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The Concept of Ahara (Diet) in Ayurveda

Concept of Ahara (Diet) in Ayurveda

Every living and non-living beings in this universe is composed of five basic elements, the Pancha Mahabhootas, namely Earth (Prithvi), Water (Ap), Fire (Teja), Air (Vayu) and Ether (Akasha) the Panchabhuta components of ingested food nourishes their respective tissue elements in the body. Ahara is the best of all medicines and is considered one among the three sub-pillars of Ayurveda (Thrayo-Upasthamba). The Ahara (food) and Vihara (lifestyle) which are congenial to the channels, constitution and strength of an individual is termed as Pathya (wholesome) and that which is non-congenial is termed as Apathya (unwholesome). The preventive and curative aspects of Ayurveda revolve around the central theme of pathya Ahara and Vihara. Ayurveda emphasizes basic dietary guidelines in terms of appropriate food, combinations of food, methods of cooking, storage, eating atmosphere, hygiene and etiquette (Ashtavidha Ahara Vidhi Visesha Ayatana).

Ayurvedic dietary guidelines include:

  • Intake of food at in time (Kale Bhojana).
  • Food intake as per suitability (Satmya Bhojana)
  • Food intake as per the prakruthi of individual (Hita Bhojan)
  • Proper hygiene (Suchi Bhojan)
  • Intake of food which is unctuous (Snigdha Bhojan)
  • Intake of food which is warm (Ushna Bhojan)
  • Intake of food which is easy to digest (Laghu bhojan)
  • Eat while there is in interest to food and while eating concentrate on food and the process of eating (Tan Mana: Bhojana)
  • Eat food with six taste components (Sad-Rasayukta Ahara)
  • Food should be primarily sweet in nature (Madhura Praya)
  • Food should be ingested calmly, neither too slow nor too fast (Na Ati Druta Vilambita)
  • After bathing (Snatah)
  • Food intake only when there is sufficient hunger (kshudvan)
  • Proper washing of hand, feet and face should be done before food intake (Dhauta Pada-Kara-Anana:)
  • After offering prayers and paying obeisance to gods and forefathers (Pithru -Deva Tarpana)
  • After offering food to guests, teachers and chidren (Athithi- Balakaguru Tarpana)
  • Without disgracing food (Anindan Bhunjaana)
  • Silently (Moun)

Ahara Matra (quantity of food)

The food and nutritional requirement varies from person to person and depends upon the status of Agni, Shariraprakriti, age etc. Susruta and Vagbhata have suggested that if stomach capacity is hypothetically divided into 4 parts on the basis of its filling, one should take 2 parts of solid food, 1 part of liquid food and  one part should be left empty for easy movement of Vata.

Sequence of food intake

Guru, Madhura and Snigdha food should be taken initially during the course of a meal followed by Amla, Lavana Ahara. Food which is Ruksha, Katu, Tikta and Kashaya should be taken in the last part of the meal for proper activation of Agni, proper absorption and assimilation of food. After taking food, it is advised to take rest for Muhurta Matra (48 minutes) for proper digestion.

Ahara vidhi viseshaayatana

To receive the total benefits of Ahara it is also necessary to have the knowledge about “Ashta Ahara Vidhivisheshaayatana”. They are

  1. Prakriti- food should be taken considering the nature of food, such as guru (Heavy food like milk, flesh), Laghu (food like green gram etc which are light to digest), Seeta (food which are cold in potency such as milk), Ushna (food which are of hot potency like spicy food), Ruksha (dryness inducing food), Snigdha (unctuous food such as ghee, butter) and their impact on Agni.
  2. Karana- It refers to modification in the food property by action of Agni, water etc.
  3. Samyoga- It denotes the combinations of food which either augment or nullify the actions of the individual components.
  4. Raashi-This represents the quantum of food required to each person
  5. Desha-The dynamics and kinetics of the food consumed is dependent on the habitat of the individual and also the area from where the substance has originated.
  6. Kaala- This represents time in terms of climate, phase of digestion, timing of the day, Stage (Avastha) of disease etc.
  7. Upayoga Samstha- food should be taken as per the rules of dietetics.
  8. Upayokta- It denotes the consumer of the food. Food intake should be guided by the personal preference and Okasatmya (habitual homologation) of each individual.

Concept of Viruddhahara (Dietetic Incompatibility)

Incompatibility or Viruddha is a unique concept in Ayurveda. The drugs and diet that provoke doshas, dislodges from their normal bio-rhythm and not eliminated out are called Viruddha. Charakacharya has defined ‘Virudhaahara’ as certain diet and its combinations which hinders the metabolism of tissue, which inhibits the process of formation of tissue and which have the opposite property to the tissue. The food which is wrong in combination, has undergone wrong processing, consumed in incorrect quantity, with food of opposite qualities, consumed in incorrect time of the day and in wrong season can become Virudhahara. Charaka has mentioned 18 such conditions and those types of wrong combinations can lead to even death.

Such food if consumed regularly can lead to number of disorders such as Impotency, Visarpa (erysipelas), blindness, ascitis, psychiatric conditions, fistula in ano, coma or fainting, intoxication, abdominal distension, stiffness in neck, varieties of anaemia, indigestions, various skin diseases, diseases of intestines, swelling, gastritis, fever, rhinitis, and infertility.

The etiological factors of almost all Manorogas enlist Virudhahara as a major cause. A new branch called topography (a science related to combination of food) is emerging, which tells about the combination of basic categories of the food and their effects in the body

Concept of Vihara (Lifestyle) in Ayurveda

The description about Dinacharya, Rtucharya, Sadvrtta and Nidra in Ayurveda clearly depicts the importance of a healthy regimen in the prevention and management of many diseases. A growing body of scientific evidence has demonstrated that lifestyle intervention is an essential component in the treatment of chronic disease that can be as effective as medication but considered to be safe without risks and side effects. A lifestyle is a characteristic bundle of behaviours that makes sense to both others and oneself in a given time and place, including social relations, consumption, entertainment and such other behaviours.

Dinacharya (Daily regimen)

Ayurveda promotes a lifestyle that’s in harmony with nature.

  • It is advisable to wake up during Brahma Muhurta (preferably between 4.00 a.m. to 5.30 a.m.).
  • Drinking water early in the morning according to one’s capacity cleanses the body by enhancing the elimination of toxic wastes.
  • One should attend the nature’s calls.
  • The soft brushes made out of twigs of Khadira, Karanja, Apamarga etc. Tongue should be cleaned by a long flexible strip of metal or plant twig. It not only cleanses the tongue but also stimulates appetite and digestion. Mouth should also be cleaned properly.
  • Eyes should be cleaned with fresh water to prevent eye diseases and promote vision. Also wash eyes with Triphala Phanta every day for clarity of vision and prevention of eye diseases.
  • Chewing of betel leaves with small pieces of Areca nut (kramuka) and fragrant substances like cardamom, cloves, refreshes the mouth and enhance digestion.
  • It is necessary to massage whole body with oil every day. Oil massage ensures softness and unctuousness of skin, free movement of joints and muscles, peripheral circulation and elimination of metabolic wastes.
  • Regular exercise is essential for perfect health. It builds up stamina and resistance against disease, clears the channels of body (Srotas) and increases the blood circulation. It enhances efficiency of body organs, promotes appetite, digestion and prevents obesity.
  • Bathing improves enthusiasm, strength, sexual vigour, appetite, span of life and removes sweat and other impurities from the body. After bath one should wear clean clothes and smear the body with perfume. One should do regular shaving, haircut, cutting of nails etc.
  • Person should avoid extra marital sexual relationship and sexual intercourse with a woman during her menses, pregnancy, within one and half month after delivery, devoid of passion, older than one and suffering from disease.

Ritucharya (Seasonal regimen)

In Ayurvedic classics, there has been a thorough consideration for seasons, besides the dietetic regimens for days and nights. Whole year is divided into six seasons and detailed regimen for these seasons is prescribed. In spring season, bitter, hot and astringent diet is advised while salty, sour and sweet food should be avoided. Wheat, barley, honey syrup, fruits like mango, jack fruit-etc. and meat of forest animals is advised. In summer season due to hot climate, aggravation of Pitta occurs. Hence Pitta pacifying cold, liquid, sweet and oily diet is advised. Excessive hot, spicy, sour salty diet should be avoided. Intake of rice, milk, ghee, sugar, grapes, coconut water etc is advised. In rainy season aggravation of Vata occurs, hence Vata Shamaka sweet, sour and salty food and drinks are preferred. The food should be hot, dry, fatty and easily digestible. Preserved rice, wheat, barley and mutton soups are advised. In pre winter and winter season Vatadosha aggravates due to cold, dry, chilly atmosphere hence Vataghna, Pittavardhaka diet is recommended. Hot, sweet, sour and salty food, milk, sugarcane, rice, oils and fats are advised and in autumn season aggravation of Pitta dosha occurs. Therefore, it is ideal to take ghee processed with bitter drugs; purgation, bloodletting, coolant, and light diet are advised. Diets dominant in Bitter, sweet, pungent diets are good.

Sadvritta (Ethical Regimen): Rules of good conduct

Ayurveda prescribes certain rules for maintaining healthy mind. These are principles of right conduct that are applicable to all people at all times and places. Practicing them gives balance and harmony to the mind. These are

  • Always speak the truth.
  • Do not lose your temper under any circumstances.
  • Do not get addicted to sensory pleasures.
  • Do not harm anyone.
  • As far as possible, do not expose yourself to hardships.
  • Try to control your passions.
  • Endeavor to speak pleasant and sweet words.
  • Meditate every day for tranquility of mind.
  • Observe cleanliness in all things.
  • Be patient.
  • Observe self-control.
  • Try to distribute knowledge, good advice and help to others.
  • Whenever possible, devote your services to God, to the wise and to respectable or elderly individuals.
  • Be straightforward and kind.
  • Avoid irregularity in daily activities.
  • Avoid over eating, overdrinking, too much sexual activity, too much or too little sleep.
  • Behave according to the time and place where you are residing.
  • Act always in a courteous and polite manner.
  • Control your sense organs.
  • Make a habit of doing all that is good and avoiding all that is bad.

Dharaneeya and Adharaneeya Vega

Vegadharana (withholding/inhibiting natural bodily urges) is said as a prohibited bodily function as it results in vitiation of three Dosha, and most importantly of Vata, which is acknowledged as the controller of mind and body. Vegas can be said as the natural urges of the body which help the body in maintaining its internal homeostasis by expelling the unwanted things.

The word ‘Vegadharan’ has two components Vega & Dharan. Vega means natural urge & Dharan is suppression, thus Vegadharan means suppression of natural urges. Adharaniya vegas are the natural urges which should not be suppressed. Initiation of Vega is a normal body activity and is a process timely carried out by body at regular intervals & controlled by nervous system, suppression of which not only stops the elimination of waste products but also brings strain and disorders of nervous system causing many diseases. By triggering an urge or suppressing an urge, Vata Dosha is being forcefully hampered and thereby leading to imbalance in the mind, which ultimately leads to psychosomatic diseases or purely somatic diseases.

Dharaniya Vegas (suppressible urges) are Lobha (greed), Irshya (envy/jealousy), Dwesha (aversion), Maatsarya (competitive mentality), Raga (attachment). Manasika vegas also include the other emotions like Kama(lust), Krodha(anger), Bhaya (fear), Soka (grief), Chinta (anxiety). Excessive indulgence in Dharaneeya Vega is the result of improper Atma-Indriya-Artha Samyoga and further impairs the synchrony of Manogunas. Thus, one can understand that Manasika Vega is a result of vitiated Rajas and Tamas that cloud the mental faculties and cause it to form unwholesome association with objects due to impairment of the intellect and the other regulating factors.

He who is desirous of happiness both in this world and the other, should control these urges and thus gain control over one’s sense organs. One should avoid speaking harsh words, back biting, lying and using untimely words. Violence against others, desire for other women and stealing should be avoided. Many of the psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and different forms of psychosomatic disorders result due to non-controlling of these Dharaniya Vegas

Source : Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences

Last Modified : 4/23/2021

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