Ayurveda is the oldest Hindu science of health and life. “Ayurveda” literally means the science of life. As per Ayurveda, most health conditions can be traced back to some dysfunction in the digestive process & food intake. It is an indigenous holistic healing system, which explains the fundamental process of digestion, and how this can affect the functioning of the human body.
For food to turn to its essence, digestive fire, prana flow in the body and proper flow of substances is vital. This process decides how much health and how much disease you are adding to yourself every day. All health conditions begin with wrong intake of food, improper food, and improper digestion of food.
This rudimentary understanding of the digestive process of food as per Ayurveda can be gleaned from the oldest set of scriptural text of Hinduism, Shiva Agamas. Shiva Agama are the direct instructions of Shiva to His disciples, many thousand years ago. The Sarvajnaottara Agama was revealed by Shiva to Skanda.
Sarvajnanaottara Agama, Yoga Pada elucidates the digestive process. Translation by Dr. S.P. Sabharathnam Sivacharyar (The Himalayan Academy, Kauai Adheenam, Hawaii, US)
“Taken as morsels and lumps, the food is chewed and swallowed by the embodied beings. First, the vital air (prana vayu) deposits the swallowed food in the receptacle inside the stomach. Having placed the food collectively there, the vital air enters into the food and separates it into two parts, as the solid and the liquid food.”
Prana is not air. It is the life force or life energy carried by the air which you breathe in. Air or vaayu is the vehicle of the prana. As already evident, prana plays a vital role in not just breathing, but in the breakdown of food & liquids and their further digestion and absorption in the body. Hence, if there is an interruption or hindrance in the flow of prana, many aspects of digestive process will not happen properly, as required for a healthy body.
“Having kept the liquid substance over the abdominal fire , the vital air (prana) places the solid food over the liquid one. Keeping itself below the liquid, the vital air gently blows and kindles the abdominal fire. Being kindled by the vital air, the abdominal fire heats the liquid food.”
The abdominal fire or “jataaragni” is the inner fire in the navel region, which is responsible for digestion of food. This fire is stronger and more powerful for a person who regularly does yoga and some physical workout. For a person who never does any physical workout, the abdominal fire will be very low, and hence their digestive power will automatically be reduced as well. This means that much of the food will remain undigested.
“In this way, the whole food is further cooked inside the stomach by the water heated up by the fire. The food, perfected in this way, becomes twofold — as excrements and essence.”
In this step, the Agama clearly states that the consumed food is further “cooked” in the liquids taken in, combusted by the digestive fire. Hence, if the liquid intake is low or insufficient, this step will not be performed properly in the body, and the digestion of food, and its separation into essence and excrement will not be proper. It is possible that some essence may be excreted as excrement due to improper separation, or some excrement is not separated properly. Either way, this will lead to an imbalance in the body. So liquid intake plays dual role — nutrition as well as further breakdown of solid food inside the body, and hence is extremely important for purposes beyond just hydrating the body.
“The excrements come out from the body in the form of 12 impure substances: ears, eyes, nose, tongue, teeth, genital organ, anus, nails — these are the places where the impure substances get accumulated. Added to these eight impurities, there are phlegm, sweat, feces and urine. These are the twelve impure substances of the body.”
The Agama clearly defines twelve impure substances as excrements, not just two-three. All these are released from the body to eliminate the waste of the digestive process. Hence, improper accumulation of any of these can be a cause for lack of health.
“All the nadis which reach around the entire body have been joined to the heart lotus. Inside these nadis, the prana deposits the essence. It frequently fills up all the tubular vessels with this essence. With the circulation of the blood, the essence spreads throughout the body.”
This process defines how the essence of the food spreads throughout the body via the circulatory system. It is noteworthy that the Agama, which is older than Ramayana, hence more than ten thousand years, has cleverly described the process of circulation. Modern medical science discovered this process only in the last few hundred years!
All the nadis converge on the Anahata Chakra or the lotus-heart. From there, blood vessels are filled with the essence, which is distributed with blood throughout the body. So, prana plays a role in the distribution of the essence of the food to the rest of the body as well.
To heal any health condition, a proper diet of food, including liquids, proper digestive fire, proper flow of prana, and proper elimination of excrements is vital.
Ayurveda & yoga give numerous methods for healing all of these conditions. When yoga is performed based on your prakriti and specific health conditions, it is not a mere physical workout, but heals the prana flow, as well as strengthens the digestive fire. With proper food and liquid intake, and proper breathing, much of the problem is solved at the outset. Detoxification as per yoga and Ayurveda ensures proper removal of excrements of all types. Detoxification is becoming urgent for everyone, because excess of toxins keep getting accumulated in the body, and are not removed unless they are cleansed by authentic methods.
Ayurveda addresses the root cause of ill-health, rather than merely treating the symptoms. This grass-root approach ensures that only is the health condition is healed, it does not come back!