Gastroenterologists traditionally say that the digestion of food, passing through your digestive tract, takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. In Ayurveda we place great importance on the subtle digestion as this affects all health, as well as longevity, appearance and mood.
The subtle digestion kicks in after the third phase of digestion - when the food has made its way to the large intestine. This takes place from seven or so hours after you’ve eaten through to Day 36. It also takes in the time for our bodies seven tissue layers (or dhatu) to be nourished.
These dhatu are the structures that make up the body - plasma (rasa); blood (rakta); muscle (mamsa); fat (medas); bone marrow/ nerve (majja); nerve tissue (asthi) and reproductive tissue (shukra).
Nourishing the seven layers of our body
In Ayurveda there is a theory on the way the tissues are nourished. Just like water flows from a pipe into the field, our body gets nourishment in the same way - like the rows of a field, our tissues are all nourished with a flow-on effect of what is left from the previous tissue.
The nourishment of all the tissues in your body comes from the food that we eat, so it’s really important to look at what you digest (in both food and emotions).
Here we will go through the seven tissues and cover off the signs of any issues, so you will feel great and have a better chance of fighting off disease.
1. Rasa dhatu
The first tissue is rasa dhatu, this is produced soon after digestion. It is the essence of the food that circulates all over the body and nourishes all the body’s tissue. It can be compared to the plasma part of the blood and has a heavy nourishing water-like quality.
Signs that this tissue is nourished are: emotionally if you’ll be feeling happy, warm and loving; intellectually you will be on your game, intelligent and your memory will be strong; physically you will have soft, lustrous skin and talk slowly with a low, deep voice.
On the other hand deficiencies include dryness in the skin, fatigue, blackouts, trembling and excess thirst.
2. Rakta dhatu
The second channel is called raktu dhatu, this includes red blood cells, the heart, spleen, liver, bone marrow and arteries. This channel moves oxygen into your cells, carries hormones and vitamins, regulates your body temperature, helps blood clotting and takes the waste out of the liver, kidneys and intestines.
If you’re in an optimal state of raktu, you will have healthy glowing cheeks, hands, tongue and neck, your nails will be a healthy pink colour, your eyes will be attractive and you will feel gentle, loving and giving. You might not be able to tolerate too much sun.
Raktu deficiency includes bleeding from the nose or gums, internal hemorrhage, hair loss, burning sensations, skin inflammation, rashes and feeling anger, hatred and jealousy as well as cravings for meat.
3. Mamsa dhatu
In the body mamsa dhatu is compared to muscle tissue, as well as ligaments and skin. It supports the inner organs (heart, lungs and pancreas) and also fosters an internal sense of strength, courage and self-confidence. It is nourished by the blood (rakta) and its main function is to stick to the bones, helping it with movement, and giving shape to the body parts.
A nourished mamsa dhatu means physically, your body will be firm and muscular, you will have good posture, firm and healthy face and neck muscles, a clear face and facial expressions and an overall lightness of body.
Deficiency of mamsa will include pain, tics and spasms, tight or loose muscles, abscess or ulcers, enlarged tonsils, polyps and tumors.
4. Medas dhatu
Medas dhatu is the fatty tissues of the body, it’s main function is lubrication or the concentrated waters of the body. These tissues are the primary area for storing excess body fat in the abdomen. The adrenal cortex is in charge of fat metabolism - that’s why it is important to keep stress levels low to avoid weight gain. This is also where HDL cholesterol in the body, the good cholesterol, provides structure and shape.
A beautiful head of hair, healthy skin and complexion and well-oiled joints, moist lips and and healthy bowel movements mean medas is nourished.
A deficiency of meda means your body will be lethargic, your metabolic fire will be repressed and metabolic activity will slow right down. Digestion will also become slow and all dhatus will begin to increase.
In excess, there will be soft tissue, in particular around the abdomen. A gaunt face, dry hair or skin and cracks over the lips and tongue point to a deficit.
One of the best ways to monitor medas dhatu is by visually examining the body, checking if there is a even spread of body fat and hair, and skin isn’t too oily or dry.
5. Asthi dhatu
Asthi means bones, and this tissue gets nourished by mamsa dhatu. It’s main function is to hold the body up straight. This is why in old age the bone tissue starts to degenerate. Bones store minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.
This tissue will be nourished when your joints, bones, ankles, heels, nails and teeth are healthy - you will also feel enthusiastic and active and your body will be strong.
If there’s a deficiency you’ll see things like cracking and inflexible joints, bone pain, nail problems, excessive hair growth, teeth problems and receding gums, sensitivity to cold and humidity, back aches and spinal cord problems.
We are seeing a huge increase in these types of issues across the Western world. People are suffering a lot more pain and depending heavily on painkillers. New research from the UK shows there’s been a 60 per cent rise in the amount of time patients are staying on opiate-based painkillers, which are supposed to be prescribed for short periods.
6. Majja dhatu
In Ayurveda the nervous system and bone marrow are treated as one system - with the brain and spinal cord making up the central nervous system and eye tissue. It’s main function is to increase the bone cavity.
Balancing majja dhata comes from stillness to the mind and body. Meditation and yoga are very effective practices to focus the mind and reduce stress.
A nourished, optimal state of majja, will mean soft organs, a good complexion, long, rounded joints, an ability to fight disease and overall good health and longevity.
Dizziness, lack of stability, swollen or painful joints, memory loss, fear and anxiety, trembling, ringing ears, dark circles around the eyes, stuttering, sensitivity to noise and difficulty sleeping are all signs of a deficiency in asthi.
These issues arise from overstimulation of technology and it affects the next tisse, which is related to fertility.
7. Shukra dhatu
Shukra dhatu is the seventh and final dhatus in the dhatus (tissue) formation cycle, it’s also the male semen and the female egg, as they contain the essence of all the other dhatus of the body. It’s main function is reproduction.
The primary element in producing shukra dhatu is water, which is the main nourishment of the body and dhatus. Rasa dhatu (lymph), is the first level and it contains micronutrients; medas dhatu is more refined and stores the energy of water as body fat.
Only the most nourishing foods nourish shukra dhatu, these include milk, meat juice (bone broth), ghee and nuts.
Signs of a nourished shukra are gentle features, beautiful eyes, teeth, teeth, complexion and overall appearance. Your body will also be strong and healthy.
A deficiency in this dhatus will mean you’ll have trouble conceiving, immature or painful ejaculation, sperm in urine, blood in sperm, enlarged prostate or even fear regarding sex.
How all this affects health
It’s possible to understand pathology and see how disease enters the body when looking at the seven dhatus. These dhatus help Ayurvedic practitioners predict the symptoms that will arise and also formulate the best treatment plan.
The seven dhatus are not the end of the line though, there’s one more critical part of this part - Ojas - which we’ll look at next week.
In Ayurveda we look for the cause of disease. I hope you now have a better understanding of the levels of tissues in your body and why it is important to nourish all 7 tissues.
If you’d like to talk about any niggling health concerns or issues that you haven’t been able to rectify and put behind you for years, please get in touch and I’d love to help you.