Our wellbeing is the product of food.
Good and agreeable food is the key to happiness and our optimal functioning. The food is the fuel and our digestive tract is the advance mechanism that nourishes our body and mind. Sluggish absorption or non-absorption (indigestion) of nutrients from the food will automatically create dissatisfaction in mind and unease in the body. More than that, the prolonged undernourishment will result not only in depleted physical strength but in mental, intellectual and spiritual inability to comprehend thoughts, discriminate and sustain the all-encompassing outlook on the world; and the reasons for that are two: wrong diet and inability of intestinal tract to absorb the nutrients, both of them, actually, highly related.
According to our inert constitution (as per Ayurveda), we are classified into three general types of it: vata (air), pita (fire) and kapha(oil) and their 84 combinations, giving surge to different strengths of digestive fire (jatharagni). Digestive fire is the foundation of our lives, the real indicator of our inherent capacity to process all intakes be it spiritual, mental or dietary. The seat of digestive fire is in the liver, which itself is a pita organ and responsible for creation of bile, that passes as a physical form of digestive fire.
However the real “battle” is taking place in the small intestines as well as colon. The small intestines are in Sanskrit termed as “grahani”, that, which absorbs, for their little buds are equipped with the “sucking” capacity to absorb vitamins and minerals from the food and thus nourish our whole being. It is understandable that sufficient intake of nutrients is good for our body and mind and to our whole intellectual capacity.
If the capacity of small intestines is impaired, the nourishment will not suffice.
Therefore, we can clearly infer that the small intestines are the key to our wellbeing.
In Ayurveda, the small intestines are considered the brain as their functioning and absorbing capacity is intimately connected to the functioning of the brain.
Our diet will determine the nature of mental and intellectual processing and creation of the nature of our being. It is important to perceive the being as a composition of not just physical constituents but their subtler expressions in the form of mind and intellect as well.
Small intestines are the abode of happiness and distress, depending on their condition. Perpetual fear, stress, discomfort of the body and other psychological suffering is wholly experienced in the small intestines. We know, by experience, that a sense of fear grips our bellies first. Constant experience of fear results in depleted functioning of small intestines. In the yogic and Ayurvedic terms we classify that as the blockage of the third chakra. While fear and other psychical weaknesses are many times inborn, due to the constitution (extreme vata type has inherent fear, as does pita type with inherent aggression), many times their aggravation is the result of “screwed-up” digestive tract. The “screwed-up” form of digestive tract can be very, very literal, too, in the form of twisted intestines, where the waste collects and forms a septic mass ready to poison the body.
The great ability of the intestinal tract is in its compartmentalization: the 6.5 meters of small intestines and 1.5 meters of colon have their areas connected to variety of organs. Plainly stated: different parts of small intestines process vitamins or minerals needed for particular organ or sense. Inability of it results in formation of phlegm. Phlegm is a mucous mass permeating stomach, small intestines and colon as well as lungs, and obstructing the normal functioning of these. When the phlegm solidifies, due to body’s inability to purge it, it becomes a solid, toxic mass, impregnated into the tissue, giving rise to many illnesses and diseases. When the food is of bad quality and indigestible, small intestines refuse to take the job of absorbing nutrients from it. Phlegm is the enemy #1 of our bodies: it is a toxic mass that has to be expelled and this is the prime and the very initial aim of Hatha Yoga. Purging of phlegm results in strong digestion, glowing personality and cheerful mind. Phlegm also creates obstacles in the flow of vital airs (prana). When vital airs and their passages (nadis) are cleansed the sense of spirituality sets in and the nature of the spiritual seeker is lighted. Phlegm is purged through the practices of six actions in Hatha Yoga, collectively known as shat karmas.
Some loss of colon or small intestines due to surgery is a very traumatic experience for the body and mind. The sense of inadequateness sets in and a person experiences digestive and eliminative troubles, usually compounded with excess of gas, general bodily weakness and mental slug. As stated earlier, the pressure on intestinal tract can be due to varieties of stresses, resulting in excess of fear or inability to deal with certain situations or life in general. A person affected by these troubles has regular digestive issues, most commonly a loss of appetite and excess of gass, if vata type; excessive anger, lose motions, if of pita type and weight gain if of Kapha constitution. Inability of intestinal tract to function optimally quickly results in serious illnesses, like cancer (especially of the liver & colon), renal & kidney failure as well as infections of gastro-urinary tract. The symptoms can include swelling (edema) and unnatural coldness.
Digestive fire (the functioning of pita dosha) plays a crucial role in healing such ailments and maintaining bodily strength, as well as mental clarity.
Only spelling out problems wouldn’t be sufficient, the remedy has to be given, too and Hatha Yoga in combination with the Ayurvedaforms a real arsenal of solutions.
The practices of shat karmas (six cleansing acts) are essential in maintaining strong and clean intestinal tract. The practice of asanas is a paramount exercise that lights digestive fire, manipulates it throughout intestinal tract and inner organs, as well acts as a purge of phlegm from our bodies. The practice of asanas depends on ones capacity, constitution and correct traditional system of application, under the auspices of a competent teacher. There is nothing like a good asana practice to invigorate our internal organs and calm the mind. It is simply unbeatable and hence the popularity of yoga worldwide.
While the practice of asanas is very potent application of healthcare, the right diet and intake of Ayurvedic supplements is just as vital, for the roots and herbs constitute the diet of a yogi henceforward.
Herbal diet should be compulsory to all the humans as it is the herbs that help to ingest nutrients into the system, not to mention that the herbs themselves are full of nutrients. Of course, random intake, based on little knowledge isn’t advised, because the herbs can harm, too. But by-and- large, the herbs and spices – the condiments are an essential dietary requirement to humanity. The condiments have profound effect on the flora of intestinal tract, regulating the levels of acidity, alkalization, bacterial spread (gut) and the list goes on. With the intake of suitable herbs and condiments, the intestinal tract comes to life and when it is alive, the happiness sets in by default and many good things happen in our lives. People with healthy intestinal tract are by default more satisfied and successful then those besot with problems. The intellectual and productive levels markedly increase in people possessing fit intestines.
Gastro-intestinal sickness can manifest the whole plethora of illness in the body. The colon is the seat of vata and any derangement of it will result in the illnesses of bone and joints. Count in osteoporosis, arthritis and the rest of the rheum illnesses – basically taking the joints out of service. It is sandhi vata (the morbid air) that troubles joints due to osteoporosis and arthritis, and it has to be expelled. The combination of simple and meaningful asana practice, coupled with the certain sets of pranayama and intake of the right food, with the right herbs, does usually wonders to the gastro-intestinal health and with it to our musculoskeletal system as well.
It is imperative for one on the path of yoga to be moderate in diet. A great Hatha Yoga scripture, Gheranda Samhita dishes it out univocally:
“He who practice yoga without moderation in diet, incurs various diseases and obtains no success.”
Gheranda Samhita 5.16
Hence, in yoga, there is always a great emphasis on a diet as the right diet becomes a tool of yoga that cures the body and gives us a really joyful life.
The first part of Hatha Yoga is termed Chikitsa (therapy) and its first actions are associated with the purge of phlegm – from the belly, intestines and tissue. Like, perpetual cough and Candida are associated with toxic, phlegmatic mass troubling the intestinal tract and lungs. Many times is the arthritis of the joints that damages our lungs.
Purge of phlegm can be done with occasional fasting, to clear intestines from excess of it and give the space for digestive fire to grow and eliminate the rest of unwanted residues.
Psychological problem and deep depressions are the result of messed-up intestinal tract or they are the cause of it.Almost all, basically all the people with mental illnesses have terrible problems of gastro-intestinal system. The brain, heart and intestines are so, so intimately connected that one affects the other immediately. As mentioned in the beginning, fear and also illusions are the real moderators of our heart, brain and intestines. Benevolent state of the mind, goodness of the heart and satisfaction in our bellies do magic to our health.
We can observe, in patients with psychological disorders, improvement after the regulation of gut – the intestinal flora and fauna, if damage isn’t too severe to the brain and the nervous system.
Regulation of vital airs is another key practice of Yoga Therapy for better gastro-intestinal functioning. The vital airs (Pranas) simply have to be regulated. Vital airs are intimately connected to the currents of our consciousness and where the consciousness is, there rest our vital airs and vice versa.
There are five major vital airs, all moving to their specific directions in a healthy state of the being. When these vital airs are not moving where they should, the result is disturbance and prolonged disturbance results in illness. The movement of vital airs can be altered due to illness or the illness sets in when wrong diet and lifestyle alter their flow. Therefore, my yoga classes start with relatively simple 4 pranayamas to regulate the movement of 5 major vital airs and make them flow in their natural direction.
I have extensively dealt with the nature of vital airs in the article in Yogapedia’s YogaRahasya e-book, titled: Prana Vidya, which translates as the “Knowledge of Vital Airs”. Prana vidya is the essence of Hatha Yoga and basically all the yogic and Vedic knowledge.
Yogapedia articles are littered with references to prana all the time. One more is titled: “Eat According Prana”, which definitely should be your next reading. You’ll find it in The Kitchen of Yoga part of Yogapedia.
Pranayama sets many things right, especially in our intestines and it is pivotal practice of yoga, or better to say: pranayama is the beginning, middle and end of Hatha Yoga practice.
One is basically entitled to be called a yogi, when he/she successfully regulates and controls the vital airs.
All the above-mentioned practices and remedies should be the guiding light in your quest for a better health, which should begin with intestinal tract. Intestines nourish brain and the brains are our control-centre.
Take control of your life.
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