How Food is Transformed into Bodily Structures and Intelligence

The food we eat (Ahara) is processed in the stomach and intestines to extract and absorb its nutritive essence (Ahara Rasa), by the power of our digestive fire (Agni). It is then metabolized to produce and maintain the various tissues of the body. The Ayurvedic texts describe seven sequential stages of processing. Western science recognizes these same tissues along with others, but does not have the same understanding of their inter-relationships or of the importance of good digestion and metabolism. At each step of transformation, waste products are generated, which should also be in proper balance. Movement of air, water, nutrients, tissues, and waste products is mediated by 13 subtle channels known as the Srotas.

The 7 Dhatus
Dhatu Principal
Mahabhuta
Tissue Mala (Waste Product)
Ahara Rasa Digestive Fluid Feces, flatus and urine
Rasa Water Blood plasma; breast milk Phlegm
Rakta Fire Blood cells; menstrual blood Bile
Mamsa Earth Muscle; skin Tears, ear wax, oral & nasal secretions
Meda Earth Fat Sweat
Ashti Air Bone Hair & nails
Majja Air Bone marrow, central nervous system Oily secretions of eyes, skin, colon
Shukra Water - male
Fire - female
Reproductive tissues including semen and ovum None

Ojas

From Shukra comes Ojas, the final, most subtle product of digestion and metabolism. It is only found in humans. It is responsible for intelligence, immunity, and strength. There is said to be a cupful pervading the body and 8 drops in the heart. It is the essence of the Dhatus. It has a unifying value that nourishes the entire physiology and enlivens its connection to the ultimate source: transcendental pure consciousness.

Ojas is depleted by excessive exercise, fatigue, a rough or raw diet, alcohol, trauma, over-exposure to the elements, and emotional stress. Production of Ojas is enhanced by love and other sattvic behaviors, the experience of bliss consciousness, sattvic foods, rasayana herbs and Ayurvedic therapy. See my Top 10 Tips for boosting Ojas.

A totally pure nervous system can further convert Ojas to Soma. Soma, the "nectar of the gods", is the glue of the universe connecting heaven and earth. Soma supports refined perception that enables one to appreciate the finest level of manifest creation, such that every sensation becomes a wave of bliss.

Mechanisms of Disease

Violations of the laws of nature cause disease via imbalance or damage to the Doshas, via disturbance of Agni or the Srotas, or via injury. Faulty digestion and metabolism results in the formation of toxins known as Ama. Environmental toxins (pollutants, pesticides, preservatives, synthetic fabrics, cleaners, etc.) also promote Ama and accelerate its conversion to Amavisha, its most damaging form. Ama is sticky and will accumulate in locations where the Srotas have been vitiated and thereby attracts a localized imbalance of the Doshas. The cholesterol plaques of atherosclerosis are a gross example of Ama. The myalgias of chronic fatigue syndrome are an example of Ama accumulation at a more subtle level in muscle tissue. If the situation persists, one or more Doshas will become aggravated and eventually will spread. Typically this entire sequence is asymptomatic, but is detectable in the pulse. With further progression, the pathologic Dosha will vitiate the Dhatu leading to overt symptoms.

In effect, the Doshas provide a buffer between environmental change and our Dhatus. Ayurveda offers a complete system to prevent problems and to restore balance before disturbances have become irreversible.

With this background, you can better understand why Ayurveda so strongly emphasizes diet, digestion, and daily routine. In particular, Agni, our digestive fire, is protected by regularity and moderation in dietary habits. Over-eating, skipping lunch, eating before the prior meal has been digested, and taking unsuitable foods will disturb Agni and promote the formation of Ama.