Lymph: The Elixir of Life.

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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:

  1. First, we have the creation of rasa.
  2. Then, with the help of certain enzymes, it becomes the blood (rakta) of the body.
  3. Then, the blood becomes the muscle (mamsa).
  4. Then, the fat (medha).
  5. Then, bone (asthi).
  6. Then, nervous tissue (majji).
  7. 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.

Ojas Power

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:

 


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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wiki Commons

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anonymous Jan 23, 2016 7:00am

Hello. i believe there is an error in this article. Are the headings over the two lists of the six tastes not incorrect?

    anonymous Jan 23, 2016 11:49am

    Hi Kathleen—I'm not sure what you mean. Can you be more specific? You can email us at [email protected] with corrections too. Thanks! ~ Ed.

anonymous May 30, 2014 8:33am

Very interesting. Would like to memorize this. Ha

anonymous May 29, 2014 1:14pm

Very interesting article, Dr. Douillard. I appreciated the interwoven discussion of the physical, emotional and spiritual layers that comprise not only our bodies, but of the food (or "food"…) that we ingest, as well, how these systems maintain a powerful interplay that support the being to flourish, or find dis-ease. I have a whole new understanding of, and appreciation for, lymph! Can you point me in the direction of other resources detailing ways to support the journey of lymph in daily practice, in addition to mindful eating and the incorporation of a wide variety of nutrient (and flavor) dense foods (and dry brushing, I assume)?

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Dr. John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda and sports medicine. He is the creator of LifeSpa.com, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web with over 7 million views on YouTube. LifeSpa is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world with over 1000 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom backed by modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development and nutrition advisor for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of 7 health books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in USA Today, LA Times, and dozens of other national publications. He has been in practice for over 30 years and has seen over 100,000 patients. —————————————————————————————————–
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