Do you often feel like grabbing a bottle from the refrigerator to quench your thirst? Drinking a glass of cold water can often feel like taking a walk on the beach on a hot summer day. Stop and ask yourself, do your organs feel the same way? According to Ayurveda, it is a big resounding no! While the oh-so-cool feeling lasts just a few seconds, it can take a substantial toll on your body if consumed regularly.
According to ayurvedic principles, an essential pillar of the swastha (good health) is the body's agni (digestive fire). Jathara agni (central digestive fire) plays a significant role in governing the body's metabolism and is also the gatekeeper of life.
As one of the most important of the 13 agnis in the body, jathara agni is present in the stomach and duodenum. It mainly digests complex food and divides it into prasad (essentials) and kitta (waste material).
A balanced agni also helps eliminate unwanted materials from the body that would affect our physical and mental well-being. It also allows the body to process everything we take through the Panchaindirya (five senses):
Now imagine throwing a bucket full of water on a burning campfire. Not only would the fire extinguish immediately, but the wood logs would also rot over time and never decompose. It is precisely what happens when we drink cold water or iced drinks. The agni (fire) in our body immediately goes out, producing toxins or ama.
Ama is the collection of toxins in the form of undigested food that inflame and irritate the functioning of the intestinal lining. The lining acts as a protective barrier. Sometimes, ama can even find its way into the body's circulatory system through tissues. It creates a blockage and can make the body a breeding ground for parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
According to ayurvedic principles, any kind of blockage in body channels (respiratory system, cardiovascular system) results in an imbalance of the doshas. Increased production of toxins in the body is a precursor to several ailments affecting our manas (psychology).
A weakened agni also leads to bloating, flatulence, and sluggishness with lower energy to perform day-to-day activities. In contrast, a balanced or strong agni ensures healthy elimination of waste and heightened energy, thus aiding ojas (vitality) production. Ayurvedic principles state that we must consume water closer to our internal body temperature, which is 210 F (98.6 degrees Celsius). Moreover, according to a study conducted in 1980, agni has to work hard to maintain the body's internal temperature when one consumes cold water.
Ayurvedic principles are deep-rooted in history and are increasingly accepted as the foundational pillars of human physiology. Research across the globe also backs the ayurvedic belief of not consuming ice-cold water.
“Drink cold water to lose weight faster” - fitness buffs often recommend consuming cold water as it encourages the body to burn more calories. While this is true in the short run, it does more harm than good over time. In fact, drinking ice-cold water creates dosha imbalances within the body, ultimately resulting in weight gain.
Acharya Vagbhata, the influential ayurvedic advisor, also observed that warm water quenches thirst faster than cold water. For this reason, drinking warm water is actually recommended post-workouts. Contrary to popular belief, ice-cold water slows down metabolism, defeating all benefits of exercise.
By its very nature, water has a cold quality. Since Kapha dosha is cold by nature, water tends to increase our body’s Kapha. It is therefore advisable to boil water for about ten minutes to decrease water’s Kapha-increasing tendency.
Boiling water also helps kill germs and bacteria present in it. Remember, warm water strengthens the body’s agni while balancing Vata and Pitta doshas.
Changing rutus (seasons) affect the balances of the tridoshas. According to Ayurvedic studies,
Ayurveda also recommends that people suffering from Pitta Vikruti should consume water at room-temperature, and not boiling water. As warm or hot water may exacerbate their Pitta. Such individuals can also opt for coconut water, aloe water, or warm water with fresh peppermint leaves.
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Ayurvedic scholar Acharya Vagbhat has defined the properties of Shitodak water at length.
The primary use of Shitodak (cold water) is for:
An excess intake of cold water can aggravate the Pitta and Kapha doshas. It may result in tandra (hallucinations), shvas (breathing disorders), hrullas (nausea), gaurav (heaviness) or even aadhman (flatulence).
Acharya Vagbhat, in the classical Ashtanga Hridaya, explains the attributes of ushna jala (warm water) in chapter five. He states that warm water has the properties of deepana (stimulating hunger), laghu (easily digestible), kanthya (helping the throat), pachana (aiding digestion), and basti shodhana (cleansing the bladder).
Ayurveda recommends the consumption of lukewarm or hot water. The reason behind it is simple - hot water clears the digestive tract, hydrates the system, and stimulates the lymphatic system in the body.
Primarily, hot water strengthens the digestive fire (agni) in the pachaka (stomach) and helps the ranjaka (digestive enzymes) thrive. On the other hand, lukewarm water enhances the ahara rasa (nutrient fluid) in the digestive tract.
Some key benefits of drinking hot or lukewarm water are:
According to a study, boiling water for varying amounts of time has innumerable benefits.
The temperature of the water we drink affects our body in more ways than we can imagine. So why not consume water for our health and not just to quench thirst? When it is tempting to reach out for a glass of ice-cold water, remember the benefits of warm water and choose a healthier lifestyle — the Ayurveda lifestyle!
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