Not so long ago, my neighbor in Bangalore died because of a mosquito bite. She caught dengue fever and, in less than three days, she was dead leaving behind two teenage children and a husband. Four months later, her 16-year-old daughter came to me and requested yoga classes to lose weight. She was very overweight.
And my work started.
I taught her no yoga at our first session. Instead, I explained to her the real cause of her mother’s death. I told her how it was phlegm and not dengue fever that killed her. The whole family was obese and ate plain rubbish.
Yes, rubbish! Almost every night they ate at fast food joints, indulging in fried chicken, burgers, pastas and what have you. Naturally, such a food cannot be digested.
The intestinal tract and the bile in the stomach simply refuse to absorb something that will not nourish the body let alone the mind. The intestinal tract is 8 meters long and has many small buds, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients in to the system. Whatever cannot be absorbed is expelled out of the body in the form of stool, sweat, urine and as a coating on the tongue. Despite that, another item remains that does not leave the body and stays in the system for a long time to come.
That is phlegm.
What exactly is phlegm?
According to yoga and Ayurveda, phlegm is a natural component of our body. In Sanskrit, it is called Kapha. Kapha is not just phlegm; it is especially related to oil and the lubrication of our system. Lack of Kapha causes excess dryness, problems with the joints, mental instability, stress, fatigue and sexual weakness. Clearly, well-nourished Kapha is necessary for the body. However, excess Kapha causes symptoms in reverse: obesity, rudeness, greediness, excess mucus, heaviness and pallor, excessive sleep, cold sensations and cough. Therefore, excess phlegm is termed as Kapha disorder and has severe consequences on an organism. In the long run, phlegm, that has no way to leave the body, solidifies and turns into a deep-seated toxic mass, gelling with tissue and becoming almost one with it.
How does that happen?
It happens in six stages:
First is Accumulation, wherein phlegm is accumulated in its home, i.e. the stomach, resulting in the above-mentioned disturbances.
The food that causes excess phlegm is usually yoghurt, milk, cheese, meat, fish, grains, lentils and beans, sweets, fried and baked foods, fruits like bananas, processed food, sugar and fructose; food that is consumed cold will cause excess phlegm too. In addition, unseasonal food, especially summer food consumed in winter will cause mucus. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and other summer vegetables and fruits are meant to cool the body in the summer heat. Consumed in winter, they cool the body excessively; the intestinal tract refuses to work on cooling food that would simply make it sick.
Hence, eat seasonal.
Finally, eating at the right time is crucial to maintaining a strong and effective metabolic fire. Meals eaten at night disturb sleep. At night, food needs to be metabolized, so do mental impressions. Stuffing yourself at night will cause pain in the lower back and mental dullness. At night, there is a lack of metabolic fire and thus, the production of mucus will be great. The best time to eat is noon, when the Sun is the strongest and so is digestion.
The second step is Aggravation, where phlegm increases its presence and, with it, the symptoms of disease.
The third stage is Overflow, where phlegm is not any more in its home (stomach) but spreads into the tissue and organs. Here, malfunctions are recorded in the form of coughs, fevers, swollen joints, mucus in the stool, swollen glands and pain in the chest, fatigue, headaches, etc…
The fourth stage is Relocation, where phlegm relocates to the lymphatic system, pancreas, liver and kidneys.
The fifth stage is Manifestation where we call a spade a spade. In this stage, full-blown diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia, diabetes, etc. are identifiable.
Needles to say, treatment will be more complicated.
The last, sixth, stage is Diversification, where the disease matures and begins to cause multiple problems, most notable amongst them is heavy congestion and swelling that causes intense pain either in the chest, lower back, joints or groin, or in all of them. This is the stage where phlegm, already transformed into a hard, toxic mass, cannot be expelled via normal cleansing and healing methods. It is here that the organism becomes addicted to certain kinds of foods. These seem to bring momentary relief but, actually, only push the toxic mass deeper in to the tissue often causing cancerous tumors or ulcerous growths. The organism stops responding to any normal healing methods and only shows improvement through heavy duty cleansing.
Here we apply the yogic methods of cleansing. The first ones are definitely the Shat Karmas or the six cleansing actions of yoga, described in Yogapedia on www.franzandrini.com.
The breathing exercises (Pranayama) follow; this stabilizes and heals the vital airs that govern all movement in the body.
“The practice of Pranayama brings about an easy success, after removing impurities such as fat and phlegm, through the practice of Shat Karmas.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4.2)
It is these Pranayama methods that do most of the healing. Once the airs inside the body are vitalized and balanced, they automatically start purging toxins out. The whole thing is followed by certain asanas, yoga poses, ordained in a specific order to bring prana into a desirable place in the body with the help of heat. Here the work of the revitalization of the inner organs, glands and intestinal tract start full- fledged. In the beginning stages of Yoga Therapy, we actually ignite the metabolic fire in the liver, which in turn carries the Pranas all over the system, thus invigorating the inner organs to their potential. Of course, the feeling is absolutely sublime. How can it not be? Metabolic fire starts melting the hard toxic mass into a more liquid form enabling mucus to be expelled.
Over the prolonged practice of this specific yoga method, the inner organs and glands regain their liveliness and the ability to function without hindrance. With it develops a fine tuned taste that abhors and eschews toxic loaded food.
To go back to the above story, excess phlegm in the form of toxic mass in the body proved fatal for my neighbor. Once toxic mass becomes a part of tissue, it offers unconditional support to virus entering the body. Due to its prolific nature, the virus had an easy way to bypass any immunity (which by now is extremely weak) and it grandly enters into the most sensitive parts of our body – the vital organs. Once the vital organs (viz. the kidneys, liver and heart) are weakened, the rest of the system is neutralized with ease.
As mentioned earlier, certain type of foods should not be consumed on a regular basis. In fact, fried and, to a good extent, baked food should be given up.
Every time I do a workshop or course, I recommend reducing the intake of foods like yoghurt, cheese (especially heavy cheeses) as they really tend to clog the system and exacerbate the joint and lower back pains. Always and I mean always, someone asks, “But where will we get our calcium from?” Anticipating the inevitable, I smile inwardly before I answer. “YOU SHOULD ONLY EAT WHAT YOU CAN DIGEST. What is the point of stuffing yourself with food that creates so much phlegm and fails to nourish you?”
Often, food like yoghurt is simply too clogging (especially if eaten cold) as the intestinal tract will not be able to absorb vitamins and minerals out of it. That is wasted Calcium, only resulting in more phlegm. To diminish joint pains, cut yoghurt and heavy cheeses out. In my experience, people suffering from joint and back pains, have been avid yoghurt and cheese eaters. However, I do not say that there should be no yoghurt consumption at all, but one cut down on it considerably, so that during metabolism calcium and vitamins can be extracted in a more efficient way.
Other heavy foods are also the same. For example, grains. It is better to soak them for 15 to 24 hours before steaming them, to extract the mucus out of them. Steaming food is crucial as it helps to, first, expel air and second, to destroy mucus. Contrary to the populist perception, the raw food is not the ultimate answer to our dietary needs. It is steamed food that promotes vitality and longevity. Even cooked food creates a lot of mucus.
A tip: While cooking, add salt at the very end, once the dish is ready. Food cooked with salt increases the formation of Kapha.
A great way to destroy phlegm and phlegmatic disorders is the usage of herbs. In Yogapedia’s “Kitchen of Yoga”, I have enumerated various herbs, the best ways of using them and their benefits. Herbs are essential as they help extract nutrients from food and aid their absorption into the system. Indeed, herbs by themselves are a great source of nutrients.
Once food is prepared correctly and ingredients chosen carefully, the feast can begin.
For avid yoga practitioners who are inclined to keep their Nadis (pranic paths) clean for spiritual practices, the aforementioned precautions are essential for them.
Say no to phlegm and begin a transformation that will not only better your health but also increase spiritual and material prosperity in your life as well.