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Shad Rasa – the 6 Tastes

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Rasa means many things in Sanskrit. It can mean the Divine play of Lord Krsna, it can mean energetic characteristics in Yoga Tantra, it can mean the first tissue made in Ayurveda – the one we mentioned often carrying Āma in last week’s conversation. It can also mean taste.

Every one of the 6 tastes is made of a combination of 2 Elements. 
Earth + Water –> Sweet Taste
Fire + Earth –> Sour Taste
Water + Fire –> Salty Taste
Space + Air –> Bitter Taste
Fire + Air –> Pungent Taste
Earth + Air –> Astringent Taste

How do you know if a taste is present?

Firstly, think of the environment where the food you love grows. Is it a food that grows or is grown where it is very dry? very hot? very marshy? This is how you can start to see what elements are largely present in those foods. Whatever the environment of the food, so the food. 

Then you can look at what the food does to you when you consume it. Different tastes will cause a different reaction in the body, letting you know it is there.

For example, when you eat something containing the Sweet taste, it often will stick to the inside of your mouth and make you feel a happy sensation all over the body. We all know this!? What sound do you make when you taste something sweet and delicious? The body changes shape too. We all express this differently, but we all express it. Think of the people you love – when they express this, don’t you usually find them so cute? 

The Sour taste makes your mouth water, can sometimes cause goosebumps and tingling in the teeth. It often leads to the closing of the eyes and squeezing the eyebrows.

The Salty taste causes salivation in the mouth and a burning sensation sometimes in the cheeks and throat. This is the interesting thing about Salt. It can be the cause of the proper flow of liquid substances in the channels because of the presence of heat from the Fire element – which dilates – but it can also be the cause of stagnation and swelling due to the presence of Water. Salt must be taken in the precise amount to be beneficial!

The Bitter taste cleanses the mouth and if taken in too large a quantity, can break down the tissues. It is the absolute best taste to use when dealing with increased Pitta and Kapha doshas as well as disturbed Rakta Dhatu (blood tissue). Remember Mary Poppins? She says, “a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Medicine is usually quite bitter so we often disguise it in sugar, hot water, with honey, or other tasty substances!

The Pungent taste stimulates the tongue (because the tongue is ruled by Water so needs a little wake-up!) However, in excess it can disturb the eyes, nose, and mouth with a burning sensation.

The Astringent taste constricts the channels and in excess can cause obstruction to them.

Everything Must Be Consumed in a Relative Proportion

Nothing is innately healthy. It is all relative to the time of day, season, year of your life as well as the circumstances currently present in your life. A balanced diet means consuming the right quantity of these 6 elements that allow you to experience Svastha – stability in the Self.

Sweet Taste in the correct proportion is responsible for : growing and sustaining the tissues, allows for good complexion, healthy hair and perceptive senses. It promotes longevity. Keto keto keto – beware!

Sour Taste in the correct proportion can stimulate your digestive fire, but in excess can cause….lack of tone of the tissues, loss of strength – and swelling to name a few! Kombucha and Apple Cider Vinegar diets we’ve got our eye on you!

Salty Taste in the correct quantity makes the body soft, clears obstructed channels because it dilates them, increases digestive power, and causes sweating. But in excess, it increases heat in the body, can cause premature greyness, wrinkly skin, and loss of strength. 

Bitter Taste cures loss of appetite, infections, fever, nausea, burning sensation, but in excess, can deplete the whole body and create Vata.

Pungent Taste reduces certain kinds of swelling and can increase hunger. However, in excess, it can cause increases in thirst, depletion of strength, and increase pain.

Astringent Taste decreases heat and heaviness in the body, cleanses, and dries up moisture. But, in excess, it can cause pain, constipation, loss of power.

What if you cannot tell if a taste is present?

So much food nowadays is complex – and often leads to Āma – because the tastes are hidden. For example, many foods with preservatives have a lot of hidden salt to keep them. So, when we eat them, we may not taste it, but after we do we experience the presence of the elements that made them. Food that is not so good for us is also often masked with a lot of Salt and Pungency – think…well, Salt of course – and Chili for example. Just load it with intensity to mask how old it is for example.

The best thing to do for your food is to :

  • Cook at home
  • Don’t buy foods you had no part in preparing – like from the frozen food section – or limit this as much as possible 
  • Think about the environments that your food comes from – it will be like that. For example, Sea Salt has more Water element than Rock Salt – so it is more likely to increase the Water element in your body causing Swelling. Black Salt is more sulphuric, so it has more Fire element in it than Himalayan Salt. It might be the reason you are experiencing burning indigestion or red eyes after eating. 

Not all Salts are the same. Not all vegetables are the same. 

Everything is a mixture, so the more you eat foods that you prepare i.e. that were once whole in front of your very eyes, the better because you’ll have a better chance of knowing what they are made of.

More examples :

  • A Carrot and Lettuce are both made of Earth, but a Carrot is sweeter than lettuce, so it likely has more Sweet taste.
  • A Pheasant and Beef are both types of meat – both made of Earth and Fire – but a Pheasant is a drier, lighter meat due to how it lives (runs fast, lives in arid lands, is smaller) vs. Beef which is bigger, slower, heavier. It likely has more Sweet taste than a Pheasant because the qualities present in a Pheasant are more like Pungent and Astringent Tastes.

It all starts with paying attention – to where you eat, what you eat, and how what you eat is prepared. Don’t fret about doing it perfectly. Awareness itself usually begets change by beginning to ask questions and see options where before we felt like there were none.

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