Last week we learned about the 6 tastes of Ayurveda and how a balance of these tastes is a prerequisite for health. We discussed how we are only healthy if we can digest what we consume and if what we consume contains the balance of the 6 tastes that we, in particular, need at that moment.
So now, let’s talk about water intake.
We so often hear that we need to consume “x” amount of water to be healthy. We have grown accustomed to always having some kind of liquid by our sides and to be sipping constantly. We think this is keeping us “healthy,” but what does that actually mean?
What is Water According to Ayurveda?
Water – or Ap or Jala in Sanskrit – is described in the Ashtanga Hrdaya Sutrasthana Chapter 9.5. There, Vagbhata says that anything that has a strong taste contains water. In verse 6 of that same chapter, he adds, “That substance is water that is drava (liquid), śita (cold), guru (heavy), snigdha (oily), manda (slow), sandra (density).” This indicates that something that contains these qualities contains water.
We should consume water because we want it to do something for us. Usually, we say we drink water because we want to be hydrated. So then, we should look at what hydration means. According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of hydration is “the process of causing something to absorb water.” So, looking at it this way, why would this be the main action leading us to health?
What we often mean is that we want to consume substances that will make us feel fresh, smooth, connected, stable, and unctuous. But actually, it is not water alone that will get us there! It is a combination of Snigdha guna – best found in Oils like Ghee – and food that encourages our Agni to be strong that allows us to achieve this state. Water-logging our systems is not going to get us to a vibrant place.
Health is Fueled by Agni (Fire)
Ayurveda sees health as guided by Agni – in particular, the Jathara Agni – which is the central digestive fire. The actions of Water in the body as per Vagbhat are that it creates moistness, produces secretions in the body, maintains wetness in the body, allows for satiation, and facilitates connection. So, comparing Fire and Water, while considering the definition of hydration, it is clear there can be too much of a good thing – ie. You can drink too much water and destroy your Agni and your tissues.
We think of the body as mostly water – 70% or so. But, if we look at the qualities of our body which we say is mostly water, we see that it is the Gunas of water that we are. We are not a physical pond, but rather, our body is made of qualities that are similar to water. This specific nuance is the key to health. Drinking water is not the same as consuming the Gunas of water. And, thankfully, there are myriad ways to consume the qualities of Water beyond just drinking it.
Let’s now look at Water and how it engages with the body.
When we drink water – or any liquid (smoothies included) – we have to decide how what we are drinking will engage with :
- what we have just eaten
- the activities we are going to do
- how strong our digestive fire is to begin with
Often when people drink too much water, the body does not know what to do with it. And, because one of the actions of Water is to cause the tissues to release liquid waste (mala), the body becomes full with this liquid, partially transformed substance known as Kleda.
Kleda has a lot of similar qualities as Kapha and āma. It is dense, thick, heavy, sticky. It presents in the body like swelling or tissues that don’t hold form well for example. It can be responsible for sluggish digestion, the feeling of nausea after eating, poor tissue formation, general fatigue and malaise etc. etc. This is not Kapha that is causing this, and this is not āma. These symptoms are coming because the body that has made too much liquid substance due to the consumption of excess liquid. Doing so has caused the body to release Kleda as a result.
Additionally, because the liquid enters through the GI tract, it engages with the Jathara Agni. If someone were to drink a lot of water first thing in the morning before they felt thirsty or hungry and then consumed breakfast, the Jathara would be nearly extinguished by the water. Then, the food would sit in a water puddle and not be digested. This is one fantastic way to form Āma. Another example : if we drink a lot of water or liquid and then exercise, that water will spread deeply through the tissues – as this is what exercise does to the body. Using Vyana vayu and Rakta and Rasa dhatu, the process of circulation delivers what was consumed to all the small crannies of the physical body. This action causes the Kleda to accumulate in those far, difficult to reach tissues creating a host of issues.
So What to Do?!
- Do not drink any liquid if you are not thirsty
- Forgo smoothies. They are such an incredible cause of Āma and Kleda.
- Do not drink too close to eating (on either end)
- Do not drink much before or during exercise
Experiment with this and let me know how it goes! Send me a message. I would love to hear your experience!