According to Ayurveda, the study of lymph, called rasayana, is also the study of longevity and rejuvenation. The word rasa means lymph or juice (among other things) and ayana is a special study. Rasayana is, therefore, the study of our rasa (lymph), or our “longevity juice.” Rasayana is so important that it is one of the eight major branches of Ayurveda.
While lymph may be the least understood bodily system in Western medicine, it is perhaps the most understood bodily system in Ayurveda. According to Ayurveda, lymph or rasa governs emotional and hunger responses at the first scent of food.
It regulates every step of the digestive process, which, according to Ayurveda, takes 30 days to complete, from when we ingest food to its role in the formation of all the body tissues. In addition, lymph is the body’s primary means of detoxification, governs immunity, and plays a key role in our spiritual potential.
Rasa has many meanings, all of which describe an aspect of the subtle role of lymph. In Sanskrit, the more meanings a word has, the more important it is. Interestingly, the three primary definitions of rasa are lymph, emotion, and taste.
Definitions of Rasa
- nutrient fluid
- breast milk
I want to take you on the digestive journey of rasa from the first scent of food to the last manifestation of digestion 30 days after the first bite. That’s right, it takes 30 days for the rasa to complete its incredible adventure. Join me as I track the journey of the body’s least understood circulatory system: our longevity juice.
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What is Lymph, Anyway?
Classically, lymph is considered the plasma or clear fluid of the blood. In the blood, it is called plasma, but once it oozes into intercellular spaces, it is called lymph or, in Ayurveda, rasa. This fluid, along with fat-soluble nutrients and toxins that it carries, is drained into lymph channels, where lymph nodes purify the rasa with the help of the immune system’s white blood cells. From there, it travels through as many as 500 purifying lymph nodes on its way back to the heart or spleen, where it recombines with the blood and continues its 30-day journey of digestion.
The First Scent
Digestion begins with the first scent of food, and lymph plays a significant role in this. When you smell brownies baking, the scent travels through your nostrils and olfactory plate to the limbic, or emotional, center of the brain. It is here, with the first scent, that food is emotionally charged. That emotionally charged scent will trigger release of digestive enzymes in the mouth, which is what’s going on when you start to salivate. This first emotionally charged digestive fluid is called sara, a mixture of digestive enzymes and rasa (lymph fluid). This effect is emotionally enhanced by the other senses when you see and touch the brownie.
In Ayurveda, the senses are called avenues of consciousness, which allow us to connect our intelligence and consciousness with the consciousness or intelligence of the food we are about to consume or are consuming. This only happens when we eat with our senses wide open and our mind aware of the process of eating. This awareness, while supported by all the senses, is most affected by awareness of the sense of taste. Gobbling food down without acute awareness of its taste will not create the bond between us and the plants or foods we ingest, and as this is the first step in the production of rasa, the rasa will be poorly generated.
Remember, this is the beginning of a 30-day digestive process, so we need to get the first step right!
Rasa + the Sensory-Emotional Link
In Ayurveda, each taste and smell is linked to a specific digestive process and emotion. So, it is not surprising that when you smell brownies in the oven, you feel happy. At the first scent of a meal, a specific digestive process beginning in the mouth, nose, and emotional centers of the brain charge the food with emotion. We continue an emotionally charged digestive process in the stomach and throughout the digestive tract.
As the taste of the food is called rasa and our emotions are also called rasa, the first lymph fluid, or rasa of digestion, will carry the taste and its related emotion into every cell of the body.
Since, according to Ayurveda, each taste carries a different emotion, it is important to have all six major tastes at each meal to create a balanced emotional state.
Six Tastes + Corresponding Emotions
- Sweet | satisfaction; contentment; fulfillment
- Sour | discernment; insight; heightened awareness
- Salty | desire; zest for life; passion
- Pungent | extroverted; driven; ambitious
- Bitter | dynamic; focused; cool-headed
- Astringent | introspective; mentally clear; composed
If any one of these tastes is missing in the diet over a long period of time, or is present in excess, it can cause emotional and physiological imbalance.
We know 95% of our serotonin is manufactured and stored in the gut,1 and we know that emotional states are affected by the kinds of microbes we have in the gut.2-6 We also know that emotion-making microbes are very affected by moods and feelings in our environment. According to Ayurveda, the mood, feelings, and environment we’re in during a meal will determine the state of our rasa.
Thus, the tastes of each food and their corresponding emotions can help maintain, restore, or disturb the subtle balance nurtured by eating. Foods are emotionally charged by how we eat our food, and each taste plays an important role.
Emotions Due to Lack of Six Tastes
- Sweet | unsatisfied; discontented
- Sour | impulsive; careless; indiscreet; scattered
- Salt | unmotivated; indifferent; procrastinating
- Pungent | passive; non-confrontational
- Bitter | grief; disappointment
- Astringent | dull; listless mind and body; brain fog
Emotions Due to Excess of Six Tastes
- Sweet | complacent; apathetic; indifferent; lazy
- Sour | critical; judgmental
- Salty | hedonistic; controlled by senses
- Pungen | angry; aggressive; offensive
- Bitter | bitter; pessimistic
- Astringent | overly sensitive; fearful; anxious
Emotionally Charged Nutrient Fluid
Rasa, or nutrient fluid, will take on the charge of the environment, mood, feelings, and awareness you experience during your meal. The long-term cumulative effects of an excess or deficiency of one of these six tastes will further emotionally charge the food you’re eating and the lymph fluid produced.
As food moves into the digestive tract, it takes the form of ahara-rasa, or nutrient lymph. It is this nutrient-fluid-rich food bolus that feeds and emotionally charges trillions of microbes in the intestinal tract. These microbes in turn begin to manufacture digestive, detoxification, immunity, mood, energy, hormonal, and numerous other physiological chemicals and neurotransmitters that do the heavy lifting for the majority of the body’s functions7-9—all with a specific emotional charge!
30-Day Digestion Cycle + Major Body Tissues
After ingestion of food, the emotionally charged nutrient fluid begins its journey to develop the major tissues in the body, in this order:
- Rasa, lymph
- Rakta, blood
- Mamsa, muscle
- Medha, fat
- Asthi, bone
- Majji, nerves
- Shukra, reproductive tissue: sperm and ovum
These seven tissues are called dhatus in Ayurveda, and it takes 30 days for this process of their creation to be completed. Stress, negative emotions, eating in haste, or eating poor quality food can derail the production of healthy tissues.
How Tissue Production is Compromised: What Not to Do
Stress, malnutrition, trauma, excess activity, strain, worry, fear, and eating without awareness will alter the ability of the body to create healthy tissues. During this process, molecules of emotion, or mental ama, are carried into our deep tissues, which is one of the main reasons Ayurveda puts such emphasis on detox.
Detox is not only to cleanse the body, but also to purify unhealthy emotions that we’ve all carried since childhood. These emotions, if unreleased, will, over time, further disturb production of healthy tissues in the body, and will begin to break it down.
The science of rasayana is the science of rejuvenation and longevity, which aims to reverse this degenerative process and ensure the healthy journey of rasa into the body’s most precious creation: ojas.
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While reproductive tissue is the final product of creation for the needs of the species, there is one other final product unique to Ayurveda’s understanding of the body. Along the way, as rasa becomes the seven tissues, there is a subtle substance formed simultaneously: ojas. Ojas is also called the longevity, immunity, or vitality fluid.
Ojas is the most subtle, most refined manifestation of the 30-day journey of rasa. Small amounts of ojas are said to be produced as each dhatu or tissue is made, in order to support the vitality of that tissue. But supreme ojas, para ojas, is produced at the end, as a result of the month-long process.
Supreme ojas is known as the physiological aspect of consciousness, which means it is the body’s most refined substance, which most resembles consciousness itself. It resides and is stored in the heart and supports not only the health, immunity, and vitality of the body, but the spiritual process as well.
Excess strain, worry, fear, overeating, or emotional wear and tear will deplete ojas. Though we cannot avoid some of the stressors that cross our paths in the modern world, there are some things we can do to help the body deal with stress better:
- Herbal support
- Live downstream with nature’s cycles
- Harness the power of oxytocin
- And the power of true love
So next time you smell a tasty dish, think of the journey it will go on over the next month to determine your mood, tissues, and ojas!