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By Kester Marshall
It is part of the human condition to want to look our best, to be attractive and liked by others. Although this means different things to different people, it invariably involves looking healthy and youthful.
So how do we go about this?
We can join a weight-loss program, work out at the gym, have our hair and nails done, get a facial, visit the solarium or get a spray tan, buy new sunglasses or new clothes, or even resort to surgery to look the way we want to!
In the West we are encouraged to view our bodies as something we can improve upon, even purchase, to make us attractive, desirable and therefore happier and more comfortable in our own skin. But Ayurveda looks at things a little differently...
Ayurveda sees external appearance as a direct reflection of the internal health of our body/mind. Therefore, in order to preserve youth and beauty there must be a change of focus - rather than trying to become beautiful in order to be happy, we need to work on developing health and happiness FIRST.... and external beauty will naturally follow.
There is actually a whole branch of Ayurvedic Medicine that is concerned not only with the treatment of disease, but also the rejuvenation of the body tissues, the improvement of the immune system, increasing the length and quality of life and the preservation of youth and beauty. This is known as Rasayana.
Ayurveda teaches that there are seven main tissues that make up the bulk of the physical body and each has its own specific function. The superficial ones are closely related to the skin and are therefore directly related to physical appearance, but they also provide nourishment for the deeper tissues that help support our internal feelings of security, contentment and self-worth. As the following illustrates, all the tissues must be balanced and appropriately nourished in order to be a picture of health...
Rasa, the first tissue produced from the food we eat is related to blood plasma, lymph and skin. A person with optimum rasa has soft glowing skin and healthy hair follicles.
Rakta (the blood) gives us vigour and vitality and makes our skin a healthy pink colour.
Mamsa (muscle tissue) binds us together, provides strength and stamina and gives our body rounded features and appealing form.
Meda (fat) in the correct amount lubricates the body. It makes the voice smooth and melodious as well as ensuring smooth, soft skin, eyes, hair, nails, lips and teeth.
Asthi (bone) upholds all the other tissues, providing support and a strong foundation. Healthy asthi is also responsible for healthy hair, nails and teeth.
Majja (marrow and nerve) lubricates the eyes and skin and helps us to feel contentment and compassion.
Abundant Shukra (reproductive tissue) gives us radiant, lustrous skin and makes us attractive and strong, literally improving our sexual appeal and performance!
Obviously we all look different. Some people have naturally strong, healthy tissues, others do not. Some people are skinny while others only need to breathe to put on weight. Understanding our individual constitution (called prakriti in Ayurveda) is incredibly valuable when it comes to self-awareness and self-acceptance... we all have strengths and weaknesses and if we are aware of them we can make the most of them.
As a Practitioner, the best advice I can give anyone to ensure the correct nourishment and metabolism of their tissues is to learn how to look after and really care for their digestive fire (or Agni). The digestive fire is responsible for transforming and making useful everything that enters the body and mind. To keep Agni balanced and strong one should follow a diet and lifestyle that are in accordance with the principles outlined in Nadia's course, ''Living Ayurveda".
There are also certain foods and substances that should definitely be avoided as they directly affect the rasa tissue, either drying it out or reducing its capacity to nourish the other tissues. These include tobacco; alcohol in excess; cold, dry food (including excess raw food, deep-fried food; and heavy, rich food. Try to avoid the hot midday sun. Instead, exposure to the late afternoon or evening sun is best as it is more gentle and health promoting. Other common factors that will adversely affect the condition of the tissues and the immune system are prolonged stress, worry and overwork.
One of the best things we can do to nourish the tissues, skin and hair, reduce stress and calm the mind is regular abhyanga (oil massage) with warm oil that is appropriate for the individual and the season.
Another thing to consider is cosmetics. When choosing cosmetics and skin care products, go for plant-based, preferably organic products that don't contain synthetic materials. They should be selected for their ability to nourish and maintain the health of the skin, hair and nails, rather than their price or how well they are marketed!
So... whatever desires we have in life - to be slimmer, stronger or more attractive (and there is nothing wrong with any of these!), the best place to begin working is from the inside out. And it isn't such a big deal! We only need to change a few small things and before we know it, we will be healthier, happier, more beautiful and more loving human beings; towards others.... but also towards ourselves.
If you are in any doubt about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician.
**Ayurvedic Cleansing & Rejuvenation Programs are now available at the Mudita Health Clinic in Mullumbimby. For more information email see our Cleanses page.**
Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue