Before we engage in various Yogic processes that help boost our health and immunity let us further deepen our understanding of the immunity as per Ayurveda and modern medicine. Also, we need to be aware of what types of food we must consume to keep a healthy body.
As per Ayurvedic principle, this physical body – the Annamaya Kosha is created by the food we eat. The food goes through its journey from one phase to another. These phases through which the food pass and becomes a constituent of body are know as dhatu. The higher Immunity is the result of unhindered production and the flow of these Dhatus in our body. The flow of food and its journey through the Dhatu phases is as below –
As you can see, gross Dhatus are 7 in number. As a rule, the quantity of each successive dhatu is only a small fraction (approximately 10%) of the previous one and its quality depends on the quality of its predecessor. Apart from these seven there are two more Dhatus that are subtle – 8. Ojas and 9. Tejas. Ojas is basically the power of endurance. It is the body’s ability (bala) to sustain us through all forms of distresses & exertions, both physical and mental. It depends on the sum total quality and quantity of all the seven dhatus. Here, the Ojas is what we can directly relate to our immunity.
Further, Tejas is that activated state of Virya/Shukra where it is transformed into inner fire, passion and is directly linked to spiritual prowess & will power. In yoga and tantra, Tejas is needed for us to be able to perform transformative spiritual practices.
Enough of theoretical wisdom. Let’s get practical and find out how we can improve our Immunity based on this principle.
NUTRITIOUS RASA DHATU MEANS BETTER HEALTH
So, we have seen that rasa is our first dhatu. This ‘Rasa’ can be roughly said to be the (assimilated) juices (generated after the process of digestion) of the food intake. This is the usable raw material that our body will use to regenerate itself. It is quite evident that the quality and quantity of rasa depend on two factors – a. food intake and b. state of our digestive system. Therefore the food we eat is of paramount importance because if we do not eat good quality, easily digestible, rich, wholesome food we will be deprived of the first dhatu itself. Further as per Ayurveda, the dominant place of Rasa Dhatu is heart. The heart is the organ that circulates and distributes Rasa to the body where it is utilized by different organs. So if we eat greasy, fatty food and do not exercise properly then this fat contained in assimilated rasa will accumulate around heart, causing coronary heart diseases. So, a general advice – we can’t keep a healthy body just by eating healthy food but have to maintain a balance between food intake and physical labour.
A lot researches have been done by modern medicine-scientists, identifying chemicals and investigating the chemical processes that happen in human body for its survival against bacterial and viral invasions. These modern studies are equally important and therefore should not be ignored. Therefore I would rather like to improve our understanding about human immunity by taking clues from these new studies as well.
VITAMINS, ANTIOXIDANTS & FATTY ACIDS
In brief, as per modern medicine there are few essential components that are needed to be present in balanced quantities to keep our immunity functioning well. They postulate that Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Carotenoids (gets converted into Vitamin A), Zinc, and Omega-3 Fatty acids as these fatty acids suppress the inflammation and keep a check on immune response from getting overactive. Keeping these facts in mind, following are the suggested inclusions in your daily diet just to keep your immune system.
- Citrus Fruits, Amla (Indian Gooseberry), Kiwi Fruit, Broccoli, Red/Green Peppers, Strawberry. Alternatively you can have Chyavanprash after breakfast and dinner.
- Sunsoaked mushrooms and Sun Bathing, The best way to get the specific D3, is by active sunbathing regularly.
- Almonds, Hazelnuts, Peanut butter, Sunflower seeds. Almonds are the best but the activation/digestion of specific proteins (in human body) happens when these are soaked in water for minimum of 6 hrs prior to consumption. So there’s no point chewing dry or roasted almonds. Always soak them overnight, remove the skin and then consume for best nutrition.
- Cashew, Chickpeas, raisin bran. The daily dose of zinc in body can be met if we use certain brass utensils for cooking the food. Instead, most of the households use pressure cooking and thus are ingesting excessive Aluminium, it is not good for the digestive system. It is the main reason for the people suffering from IBS, colitis, constipation etc.
- Papaya, Mango, Sweet Potato, Carrot, Apricot. These are going to supply you the enough of vitamin A. In general you can have small portion of either of the above. Papaya, carrot, sweet potato, dried apricot are available almost throughout the year.
Practitioner of modern medicine will tell you that one should plan to include at least 1 item from all the above 5 groups of food spread over one’s 3 or 4 meals. They say, these are essential ingredients just to keep your immune system functional and working.
BALANCE OF TATTVAS IN YOUR PLATE = VIBRANT HEALTH
Ayurvedic system gives rather a very interesting (probably simple to adopt) suggestion to maintain our health and immunity. It’s definition of wholesome, balanced and nourishing meal is based on the taste of food (edible items including herbs). There are 6 basic tastes (shadarasas) – Madhur, Katu, Tikt, Kashaya, Amla, Lavan. I will not debate here about the discovery of a new taste called Umami. Herbs or foods ignite or suppress (barring few exceptions) certain doshas in our body in accordance of these basic tastes. This principle of balancing the portions of different tastes in our plate in maintenance of our health and immunity may sound ridiculous but it is not!
As per Vedic/Tantric philosophy our existence is expressed through the 5 sheaths or covering called koshas. This physical body through which we interact with and experience this physical world is called Annamaya Kosha or the sheath made up of 5 Tattvas. As per ancient Tantric Shaivism this whole visible, tangible creation (world as well as this body) belongs to ‘Panchikrita Tattvas’. Human body has a predefined Tattvic composition and thus maintaining that critical balance of Tattvas would keep it in perfectly healthy state.
A treatise on Ayurveda, Ashtangahridayam mentions that out of these 6 basic tastes (rasas)- maximum 63 types of tastes (by combining these basic tastes) can be prepared and therefore we can have maximum of 63 categories of acquired ailments/diseases caused by imbalance of food intake. So, as per your current prakriti of body and season (change of season or Ritu-Sandhi requires special care) you should choose your food however as a rule keeping a balance of rasa (inclusion of items belonging to all 6 types of tastes) in the food shall ensure your vibrant health.
From the table above you can understand how different tastes (rasas) are primary source of different elements in our body. In fact the taste of any food item or herb is attributed to its Tattvic Composition, and is primarily determined by the ‘Dominant Elements’ presented in it. So if we keep a balance of taste in our plate we will ensure supply of all the 5 elements in our body. How so easy!
AYURVEDIC THERAPY FOR INCREASED VITALITY
Rasayan Chikitsa, aims at rejuvenation. Restoration of weakened functions and strengthening of existing health. Rejuvenation literally means regaining youthfulness. This therapy enhances one’s energy, immunity and also helps cure diseases. In a healthy individual it increases mental and physical strength. Rasayanas are those herbs or medicinal combinations that keep our immune system in perfect shape.
The working of Rasayans is complex and they are said to work on multiple levels and domains at the same time. If put in modern medicine’s language some functions of Rasayan’s are; Antioxidant action, Neuroprotective action, Nutritive etc. but the most relevant action that we need to use in today’s time is Immuno-modulatory action. Although immunity as per Ayurveda is sum total of many strengths (balas) but in view of modern medicine this immuno-modulatory function is directly linked to immunity. Whatever, this is an established fact that rasayanas perform this desired function with almost no negative side-effects on human body. Even if some rasayan does not suit to the body prakriti its usage can be discontinued without fearing of any persistent negative symptoms. Rasayans are to be taken only under the supervision of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner however there are some; Such as Triphala, Chyavanprash or Shilajit, that can be taken (in appropriate quantity) without much risks involved. Similarly there are many herbs that work exactly like complex rasayan.
- Chyavanprash* (* means these are prepared and have multiple herbs)
Including these herbs in moderation improves immunity.
STRIVE FOR BLISS
AYURVEDA IS NOT ABOUT MEDICINES ONLY
Ayurveda is unlike modern system of medicine which is disease and treatment centric. It mostly gives us impression that life in human body is the result of some chemical-processes. The system of Ayurveda can be best defined as a consciousness based science for health and healing. It takes human life as a function of consciousness. It believes when we are in tune with nature’s positive vibrations we are capable of receiving receiving the gift of ‘life-force’.
So it says that if you want to feel good and healthy stay in positive state of mind and be surrounded by nature’s positive vibrations. Connect with Tattvas, gain control on your senses and mind, connect with people around you, see value in giving, being of use to this world rather than continuous craving to accumulate. In a nutshell, one who is spiritually engaged is more capable of radiating joy and vitality. From the point of view of Ayurveda, “Perfect health at all levels of existence is simply the expression of Enlightenment”. The unhindered bliss is obtained when we recognize a purpose in our living and not crave for life only for the sake of living.
It means Ayurveda is not about medicine, it is a way of life. It’s principles are about how we can work upon our own doshas and coexist with nature and people around us without spreading any negativity and disturbance. A healthy life is that, which is lived in harmony with our own inherent nature and everything around us. Taittiriya Upanishad tells how. It says..
Aum Saha Nau- Avatu |
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viryam Karava Vahaai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhitam- Astu Maa Vidvissavahai |
Aum Shanti Shanti Shantih ||
Let us be together,
Let us nourish ourselves together,
Let us be radiant and vital together,
Let us be radiating truth, radiating the light of life,Never shall we denounce anyone and never entertain negativity.
For now, let me give out some more points from Ayurvedic lifestyle that we must try to inculcate to keep our bodies healthy and our immune system intact.
1. Always eat the food as soon as it is cooked. It’s better to have cooked food while it is still warm. Cold foods and drinks weaken your digestive fire and thus should be avoided.
2. Begin your day with drinking one or two glasses of warm water.
3. Give your body enough sun exposure. While in Sun, give yourself oil massage (Tail Abhyangam) in the morning with warm oils such as sesame, mustard, olive or sunflower. It strengthens the skin and muscles and nourishes the tissues. If time permits do it daily, if not then at least once a week. Massage enhances a feeling of self-love and wellbeing.
4. Enjoy warming and energizing exercise such as active yoga, walking, hiking, and snowshoeing. These enhance circulation and build strength.
5. Take warm baths in the evening with epsom salts and warming essential oils such as ginger, cardamom, eucalyptus, rosemary, cinnamon or basil..
6. Include warming spices such as cardamom, ginger, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon in your foods. But do it in moderation and as per your prakriti and season.
7. Make sure to get enough sleep and avoid oversleeping.
8. Allow yourself space and time for meditative reflection, inner contemplation practices.
9. The point which I never fall short of emphasizing – Stay happy, keep a smile on your face, help yourself and live to serve others.
We shall cover the yogic ways such as asanas, dharanas, mudras, and pranayamas to have sound mental health, excellent immune system and also necessary modifications in thinking to achieve a cheerful disposition in our next discussion.
– Acharya Agyaatadarshan Anand Nath