What is Kaya Chikitsa?
Ayurveda has 8 branches that go into professional practice. Kayachikitsa is one of those branches.
It speaks of the organization which has the inherent ability to select things. The selective approach and build up, out of selected particles. Deha = derived from Dhi/to grow. Because this body we inhabit has the inherent capability to grow. Sharira = from Sri/to decay. Because our body is mortal, it decays. Sometimes we use decay to describe body. Kaya, deha, sharira all are terms used to describe the body, but they have very different meanings. When using Ayush/life we use Sharira to describe the physical body while describing life as whole or to describe the age of person. When we talk of Prakriti we use Deha – deha prakruti, never sharira prakruti or kaya prakruti because always growing. When we talk of internal medicine, we always use the word kaya. When talking of prakruti it is formed at conception so always discussing in terms of growth. We use the word deha to mean grow. Although the body ultimately will decay, when speaking of conception we speak always in terms of growth. When we talk of Vikruti/disease phenomenon or speaking of treatment, we talk of kaya chikitsa. Kaya depicts both breaking and fixing, that is, selection. When we select something we select something and reject others to form something new, that is what the body is doing all the time. This phenomenon is called kaya/chayana. Therefore in terms of vikruti and health management we discuss kaya – internal medicine aspect of life. Our body has been depicted by the samhitas as a mechanism that naturally selects and rejects useful things from aahara/food. Whole food is not used by body, rather, we take a mixture of things along with a specific digestive process in which Agni, Srotas and Dhatus all take part. So the real meaning of kaya depends on those 3 important without which the body cannot select the nutrients from the food. That nutrient selection is caused by Srotas and Agni. Very basic to body function.
Srotas – Our body is described in Charaka Samhita. This sharira is made of channels and channels and channels: the whole body is Srotas. Srotas are channels – to understand the true meaning of Srotas must understand this. Srotas are a structural body which may have space inside, content inside, and may have many openings. A Srotas is not a closed system. In addition, it has the quality that it moves/vibrates. So long as life is there, it vibrates and oozes. It can leave something, and absorb something. Any structure of your body which has these qualities is a Srotas. Try to understand why this would mean the body as a whole was a Srotas. If you take the whole body as a single unit, it has space, openings and many contents, and it moves. The whole body vibrates, it is one single Srotas. A living body vibrates, a dead body doesn’t.
In Charak Samhita, it describes 13 major physiological systems of the body. All those channels (srotamsi = plural of Srotas), there are millions of them in the body. So at one place Charaka says there are 13 major system. We must be able to understand each of those 13 in detail to see whether they are in order or not. The srotamsi are not only 13, they are innumerable. Ex. Each kidney has 1,000,000 tubular structures called nephrons packed together and kept in one organ. All of them have qualities of a Srotas. This goes further on if you go and look at each single cell in the body. Each one has perforated membranes, content, space and movement. Our bodies vibrate AND every cell of the body vibrates. The first quality of a dead cell is that it doesn’t vibrate. So the meaning of Srotas is divergent. The whole body is Srotas and many others and every unit of the body also srotamsi. Your body has as many different Srotas as there are different biological factors, millions and millions. For as many number of materials for each function of the body there are equally millions of Srotas. Such is the wide perspective of Srotas.
Srotas are an important component of Kaya. Without functioning Srotas, kaya does not function.
The second major factor of Kaya is Agni, the ignition. Such a phenomenon is to be responsible for burning things. We burn things outside our body with physical fire, inside the body there is a similar factor to burn food, break and rebuild tissue, this is Agni. Vagbhata says that all disease is caused by manda Agni. All disorders that we suffer are due to depletion of Agni. When it doesn’t function properly, we get disease.
Srotas and Agni then are very important to the selection process of the body. When we take in food, its processed in this system by the help of those both and is converted into Aahara Rasa. The first Dhatu is Rasa Dhatu, but this is not what we are talking about. Aahara Rasa is the precursor of rasa Dhatu then into Rakta Dhatu etc as has been explained in previous posts. Aahara rasa must reach all respective Dhatus and then must be converted to Dhatus. Either is burned or turned into Dhatus. This process of food being converted into aahara rasa then into Dhatus is called Dhatu Poshana. For this process, the texts describe 3 mechanisms called Nyayas. (coincidentally, Nobel Prize was awarded to three scientists that showed three ways in which the cells received nutrition last year. They proved nothing more than what was said in Ayurveda 5000 years ago.)
Kedar Kulya Nyaya – the irrigation channels through which nutrition flows. We don’t irrigate everything at once, we put into channels – we must have channels through which nutrition reaches, like proper drainage, but takes to site of usage, not elimination. Transportation channels, the inner transport system. These Nyayas give the Dhatus a chance to get profused with aahara rasa. Only by profusing the 7 Dhatus with nourishment will the Dhatus become active.
Khale Khapotan Nyaya – translates to harvesting ground + birds – meaning, where things are collected. Selection requirement. Analogy is that different birds come to pick up different foods at the harvest ground so the different Dhatus pick up different nourishment at the same harvest ground. The mansa Dhatu has a different requirement than shukra Dhatu for example. Rakta contains rakta/redness – iron. All Dhatus pick up own requirements. Even with specific requirements picked up, but we are still not done.
Finally must be able to convert those nutrients into actual Dhatu. Chemically food may have same nutrients as Dhatu, but what converts them into Dhatu is different.
Ksheerdadhi Nyaya – translates to converting milk into yogurt Nyaya – the conversion process of aahara rasa into Dhatu. Dependent on Agni. If Agni is not in order, the food won’t have same affect. Ayurveda is not about giving food, but rather clearing the Srotas system and restoring Agni, so that the quality of nourishment received is improved. In conventional medicine there is more emphasis placed on getting more food, and even taking nutritional supplements. But the first requirement of nutrition is to get Srotas in shape, then Agni in shape, THEN food will have an effect.
Srotas systems, they are channels, spaces, openings, contents, vibrations. This kind of structure is most likely to lose its integration. Getting impure or blocked because our srotamsi has an inherent tendency to get blocked, Ayurveda says there is a need of purification of those channels. Even pores of the skin get blocked with dust and we need to cleanse. Inside the body those blockages can lead to losing vibration. Not absolute blockages, not necessarily structural blockage but functional blockage, when it loses vibration it gets blocked. So there is a need for periodic purification of channels. A washing of the Srotas system of the body. It is for this purpose that Ayurveda introduces theory of Samsrodhana, first purify the channels THEN give the medicine. If the channels are cleansed, medicine and nourishment reaches the body more quickly, effectively and less is required. Most logical approach of Ayurveda – our channels may get blocked and may need cleansing. PanchaKarma is not a classical word as it came much later. It is not the science of Samshodhana, but rather the technology of Samshodhana. But the original idea is Samshrodhana. You can develop a modern technology of Samshodhana, not necessary to use the old technology of Pancha Karma. When you think of Pancha Karma, your goal is to purify the channels of the body. Oleation, massage and heat all purify the channels. But think of the deeper purification goal. Ayurveda is the only system of medicine that talks about purifying the inner channels of the body. Even langhana/fasting is a cleansing of the channels – whatever is in them is burned. One of the most blocking agents of channels is Aama – due to depletion of Agni. When Agni is depleted, byproducts are made. These byproducts stagnate in the body and block the channels. Aama particles are bigger than fully digested food particles, therefore there is always a chance for a blocking effect. Therefore, the first line of treatment could be langhana itself. When you do langhana, aama is exhausted, channels become cleaner and therefore stronger. That is why langhana is worshipped in Ayurveda. Aama pachana.
Kaya means chayana/selection. This body is called kaya because it has the capacity to select. How it has this capacity is through the Srotas, therefore important to take care of those Srotas. It is the nature of Aama to be half processed, incomplete processing at level of Jathara Agni (basically the stomach), digestion or even at level of dhatu agni (tissue digestive level). Even level at bhutagnis (cellular molecular level). For our purpose, Aama may be thousands of kinds. Unprocessed tissue factors, undigested food, etc. But whatever level it is, it has a blocking affect. It disrupts the srotamsi. It is a foreign body, something alien and not supposed to be stagnating in the body. Whenever there is stagnation in the body, our body reacts to it like visha/poison. Because your body is dynamic, sensitive, selective, it will try to throw it out. When the body is reacting to aama, there can be many disorders. There is a general lowering of Agni, and this may lead to many diseases. Aamvaata (rheumatoid arthritis like disease), a disease where someone has pain and swelling in all joints because of aama joining with Vata and also Kapha which lead to different joints. When there is a diagnosis of aamvaata, we don’t treat the joint, rather we treat the aama visha (aama poisoning). The gut is treated, not their joints. Promoting Agni, deplete aama, then reduce blockage affect and the joints will be healthy. Conventional treatment is drugs to lessen pain and inflammation in joints, but that is all and it doesn’t go to the root of the problem in the Agni system. The joint is the manifestation not the disease. Disease is at a deeper level, at the level of Agni.
Sandhivaata (arthritis), pain in joints another kind of arthritis but NOT due to aama. It is a more degenerative function due to Vata, which leads to pain. It is a pure vata disorder. It is treated in different way. If you mix up the treatments you won’t get a good results and will make the disease worse.
Srotas don’t die and that is why we need to cleanse those Srotas. If some are blocked we can’t get rid of the blocked one, we must cleanse them. Both possibilities are there whether blockage come from another area or from the Srotas decaying itself. It is a natural process to cleanse itself. We lose the appetite so we don’t eat more. This is the natural process of the body but because of lack of awareness and feeding the tongue, people just eat regardless of any ideas of what appetite is. Many times though, in the natural cleansing process, the in-built mechanisms are not enough and we need to support it.
Normally there is not much Aama in the body. If there is Aama there is pathology. There is only Aama naturally at presence of digestion and the body moves it out. Nutrition takes place and Dhatu regeneration process continues normally. If there is Aama, the process continues but very slowly. All Dhatus have a lifespan though. A natural breakdown takes place, but an abnormal breakdown doesn’t take place.
When the 13 major Srotas are mentioned in the text, Manas Vaha Srotas (the channel of the mind) is was not mentioned. When Charaka mentioned the causes for unmada roga (insanity), he mentions this Srotas. Every channel has a Mula/main organ. The main organ of Manas Vaha Srotas is the hridaya/heart but not the one in the chest, rather the one in the brain. The seat of buddhi, the intellect. If it is deranged, that channel is blocked. The Manas Vaha Srotas content is impulses and emotions. It is not necessary that the channels carry liquids and solids, but can also carry impulses, emotions, and energetic things. These channels are different from gross bodily srotamsi.
Samshodhana, langhana, aahara/vihara (food and lifestyle) all ultimately have goal of protecting Agni and keeping Srotas healthy. Directly connected because all of our thoughts have specific qualities, i.e. guru aahara will lead to depletion of Agni and laghu aahara will improve digestion. For nourishment certain dhatus may need guru qualities, so don’t reject all guru qualities. One must analyze nutrition in terms of Gunas. Ex. Ushna (hot) will purify system, and shita (cold) will NOT purify system (raw food, juicing is cold). In addition to properties, we must pay attention to the amount. Taking a small quantity of guru will not be a problem. One must plan intake of aahara precisely. Ex. Using leafy vegetables in salad. The outer part is more green and laghu, the inner part is more pale and wet, so it is more guru. For a Vata person use the inner part of the leaf. If you know what is the guna (propeties) and dosha you will be able to develop your own mechanism for thinking to practice. Then you don’t need to refer to books about which foods are Vata and which are Kapha. Catch the principles and bring them into your thinking. Then experience them yourself. Everywhere in India people are conscious of hot and cold, heavy and light. They may ignore it due to pradnyaaparadh (crimes against wisdom), but they understand the effects. Many know what will increase Vata, Pitta and Kapha. If you have a cold, don’t take yogurt. The ideas are still in the common mind. It doesn’t mean they don’t know if they don’t follow. There is a need of reminding people that they should practice what they know. Ex. Yogurt, books say don’t eat yogurt at night. Everybody in rural areas in India know this and won’t eat it because it aggravates Kapha and Kapha is nighttime. Cold increases if you take it everyday. In the concept of channel clogging and channel opening, all things that are guru and picchila (slimy) block channels. Yogurt is one such thing. There is a need to remind people. This is easier in India though because it is in the culture. In the West, their is no known knowledge base in the culture. The ideas of what is healthy is an opinion, the latest diet fad, or the latest research which only changes with time. It is much harder to teach people in the West due to the massive amount of avidya and confusion.