Children's Health: Strong Immunity Means Strong Digestion
By Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes
For children, immunity depends on healthy and vibrant digestion during the Kapha stage of life — childhood — and beyond. This is a central principle of Maharishi Ayurveda. The digestive juices are likened to a fire, called agni. In fact, the word agni refers to the sun and fire, and to the digestive and metabolic transformations that take place in the body.
Charaka Samhita (one of the forty aspects of Veda and the Vedic Literature; an ancient text that expounds the principles of ayurveda) states that strength, health, and longevity all depend on the power of agni.
Agni also refers to the digestive enzymes and secretions in the stomach and small intestines. Called jatharagni, the main agni, these digestive enzymes and secretions are responsible for breaking down food and turning it into chyle, or nutrient fluid. When jatharagni is healthy and strong, the nutrient fluid is formed correctly and easily reaches the cells to create and nourish healthy tissues.
After the process of digestion breaks down the food you eat into nutrient fluid, the various tissues of the body are metabolized through a series of transformations. These tissues include plasma, hemoglobin, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, the central nervous system, and the reproductive tissue including semen and ovum.
The creation of tissue, called dhatu, requires a brightly-burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. This is because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, starting with the nutrient fluid in the blood and ending with the reproductive tissue. If there is any block or abnormality at any point in the digestive process, then there will be a weakness in that tissue, and in all the tissues that follow in the chain of transformation.
So you can see how very important a strong digestion is to children, who are growing so rapidly and need to develop healthy blood, bones, organs, and brain tissue. The following list outlines the seven dhatus with their Sanskrit names.
The Seven Dhatus (Body Tissues)
Rasa — Blood plasma, chyle, nutrients
Rakta — Blood cells, hemoglobin
Mamsa — Muscle
Meda — Fat and adipose tissue
Asthi — Bone
Majja — Bone marrow and the central nervous system
Shukra — Reproductive tissue, including semen and ovum
This process of forming nutrient fluid into new tissues takes place in the cells — thus, agni also resides in each cell. In fact, there is a metabolic process (agni) associated with each tissue (dhatu) cell, to transform that tissue into the next tissue in the sequence.
Thus rasa agni transforms nutrient fluid (rasa) into blood (rakta).
Once that transformation is complete, rakta agni transforms blood into muscle (mamsa). Mamsa agni transforms muscle into fat, and so on. A disturbance in mamsa agni could cause the muscle to be weak, and because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, all the subsequent transformations — of fat to bone and bone to bone marrow, and so on — would also be weakened.
In order for the nutrient fluid to be completely healthy, and in order for each dhatu agni to complete its transformation in each cell, the jatharagni, or digestion, must be functioning smoothly. You can see how healthy food and healthy digestion are essential for your child's blood, muscles, fat, and bone tissues to be properly formed.
Agni also exists in every cell as the metabolic or transforming function, and thus maintains the proper functioning of the RNA and DNA. Agni is responsible for keeping the body's cellular function vibrant. Each of the billions of cells in the body has its own function, its own mechanisms. One may be concerned with seeing, one with hearing, one with digesting. Each organ and each cell has its own mechanisms. And in a healthy child, they're all vibrant.
Toxins in the Digestion
When digestion is weak or irregular, a sticky, toxic waste product of digestion forms, called ama. Ama is the result of undigested food. It collects in the stomach first, but if it is not eliminated, it can spread to other parts of the body through the nutrient fluid and cause disease.
When digestion is weak and the nutrient fluid does not metabolize properly, it gets mixed with ama. Ama blocks the channels that carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in undernourishment and, if left unchecked, weakness and disease in the tissues. Ama also causes blockage in the channels of circulation and elimination, resulting in fatigue, lack of energy, lethargy, and a heavy, dull feeling. It can cause the flow of Vata to reverse itself, which results in constipation, indigestion, excessive belching, bloating, gas, heartburn, bad breath, or regurgitation of food. In general, ama can cause dullness in the eyes and skin and a dull mind.
Ama creates a fertile environment for bacteria, thus contributing to disease. It also provides a breeding ground for free radicals, the reactive oxygen molecules that many scientists believe cause 90 percent of disease.
Signs of a Healthy Digestion
You've now seen how a weak digestion can affect your child's health. On the bright side, a healthy digestion can create a state of health that is so invincible that disease rarely, if ever, happens. When digestion is balanced, the body produces greater quantities of the vital material called ojas. Ojas is the end-product of digestion, the essence of the dhatus, created from the proper transformation of each of the agnis. It is always present in the body, as it resides in the gaps between the body tissues and also in the heart.
The healthier a child is, the more ojas, and vice versa. When ojas is lively, it creates contentment, enthusiasm, vitality, bliss, and clear thinking. It is reflected in a sparkle in the eyes and luster in the skin. You could say that ojas is the material form of bliss in the body. It is also the expression of immunity, or bala. Ojas helps prevent disease and maintains the balance of the doshas and dhatus.
Ojas is the finest material form of consciousness, and exists at the junction point between consciousness and matter. It is similar to balanced Kapha dosha in quality: heavy, soft, smooth, thick, sweet, stable, clear, and unctuous.
You can see that ama and ojas are exact opposites. When digestion is balanced, then food gets digested without excess waste, ojas is created at each transformation, and the tissues are properly nourished and infused with vitality. When digestion is weak, toxins (ama) mix with the nutrient fluid, are transported throughout the body, obstruct the channels, diminish ojas, and create weakened or abnormal tissues.
When immunity is fostered with proper health care, then each cell functions to the best of its capacity. Then there is perfection at the basic level of the cell — perfection in digestion, perfection in metabolism, and perfection in the RNA and DNA. Immunity is at its peak in every cell — whether in the brain, the muscles, or the skin. The immunity and strength in the body create vitality, a happy smile, and the vibrant health of youth. And more importantly, they wipe out disease.
This is the primary goal of Maharishi Ayurveda: to create total health in mind, body, and emotions throughout life. You could say that conventional medicine is treating at the level of the wave, while Maharishi Ayurveda treats the level of the deep ocean, at the source.
When immunity is based on the strength of the deep ocean, then germs are like little waves on the surface, and do not pose a problem. They come and go and are not disturbing. If there is enough bala or immunity in the body, the child doesn't get the flu so easily. After all, the germs will always be there — whether your child succumbs to the infection or not depends on his immunity. If immunity is strong, various physical, emotional, and environmental changes won't affect the child's basic stability and strength.
This article is excerpted with permission from the newly released book Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010, available at www.mapi.com.
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