products are separated, formed and expelled from the body. Their proper and timely excretion is essential, otherwise toxins can be reabsorbed into the body, causing problems.

Mala are considered third in the trinity of the body after dosha and dhatu, as according to Ayurveda, the balanced condition of dosha, dhatu and mala is aarogya (disease free condition) so if any of the three are unbalanced or not functioning properly, ill health or disease will follow. For clinical reasons, therefore, the study of mala is an important diagnostic tool and can tell us a lot about the client's health or ill-health. In rogi pariksha (patient examination), we may examine urine, stool, sweat and other (dhatu) mala (nails, for example) to determine the person´s general state of health, deficiencies, malnutrition, dosha imbalance or illness.*

Maha mala (main waste products)

There are 3 ahar mala   

Purisha (stool) is the main waste product of the human digestive system processing food and is therefore known as anna mala (food waste) or ahar mala. The stool provides support and tone to the colon (which otherwise would collapse), as well as maintaining the correct temperature.  Ayurveda clearly defines the healthy stool as semisolid and smooth, easily passed, with no identifiable undigested foods, yellowish in colour and not too foul smelling. Many subclinical problems can be diagnosed through stool analysis, which is also recognized by Western medicine, at least in the case of gastro-intestinal distress. We must remember that the colon is the main seat of Vata and improper functioning can lead to Vata problems like gas, distention, constipation, anxiety and fear as well as more serious gastro-intestinal disorders such as diverticulitis, colitis and Crohn´s disease. 

 Mutra (urine) is another important waste product of the body. The kidneys filter impurities, any excess of minerals from liquids imbibed, as well as playing a part in acid-base homeostasis and the regulation of liquids. Any increase or decrease in the production of urine, as well as variations in colour, smell, turbidity, or acidity can aid in the diagnosis of dehydration, diabetes, urinary infections, kidney stones, and various bladder disorders.

 Sweda (sweat) is waste that comes out of skin pores and primarily consists of water as well as various dissolved solids, such as sodium. It is considered the mala of meda dhatu (see below) and is a means of thermoregulation in the human body. Sweating, through exercise or sauna, is a well known therapeutic process, in that it eliminates toxins from the body, reduces fat, cools the body, improves the skin and purifies the blood. Any imbalance in sweat production can lead to itching, skin infections, irritation, a burning sensation in body or reduced body temperature.

There are 7 dhatu mala

As we cannot see the dhatu themselves which are inside the body, the external mala give us clues as to what is going on. Bad quality mala from a particular dhatu tell us that nutrition is not reaching that dhatu (and possibly not subsequent ones either) and helps us to reach a diagnosis. For example weak splitting nails suggest a problem in the proper formation of asthi dhatu and leads us to suspect problems in the bones, cartilage, teeth etc.
dhatu                        function                                     mala

Rasa                        ´prinana'      ´nourishing'            saliva, tongue coating, tears   
Rakhta                    ´Jivana'         ´life sustaining'       bile, estercobilina
Mansa                     ´lepana'         ´covering'              ear wax, nose, cavities
Meda                       ´snehana´      ´lubricating'           sweat
Asthi                       ´dharana'      ‘supporting´           nails, hair        
Majja                       ´purana '        ´filling'                   sneha, eyes gunk, skin,

Shukra                    ´garbhotpada (production of embryo)

Shukra dhatu has no byproducts and only produces ojas, quintessential life energy, as it is considered a perfect distillation of all the previous dhatu and that all mala have already been segregated and removed from it.

Upadhatu are considered secondary tissues formed as by-products of the dhatu, structurally important but not directly implicated in disease and therefore not so important for diagnostic purposes.

7 upadhatu

dhatu                       function                                                   upadhatu                               

Rasa                        ´prinana´     'nourishing'             breast milk, menstrual, synovial fluid            
Rakhta                    ´jivana´       'life sustaining'         tendons, vessels, veins, menstrual blood  
Mansa                     ´lepana´     ´covering'                 ligaments, muscles, skin 
Meda                       ´snehana´    'lubricating'              subcutaneous fat   
Asthi                       ´dharana´    'supporting´             teeth   
Majja                       ´purana´      'filling'                     tears, lachrymal secretions                 

*The way someone typically eliminates waste (through feces, urine and sweat) ie whether Vata (air) Pita (fire) or Kapha (water) predominate, also allows us to determine prakriti, the natural constitution of a person.