According to Ayurveda, the study of lymph, called rasayana, is also the study of longevity and rejuvenation.
The word rasa means “lymph” or “juice,” and ayana is a “special study.” Rasayana is, therefore, the study of our rasa (our lymph), or our “longevity juice.” This study of rasayana is so highly held that it is one of the eight major branches of Ayurveda.
While lymph may be the least understood bodily system in Western medicine, it is perhaps the most understood bodily system in Ayurveda. According to Ayurveda, it is the lymph that governs the emotional and hunger responses at the first scent of your favorite food.
It regulates each and every step of the digestive process that, according to Ayurveda, takes 30 days to complete, from its start, when we ingest our food, to its role in the formation of all the body tissues. In addition, the lymph is the body’s primary means of detoxification, governs immunity, and plays a key role in our human and spiritual potential.
The word “rasa” has many meanings, all of which describe one aspect of the many subtle roles of the lymph. In Sanskrit, the more meanings a word has, the more important the word. Interestingly, the three primary definitions of rasa are lymph, emotion and taste, which are the topics of this article.
Some of the Sanskrit definitions of rasa:
Rasa = lymph
Rasa = emotion
Rasa = taste
Rasa = juice
Rasa = nutrient fluid
Rasa = melody
Rasa = plasma
Rasa = water
Rasa = menses
Rasa = semen
Rasa = breast milk
Rasa = satisfaction
Rasa = love
In this article, I want to take you on the digestive journey of rasa from the first scent of food, to its last manifestation of digestion 30 days after the first bite. That’s right, it takes 30 days for the rasa to complete its incredible journey.
Join me as I track this incredible journey of the body’s least understood circulatory system: our longevity juice.
What is Lymph, Anyway?
Classically, the lymph is the plasma or clear fluid of the blood. In the blood it is called plasma, but once it oozes into the intercellular spaces, it is called lymph or, in Ayurveda, rasa. This fluid, along with fat soluble nutrients and toxins that it is carrying, is drained into lymph channels, where lymph nodes purify the rasa with the help of the immune systems’ white blood cells.
From there, it works its way through as many as 500 purifying lymph nodes on its way back to the heart or spleen, where it is recombined with the blood, and it continues its 30 day journey of human digestion.
The First Scent
Digestion begins with the first scent of food, and the lymph plays a significant role in this. When you smell brownies baking in the oven, that scent travels through your nostrils and olfactory plate to the limbic, or emotional center, of the brain. It is here with the first scent that the food is emotionally charged.
That emotionally charged scent will trigger the release of digestive enzymes in the mouth, which is what’s going on when you start to salivate. This first emotionally charged digestive fluid is called sara, and is a mixture of the digestive enzymes and rasa (lymph fluid). This effect is emotionally enhanced by the other senses when you see and touch the brownie.
In Ayurveda, the senses are called “avenues of consciousness” that allow us to connect our intelligence and consciousness with the consciousness or intelligence of the food we are about to consume or are consuming. This only happens when we eat the food with our senses wide open and our mind aware of the process of eating.
This awareness, while supported by all the senses, is most affected by the awareness of the sense of taste. Gobbling food down without the acute awareness of its taste will not create the bond between us and the plants or foods we are ingesting, and as this is the first step in the production of rasa, the rasa will be poorly generated.
Remember, this is the beginning of a 30 day digestive process, so we need to get the first step right!
Rasa and the Sensory-Emotional Link
In Ayurveda, each taste and smell is linked to a specific digestive process and a specific emotion. So, it is not surprising that when you smell brownies in the oven, you get “happy.” At the first scent of a meal, a specific digestive process beginning in the mouth, nose and emotional centers in the brain charged the food with that emotion. At the first scent of the meal, we continue an emotionally charged specific digestive process in the stomach and throughout the digestive tract.
As the taste of the food is called rasa and our emotions are also called rasa, the first lymph fluid, or rasa of digestion, will carry the taste and its related emotion into every cell of the body.
Since, according to Ayurveda, each taste carries a different emotion, it is important to have all six major tastes at each meal to create a balanced emotional state.
The six tastes (rasa) and their corresponding emotions are:
- Sweet satisfaction, contentment, fulfilled
- Sour discernment, insightful, heightened awareness
- Salty desire, zest for life, passionate
- Pungent extroverted, driven, ambitious
- Bitter dynamic, focused, cool-headed
- Astringent introspective, mental clarity, reflective; composed
If any one of these tastes is missing in the diet over a long period of time, or is present in excess, it can cause an emotional and physiological imbalance.
We know that 95% of the body’s serotonin is manufactured and stored in the gut, and we know that emotional states are affected by the kinds of microbes we have in the gut. We also know that the emotion-making microbes are very affected by the salient mood and feelings in our environment.
According to Ayurveda, the mood, feelings, and environment we are in during a meal will determine the state of your rasa, your nutrient fluid or lymph that is produced with the nutrients gleaned from that meal, which affects everything.
Thus, the tastes of each food and their corresponding emotions can help maintain, restore or disturb the subtle balance nurtured by eating. Foods are emotionally charged by how we eat our food, and each taste plays an important role.
With a lack of one of these six tastes you can become:
- Sweet complacent, apathetic, indifferent, lazy
- Sour critical, judgmental
- Salt hedonistic, controlled by the senses
- Pungent angry, aggressive; offensive
- Bitter grief, disappointment
- Astringent overly sensitive, fearful, anxious
With an excess of one of these six tastes you can become:
- Sweet unsatisfied, depressed, discontented
- Sour impulsive, careless, indiscreet; scattered
- Salty unmotivated, indifferent, procrastinating
- Pungent passive, non-confrontational
- Bitter bitter, depressed, pessimistic
- Astringent dull, listless mind and body, brain fog
Emotionally Charged Nutrient Fluid
The rasa or nutrient fluid generated will take on the charge of the environment, mood, feelings and awareness you experienced during your meal. The long-term cumulative effects of an excess or deficiency of one of these six tastes will further emotionally charge the food you are eating, and the lymph fluid produced.
As the food moves into the digestive tract, it takes the form of ahara-rasa, or nutrient lymph. It is this nutrient-fluid-rich food bolus that feeds and emotionally charges the trillions of microbes in the intestinal tract. These microbes in turn begin to manufacture digestive, detoxification, immunity, mood, energy, hormonal and numerous physiological chemicals and neurotransmitters that do the heavy lifting for the majority of the body’s functions—all with a specific emotional charge!
The 30-Day Digestion Cycles and the Major Body Tissues
After the ingestion of food and the creation of the rasa, the emotionally charged nutrient fluid begins its journey to develop the major tissues in the body, in this order:
- First, we have the creation of rasa.
- Then, with the help of certain enzymes, it becomes the blood (rakta) of the body.
- Then, the blood becomes the muscle (mamsa).
- Then, the fat (medha).
- Then, bone (asthi).
- Then, nervous tissue (majji).
- And finally, the reproductive tissue, the sperm and ovum (shukra).
These seven tissues are call dhatus in Ayurveda, and it takes 30 days for this process of their creation to be completed. Stress, negative emotions, eating in haste, or eating poor quality food can derail the production of healthy tissues.
How Tissue Production is Compromised—What Not to Do.
Stress, malnutrition, trauma, excessive activities, strain, worry, fear and of course eating without awareness and while under duress will alter the ability of the body to create healthy tissues. It is during this process that the molecules of emotion, or mental ama, are carried into the deep tissues of the body—which is one of the main reasons Ayurveda puts such great emphasis on detox.
It is not only to cleanse the body, but to purify the unhealthy emotions that we all carry since childhood. These emotions, if unreleased, will over time further disturb the production of healthy tissues in the body, and inevitably will begin to break down the body.
The science of rasayana is the science of rejuvenation and longevity aiming to reverse this degenerative process and ensure the healthy journey of rasa or lymph into the body’s most precious creation: Ojas.
While the reproductive tissue is the final product of tissue creation for the needs of the species to procreate, there is one other final product that is unique to Ayurveda’s understanding of the body. Along the way, as rasa becomes the seven tissues, there is a subtle substance being formed simultaneously. This substance is called ojas. This is also called the longevity, immunity or vitality fluid.
It is the most subtle and most refined manifestation of the 30-day journey of the rasa or the lymph fluid. Small amounts of ojas are said to be produced as each dhatu or tissue is being made, in order to support the vitality of that tissue. But the supreme ojas, called Para Ojas, is produced at the end and as a result of the month-long process.
This supreme ojas is known as the physiological aspect of consciousness, which means it is the body’s most refined substance that most resembles consciousness itself. It resides and is stored in the heart and supports not only the health, immunity, and vitality of the body—it supports the spiritual process as well.
Excess strain, worry, fear, overeating or emotional wear and tear will deplete ojas—the final manifestation of rasa—our precious lymph. Though we cannot avoid some of the stressors that cross our paths in the modern world, there are some things we can do to help the body deal with stress better:
- Herbal support: http://lifespa.com/ayurvedic-adaptogenic-herbs/.
- Live downstream with nature’s cycles: http://lifespa.com/live-with-the-cycles/ & http://lifespa.com/self-help/ecourses/ayurvedic-challenge/.
- Harness the power of oxytocin: http://lifespa.com/get-high-on-massage/.
- And the power of true love: http://lifespa.com/love-unconditionally/.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Wiki Commons