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Home sjmtoc 7 Food and the Three Humors

7.3 Food: Excerpts from the Caraka Samhita


Chapter twenty-five in the first book of the Caraka Samhita talks only about food. The chapter starts like most of the different sections, with the sages sitting around discussing Ayurvedic percepts. Ayurveda is not static, consequently teaching was in the form of disciples debating with each other and the teacher keeping tings on track. This discussion starts out with the King of Kashi (modern day Varanasi, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world) asking if disease arises from the same source as we did or if it arises from some other external influence. After a debate and various views being given the teacher, Atreya tells them all to stop controversial debating as it perpetually goes around truth, but never arrives at it, something like modern politics.

That much being said, the sage goes on to stay that the things in life that normally cause good health, when consumed in the wrong combination or the wrong season, cause disease. The King of Kashi then asks the critical question: “Oh! Lord, what are these factors whose wholesome and unwholesome combinations are responsible for the growth of living beings and their diseases. Atreya said, ‘wholesome food the growth of disease’”.

Now all the students want to know how to distinguish wholesome food from unwholesome food when there are so many different factors involved. They are: dose, time, preparation, habitat, individual constitution, kind of disease, strength of the person and age. No problem says Atreya, food that maintain he balance of the seven tissues and the three humors are wholesome, and those that imbalance the humors and tissues are unwholesome. This is the definition of a good, balanced diet in Ayurveda. But, hold on says the faithful author, Agnivesa, that is just too simplistic, we need a much more precise method of figuring out all this wholesome and unwholesome stuff. Agnivesa is a little like us, we need real specific guidelines.

The teacher responds by saying that any good doctor can figure this stuff out. (Too bad for us!) His point is that if you know the properties of food- the combinations of the six tastes and their actions - then you will no t have trouble knowing what to recommend to patients. He then says that once you understand the basic qualities of food, then the rest must be determined according to each individual situation. However, he also realizes that not every doctor is good, so he starts to give the various properties of the twenty best foods, and also what he considers to be the twenty worst foods for balancing the humors. These twenty items are from twenty different categories of products: grains, beans, water, salt, vegetable, animal, bird, animal who lives in a hole, fish, ghee, milk, vegetable oil, fat of marshy animals, fat of fish, fat of aquatic birds, fat of domestic birds, fat of grazing animals, roots, fruits and sugar. This is just an example to demonstrate the thorough classifications of Ayurvedic food categories.

Vedic culture was predominately vegetarian in higher levels of society, nevertheless the ruling and warrior classes would generally eat meat. The poorer classes would eat everything available, as is still the case today. The lowest classes eat the animals that no one else eats, like pork and other foods that Ayurveda considers unwholesome. However, Ayurveda also understood the great nutritive value of animals and animal products. Normally, they used milk, butter, and ghee as the main source of animal proteins, but when the situation demanded, they prescribed animal products to quickly build back the strength of a person.

The whole point here is that by the careful selection of foods according to 1) category, 2) qualities, 3) actions, 4) tastes, 5) long-term effects, and 6) overall effect on the humors, you can either balance or imbalance your body. So, the intelligent person learns either from study or experience, or both, which foods agree with his or her body. I advise my clients to study Amadea Mornigstar’s two books on Ayurvedic cooking/ Her books provide an enormous amount of information on nutrition and Ayurveda as well as recipes for cooking Indian and Western dishes according to Ayurvedic precepts.

Eating in the Caraka Samhita

Good nutrition in the Caraka Samhita is eating the right kind of food, with the right beverage, eating the right amount of food, at the right time, with the right company, in the right place, and in the right frame of mind. We have mentioned what is meant by the right food - according to your constitution, in as natural a state as possible, and lightly cooked - now what are the other “rights”?

Some cultures say that it is bad to drink liquids with the meal. This is false; the stomach needs to have liquids in order to help soften and lubricate the food coming into it. However, liquid should never be taken very cold or very hot with food. Of the two, cold is more damaging- especially to K people - because it suppresses and dilutes the digestive fluids being secreted by the stomach, pancreas, liver, and gall bladder. Liquid should be sipped with the meal, lubricating the food as you eat. If a large amount of liquid is drunk wither before or after a meal, it also slows down or stops the digestion.

It is also incorrect to drink “X” amount of fluid per dy. One should drink when thirsty. If there is excessive thirst, it is a message from the body that too much of the pungent ir astringent taste is present. It can indicate high amounts of P or aggravated V. Pure water is the best for the body, but may not satisfy V people enough on its own. Then herbal teas should be used as well. Remember, the essence of water becomes the prana in the body. The failure to drink neutral or natural substances directly affects your level of day-to-day energy. All ‘soft” drinks (What’s soft about them? They are very acidic.), Coffee, tea, and alcohol are damaging to some extent to the prana and the vata related organs, like the kidneys. If used daily they are very damaging, depleting a person’s over-all vitality and immune response.

The sages observed that people live far longer when they eat less quantities of food. The method to determine what is right for you is to eat until your first burp; that’s your body’s signal to stop. If you eat past that point, you are reducing the length of your life by overworking your system. The correct ratio in the stomach is 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid and 1/3 space. Note: some schools state ½ food, 1/4 liquid and 1/4 space). The stomach needs the space to perform its job, mixing the food with the digestive secretions. By filling your stomach up all the way, it becomes very difficult for th muscle walls of the stomach to properly contract and expand, thereby limiting the amount of preparation of the food before actual digestion begins in the small intestine.

There are also correct times in the day to eat for each humor. The determination of the times is due to the cycle of the sun. Each twenty-four period is divided into six four-hour divisions. These correspond to the three humors, three in the day and three at night.

Times of the Humors

VATA - times
3.A.M. To 7 A.M.
3 P.M. To 7P.M.
August to November

PITTA - times
11 A.M. To 3P.M.
11 P.M. To 3 A.M.
April to August

KAPHA - times
7 A.M. To 11 a.m.
7 P.M. To 11P.M.
December to April

When looking at this kind of traditional information , remember that the sages actually went by the movement of the Sun, not the clock, nor did they use Daylight Savings Time, nor did they consider other modern factors. Look at vata, for example: it is highest during sunrise and sunset. If that corresponds to your area, good; if not, adjust the times. According to Table 6, sunrise would be at about 5A.M. And sunset is 6-ish. Kapha is highest in the mid-morning and early evening, and pitta is highest at noon and midnight.

These times tell us when we can eat with the least problem for our constitution. K should not eat much or any breakfast-high K time; they will gain weight due to sloe digestion. K can eat a big lunch between 11A.M. And 1 P.M. - this time digestion is at its best. K can eat a light dinner from 5 P.M. To 7P.M. - near the end of vata time, a light meal will have no bad effects.

P can eat a good breakfast, when digestion is generally its strongest, and kapha time from 7A.M. TO 8 A.M. Is not a problem for the hot P person. P should eat a lighter, cooler lunch from 12 noon to 2 p.m. Because P is too hot already at this time. P can eat a good dinner from 5 p.m. To 8 p.m., V and K time, for the cooler times enable them to eat spicy food without overheating the body.

It is most important for V to eat regularly. Breakfast can be taken from 6 A.M. TO 9 A.M., Warm moist foods should be eaten, definitely not dry, cold food - V food. A good lunch can be taken from 12 noon to 2 P.M., The high pitta time. Cool food is tolerable at this time. And a warm, moderate dinner should be taken from 5 P.M. To 7 P.M., Also with care not to have cold food again.

No one should eat before sleeping or late at night. The body needs three hours to digest the food before sleeping and at least one hour before engaging in physical activity like sex or jogging.

Who we eat with is very important. If you don’t like someone, how can you expect your food and digestion to like them? It is impossible to separate the functions of the body from our personality and mental functions. If that is done then you arrive back at the 2-door, 4-door model of mechanical medicine. The body/mind/emotions work as a unit. Try this for size: fix a nice dinner, sit down to eat, and after five minutes or so start yelling and screaming at whoever you are eating with. About five minutes should do the trick. Now how does your stomach feel? Good? Is it unaffected by your anger? Try it and see.

Unspoken tension is worse from my experience. I was brought up in a middle class family that was perfect-perfect house, perfect car, Dad had the perfect white collar job, and Mom was the perfect beautiful wife. Only everything was really wrong, terribly wrong, but no one ever spoke about it. Ayurveda tells us that this kind of situation is sending subtle poisons, along with the food, into our body. I have to agree, judging from my family, or rather the extinction of my family that resulted from the accumulation of tensions and emotional poisons.

The place we eat should be aesthetic, clean and not overly crowded. This is important because it provides a relaxing environment in which to eat and enjoy our food. Even if you are a Quaker and don’t believe in enjoying anything, then look at it from the angle that it is the most efficient for the body-which happens to be the case.

Peace of mind is the most important of all the factors listed above, whether you are a vegetarian or not. The mind or mental atmosphere overrides all other foods, times, and environments. If you are happy when you eat, you are doing the right thing. Have you ever eaten in a macrobiotic restaurant in Paris? There are few tortures that compare to enduring the mental vibrations emanating from the person next to you who is more concerned with chewing his brown rice 500 times than with dealing with his troubled mind. By the way, I like macrobiotic cooking; however, serious, rigid mental perspectives on food (especially while eating) are downright bad for digestion. Please not that while macrobiotic cooking is therapeutic, it is not suited for all constitutions as a basic diet. In addition, chewing your food thoroughly, but not excessively, is excellent for the body, rigid concepts of the mind are not.





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