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Rasa Dhatu: A closer look

Advanced Ayurvedic Theory  

Rasa dhatu refers to the primary waters of the body. The word rasa means sap, juice or liquid.  In the physical body, rasa refers directly to the plasma or non cellular portion of the blood, the lymph and interstitial fluids. As watery secretions, rasa dhatu relates indirectly to breast milk and menstrual fluid.

Rasa is more than fluid, it is nourishment. Sugar and nutrients mix with the plasma and are carried by vyana vayu to all of the tissues of the body.  As such, when rasa dhatu is healthy, a person feels satiated. The satisfaction one feels is both physical and psychological.

Physical satisfaction is the sense of health and well-being that every cell experiences when it is well nourished. Psychological satisfaction is the feeling that our most basic needs have been met. As a result, there is a solid foundation for healthy psychological growth. With physical and psychological satisfaction, the foundation is set to be of service to society and fulfill one’s dharma.

The rasa dhatu, being made up of the element water, has similar qualities. It is cold, heavy, moist, soft, stable, smooth, flowing, cloudy, gross and dull.  These qualities are very similar to kapha dosha, which is made up of water and earth.  Thus, the health of rasa dhatu plays an important role in determining the health of kapha dosha. In the formation of the dhatus, kapha is the mala (waste product) produced by the formation of rasa dhatu.

When rasa dhatu is depleted, the qualities of kapha and water diminish. The skin becomes dry and rough, dryness in the bowels produces constipation and dry mucous membranes lose their ability to resist disease becoming fertile ground for infections. In addition, the secretion of breast milk is diminished in nursing mothers and menstrual flow becomes scanty.  In the mind, nothing seems right. There is growing dissatisfaction that can not be easily satiated by changes in the environment.

It is vata and pitta doshas that are the cause of rasa dhatu depletion. Vata dosha, made up of air and ether, enters the rasa dhatu and dries it out. Pitta dosha, made up primarily of fire, enters the rasa dhatu and burns it out. Activities that reduce rasa dhatu are those that increase vata and pitta doshas. Activities such as excessive travel, talking too much, being very busy and a diet that lacks in water and oils increase vata dosha. Pitta dosha increases due to a lifestyle that is too highly focused, competitive and intense as well as from a diet that is too spicy hot. Thus, a lifestyle that increases vata or pitta dosha decreases the rasa dhatu resulting in dissatisfaction in the mind and the consequences of dryness in the body.

When rasa dhatu is in excess, the qualities of water and kapha dosha increase. Excess leads to water retention, swelling and mucous formation in the body. In women, menstrual flow becomes heavier and lasts longer. The mind becomes dull, cloudy and sluggish, and it lacks luster. The mind is happy but that happiness is superficial. It is dependent upon retaining the material objects of satisfaction.

It is kapha dosha that increases the rasa dhatu and the rasa dhatu that increases kapha dosha. The two are inseparable. It is the water element that feeds both of them. Kapha dosha increases when a person becomes too lazy or quiet and when the diet is too moist and heavy. 

In the subtle body, the qualities of water flow through svadhistana chakra and ida nadi bringing about deeper feelings and drives including: desire, compassion and love. When rasa dhatu is healthy, these feelings and drives are well balanced within the constitutional nature of the individual. As rasa dhatu becomes depleted, the flow of watery qualities through the nadi and chakra decreases, resulting in a decrease in these feelings and drives. When rasa dhatu is in excess, these feelings and drives increase. However, as they increase beyond their constitutional balance, they become tainted by the attachments and the desires of the ego. 

Healing rasa dhatu means restoring the proper quantity and quality of water. The proper quantity is based upon the constitutional tendency of the individual. Those with more kapha in their constitution will naturally have more rasa dhatu. This makes depletion less likely and excess more likely. Those with more of a vata or pitta constitution tend to have a naturally lower amount of rasa dhatu and are more susceptible to depletion. Those with a pitta nature tend to have a little more rasa than those with a vata nature as pitta dosha naturally contains some water.

The quantity of rasa dhatu depends upon fluid intake. While it is logical that water itself would build the rasa dhatu, this is not entirely true. Rasa is more than water; it is the water that carries dissolved nutrients. Salt and sugar are the most important of these nutrients. Salt, in addition to its many physiological functions, helps retain water in the body. Sugar is the primary nutrient of the body. As a result, taking juice is the best way to replenish rasa. Rasa is also replenished through the intake of sap-type fluids such as maple syrup and agave nectar. Thus, herbal teas that are sweetened with these substances are much better than water alone in rebuilding rasa dhatu.

The quality of the rasa dhatu is dependent upon the health of agni or digestion.  Rasa dhatu is produced from the digestion of food and liquid. Food and liquid are initially digested in the digestive system and according to ayurvedic theory, turned into ahara rasa (milky substance similar to chyle). This fluid is then further digested within the sleshma dhara kala by the rasagni. The health of this fire determines the quality of rasa produced. When the rasagni is ideal, healthy rasa dhatu is produced along with minimal kapha dosha.  In other words, transformation is efficient and there is little waste product produced. When the rasagni is low, the efficiency of the transformation is reduced. The quantity of rasa produced is actually greater but it is of poor quality. In addition, excessive waste is produced so kapha dosha increases. When the rasagni is too high, it efficiently converts ahara rasa to rasa dhatu but also burns up some of the rasa dhatu that is being produced. Thus, a smaller amount of rasa dhatu is produced and there is deficiency. There is also minimal waste. Thus, kapha dosha is reduced.

The state of rasagni is dependent upon jatharagni - the main digestive fire. If jatharagni is healthy, so too will be the rasagni. In order to determine the health of the rasagni it is necessary to observe the results of digestion – the rasa dhatu. The rasa dhatu can be observed by evaluating the state of the mucous membranes of the body as well as the quantity and quality of any breast milk or menstrual fluid produced.

It is easiest to observe the mucous membranes by looking inside the mouth, at the lips, or at the eyes. If the membranes are dry, red or inflamed or if the lips are cracked, then rasa dhatu is depleted.  The state of the skin also tells about the state of rasa. When rasa dhatu is severely diminished, sweating is decreased and the skin becomes dry and cracked. If the cause of the depletion is due to rasagni being too strong, there will be signs of excess heat such as burning and redness of the membranes. This is due to an increase in pitta dosha. If the cause of depletion is due to vata dosha, it will have been caused by an insufficient intake of appropriate fluids along with a fluctuating, unstable agni. There is simply not enough fluid to build adequate rasa dhatu and, due to the variable nature of rasagni, that conversion is poor. On the other hand, if the mucous membranes are excessively moist or mucusy, if the skin is excessively moist and if menstrual fluids and breast milk are produced in excess, rasagni is low and rasa and kapha dosha are in excess.

In order to raise the state of jatharagni and rasagni and lower the amount of rasa being produced, it is important to take in hot spices such as ginger, cumin and black pepper. These should be taken while reducing the amount of salty and sweet fluids in the diet. In order to lower the state of jatharagni and rasagni and increase the amount of rasa being produced, it is important to takes in heavy, harder to digest foods such as fats and oils. These foods are classified as having a sweet taste and include many nuts and meats. Nuts contain large amounts of oils and meats contain salty juice (animal rasa and rakta). Food should be cooked in large amount of ghee and other oils as well. These foods should be taken with an appropriate but not excessive amount of spice. I should note that the bitter taste also reduces rasagni. However, when rasa dhatu is already depleted, it should not be used as it has a drying nature. 

In summary, rasa dhatu provides the body and mind with sustenance. It is the sap that runs through the vessels of our bodies. It is important to take good care of it and assure that life is satisfying.