Do you often feel like you’re low on energy? Are you anxious or suffering from digestive issues like constipation? Do you feel that you’re not as healthy as you should be? If the answer to any or all of these questions is a ‘yes’, your body is probably dealing with an over-accumulation of ama (toxins).
“Samadoşa samāgni ca sama dhātu malakriyah
Prasanna ātma indriya manah svastha iti abhidhīyate”7
Ayurveda has defined a healthy person7 as one who has balanced doshas, agni (digestive fire), proper dhatus (tissues), and proper elimination of malas (waste products), along with a harmonious body and mind. On the contrary, excessive ama is the foundation of all diseases1, and balancing it is key to good health.
In this light, diving deep into understanding what ama is, how it develops, how it can be identified, how we can eliminate it by making healthy lifestyle choices, and how we can rekindle agni (digestive fire) is an essential step for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
What is ama?
The concept of ama is an important one in the field of Ayurveda as it is believed to be the root of various diseases and poor health. In essence, it refers to unmetabolized waste products that the body cannot utilize. While the formation of waste in small quantities is a normal part of digestion, the efficient removal of this waste is paramount.
It is important to understand the importance of rasa (plasma) and dhatus (body tissue) here — anna rasa (gastric juices containing partially digested food) travels through each of the seven dhatus to nourish them and maintain optimal health and well-being. When one has a weak metabolism and digestive fire, the first dhatu (body tissue), also known as rasa, is not formed properly. When this happens, the anna rasa (gastric juices containing partially digested food) remains in the stomach (small intestine) for too long1 and undergoes fermentation, which changes its intrinsic properties. This fermented product is toxic and is called ama.
When accumulated over time, ama blocks various channels in the human body, including the lymphatic system, blood vessels, intestines, the gastrointestinal tract, and the genito-urinary system, among others. When it penetrates deeper tissues, it coats cell membranes, inhibiting cellular communication and weakening the immune response.
What causes ama?
Ama can accumulate within the body due to several reasons. Some of the prime reasons why it is formed include:
Signs and symptoms of ama3,4,1,2
The Digestive System
Ama is created as a by-product of the digestive process, but when it accumulates and the body cannot effectively eliminate it, it impairs the digestive fire or agni. This makes the process of digestion and metabolism difficult, due to which undigested food remains within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Over time, this causes detrimental effects on the GI system. Signs of accumulated ama include:
Consequently, this leads to other issues such as weight gain, tiredness, and lethargy.
Warning Signs: Foul breath due to plaque coating the tongue, smelly stool, flatulence.
When ama builds up, it may clog pores and prevent oxygen-rich blood from entering the cells to nourish them. As a result, the body experiences skin issues such as:
Warning Signs: Red rashes, itchy skin
An accumulation of ama also affects your mental health, thereby causing physiological changes and affecting your mental well-being. Signs and symptoms of this include:
Warning Signs: A lack of focus, constant and extreme fatigue, persistent headaches, and drowsiness.
Other health issues3,4,1,2
An inactive and sedentary lifestyle, poor food choices, and detrimental practices such as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, among other factors, also lead to the accumulation of ama. Understanding the signs and symptoms of ama as well as what causes it forms the stepping stone to aiding digestion and effectively eliminating it from your body.
Ayurvedic ways to digest and eliminate ama
As we know, the presence of ama may cause various ailments. However, the good news is that Ayurvedic practices show us numerous ways in which we can help the body digest and eliminate ama. The below-mentioned Ayurvedic lifestyle and diet incorporations will help strengthen agni (digestive fire) and enhance the body’s natural waste elimination processes.
Mindful eating habits and diet specifications6
Ama can be reduced by inherently strengthening one’s agni and maintaining good gut health. This can be achieved by conscious eating habits such as:
Ayurveda has often considered langhana (fasting) as an important treatment method for ama as it controls the levels of toxins and expels them from the body. As the body is given a short break from digestion, it naturally utilizes stored fat and nutrients, thereby accelerating the body’s natural elimination and detoxification processes. However, it can also trigger some doshas and should be performed with care. Short fasts with the consumption of liquids are best for people with Vata dosha, juice fasts in spring or summer seasons are best suited for people with Pitta dosha, and short, water-only fasts benefit people with Kapha dosha.
When agni is powerful enough to induce appetite, but not strong enough to effectively complete the waste elimination process, its efforts can be bolstered by the consumption of several therapeutic herbs. Common household spices5 such as fresh and dried ginger, cinnamon, mustard seed, garlic, nutmeg, cumin, and coriander are powerhouses that can be utilized for their bitter and astringent rasas. Ama is dried out by bitter tastes, and pungent tastes also destroy and digest ama. Incidentally, these very herbs also help replenish lost nutrients and support the body in building a robust immune system.
Sweating and sun bathing5
When our body is warmed by the gentle rays of the sun, a steam bath, a sauna, or the right type of exercise, it induces sweat, which thins out ama. This consequently encourages it to loosen its grip on the cells and tissues and stimulates it to move toward the digestive tract for elimination. Appropriate doses of sunbathing also kindle agni and are beneficial for the treatment of ailments such as arthritis, depression, eczema, psoriasis, and water retention. However, care must be taken if one’s Pitta is high, as this might further aggravate it.
Pranayama and meditation
Ayurveda supports the fact that meditation can stimulate immunity and enhance relaxation both physically and mentally. Moreover, breathing exercises like pranayama encourage the restructuring of energy levels and mental well-being.
Adopting an active lifestyle
Since ama is synonymous with stagnation, an active lifestyle can help the body avoid the excessive accumulation of it. Incorporate activities such as yoga, stretching, brisk walking, and cardio exercises into your daily routine to encourage healthy blood circulation, promote energy levels, and reduce signs of fatigue.
Ama and the three doshas6
When ama reacts with the three doshas, the signs and symptoms manifest in different ways. Understanding these signs can aid the treatment and elimination of ama.
What is it? Ama combined with Vata tends to accumulate in the lower abdominal region and pelvic cavity as well as between joints. Typical signs of this include duct blockages, constipation, a lack of appetite, swelling, and pain in the joints, dry skin, and a dry, astringent feeling in the mouth.
How do I balance it? Hot, spicy, and dry herbs such as fresh ginger, fennel, pippali, and cinnamon are recommended to aid the elimination of Vata ama. Dry rub massages with herbal powders are also recommended, along with the use of Niruha Basti (healing enema with a herbal decoction).
What is it? Ama combined with Pitta accumulates in the central abdominal region and circulates in the blood. The typical ailments and signs of this include unpleasant odor, belching with acid reflux, burning sensation in the throat, heartburn, stiffness, weight gain, greenish-colored secretion of urine and stools, and coating on the tongue.
How do I balance it? Purgation, bitter-tasting herbs, and aloe vera gel help rekindle agni and eliminate ama. Herbs that help digest Pitta ama include coriander, fresh ginger, neem, cinnamon, tamarind, and lime. Sheetali (cooling breath) pranayama is also beneficial in this aspect.
What is it? Ama combined with Kapha accumulates in the stomach, chest, lungs, and sinus. Typical symptoms as a result of this include clogged ducts of the lymphatic system and sinuses, a loss of appetite as well as the inability to burp. It also leaves a sweet or salty taste on the tongue.
How do I balance it? Langhana (fasting) is especially effective in balancing Kapha ama. It also responds positively to herbs and spices that are pungent, bitter, and astringent as well as to expectorants. Beneficial herbs include dry ginger root, garlic, mustard, hing, cumin, tulsi, and ajwain.
The Bottom Line
Although the presence of ama is associated with disease and stagnation, the ancient practice of Ayurveda is enriched with anecdotes to help expel ama from the body whilst propagating a holistic lifestyle in sync with a healthy body and mind. At its heart, understanding the causes and signs of ama is essential if we want to successfully flush it out of our systems. Understanding your specific dosha type further aids this process.
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