The seven dhatus are the seven tissues of the body: In English they are; plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow / nerve and reproductive tissue. In Sanskrit, they are rasa, rakta, mamsa, medas, asthi, majja and shukra. These are the structures that make up the body. However, like most concepts in vedic literature, they are much more than their one-dimensional definitions, they are integral to understanding the relationships of the tissues in the body and they are sites that doshas enter when they cause disease. An understanding of the seven dhatus is important to understanding pathology or, what goes wrong in the body. When a dosha enters a dhatu, a proper understanding of the dhatu helps the practitioner predict the symptoms that will manifest and provides clues to the best treatment.
The following articles were written by Dr. Marc Halpern, College Director.
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.
Rakta dhatu refers to the primary fire of the body. The word rakta means colored as well as reddened. Depending upon its usage, it can also mean impassioned. Each of these meanings has important implications from the perspective of health and healing. In the physical body, rakta refers directly to the blood, specifically the red blood cells, and indirectly to the tendons and the bile.
Rakta dhatu is more than blood. It is the carrier of the fire that invigorates the body and mind. As such, when rakta dhatu is healthy, a person feels energized with a healthy passion for life. When rakta dhatu is in excess, heat in the body increases, the tissues of the body experience inflammation, and the mind experiences greater intensity and sharper focus. When rakta dhatu is deficient, the heat in the body decreases and the tissues of the body become cold and stiff while the mind loses its sharpness and focus.
The rakta dhatu, being made up primarily of the element fire, has similar qualities. It is hot, light, dry, hard, unstable, rough, flowing, clear, subtle and sharp. These qualities are very similar to pitta dosha which is made up of mostly fire and a little water. Thus, the health of rakta dhatu plays an important role in determining the health of pitta dosha. In the formation of the dhatus, pitta dosha is the mala (waste product) produced by the formation of rakta dhatu. Rakta dhatu also has a special relationship to the liver. The liver is the site of origin of the raktavaha srota - the channel through which the unstable form of rasa (posya rasa dhatu) must pass prior to the formation of rakta. When the rakta dhatu is overheated, so too is the posya rasa dhatu. As a result, the liver and spleen become overheated and possibly enlarged. This is what occurs during hepatitis.
When rakta dhatu is depleted, the qualities of pitta dosha and fire diminish. A person feels cold, the skin loses its luster becoming pale or dusty gray, and coldness causes the body to hold on to heat by becoming constipated and by reducing urination and sweat. In the mind, depletion of the rakta dhatu leads to dullness, and difficulty processing and understanding new information. This often leads to confusion and misunderstandings.
When the rakta dhatu is in excess, the qualities of pitta dosha and fire increase. A person feels warmer. As heat builds up in the body, the body tries to release the heat. This occurs in several ways. One way is through the skin. Vasodilatation brings blood to the surface in order to cool it off. This makes the skin appear redder. At first, the skin takes on a nice luster but if the heat continues to build, rashes develop. Vasodilatation may also be seen in the eyes which also become reddened. The body tries to release the excess heat along with the malas of the body. The frequency of bowel movements increases and the stools may become loose. The frequency of urination also increases. The most noticeable sign of the body trying to reduce excess heat, however, is often experienced as an increase in sweat. If the excess heat can not be adequately removed, it will result in burning sensations within the mucous membranes and eventually inflammation and fever. As the heat spreads, any tissue or organ can be affected.
It is vitiation of the pitta dosha that causes the rakta dhatu to increase. This is often a confusing concept as pitta dosha, being light, depletes the rest of the dhatus. Pitta dosha, however, increases the rakta dhatu due to their similar natures. The fire of pitta increases the fire of the rakta dhatu. An increase in the rakta dhatu results in feeling warmer and more intense. Lifestyle factors that increase the rakta dhatu are those that increase pitta dosha such as intellectual study, focus and exercise as well as a diet that is too hot and spicy. While pitta dosha vitiation usually increases the rakta dhatu when it goes on for too long or becomes too intense, it will eventually burn out the dhatu. This results in a decrease in the dhatu. The body becomes unable to hold onto the heat – feels cold and becomes easily fatigued. Most practitioners equate this with a vata imbalance. However, it is the result of burn out.
When the rakta dhatu has increased, all of the activities of the body become more intense. In women, menstrual flow intensifies becoming very heavy but only for a few days. A person’s mood intensifies and small things seem very important. One’s sense of dharma intensifies but the imbalance leads to a state of mind in which the end justifies the means. Thus, integrity is often compromised for the sake of accomplishment. As heat builds throughout the body, there is joint and skin inflammation, redness of the eyes and even the blood vessels themselves become inflamed. Fever is possible. Many of these symptoms occur within the family of Rheumatic or Connective Tissue Disorders. These diseases result in an auto-immune response that generates inflammation. It is the pitta dosha that increases the rakta dhatu and the rakta dhatu that increases the pitta dosha. The two are inseparable. Thus, whenever pitta dosha is vitiated, the rakta dhatu must be treated and visa versa.
Vata vitiation results in a decrease of the rakta dhatu. The light nature of vata dosha can reduce the red blood cells count. The cold nature of vata dosha reduces the fire-carrying capacity of the rakta dhatu. As a result of depletion, the body becomes both cold and fatigued. Activities that reduce the rakta dhatu are those that vitiate vata dosha such as irregular eating habits and skipping meals. These habits result in malabsorption and malnutrition.
Vitiation of kapha dosha has an interesting effect on the rakta dhatu. Due to its heavy and gross nature, kapha dosha increases the rakta dhatu. This may result in a greater number or size of the red blood cells. However, due to the cold nature of kapha dosha, the quantity of heat carried by the rakta dhatu decreases. Thus, the patient experiences a lack of energy (sluggishness) as well as a feeling of being cold. Lifestyle factors that vitiate kapha dosha within the rakta dhatu include laziness, a lack of exercise, a disinterest in intellectual exploration and a diet that is bland.
In the subtle body, the qualities of fire flow through the manipura chakra and the pingala nadi bringing about strong and intense drives and feelings including: passion, focus, reason and logic. The state of the rakta dhatu is tied to the flow of prana through these energetic channels. When rakta dhatu is healthy, these feelings and drives are well balanced within the constitutional nature of the individual. As rakta dhatu becomes depleted the flow of fiery qualities through the nadi and chakra decrease and there is a decrease in these feelings and drives. When rakta 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 the rakta dhatu means restoring the proper quantity and quality of fire in the body and mind. The proper quantity is based upon the constitutional tendency of the individual. Those with more pitta in their constitution will naturally have more rakta dhatu. This makes depletion less likely and excess more likely. Those with more of a vata constitution tend to have a naturally lower amount of rakta dhatu and are most susceptible to depletion. Those with a kapha constitution tend to have an adequate quantity of rakta dhatu. However, the dhatu tends to be of poorer quality.
The quantity and quality of rakta dhatu depends upon the intake of the fire element. Food must first be digested by the main digestive fire (jatharagni). This produces ahara rasa which is then digested by rasagni to produce rasa dhatu and its related tissues. A portion of the rasa dhatu is then digested by the raktagni to produce rakta dhatu and its related tissues. When rakta agni is functioning properly and when it has received adequate rasa for transformation, the rakta produced will be of an ideal quantity and of the highest quality. When the raktagni is low, a greater amount of rakta is produced. However, this is of poor quality. This occurs when kapha is vitiated. When raktagni is too high, less rakta is produced but it is supercharged in the sense that it is very hot. This is what occurs when pitta is vitiated. When raktagni is variable, too little rakta is produced and it is of poor quality. This is what occurs when vata dosha is vitiated. Thus, the care of the rakta dhatu is dependent upon the health of raktagni. Since the health of the rakta agni is partially dependent upon the health of jatharagni, attention must be paid to both agnis in order to restore health.
In order to evaluate the health of the rakta dhatu, the blood should be evaluated. The red blood cell count tells of the quantity of rakta dhatu that is present. Cellular morphology and the levels of hemoglobin are indicators of its quality. Of course, not all ayurvedic practitioners have the ability to order blood tests or have been trained to read them. And, even if they were, blood tests alone are insufficient to tell the health of the rakta dhatu as the dhatu is more than blood. Some imbalances do not show up in the blood tests but can be observed in other ways. Examination of the rakta dhatu should include an examination of the complexion of an individual, palpation of the liver for size and tenderness and observation of the sclera of the eyes for red or yellow discoloration. The tendons of the body should be palpated and the practitioner should inquire if there is a history of tendonitis. The tendons are an upadhatu of the formation of the rakta dhatu. Tendonitis is one indicator of pitta vitiation within the rakta dhatu. While taking the case history, the practitioner should also inquire as to whether there is a recent history of abnormal bleeding from any part of the body. When pitta enters the rakta dhatu, bleeding in the body tends to increase. While many of these indicators are found in the late stages of rakta dhatu vitiation by pitta dosha, the earliest indicator is often just feeling warmer than usual or becoming more sensitive to heat.
Mamsa dhatu refers to the muscles of the body, but the term literally means flesh or meat. In the physical body, mamsa dhatu refers directly to the muscles and indirectly to the ligaments and skin, which are upadhatus formed as the unstable form of rakta dhatu (posaka rakta) is converted to mamsa dhatu.
Mamsa dhatu is more than muscle; it is the provider of strength, courage, fortitude and self-confidence. It is also the vehicle through which we express ourselves. When healthy, our muscles work in a modest fashion to express the needs and desires of the ego, while also available to express the creative inspiration of the Divine. In other words, our flesh (body) is the expressive vehicle of both the jivatman (that part of our soul that identifies with the ego) and the paramatman (that part of our soul that identifies with the Divine).
Muscle is built from earth and fire and is then motivated by air. Earth provides the substance from which the bulky structure of muscle is made. Fire ignites the engine that directs its focus and action. Muscle is a highly metabolic tissue. While earth and fire play their fundamental roles in building the tissue, it is air that inspires and initiates its motion.
In order to produce healthy mamsa dhatu, adequate earth must be consumed through the diet. Earth element is found in large amounts within grains, nuts, meats and legumes. Consumption alone, however, is not enough to build mamsa dhatu. The earth element must be properly digested so that its qualities can be reused to build mamsa dhatu. Thus, jatharagni (main digestive fire) must be healthy, as well as the mamsagni – the agni which transforms posaka rakta dhatu into mamsa dhatu. While the function of the mamsagni is partially dependent upon jatharagni (the health of all secondary agnis depend on jatharagni), mamsagni itself is affected directly by exercise. The more a person exercises, the stronger mamsagni becomes.
When mamsagni is too low, and there is adequate earth taken into the body, muscle and other tissues form but they are of low quality. As such, they are hard but proportionately weak. These muscles can do little work relative to their size. When mamsagni is too high, and there is adequate earth taken into the body, the muscles that form will be lean and strong but prone to inflammation. When mamsagni is balanced, the earth that is taken in will be converted to muscle that is healthy and capable of large amounts of work without injury.
In the event that there is not enough earth element present to generate mamsa dhatu, then the body tissues that are formed will always be inadequate regardless of the state of mamsagni. However, if mamsagni is strong, the body will become very lean, the tissue formed will be prone to inflammation and eventually, if there is not enough earth to sustain the muscles, the agni itself will begin to devour the mamsa dhatu and there will be muscle wasting.
Udana vayu is the force that inspires the contraction of muscle so that work (expression) can be accomplished. When mamsa dhatu is healthy, work is generated in a balanced and healthy manner. In the sattvic individual (one with a pure consciousness), the work generated is an expression of the Divine will. In the rajasic and tamasic individual (one with a distracted or ignorant consciousness), the work generated is an expression of personal will or ego.
Mamsa dhatu, made up of earth and fire, has the following qualities: hot, heavy, dry, hard, unstable, rough, dense, cloudy, gross and sharp. These qualities are similar to a combination of pitta and kapha doshas and, as such, these doshas play the greatest role in its development and health. A balanced kapha dosha provides for proper structure and a balanced pitta dosha for proper metabolic function. Disturbances in these doshas are responsible for alterations of form and function.
The amount of muscle and the thickness of the skin and ligaments depend upon a person’s constitution. Those with a vata prakruti have minimal amounts of muscle and thin skin and ligaments even when healthy and balanced. Those with a pitta nature have moderate muscular formation along with a moderate thickness of the skin and ligaments. Those with a kapha nature have larger muscle mass with thicker skin and ligaments. Regardless of the dosha, the tissues are healthy if they are consistent in formation with the doshic balance of the individual and are tone and supple.
Vitiation of kapha dosha in the mamsavaha srota (channel that carries posaka rakta dhatu) results in low mamsagni. This results in excessive mamsa dhatu formation but the tissue formed is hard and inflexible. In addition, the upadhatus (secondary tissues) are similarly affected. Thus, the skin and ligaments of the body become thicker, harder and tighter. Psychologically, self-confidence is quiet and strong but the motivation and courage to take action is lacking.
Vitiation of pitta dosha in the mamsavaha srota results in high mamsagni. This results in less mamsa dhatu formation though the tissue formed is strong and lean. Skin and ligaments also become thinner and all three are prone to inflammation and injury. Psychologically, there is strength of will along with the courage to take chances and move forward. Self-confidence is high. This is not necessarily as good as it sounds. Remember that pitta vitiation is an imbalance. Thus, the sense of confidence and strength that is present is driven by the ego. It is the confidence and strength of will that often results in injury and inflammation within the mamsa dhatu from pushing too hard.
Vitiation of vata dosha in the mamsavaha srota results in a variable mamsagni. This also results in minimal tissue formation and the tissue formed is weak. In addition, the skin and ligaments become thinner and prone to injury. Vata vitiation within the mamsa dhatu is responsible for the greatest number of challenges within the tissues surrounding the joints of the body. Psychologically, a lack of mamsa dhatu results in a lack of emotional strength, courage and self-confidence. This creates timidity, along with physical and emotional fragility.
Summary of the Effects of Dosha Vitiation on the Mamsa Dhatu
Vata Pitta Kapha
Tissue Minimal tissue Minimal to moderate tissue Excessive tissue
and function Weak and prone to injury Strong but prone to inflammation Hard and inflexible
Psychological Emotional fragility, low self-confidence High self-confidence, strong will Quiet self-confidence, lacking in courage
In the subtle body, the health of the mamsa dhatu is directly dependent upon the flow of prana through muladhara, manipura and vishuddha chakras. Through muladhara chakra, the prana that carries the qualities of the earth element flows allowing us to feel grounded and anchored to our bodies and to the body of planet earth. Proper tissue development is dependent upon a healthy connection to the mother Earth. Through manipura chakra, the prana that carries the qualities of the fire element flows igniting the metabolic functions of the body and mind – increasing will and motivation. The role of vishuddha chakra is less important in mamsa development but quite important as regards the proper use of the dhatu. Vishuddha chakra is the home site of udana vayu – the force that inspires the muscles to act and, in doing so, express ourselves.
Only when the doshas are in a healthy state of balance is it possible to utilize the mamsa dhatu at the highest level. A healthy body allows for the complete fulfillment of dharma.
Doshic disturbances of the body, disturbing the mamsa dhatu, interfere with one’s ability to serve.
Healing the mamsa dhatu means restoring the proper quantity and quality of earth and fire in the body and mind. The proper quantity is based upon the constitutional tendency of the individual. Those with more kapha in their constitution will naturally have more mamsa dhatu. This makes depletion less likely and excess more likely. Those with more of a vata constitution tend to have a naturally lower amount of mamsa dhatu and are the most susceptible to depletion. Those with a pitta nature tend to have a moderate quantity of mamsa dhatu and are prone to depletion secondary to excessive fire.
In order to evaluate the health of the mamsa dhatu, the muscles, ligaments and skin should be evaluated. Visual inspection allows for a quick assessment of muscular development. Palpation of the muscles provides an indicator of tone. Palpation of the ligaments and the joint capsule may reveal tenderness due to either vata or pitta vitiation. Vata vitiation within the mamsa dhatu results a low pain threshold and high pain sensitivity. This tissue surrounding the pain will feel cool to the touch. Pitta vitiation within the mamsa dhatu produces pain as well but the tissue surrounding the pain will feel warm and may appear reddened. Kapha vitiation rarely produces pain but the muscles will be taught and motion limited. The tissue may feel fluidic or boggy. The skin should be evaluated as well for excessive dryness, red rashes and fluidity reflecting vata, pitta and kapha doshas respectively.
Once the mamsa dhatu is vitiated, it is important for treatment to be as specific as possible. While general lifestyle treatments that pacify the vitiated dosha are important, the more specific the treatment is, the more successful the outcome will be.
Proper Treatment of the Mamsa Dhatu
When kapha has entered the mamsa dhatu and mamsavaha srota, the best treatment is reducing the quantity of heavy foods and increasing agni in order to enhance muscle metabolism. Heavy foods such as nuts, grains, meats and legumes should be minimized and lighter foods such as vegetables and seeds should be increased. The pungent taste is the best taste as it reduces mamsa dhatu and increases agni. Thus, foods should be prepared accordingly and oral supplementation with hot spicy herbs such as the trikatu combination is appropriate. Exercise is the surest way to increase mamsagni and reduce the dhatu but only if food intake is minimized. Aerobic exercise is best. If a patient lifts weights then light weights should be lifted with many repetitions as the joints move through their full range of motion. Additional time in the sun is also supportive. Yoga asana to improve flexibility and heating pranayamas are also recommended.
When pitta has entered the mamsa dhatu and mamsavaha srota, the best treatment is to reduce the strength of jatharagni and mamsagni. Jatharagni is reduced through the intake of cooling foods such as milk, butter, bitter vegetables, wheat and oats. The best taste for a quick effect is the bitter taste as it quickly reduces all agnis. The sweet taste, however, is better for the long-term management of high agni. Because it is heavy, its effects are longer lasting. Being moist, the sweet taste also provides protection against the heat. Thus, muscle or ligamentous inflammation responds quickly to bitter herbs such as kutki, gentian and barberry. Long-term treatment and also prevention of future inflammation can be better accomplished through the use of licorice root, shatavari or slippery elm. These herbs, being rejuvenative, also help restore the injured tissue. Exercise should be completely avoided as this increases mamsagni. Once inflammation is resolved, however, exercise can slowly begin but only in proportion to the amount of earth element that requires digestion. Excessive time in the sun should be avoided. Pranayama practices that are cooling should be practiced. Cooling forms of yoga asana may be practiced as soon as the inflammation is reduced.
When vata has entered the mamsa dhatu and mamsavaha srota, the best treatment is to stabilize jatharagni and mamsagni and increase the intake of the earth element in proportion to the strength of agni. Stabilization is accomplished through the formation of regular daily routines – particularly those surrounding eating and sleeping habits. Earth element is increased through the intake of heavier foods such as grains, meats, nuts and legumes. In order to support and stabilize agni, warm spices should be taken but not those that are very hot. The best tastes are sweet and sour as they contain earth element. The sour taste containing fire element is even more beneficial as it has a long-term stabilizing effect on agni. When the sweet taste is utilized, it should be warmed with spices to add fire. For example, when sweet herbs such as ashwagandha, shatavari, licorice and slippery elm are used, they should be mixed with warmer spices such as ginger, cumin or cinnamon. Exercise may be performed but only in proportion to the amount of earth element that is in need of digestion. Thus, more exercise can be recommended so long as more nourishment is provided. Pranayama practices that balance agni, such as alternate nostril breathing, are beneficial. Yoga asana may also be practiced but should be restorative to the physical and energetic systems of the body.
In summary, a healthy mamsa dhatu is necessary to do the work of life. In order to keep it healthy, it is important to know one’s prakruti and vikruti and then to take the appropriate actions that are necessary to restore balance.
Medas dhatu refers to the fatty tissues of the body. While the term can literally be translated to mean fat, conceptually it means the concentrated waters of the body. In the physical body, in addition to body fat the medas dhatu relates to sebum (skin oil) and the greater and lesser omentums which are its updhatu. These tissues are the primary storage sites for excess body fat in the abdomen. Medas dhatu is formed as posaka mamsa dhatu flows into the medo dhara kala and is digested by the medagni. The waste products produced by the formation of medas dhatu are the skin secretions of sweat and sebum (oil).
Medas dhatu is built primarily from the water element and secondarily from earth. The presence of water reveals the nourishing nature of fatty tissue. The presence of earth reveals its role in stabilizing the functions of the body and mind. Medas dhatu has a counterproductive relationship with the remaining elements. As it fills the empty space of ether it reduces inspiration. In excess, this results in a closed mind. It also acts as an obstacle to air slowing down the movements of the body. In excess, it creates lethargy. And it suppresses fire reducing metabolic activity. In excess, digestion becomes sluggish and all dhatus begin to increase. However, for these same reasons it is protective against conditions of excess ether, air and fire.
In order to produce healthy medas dhatu, adequate earth and water must be consumed through the diet. Consumption alone does not guarantee that healthy medas will be formed. The two elements must be properly digested so that their qualities can be used to build body fat. Thus, jatharagni (main digestive fire) must be healthy. If it is not healthy, rather than forming healthy medas dhatu, these same foods will produce ama and toxify the body and mind.
Pathology and the Medas Dhatu
When kapha vitiates the medovaha srota and medo dhara kala, the medagni becomes low. As a result, the qualities of earth and water taken into the body are digested slowly causing a greater amount of fatty tissue to form. The tissue formed is of low quality. While the excess quantity produces weight gain, the low quality clogs the channels of the body, obstructs body motion, stagnates circulation and leads to greater emotional attachments.
When pitta vitiates the medovaha srota and medo dhara kala, the medagni becomes too high. As a result, the qualities of earth and water are burned up quickly leading to little medas production. The medas that is produced is of high quality but there is simply not enough to provide protection, stability and deep nourishment. This results in weight loss and the body and mind becomes dry, fragile, hard and depleted.
When vata vitiates the medovaha srota and medo dhara kala, the medagni becomes variable. The qualities of earth and water that have been consumed are irregularly digested. Less medas dhatu is produced and it is of poor quality. Once again there is weight loss and the body becomes dry, fragile, hard and depleted. The poor quality of the tissue produced contributes to irregular deposits of fat with the walls of the arteries and the body and mind become hard.
Psychology and the Medas Dhatu
Medas dhatu is more than the fatty and oily tissues of the body. It plays an important role in our capacity to love and be loved. You may recall that the health of the rasa dhatu plays an important role in the capacity of a person to feel satisfied. This satisfaction however is fragile and dependent upon being constantly fed. For this reason it is often short lived. The medas dhatu being a concentrated form of rasa deepens and stabilizes this feeling. When the medas dhatu is healthy, there is a deeper and longer lasting satisfaction that is less easily disturbed providing a solid foundation for love.
The psychological aspect of medas dhatu is closely related to the functions of the majjavaha and samjnavaha srotas. The role of medas dhatu within the majjavaha srota is to protect the nervous system from excessive stimulation and in doing so keep the body calm. In the samjnavaha srota, a subtle channel located in the heart that connects individualized consciousness with the divine, a much more subtle form of medas protects consciousness from the intensity of the light of pure awareness.
As medas dhatu and kapha dosha increase, the majjavaha srota becomes sluggish and less responsive. As neurological responses slow so too does thought and the mind appears dull. The samjnavaha srota becomes cloudy reducing awareness. As a result, the mind gets wrapped up in the dramas of attachment such as dependency, clinging and desire. Love becomes conditional and takes the form of deep attachment.
As medas dhatu and kapha dosha decrease, the majjavaha srota becomes excessively excitable. The samjnavaha srota (channel of consciousness) becomes extraordinarily clear but also fragile and the light of pure awareness becomes irritating and agitating. This occurs as vata or pitta doshas reduced medas dhatu. As a result, the mind gets wrapped up in fear, anxiety or anger. Love becomes difficult to feel and when it is experienced, it is intense but fragile. In this state, the emotional heart is easily hurt and it is difficult to recover from feelings of betrayal or the grief of loss.
In the subtle body, the health of the medas dhatu is directly dependent upon the flow of prana through muladhara and svadhistana chakras. Through muladhara chakra, prana carries the qualities of the earth element throughout the subtle body creating the feeling of being grounded and stable. Through svadhistana chakra, prana carries the qualities of water affecting our capacity to desire and experience pleasure through the senses. Thus medas dhatu, related to the flow of water is the physical manifestation of sensory desire. Strong sensory desire brings about increased medas dhatu (body fat).
In the sattvic individual, kapha is in a balanced state with agni and only a healthy amount of high quality medas is produced and stored. In addition, there is proper flow of prana through the muladhara and svadhistana chakras. Earth and water are balanced for the constitution. Psychologically, the unencumbered heart sees clearly by the divine light without being blinded or agitated by it. The foundation for love is not only established, it becomes unconditional. Excessive or deficient medas dhatu is a consequence of a rajas or tamasic consciousness leading the mind into the dramas of samsara (worldly existence) and away from the doorstep of unconditional love
Evaluating the Medas Dhatu
In order to evaluate the health of the medas dhatu visual examination of the physical body is necessary. When medas dhatu is healthy, the body has an appropriate amount of body fat, the skin and hair are neither too oily nor dry and the voice is melodious and soft. Excessive medas dhatu reveals itself as excessive soft tissue, particularly in the abdomen. In addition, the skin and hair will be excessively moist and oily and the voice may become obstructed by oily phlegm. Deficient medas dhatu is observed as minimal body fat exposing the articulations of the body and the ribs. The face may appear gaunt. In addition, the skin and hair will be dry and there may be deeps cracks over the lips and on the tongue. The voice may crack often or become piercing, whiney or high pitched.
Proper Treatment of the Medas Dhatu
Healing the medas dhatu means restoring the proper quantity and quality of water and earth in the body and normalizing the flow of these qualities through the chakras. The proper quantity varies with the constitution of the individual. Those with more kapha in their constitution will naturally have more medas dhatu. This makes depletion less likely and excess more likely. Those with more of a vata constitution tend to have a naturally lower amount of medas dhatu and are the most susceptible to depletion. Those with a pitta nature tend to have a moderate quantity of medas dhatu and are prone to depletion only when exposed to excessive heat or when affected by a vata imbalance.
When kapha has entered the medas dhatu and medovaha srota, the best treatment is reducing the quantity of heavy foods and increasing agni in order to enhance fat metabolism. Fatty foods such as nuts and fatty meats should be minimized and lighter foods such as vegetables and seeds should be increased. The pungent and bitter tastes reduce medas dhatu. Of the two, the pungent taste is best as it also increases agni. Thus, foods should be prepared accordingly and oral supplementation with hot spicy herbs such as the trikatu combination is helpful. Exercise including vinyasa-type yoga practice along with exposure to the sun and saunas increases medagni and reduces the medas dhatu. Heating pranayamas such as kapalabhati and surya bhedana also reduce the medas dhatu. Bija mantras such as ham, yam and ram are beneficial as they increase the dry and light qualities that reduce medas. Patients should also avoid excessive sleep.
When pitta has entered the mamsa dhatu and mamsavaha srota, the best treatment is to reduce the strength of jatharagni and medagni. Jatharagni is reduced through the intake of cooling foods such as milk, butter, bitter vegetables, wheat and oats. The best taste for a quick effect is the bitter taste. The bitter taste is very reducing and ideal when there is infection. Bitter herbs are stronger than foods and include kutki, gentian and neem. However, because the bitter taste is reducing it will lower the quantity of medas in the body. Thus, if the patient is in a state of depletion the sweet taste is best as it is both cool and nourishing. Sweet herbs that reduce agni include shatavari, slippery elm and licorice. The bija mantra vam is best as it cools and increases the qualities of the water element.
When vata has entered the medas dhatu and medovaha srota, the best treatment is to stabilize jatharagni and medagni and then slowly increase the intake of the water and earth elements as agni becomes stronger and more stable. Stabilization is accomplished through developing regular daily routines – particularly those surrounding eating and sleeping. Earth element is increased through the intake of heavier foods such as grains, meats, nuts and legumes. In order to support and stabilize agni, warm spices should be taken but not those that are very hot. Examples include fennel, fresh ginger and fenugreek. The best taste is the sour taste as it increases and stabilizes the fire while nourishing the body. The sweet taste builds medas dhatu but should be taken with warm spices to assure that agni is strong enough to digest it. For example, when sweet herbs such as ashwagandha, shatavari, licorice and slippery elm are used, they should be mixed with warmer spices such as ginger, cumin or cinnamon. Exercise should be minimized in the depleted patient. Pranayama may be practiced in proportion to the patient’s state of ojas. Alternate nostril breathing is best. Yoga asana may also be practiced but should be restorative to the physical and energetic systems of the body. The best bija mantras to chant are lam and vam which increase the qualities of earth and water respectively. Patients should be supported to sleep well and if necessary a little longer than usual until balance is restored.
In summary, a healthy medas dhatu is lead to a body that acts like a well oiled machine and a heart that is capable of love and devotion. In order to keep it healthy, it is important to know one’s prakruti and vikruti and then to take the appropriate actions to restore balance.
Asthi means bone. The asthi dhatu gives solid structure to the body.
In the physical body, asthi dhatu is formed as posaka (unstable) medas dhatu flows into the purisha dhara kala and is digested by the asthiagni. In addition to the formation of the bones of the body, teeth are formed through this process and are thus the upadhatu (secondary tissue) of the production of asthi dhatu. The waste products (malas) of this metabolic process are the hair and nails.
The purisha dhara kala is the membrane that holds the asthi agni. Purisha means “feces”. The term is also used to describe the large intestine as in the purishavaha srota. Here lies an important clue of the relationship between health of the large intestine and that of the bones. The large intestine is the home site of vata dosha. The close relationship between these two tissues reveals the susceptibility of the bones to vata disorders. When there is pathology in the large intestine (gas, constipation) the pathology is transferred to the bones which become more porous and air filled. Such is the case of osteoporosis.
Bones are made up of a solid structure organized as a matrix. This matrix can be visualized as the letter X. The lines that form the letter are solid and made of earth. The space between the lines are filled with air. Thus, bones create a solid but light structure allowing the body to easily move. Long bones have a hollow core that is filled with hemopoetic tissue called the marrow. This is an aspect of the majja dhatu.
When the asthi agni is low, asthi dhatu is produced in excess. When this occurs, the tissue produced is denser. Those with a kapha nature having lower agni produce thicker and denser bones. Those with a pitta nature, having higher agni produce bones that are not as dense but are more metabolically active. This can lead to narrowing and weakness in the bones as well as inflammation if pitta becomes vitiated. Those with a vata nature, having a variable agni produce less asthi dhatu and that which is produced is of poorer quality. It is thinner and more fragile.
In order to produce healthy asthi dhatu, adequate earth and air must be consumed in the proper balance through the diet. Earth is present in sweet foods such as grains and nuts and astringent foods such as beans. Air is present in bitter and pungent foods such as most vegetables. Consumption alone does not guarantee that healthy asthi will be formed. The two elements must be properly digested so that their qualities can be used to build bones. Thus jatharagni (main digestive fire) must be healthy. If it is not healthy, rather than forming healthy bones these same foods will produce ama and toxify the body and mind.
Pathology and the Asthi Dhatu
Bone pathologies can be simple or complex. Vata vitiation leads to weak or fragile bones that become osteoporotic and fracture easily. Pitta vitiation leads to bone infections (ostoemyelitis) and inflammation. Kapha vitiation leads to excessively thick, dense bones. Other diseases of the bones are more complicated. Osteoarthritis is a combined vata-kapha condition in which vata (age, motion and stress) is responsible for provoking growth in an irregular fashion leading to bone spurs. Rheumatoid arthritis is a sannipatika condition whereby vata pushes kapha to cause irregular bone growth. Vata fans the flames of pitta causing inflammation and bone destruction. Ama is also present. Osteoblastic bone cancer is a sannipatika condition whereby vata simultaneiously pushes kapha (bone growth) and fans the flames of agni within the affected tissue creating a high metabolic state for growth. Osteoclastic bone cancer has a dual dosha pathology whereby vata combines with pitta resulting in a high metabolic state that destroys bone tissue.
Psychology and the Asthi Dhatu
Asthi dhatu is more than the structural tissues of the body. On a psychological level it is what allows a person to stand up for them selves within the world. Ones stature is not a function of size but quality. When the asthi dhatu is weak, so is one’s ability to stand solid in the face of adversity or controversy. This should not be mistaken as courage. It is steadfastness. It is the ability to be unwavering in one’s convictions. When the asthi dhatu is healthy there is a healthy confidence in one’s ideas, decisions and beliefs. As the asthi dhatu increases and becomes excessive, the qualities of the earth element increase and a person becomes overly attached, obstructive and stubborn. It becomes difficult to move or shift directions. When the asthi dhatu is deficient, the qualities of the earth element decrease and there is little attachment causing a person to shrink to the background flowing with the will of others. Kapha dosha is responsible for excesses in asthi dhatu. Vata dosha is responsible for deficiencies. Short term pitta imbalances do not greatly affect the psychological aspect of the asthi dhatu. However, long term vitiation burns out the dhatu resulting in deficiency.
In the subtle body, the health of the asthi dhatu is dependent upon the flow through the muladhara chakra. Prana flowing through this chakra carries the qualities of the earth element throughout the subtle body and creates a solid sense of self. The flow of prana through anahata and vishuddha chakras are also important. Through these chakras, the qualities of air and ether are circulated respectively. As the flow of prana increases through these chakras so too do their respective elemental qualities and this results in a weakening of the asthi dhatu both physically and psychologically.
Evaluating the Asthi Dhatu
As you can not assess the health of the asthi dhatu directly except through medical testing, it is necessary to assess the asthi dhatu via the upadhatus and malas of its production. Thus, by examining the hair, nails and teeth the practitioner can infer the state of the asthi dhatu.
When the asthi dhatu is deficient, hair density becomes scant. Hair loss may be distributed throughout the scalp or in patches. In addition, palpation of the nails reveals that they have become thin and break easily. The teeth will appear crooked or become darker (gray) than usual. These findings are consistent with deficiency due to vata vitiation.
When the asthi dhatu is in excess, hair density if full. In addition, the nails are thick and the teeth large, straight and white. These are the signs of kapha vitiation within the asthi dhatu. However, these findings are more difficult to discern than deficiency as a person with a kapha prakruti will also exhibit these same findings. Thus, secondary signs of kapha vitiation should also be observed most especially those within the digestive system such as sluggish digestion and the mind such as stubbornness. When these findings are present in addition to dense hair, thick nails and white teeth it can be assumed that kapha has entered the asthi dhatu.
When pitta has entered the asthi dhatu, the teeth and nails will become a pale shade of yellow and the hair will lose its color and turn gray. Over time, the nails will nails will become weaker and the hair may fall out as deficiency sets in due to burn out.
Proper Treatment of the Asthi Dhatu
Healing the asthi dhatu means restoring the proper quantity and quality of earth and air in the body and normalizing the flow of these qualities through the chakras. The proper quantity varies with the constitution of the individual. Those with more kapha in their constitution will naturally have strong asthi dhatu. This makes depletion less likely and excess more likely. Those with more of a vata constitution tend to have a naturally lower amount of asthi dhatu and are the most susceptible to depletion. Those with a pitta nature tend to have a moderate quantity of asthi dhatu and are prone to depletion only when exposed to excessive heat for an extended period or when affected by a vata imbalance.
Diet and the Asthi Dhatu
When vata dosha has entered the asthi dhatu the best treatment is to increase the quantity of earth element in the diet. Earth is found in the largest amount in sweet tasting foods such as grains, meats, nuts and bones and to a lesser degree in root vegetables. It is not found to any significant degree in fruits or leafy green vegetables. Thus, these should be deemphasized in the diet.
When kapha dosha has entered the asthi dhatu, the best treatment is to decrease the quantity of earth element and increase the quality of the air element. Foods that are high in air include most fruits and leafy green vegetables. Note that excessive fruit may aggravate the watery aspect of kapha and so caution should be taken. The pungent and bitter tastes are best for increasing the qualities of air in the body. Thus, increasing the use of spices is important. In general, the diet should be light.
When pitta has entered the asthi dhatu, it is important to decrease the quality of the fire element. Thus, the diet should be cool and de-emphasize hot spices and cooked oils. Cooling foods that also nourish asthi dhatu such as whole milk, wheat and other grains should be taken. Beans may be taken if they are digested well and gas does not form..
Exercise, Yoga and the Asthi Dhatu
Exercise increases the asthi agni supporting the formation of high quality boney tissue. Care should be taken when exercising however as weakness in the asthi dhatu makes the bones more likely to fracture. Thus, when significant weakness is present the patient should begin with mild weight bearing exercises. Walking is a healthy place for most patients to begin. However, in the most severe situations as often occurs in the elderly it may be best to begin with a reduced weight bearing exercise such as water aerobics. As time goes on exercise can become more weight bearing and may be practiced for longer periods of time. Weight bearing exercises are particularly beneficial for the spinal column, hips and legs but do not benefit the wrists and shoulder. Additional exercises that place stress on these joints are also important. A properly designed yoga practice can place appropriate stress on each of the joints of the body strengthening the asthi dhatu while providing the additional benefits of deep relaxation and mindfulness.
Meditation, Chanting and the Asthi Dhatu
Meditation for spiritual realization increases the qualities of the ether element in the body and mind. Thus, meditation for healing the asthi dhatu must be modified. Meditaiton while sitting on the floor creates a closer connection with the earth and is better than in a chair. Attention on the muladhara chakra and its connection to the earth also supports building the qualities of the earth element. Visualization of earth energy entering from the base of the spine during meditation and being circulated by the muldhara chakra creates a greater sense of feeling grounded and steady. This supports asthi dhatu. The mantra of the Muladhara chakra is lum. Quietly chanting lum with attention on muladhara chakra enhances the qualities of earth in the body and mind.
Meditations that increase ether and air are beneficial when asthi dhatu is in excess and the earth element is too strong. Air fills the space created by ether and this purifies the asthi dhatu. Meditations on the anahata chakra and vishuddha chackras and chanting their respective bijas mantras; yum and hum increase the qualities of air and ether respectively.
Herbs and the Asthi Dhatu:
Several herbs are beneficial for treating bone weakness (osteoposis) and support healing due to fractures. These conditions are most commonly due to vata dosha vitiation. For these conditions comfrey, oatstraw and amalaki are all excellant. Comfrey has long been used for supporting the healing of bones following fracture. It is cooling and moist and blances vata and pitta doshas.. Oatstraw is a cool tonic that also also balances vata and pitta and has been shown to stimulate bone growth. Amalaki, an outstanding general tonic for the body is also traditionally used to support bone development. Bhringaraj is a important herb that can be used for both tonfiication of the bones and purification. It is most benefical for pitta dosha. Guggul and kutki are two herbs that are specific for purification of the bones and best for treating kapha dosha in the asthi dhatu.
In summary, a healthy asthi dhatu leads to strong bones capable of carrying us though our lifetime. They allow for motion when movement is necessary and steadiness in the face of adversity. In order to keep the dhatu healthy, it is important to know one’s prakruti and vikruti and then to take the appropriate actions to restore balance.
Dr. Marc Halpern is the founder and President of the California College of Ayurveda. An internationally respected expert in the field of Ayurvedic medicine, Dr. Halpern received the award for Best Ayurvedic Physician from the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He is a co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal in the United States and the Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine in Varansi, India. He can be reached at www.ayurvedacollege.com or [email protected]. Or by phone at 1-866 -541- 6699
Majja means marrow as in bone-marrow (asthi-majja). However, the term has become synonymous with nervous system which like bone marrow, is encased within bone. The skull is the casing of the brain. The vertebra are the casing of the spinal cord. While the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system, the Majja dhatu is associated with the entire nervous system. The nervous system and the bone marrow are treated as homologous structures in ayurveda.
In the physical body, Majja dhatu is formed as posaka (unstable) asthi dhatu flows through the majjavaha srota into the majja dhara kala and is digested by the majjagni. In addition to the formation of the marrow, the sclera and the sclerotic fluids of the eye are formed. These are the updhatus of the production of majja dhatu. The waste products (malas) of this metabolic process are eye secretions.
The health of the majja dhatu is dependent upon the state of the majjagni residing within the majjadhara kala. When the kala is infiltrated by vata dosha, agni becomes variable. When it is infiltrated by pitta dosha, agni typically become increased. When kapha dosha infiltrates the kala, agni becomes low. The state of agni determines the quantity and quality of the tissues that are formed,
Kapha dosha vitiation complex of the kala results in excessive tissue formation though it is of low quality. Majja dhatu (nervous system) becomes denser and thicker resulting in slowing down the movement of nerve impulses (prana). This is observable in the mind as slower processing of sensory information and in the body as slower response times. Should kapha dosha increase further, not only might it slow down the flow prana, it may block or obstruct its flow. This results in aberrant flow. Symptoms of aberrant pranic flow secondary to a blockage mimic those of vata dosha and are often misdiagnosed as a primary vata imbalances.
Pitta dosha vitiation results in minimal to moderate tissue formation. The tissue formed is highly efficient. Prana moves effectively through the nervous system. Processing and response times quick. However when pitta dosha increases too much the tissue formed becomes overly heated and prone to inflammation and excessive metabolism. Inflammation results in neuritis. Excessive metabolism results in burning out the protective structures surrounding and within the nerves. Deterioration of the myelin sheath as occurs in multiple sclerosis and post viral syndromes are examples. Within the brain, neurological structures may burn out as well. This occurs in some cases of Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Vitiation of vata dosha results in irregular tissue formation and the tissue that is formed is of low quality and fragile. Prana may move excessively or irregularly. When formation is minimal the stabilizing factors within the nerve are diminished and prana move quickly without restraint. Reactions are often sudden, too quick and not measured. Thus they may be dramatic. When formation is irregular, prana may also move in an irregular manner appearing at times to be excessive and other times deficient. This results hyper and hypo activity. In addition motion may be jerky as occurs in tics and some tremors . Long term vata imbalance ultimately results in drying and thinning of the tissues of the nervous system resulting in an inability of prana to move effectively. This appears like a kapha imbalance as flow of prana is deficient. Its inability to move however is not due to obstruction but to damaged structure. Discerning this condition from a primary kapha condition requires observing the broader effects of the dosha upon the body.
In order to produce majja dhatu the primary elements that must be taken in the proper balance are air and water. The balance of air regulates the flow of nerve impulses. Water provides a counter balance to air, protecting the nerve against excessive motion and agitation. The brain as well the myelin that surrounds the structure of the nerve consists largely of fat. It is composed primarily of the element water and has kapha-like characteristics.
Pathology and the Majja Dhatu
Following accumulation and aggravation in the mahavaha srota (digestive system), the doshas overflow into the rasa and raktavaha srotas before relocating into the majjavaha srota and majja dhatu. While any dosha can relocate into the majja dhatu, pathologies of the nervous system are termed Vata Vyadhi meaning a disease of vata nature. Thus, nerve pathologies cause symptoms commonly associated with vata including pain and alterations of motion. Even still, vata dosha is not always the cause of the problem. Vitiation of pitta dosha leads to inflammation and over a long period of time can burn out the myelin and nerve tissue. Vitiation of kapha dosha may slow down nerve conduction, decrease the rate of processing information or cause blockages resulting in the aberrant flow of nerve impulses. Ama when present further complicates the condition.
Psychology and the Majja Dhatu
On a psychological level majja provides our sense of fulfillment, filling the void that we experience within. When majja dhatu is healthy, there is a sense of fullness and completion. When deficient, there exists a hollow feeling of emptiness. In excess, there is the feeling of stagnation that comes with being too full. Neither the body nor mind wants to move or work. There is a loss of motivation.
In the subtle body, the majja dhatu is dependent upon the flow of prana primarily through svadhistana and anahata chakras. Through these chakras the qualities of water and air circulate respectively.
Evaluating the Majja Dhatu
The state of the majja dhatu may be assessed in many ways. While the nerves themselves can not ordinarily be seen, their function can be easily tested using standard Western neurological tests. Without western medical training, the health of the majja dhatu can also be inferred by observing the quantity of exudate produced from the eyes in the morning, the color of the sclera and the general luminosity of the eyes. This latter criterion is based on the subtle perception of the practitioner.
Exudate that is dry and crusty is indicated of vata dosha imbalance. A large quantity of oily or mucousy exudate is indicative of a kapha imbalance. Yellow exudate which may be a little oily is indicative of the involvement of pitta dosha.
Evaluation of the color of sclera is important as well. A dark, dull, gray indicates that vata has become vitiated. A yellow sclera indicates that pitta is vitiated. A white sclera that is dull indicates that kapha is vitiated.
In observing the general luminosity of the eyes, a decrease in luminosity indicates the kapha has become vitiated. The eyes appear cloudy and dull. Interest is present but processing occurs slowly. An increase in luminosity is indicative of pitta vitation. The eyes appear to intensely interested, deeply engaged and too highly focused. Vitiation of vata dosha causes the eyes to appear vacant, lacking in attention and real interest.
Proper Treatment of the Majja Dhatu
Healing the majja dhatu means restoring the proper balance of the qualities of water and air within the dhatu. This process begins with taking the qualities of the elements in through the senses and then properly digesting them. While dietary intake is always the most important factor in healing the physical body, the nervous system is particularly sensative to input from all of the other senses as well.
Diet and the Majja Dhatu
When vata dosha has entered the majja dhatu the best treatment is to increase the quantity of water element in the diet. Water is found in the largest amounts in moist, oily foods and in those that are the most nourishing. Milk and ghee are the two most important substances. Milk and ghee restore deficient majja dhatu. Milk should always be taken warm with spices added to assure proper digestion. Ghee may be added to the milk or to other foods. In order to maximize the oily quality, the four fats are often recommended. The four fats are: ghee, bone marrow, sesame oil and muscle fat. Either ghee by itself or the four fats may be utilized as an anupana for the intake of herbs that nourish the majja dhatu.
When pitta dosha has entered the majja dhatu, the best treatment is to cool the dhatu utilizing the sweet taste. The sweet taste is not only cool but also nourishing. Once again, increasing milk and ghee consumption are outstanding choices for dietary treatment. Sesame oil should not be taken however as it is too warming for regular use. Although the bitter taste is also cooling and pacifies pitta dosha, it should be used with caution as it can reduce the dhatu and aggravate vata dosha.
When kapha dosha has entered the majja dhatu, the best treatment is to increase the flow of prana and decrease the qualities of water utilizing the bitter and pungent tastes. Raw vegetables, particularly leafy greens are best. In general the diet should be very light and dry and foods should be well spiced. Fasting is often appropriate and patients with a kapha imbalance may fast on light vegetables juices taken with spices for several days to a week.
Exercise Yoga and the Majja Dhatu
The flow of prana is directly related to the motion of the body and the mind. As motion increases, so does the flow of prana. Thus, when vata is vitiated in the majja vata, patients should not engage in activities that involve significant movement such as running, tennis, racquet ball and so on. Slower activities such as swimming and yoga better support the healing process. As there are many forms of asana, slower and gentler approaches are best. However, if the imbalance is severe, patients should avoid all activity. Slower approaches to activities are also best for pitta dosha when it settles in the majja dosha. Slower, gentler approaches are cooling as well as stabilizing. When kapha dosha is vitiated in the majja dhatu activity should be increased. Mindful movements are always preferred in ayurveda. As such, yoga is the favored approach. Of course, benefit can also be gained from other mindful activities such as running. However, mindfulness is difficult to achieve during competitive games such as tennis and racquetball. Asana practices that are more active and flowing are preferred over gentle, slower practices.
Meditation, Chanting and the majja Dhatu
The goal of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is union with the divine through bringing stillness to the flow of prana in the mind and body. For this purpose, meditation is the most important and effective tool. As the movement of the mind becomes more focused the flow of prana becomes slower and more directed toward the object of meditation. Traditionally, the object is divine consciousness. One side effect of this process is stress reduction. Stress reduction and a calmer mind support the healing of vata imbalances within the majja dhatu. Thus patients with vata type neurological disorders should meditate. However, those patients who are too depleted should use caution as excessive meditation increases the light quality and brings about greater purification. Meditation is strongly recommended when pitta or kapha doshas are the causative factor in the condition. Note however that when kapha is the causative factor meditation must be balanced with activity. Meditation without the proper balance of activity will cause those with a kapha imbalance to become more lethargic decreasing the flow of prana and compromising the quality of the meditative experience. Singing kirtan and chanting generally increases vata dosha and decrease kapha dosha through specific mantras may alter this effect. When vata is strongly vitiated it is best to minimize vocal expression. When kapha is vitiated, it is best to increase vocal expression. The bija mantra yum increases the flow of the qualities of air through the anahata chakra. The bija mantra vum increases the flow of the water qualities through svadhistana chakra.
Herbs and the Majja Dhatu:
When vata has entered the majja dhatu, the patient should be given herbs with a tonifying and sedating action. Among the best of these herbs are ashwaganda and shank pushpi. Other beneficial herbs when combined properly include jatamamsi and bala.
When pitta has vitiated the majja dhatu, the best herbs are cooling and sedating. Among the best herbs are brahmi, shank pushpi and kappikachu. Brahmi is best when ama is present as its light and bitter nature will not increase ama. Shank pushpi and kappikachu are best when no ama is present as they are heavier and moist. Other beneficial herbs include: Skull cap, vidari kand and chrysanthemum flower. St. Johns Wort and oatstraw.
When kapha enters the majja dhatu, the patient should be given herbs with light, mobile qualities that purify the tissue. One of the most renowned herbs for this is calamus. Other beneficial herbs include bayberry, tulsi and sage. .
Lifestyle and the Healing of the Majja Dhatu
Lifestyle is the primary cause of disease and its correction is the most important component of its cure. No where is this more obvious than when the majja dhatu has become vitiated. When vata is vitiated, the patient should get more rest and avoid stressful situations. Travel should be minimized. Daily routines should be established that are practiced with consistency. It is best if a friend is near by to provide added support and ease the burdens of daily life. When pitta is vitiated, the patient should get more rest. It is particularly important to avoid conflict and competition. The patient should be educated to understand that excessive focus will over heat the nervous system. Thus, activities that are light hearted or fun should be encouraged. When kapha is vitiated an active lifestyle is called for that includes less sleep and greater engagement in the world. Spontaneity should be supported. Regular routines should be adopted so long as those activities are active and engaging.
Dr. Marc Halpern is the founder and President of the California College of Ayurveda. An internationally respected expert in the field of Ayurvedic medicine and Yoga Therapy, Dr. Halpern received the award for Best Ayurvedic Physician from the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He is a co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal in the United States and the Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine in Varansi, India. He can be reached at www.ayurvedacollege.com or [email protected]. Or by phone at 1-866 -541- 6699
Shukra means bright, pure and radiant. It can also mean the “essence” of something. In Ayurveda, the term is commonly used to describe both the male semen and the female egg, as they contain the essence of all of the other dhatus (tissues) of the body. Shukra is the seventh and final dhatu in the dhatus formation cycle. A person who has healthy shukra has a brightness of confidence with eyes and skin that seem to radiate light. A sensitive individual can perceive this light. Others may notice it as luster or may simply feel the strength and confidence of the one who possesses it.
At times, two distinct terms are used to describe the male and female seed. Shukra universally applies to sperm but can also apply to the entire makeup of semen. Artava is the equivalent term used to mean ovum. However, artava also refers to the menstrual blood, a product of rasa dhatu. Thus, shukra is the best term to describe the factor that nourishes both the male and female reproductive tissues.
In the physical body, shukra dhatu is formed as posaka (unstable) majja dhatu flows through the shukravaha srota into the shukra dhara kala and is digested by the shukragni. While some texts, such as Charaka, say there is no waste product of the formation of shukra dhatu, others state that the waste product formed is genital waste called smegma. Unlike the other dhatus, there is no unstable form of shukra dhatu to be digested and transformed into another dhatu. Shukra is the end of the line in the dhatu transformation cycle. There is, however, an aspect of shukra dhatu that undergoes a different type of transformation called sublimation. From the sublimation of shukra, ojas is formed and ojas then becomes a part of every dhatu providing it with strength and stability. The journey from rasa to ojas is a cycle that takes six days according to vaidya Charaka and one month according to vaidya Sushruta.
The health of shukra is dependent upon the state of shukragni. When the kala housing the agni is vitiated by vata dosha, agni becomes variable resulting in a low quantity of poorly formed tissue. In men, sperm count may be low and there may be a decrease in motility. In women, the formation of the egg and its response to the hormones that trigger development and ovulation may be compromised. When the kala is vitiated by pitta dosha, quantity is also lowered and the resulting tissue becomes overheated resulting in possible inflammation in the ovaries and testes and other tissues associated with the shukravaha srota. When the kala is vitiated by kapha dosha, the quantity of shukra increases but it is of poor quality. While in men sperm count will be normal or increased, motility may be decreased. In women, there may occur obstructions to the development of the ovum or its release. This is one cause of ovarian cysts.
In order to produce shukra dhatu, the primary element that must be consumed is water. Water is the primary nourishment of the body and of the dhatus, and shukra is its most refined form. Other dhatus that are predominant in the water element are the rasa and medas dhatus. The rasa dhatu is closest to actual water though rasa, meaning juice, contains many dissolved micronutrients within plasma, lymph and interstitial fluids. Medas dhatu is more refined and stores the energy of water as body fat. Body fat is a semi-solid mix of water and earth. The water of shukra dhatu is the essence of these other waters. Only the most highly nourishing foods contain the essence of water and only proper digestion liberates it as shukra. Foods that have a high shukra potential are unctuous (slimy) and include milk, meat juice, ghee and nuts.
Pathology and the Shukra Dhatu
While any dosha can overflow from the mahavaha srota and enter into the shukra dhatu and shukravaha srota, damage to the dhatu and srota are most commonly caused by vata dosha. A vata-vitiating diet and lifestyle dries out the shukra dhatu and its related fluids resulting in infertility. The dhatu and srota are also damaged by suppressing sexual desire. Within modern Western society there is much confusion and insecurity surrounding sexual expression. Due to the mind-body relationship, there is little doubt that this affects the health of the related organs.
Psychology and the Shukra Dhatu
On a psychological level, shukra dhatu is related to the ability to sustain creativity. When the dhatu is healthy, there is a natural creative instinct and an ability to see the creative act through to completion. When the dhatu is deficient, there may still be a creative instinct but the ability to follow it through to completion lessens. Thus, creative endeavors and plentiful and completion of creative projects is a challenge. This is typical of vata psychology and becomes more of a challenge as vata becomes more and more vitiated. When the dhatu is in excess, it can actually block the creative instinct. However, any creativity that does arise is likely to be slowly and steadily manifested. This is the nature of kapha psychology and becomes greater as kapha becomes vitiated. In the person with a more pitta nature, the heat that enters the dhatu brings passion into their creative pursuits. When it is vitiated, pitta can burn out the creative instinct and the ability to follow through.
Evaluating the Shukra Dhatu
In men, the shukra dhatu can be directly assessed via examination of the ejaculate. The main factors to observe are color, volume, sperm count and motility. Color and volume can be easily observed with the eye. Count and motility must be observed microscopically.
Observation of the color of the ejaculate reveals various shades of white. A gray shade reveals that vata is predominant within the dhatu. Yellow indicates that pitta is predominant and a pale white color is indicative of kapha. Observation of quantity reveals the largest volume in those with a kapha nature and the lowest in those with a vata nature.
Upon microscopic examination, a low sperm count with low motility indicates a greater likelihood of vata vitiation though this can be found with pitta vitiation as well. A normal sperm count with low motility is more commonly a sign of kapha imbalance.
In women, direct examination of the shukra dhatu requires an examination of the ovaries. This is most commonly performed utilizing diagnostic ultrasound though other tests may be employed. The health of the shukra dhatu can also be inferred by the regularity of menstrual cycle. An irregular menstrual cycle is indicative of vata dosha vitiation in the shukra dhatu and associated ovulatory disorders. Most disorders of the female reproductive system are due to vata dosha vitiation. Pitta disorders may be revealed through an intense menstrual flow. Kapha disorders may be reveals through a long and mucusy discharge. However, these findings are not specific to the shukra dhatu and indicate only that the doshas have vitiated the artavavaha srota (channel of the female reproductive system).
Proper Treatment of the Shukra Dhatu
Healing the shukra dhatu entails both proper nourishment and the proper management of sexual energy. As most conditions of the shukra dhatu are caused by depletion of the dhatu secondary to vata vitiation, tonification is the most common treatment approach. However, excessive dhatu due to vitiation of kapha dosha requires proper purification.
Diet and the Shukra Dhatu
For the management of depletion due to vata or pitta dosha in the shukra dhatu, a proper diet is one that assures that the foods taken in are nourishing enough to rebuild the shukra dhatu. Sweet tasting foods such as milk, ghee and nuts are among the best for providing this nourishment. While each of these is ideal for vata dosha, care should be taken in the management of pitta dosha, as nuts tend to be warming. Each of these foods, being heavy, must be properly digested, otherwise they will result in ama formation. For the management of kapha in the shukra dhatu, a purifying diet emphasizing the bitter and pungent taste is best.
Herbs and the Shukra Dhatu
In order to tonify the shukra dhatu, a category of herbs called vajikaranas or shukralas are best. Vajikaranas build sexual energy and shukralas build the semen. These terms are often interchangeable and, in the West, they are typically called aphrodisiacs and reproductive tonics respectively. Some of the best reproductive tonics are ashwagandha, vidari-kand, bala, gokshura, shatavari and wild yam. Shatavari and wild yam are specific for women. Ashwagandha is specific for men. Even still, at times, all of these herbs are used for both men and women. These herbs can be used for depletion caused by either vata or pitta in the shukra dhatu when used in proper combinations. In order to maximize the potency of the medicines, they are best prepared in the form of a medicated ghee and then added to warm whole milk along with spices to assist digestion.
For the management of kapha in the shukra dhatu, purifying herbs include cloves and pippali. These excite sexual energy in the short term and reduce it in the long term. Two other important herbs are kushta and katphala. These have the quality of shukra-shodana (purifiers of the sexual energy and organs) when taken regularly. All of these reduce kapha in the shukra dhatu.
Lifestyle and the Healing of the Shukra Dhatu
When any dosha has vitiated the shukra dhatu, it is important to examine the patient’s lifestyle. Here lie the clues to the cause of the condition, as well as the most important aspects of treatment. Regardless of the dosha at cause, all patients should be encouraged to develop healthy, steady routines. Steady routines are important to all three doshas, as vata dosha is king among them in the cause of all reproductive disorders. In addition, when vata dosha is vitiated, patients should be encouraged to rest more often. When pitta dosha is vitiated, patients should be discouraged from intense or competitive activities and to rest more often. When kapha dosha is vitiated, patients should be encouraged to increase their exercise and activity level.
Proper Management of Sexual Energy
There is a lot of confusion and misconception about what constitutes the proper management of sexual energy. There is no doubt, however, that its proper management is important to one’s well-being. Caraka named brahmacharya as one of the three pillars of life along with proper diet and rest. Brahmacharya means celibacy and it is generally agreed that celibacy properly practiced leads to the longest and healthiest life. However, it is also agreed that those who are strong can engage in sexual activity with no negative consequence to their health. Thus, it can be understood that it is not sexual activity that weakens a person but rather a weak person is weakened further by sexual activity. In this person, sexual energy must first be restored. This is the process of vajikarana therapy.
Ayurveda does not place a strong emphasis on morality as a function of sexual expression. Nor does Ayurveda have a preference for a monastic or celibate lifestyle. Rather, the degree to which a person engages in sexual activity is a function of the health of the shukra dhatu and a person’s dharma.
If the dharma of a person lies within the world as a householder—one who gets married and has a family—then sexual expression is a natural and healthy part of a relationship. Two partners who are healthy should engage in sexual activity for the purposes of producing offspring and for the purposes of opening their hearts to each other and the divine. Care should be taken that the sexual activity does not become excessive.
If the dharma of a person lies outside the world as a spiritual monk, then sexual expression is forbidden. This is not an issue of morality but practicality. For the monk, building up one’s shukra is necessary for its transmutation into ojas. High levels of ojas are necessary for performing intense spiritual practices.
The most common question I am asked is how much sex is appropriate for the householder. The answer lies in the state of a person’s shukra. When shukra is abundant and the resulting ojas is strong, and one is involved in a loving relationship, healthy sexual expression brings great joy and intimacy as well as offspring. Excessive sexual expression is that amount in which the signs of low shukra or low ojas become apparent. There is exhaustion, a loss of luster and a lack of creativity or an ability to sustain creative endeavors. Those with low shukra should refrain from sexual activity until the shukra is restored. There is no magic formula for the restoration of shukra. It is always being produced as a part of the digestion of the foods we eat. For restoration to occur, it must be produced faster than it is expelled. Abstinence provides for the quickest restoration.
Those with a kapha nature have the greatest constitutional tendency to be able to sustain sexual energy and can generally have more sex without creating depletion. Those with a vata nature tend to have lower levels of shukra and thus their interest in sex is highly variable and they should be more careful. Those with a pitta nature, having some water in their constitution, have more moderate tendencies though there is much passion within their actions.
In general, the stronger the practices of raja yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation), the less sexual activity a person should engage in, as their practices require high levels of shukra and strong ojas.