In Ayurveda, kapha is the the term used
to describe an excess of the water and earth elements. As such,
it is a problem rather than a constitutional type, but people who
are low in fire would have a tendency towards this condition, one
that is characterized by slow digestion and excess ama,
a word that can be broadly interpreted to mean phlegm or mucus.
Going back thousands of years, the great sages
of India taught that disease begins in the stomach with bad digestion.
While modern medicine probably wouldn't concur, similar thoughts
were held by the Iroquois and many other traditional cultures.
According to the theory, each individual is born
with a particular constitutional type and all the idiosyncrasies
and management challenges of that type. So, if one is born without
enough firewhat is called agni in Indiathere
will not be enough gastric secretions to metabolize food. Fire
governs the caustic chemicals that are needed to transform food
from culinary delight into nutritional substances that the body
can use. These juices include hydrochloric acid, bile, enzymes,
and probably also insulin.
As a starter, let's say that the pH of the stomach
acids ranges from 1.0 to 2.0 though I'm sure some people are outside
this range at times. Obviously, those with more acid are able to
break food down more easily. Those who are deficient usually do
not digest food normally. Instead of separating the food into assimilable
nutrients and bulk, food sits in the stomach and is broken down
by fermentation. The evidence for this is bloating, distention,
abdominal rumblings, and gas. Headaches and muscle spasms as well
as heartburn. Food that is not metabolized becomes a residual and
is usually stored in the body as some form of congestion: fat and
sugar in the liver, deposits in the joints, and phlegm in the lungs
and sinuses and usually also in the intestines and even the brain.
A medical doctor told me once that mucus has the
same molecular structure as sugar. I have never seen this in print,
but it conforms to the Ayurvedic teaching that food is 93% "sweet," not "sugar" but
comprised of the sweet taste. The main characteristics of this
taste are: coldness, dampness, and heaviness. Eaten in excess,
these properties tend to congest and thereby impair circulation
and the supply of nutrients to the body.
As anyone who has read the Kamasutra knows, Indians
value the water type above all others. They do so because it is
the most fertile and, all other things equal, has the best longevity.
The fine line is somewhere between water and excess water. Having
a stuffy head is no fun and while such a condition is not really
a clue to intelligence, duh and huh tend to give the impression
of less acuity.
My Ayurvedic teacher taught us that mucus has
the consistency of wax and that when it is heated, it melts and
comes out of the body. According to this system of medicine, it
is normal to accumulate phlegm in the winter and to discharge it
in spring. When this happens, we say we have a cold, but unless
the color of the discharge suggests infection, Ayurveda says this
is a completely normal occurence when the weather becomes warm
enough to melt the accumulations of winter. They even promote the
discharge by drinking hot, spicy concoctions. My teacher gave us
Shyam, my teacher, said one could boil these
spices in water and just drink the liquid. Most people I know can't
stand the taste unless they add a bouillon cube or soup stock.
In any event, when you drink this, your sinuses really run, this
whether it is flu season or not, winter or summer, proof positive
that one does not need a cold in order to decongest. In fact, there
is a term for this therapy: errhine.
To compensate for lack of digestive
secretions, one has a few options:
- eat food that is easier to digest
- eat less frequently
- reduce the quantity of what is consumed
- make the food more digestible by cooking
- stimulate the appetite and output of juices
with exercise and aroma
- take supplements, hydrochloric acid and/or
- use carminative bitters post-digestively
Of all of these, understanding that appetite is
a clue to the availability of digestive power is the most important.
This is the best protection against injudicious consumption. The
next is knowing what can be safely consumed and what will constitute
excess for any given meal.
is adamant that when the digestive power is weak, one should never
eat food that has been reheated. Not only is this food harder to
digest, but the oils have been rendered unsafe. In this age of
fast foods, very few people recognize that most of our foods presented
at the table are not really wholesome. Foods cooked in microwave
ovens are very hard to digest and probably aggravate most of the
problems associated with kapha. Speaking for myselfand I'm
a fire typeI always have a gallbladder attack after eating
something prepared in a microwave oven. I have been trying to think
of ways to dispose of these creatures without creating bad karma.
Oh, one can remove them from the home, but giving them to a friend
or adding them to a landfill is not good karma!
One of the interesting features of
fire is that it destroys many unwelcome pathogens and parasites.
Ergo, when digestive fire is low, not only is digestion impacted
but immunity can be compromised as well. Generally, water has good
immunity in the form of abundant white blood cells and thicker
cell membranes (to rebuff intruders); so while these assets are
not compromised by low fire, fire destroys microorganisms and thereby
reduces the work of water.
Water types can use foods that are
spicy to increase fire. The sweet taste and pungent taste are opposites:
Since, of the six tastes, the spicy
is the only hot one, it is needed in our diets. Some cultures use
spices liberally, but some do not. India uses an enormous variety
of spices in savory combinations that I personally love. However,
in Japan, wasabi and ginger are the only two major spices used
in cooking. In the Southwest, chili is the only traditional spice;
and in ordinary European cuisine, spices are considered to be exotic
almost all were imported, this going back to the early days when
Islamic influences in medicine and cuisine were seen throughout
the Mediterranean.The way I try to explain this to students is
that a sausage is a nearly impossible challenge to the gastrointestinal
system. It is heavy, fatty, and usually made in such a way as to
revolt. However, if the sausage is consumed with heaps of sauerkraut
and bitter beer, there is a chance of digesting it. If it is also
made with spices, the chances are better. What has happened in
America is that sauerkraut is not usually served with sausages
and the beer is not bitter. Very few people have enough gastric
secretions to knock off a sausage, even if they add a picante sauce.The
best way to address low fire is to cook with spices, not just any
spices: use non-irradiated, organic spices that have lovely aroma.
If you grind fresh cinnamon bark in a coffee mill, there will be
a coating of oil on the inside of the grinder. If you rub this
off with your fingers, the oil will burn your skin. You only need
the smallest amount of this quality cinnamon to perk up digestion
and knock off bacteria; but if you use that dreadful stuff in cans
from the supermarket, the once proud cinnamon has become an irritant,
thanks to massive amounts of irradiation and improper handling
and storage. It's the same with black pepper. Making a nice curry
with peppercorns bubbly around in the sauce is different from shaking
some pepper onto some lettuce leaves. When food is cooked with
spices, the spices are absorbed by the foods and the foods themselves
are easier to digest.Ayurveda offers lots of remedies for low fire.
The most basic of these is Trikatu, a formula whose name means
three peppers. We have it in our online store. It can be taken
before meals to excite gastric secretion. HingaShtak is more for
complaints that arise from meals that have not been digested. Sweet
Ease aids sugar metabolism and then there are a host of products
such a Triphala to help peristalsis (which is usually slow when
there is not enough digestive power); Guggul for fat metabolism;
Blood Cleanse to detoxify; and on it goes.I will try to keep adding
to this so people can get a feel for how to manage their agni.
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman