Ahara – The Ayurvedic Science of Nutrition
by Vanita Kansal - Trational Ayurvedic Doctor at Ayurveda Parkschlösschen
The science of nutrition called Ahara plays a central role within Ayurveda, the holistic natural healing system which has existed for thousands of years. On the basis of Ahara, it is possible to provide someone with a diet based on his or her current state of health. This individual diet enables optimal benefits for the digestive system and healthy repair of body tissue. The strength of the Ayurvedic doctrine lies, therefore, mainly in individuality: not the food but the eater is crucial.
Ahara – a logical system
Food is medicine. But how does that work? To understand, one has to go back a step and become conscious of the basic principle of Ayurveda:
The five elements, Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, exist in all matter in the universe.
They manifest in the human body and all being as regulative structural powers, known as the three Doshas:
Vata (Air & Space with the principle of movement), Pitta (Fire & Water with the principle of metabolism) and Kapha (Water & Earth with the principle of structure).
Every men, every flower, every animal is, therefore, an expression of an individual Dosha constellation. In this way, every food also has special properties. Some may increase a persons Doshas or reduce them and can have either a positive or a negative effect.
This happens through the following factors:
1. The six different tastes (Rasa): sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent.
2. The attributes (Gunas), divided into ten pairs of opposites: heavy/light, slow/oily/dry, or cold/hot, soft/hard, static/mobile, slow/sharp, slimy/rough, dense/liquid, subtle/gross, cloudy/clear.
3. The effective power on the human metabolism (Virya): hot, cold, light, pungent.
4. The effect within the body after actual digestion (Vipaka), independent of the original taste, sweet, sour or pungent.
Example fresh ginger: Rasa - pungent, Guna – heavy, dry, pungent Virya – warming, Vipaka – pungent = reduces Vata and Kapha, increase Pitta.
Example banana: Rasa – sweet, Guna – heavy, oily, Virya – warming, Vipaka – sweet = increase Pitta and Kapha, Vata neutral.
With the help of this system of classification, it is possible to pinpoint the effect on the Dosha constellation of a person through foods and spices that are put together individually and thereby prevent illness and even heal.
Agni – the digestive fire
In addition to nutrition suited to a specific Dosha, taking the individual digestive power (Agni) into consideration also plays a decisive role in maintaining strength, health and vitality. If the Agni is too weak and if the metabolism is disturbed, a build-up of wastes and acidosis occur.
Toxins and waste materials (Ama) deposit themselves in the body and can trigger various illnesses. It is the goal of the Ayurvedic nutrition therapy to strengthen and support the digestive fire. This happens, for example, by adding specific spices such as ginger, coriander or cumin and by choosing foods suitable to that Dosha.
The body should also be cleansed by getting rid of Ama which has already collected and by preventing the formation of new wastes. This process can be supported by drinking hot water regularly. Also the occasional "liquid" day helps as well, during which liquids replace solid foods.
The common goal of both approaches is a strong and healthy Agni; the optimal processing and transformation of the food that has been eaten into healthy and strong body tissue can only be guaranteed if the digestive fire is strong enough.
If the food is completely metabolized, one creates Ojas – the essence of life. This subtle substance gives radiance and youth, improves the power of concentration and positive thinking and strengthens the immune system.
In order to keep the body, mind and soul healthy and happy and to prevent illness, the following should generally be applied:
- regular meal times, main meal at noon (strongest digestive power)
- warm meals (can be digested easier and stimulate Agni)
- meals suited to your specific Dosha (correct foods and spices for optimal support of digestion)
- freshly prepared, high quality meals (preferably regional and seasonal products)
- all six tastes in each meal (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent)
Enjoy your meals with all of your senses, and take time for your meals. Be aware of your body signals, and go with your own "gut feelings"!
Ahara is also practiced at the Ayurveda Parkschlösschen in Germany.
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