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The Ayurvedic classic Charka Samhitaa draws a parallel between the human body and a building. Any building needs pillars for its stability. The Sanskrit term for a pillar is Sthambha. Ayurveda states that for the proper maintenance of health one needs to have three Sthambhas (i.e. pillars) as well as three Upasthambhas (supporting pillars) functioning properly. The word Trayopastambha derived from Traya means three and the word Upastambha means supporting pillars.

The three Sthambha_s are the three Dosha_s VaataPitta and Kapha.

The three Upastanbha_s are Aahaara (Food), Nidraa (Sleep), and Bhramacharya (Celibacy) i.e. regulated sexual conduct. In this chapter, the three Upastanbha_s are outlined the role of these factors in mental health.

  1. Aahaara (Food):-

The Role of Food

Vaata is responsible for all the movements in the body. This it does by its nature of being in a state of perpetual motion. Pitta is responsible for digestion, assimilation of food, various sensory impulses, etc.

This is done by its Ushn`a (hot), and Teekshn`a (sharp, intense) attributes. Their combined activity results in depletion of body constituents such as Kapha (bonding material, matrix), Rasa, Mamsa, Meda, Majja, S`hukra and Ojas. They have to be replenished or the body would degenerate and succumb to either disease or death. The body is composed mainly of Panchmahaabhoota and the replenishment has to be compatible with what is lost. This is done effectively by Anna / Aahaara (food).When various ingredients of the body are depleted this give rise to specific effects. For example when Rasa Dhaatu is depleted, it causes a craving for something cold and liquid like sugarcane juice, soft drinks etc. these body signals if paid heed to and fulfilled can combat the loss effectively and bring back the depleted state to normalcy, thereby establishing a state of optimum function.

How to eat a Meal?

While describing the sequence and method of consumption of food, it is advised that sweet food, which has a pleasing, satisfying effect on all the sense organs and mind, should be consumed first. This makes it possible for the person to concentrate on the food before him. Later, sour and salty food should be consumed which are responsible for imparting taste to food articles, palliation of Vaata and secretion of Kapha and Pitta thereby rendering the food liquid. Finally pungent, bitter and astringent foods are consumed. These being dry, light in nature, and not very agreeable to the body and mind keep the Kapha and Pitta under control. This sequence ensures digestion of food and the proper production of Aahaara rasa i.e. proper products of digestion. Ajeern`a or indigestion in itself is the basic cause for a multitude of diseases both physical and mental. The food replenishes various attributes which are depleted during the actions taking place throughout the day.

Food and the Three Gun`as

The three Gun`a_s have a great effect on the mind. In fact they constitute as it were the substance of which the mind is made. In Ayurveda, a lot of importance is given to the diet for a practitioner of Yoga or religious rituals since the effect of food on the mind has been noted. Foods can influence the mind by increasing any of the three Gun`a_s. A few examples are given below:

Food substances that are Guru i.e. heavy to digest increase Tamas and may make one sleepy. These may be useful in therapy. For example, for those who suffer from insomnia, one of the suggestions is to drink Buffalos milk at night. Buffalos milk is known to be Nidraakara or sleep inducing. It increases Tamas.

Certain foods increase Raajas like hot and spicy foods and stimulants such as coffee. People, who want to stay awake late at night past their normal sleeping, time usually drink coffee or tea. Conversely others avoid coffee or tea in the evening since it affects their sleep.

Certain food substances are known to increase the Saatvika quality, for example Cows milk, ghee, puffed rice etc.

Saatvika foods are those that increase the of lifespan, given strength, health, are juicy and pleasing. Examples of Saatvika food are milk, butter, fresh ripe fruits.

Raajasika foods are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, dry or burning. Examples of Raajasika food are fish, eggs, onions, garlic.

Taamasika foods are those that are stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure. Intoxicants like Gaanjaa, stale food, half-cooked food and rotten food are considered Tamasika.
Balance of Gun`a_s needed.

Our S`haastra_s state that the function of three qualities in their proper place is what is needed for normal existence. Without Raajas we cannot perform various actions that require effort, energy and movement. Similarly, Taamas is required for us to rest and go to sleep or to station ourselves at a given place at rest. Individuals under the influence of an excess of Raajas, find it difficult to rest, relax or to go to sleep.

The Saankhya School describes the combined function of the three Dosha_s by providing an analogy with the burning of an earthen oil lamp. The flame, which is light, moving upward and shedding brightness, represents Sattva. The oil, which is the fuel, represents Raajas providing energy. The lamp, which is an earthen container and holds the other two in place and position, represents Tamas. It is the proper juxtaposition and combination of all the three qualities that is needed for the normal functioning of the mind.

Food and Mental Health

According to Ayurveda, the food ingested is transformed to three categories after digestion, namely Sthoola (gross), Sookshma (subtle) and Mala (waste product). The Sthoola (gross) part nourishes the body tissue (dhatu) and the Sookshma (subtle part) nourishes the mind while the Mala_s (waste products) are excreted. Thus, the mind is influenced by the food taken. While describing the nutritional properties of various foods, Ayurveda texts use several terms pertaining to the impact at the mental level. Some of these terms are described below with examples.

  1. Tandraakara causes lassitude, weariness e.g. Palm fruit.
  2. Indriya Tarpaka Refreshing to the sense organs e.g. Ghee prepared of cows milk
  3. Hridya / Mana Beneficial to the mind e.g. Date palm
  4. Madakara Causes intoxication e.g. Palmyra ripe fruit juice, coconut.
  5. Medhya Improves intellect e.g. Garlic, black cumin
  6. Mohakara Caused unconsciousness, instability, confusion e.g. Betel nut, wine
  7. Nidraajananam Induces sleep e.g. Brinjal, buffalos milk
  8. Buddhivardhaka Increases intellect e.g. Cows milk, gooseberry.
  9. Smritivardaka Increases memory e.g. Ghee, Braahmi

Dietary guidelines of Ayurveda, as we can see are based on a proper understanding, of the above listed properties. Items such as ghee are indicated for daily use. Items like buffalos milk are used therapeutically for insomnia. Uses of items like betel nut, wine etc are properly regulated.

Incompatible Foods

Ayurveda has a unique concept that certain foods are incompatible and should not be taken together. The constituents of the pair may be individually harmless or even wholesome, but as a pair they can cause diseases both physical and mental.

There are eighteen types of incompatibility described. Of them, the more common examples are consumption of milk and fruit together, taking something, cold like a glass of water before having a cup of tea / coffee, not following the particular regimen advised for a particular disease, consuming milk and fish together, unripe or over ripe fruit etc. these cause accumulation of Dosha_s in the body but not their outward movement. Hence, their effect may be felt over a period of time even if not manifest immediately. Similarly, they contaminate Rasa and other Dhaatu_s to give rise to diseases like fever, acidity, swelling, herpes, impotence, Unmaada Apasmaara etc. Hence we find great emphasis laid on avoiding the consumption of incompatible foods.

Nidraa( Sleep):-

The second factor helpful to replenish depleted body constituents is sleep. The body is continuously being bombarded by various sensory stimuli, which have to be accepted, analyzed, acted upon stored in memory for further use etc. This results in the fatigue of the sensory motor apparatus. This fatigue results in inability to perceive their respective stimuli. The bonds between sensory organs and the mind by Praan`a Vaayu, Udaana Vaayu, Vyaana Vaayu, Saadhaka Pitta, Tarpaka Kapha and Rasa Dhaatu get depleted. This leads to a state in which mind, retracts itself, known as sleep. This total retraction of mind helps the body to replenish the vitality of the body and depleted functional capacity of the mind. The depth of sleep is directly proportional to the retraction of the mind.

When the Dosha_s are vitiated, they are circulating in the body, through the medium of rasa. Hence, though the mind is retracted from external stimuli it remains agitated resulting in dreams. Dreams have been associated with various physical as well as mental diseases. Therefore adequate amount of sound and deep sleep ensures happiness, nourishment, power, virility and acuity of knowledge. Similarly, lack of sleep is responsible for misery, wasting of body tissues, weakness, lack of libido and lack of concentration.

Ayurveda has classified sleep according to the effect it brings about. Normal night sleep is nourishing, replenishing the lost potential of the body senses mind complex

Abnormal sleep patterns arise out of:

  1. Heightened Kapha activity
  2. Disease processes
  3. A disease that becomes terminal, non-curable, fatal
  4. Heighened Tamas activity
  5. Paapa sambhava (caused due to sin)

Adequate sleep taken at the proper time is responsible for vigour, knowledge, tolerance, valor, good digestive power, happiness, good physique etc. Untimely and inadequate sleep makes one unhappy, timid, ignorant, weak, impotent, emaciated etc.

Indications for day sleep Diseases occurrence due to inadequate sleep
Alcohol consumingGurugaatrataa
After sexual intercourseKapha Pitta vriddhi
After Sams`hoshana karmaAngamarda
Weight lifters ,portersAgnimaandya
Stressed due to excessive walkingHridyaopalepa
Small ChildrenHrilaasa
Old peoplePeenasa
Ksheen`a Due to Dhaatu KshayaAardhaavabhedaka
Diarrhoea (Atisaara )Pid`akaa
Kris`hatva (Kaars`hya)Galaroga
HikkaaBuddhi Smriti moha
Krodha,S`hoka, Bhaya Pid`ita, Unmatta rogeeStrotas avarodha
Uchha shtaanena PatitaJvara
Divaasvaapa AbhaayasitaIndreya karma Asmarthataa
Greeshma RituVis`ha vega pravartam

Brahmacharya (Celibacy):

To see the importance of Brahmacharya or regulated sexual conduct we need to begin with an understanding of S`hukra or semen, and how Ayurveda understands its formation.

The human body requires food in substantial amounts to sustain itself. This food is processed at three levels (i) Jaat`haraagni (gross conversion from solid to fluid state) (ii) Panchamahaabhootaagni (the fluid is subjected to further digestion to convert it into the Panchabhautika components) and the (iii) Dhaatvaagni (the tissue metabolism). The Dhaatvaagni finally takes the fluid and converts it into a subtle form, which can:

  1. Replenish its own tissue
  2. Form the nutrient part of the next Dhaatu or Ojas
  3. Form the waste material and
  4. Form the Upadhaatu_s (subsidiary tissues)

This elaborate and complex procedure is spread over a period of one month, finally culminating into a substance of an unctuous, sweet, dense, heavy, cold, slimy nature of body constituent called S`hukra. It differs from other body tissues it can procreate. Hence it is close to the soul. Charaka has said the transcending soul and mind use S`hukra as a vehicle. Since S`hukra is a very potent, structurally complex and dense tissue and is derived from the ingested food in a very condensed, concentrated form, its loss can have far reaching effects on the body. Since all the Mahaabhoota_s are participating, it can be stimulated by any of the sense organs as well as the mind. Therefore, all ancient Indian Sciences have laid great emphasis on preservation of S`hukra. This process is known as Brahmacharya (observation of celibacy).

The regenerative capacity of S`hukra is utilized for the formation and growth of various body constituents until the person attains maturity. On reaching maturity when the tissues have become stable enough to perform their normal functions, S`hukra starts functioning as a reproductive tissue. Therefore till the attainment of physical maturity, sexual act is prohibited which in males is between 20-25 years and in females between 12-16 years.

Depending on various parameters such as individual constitution, dietary habits, season of the year, the frequency of coitus has been recommended. Importance is also given to regular use f appropriate aphrodisiacs. This is helpful to replenish the ejaculated S`hukra. Thus S`hukra being a vehicle of Atman and mind and a major contributor of OjasBrahmacharya (celibacy) has been rightly described as the third of the triad.

Thus, in short, proper food replenishes the Bhautika constituents, sleep is helpful to soothe the mind and sensory motor apparatus and observance of celibacy or moderation in sex is responsible for spiritual well being.

Last updated on February 9th, 2021 at 07:27 am

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