Rasa is a Sanskrit word which, like most Sanskrit words, has many meanings, or shades of meaning. It can mean flavor, sap, essence, or sexual fluids. Here we are addressing the meaning of Rasa as taste, and the way that Ayurveda understands taste and how to use it as a therapeutic tool for awareness and wellness.
First, let’s review the basics, Ayurveda understands the manifest world to consist of five mahabhutas, or great elements; Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether (Space). The elements combine to create the three doshas (psychological and metabolic types), which are the foundation of therapeutic theory in Ayurveda. The doshas are Vata (Air and Ether, essence is movement), Pitta (fire and water, essence is transformation), and Kapha (earth and water, essence is cohesion or stability).
Like the doshas, the tastes are composed of the five elements as well. Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent are the six tastes of Ayurveda. Sweet is composed of earth and water. Sour is composed of earth and fire. Salty is composed of water and fire. Pungent is composed of fire and air. Bitter is composed of air and ether. Astringent is composed of air and earth.
When we know our dosha, and find ourselves in awareness of an imbalance, for example if we are a Pitta person in the summer and we are feeling acidic feelings in our stomach when we wake or an inflamed skin condition like eczema, or if we are a Vata person in the fall, with winds blowing and cooler temperatures and we are finding ourselves feeling spacey, scattered, and ungrounded, or we are a kapha person in spring with pleghm and congestion, we can use flavors that are the opposite of our doshic imbalance to bring ourselves back into harmony. We can address the flavors through food, herbs, scents, colors, and qualities.
Here we will address the individual doshas during their particular seasons, when that particular dosha mirrors the qualities of the season and is most likely to go out of balance
For the Pitta person, who is hot, hypermetabolic, and acidic and has perhaps taken on too much thermal accumulation in the summer, by sunbathing and eating pungent summer foods, one can apply the tastes of sweet, bitter, and astringent to cool, dry, and cohere. Sweet (earth and water) is cool and collected, while bitter is cool and dry (and remember pitta is hot and oily/wet), and astringent can help with excess emotions of pitta like soothing resentment and harshness (one of pittas main qualities is sharpness). Pitta can use foods like pomegranate, whole oats (soaked and properly cooked), sweet fruits, and bitter greens to help cool and balance pitta qualities. Herbs that are good for clearing the blood and excess heat are elder flower, mint, calendula petals.
For the Vata person in the fall during windy and cool weather, who is feeling spacey, ungrounded and cold, and perhaps having variable digestion and gas and stomach bloating, one can apply the tastes of sweet, sour, and salty to help balance the Vata dosha. Sweet is heavy, grounding, and nourishing (this means sweet grains, nuts, seeds, oils, not processed sugars). Sour taste awakens the mind and senses, bringing the aggravated vata out of spaciness and confusion, and eliminates excess wind. Salty helps to hold on to fluid (as one major quality of vata, just as during winds, is dryness). Good examples of vata balancing foods are sweet potatoes, avocado, lentil, and dates, as well as herbs and spices like basil and cloves and fennel. A nice herbal tea for Vata balancing is 1/4t turmeric powder, 1/8t trikatu powder (see below), juice of one half lemon, and 1t ghee covered in boiling water and steeped for up to 10 minutes. This tea is bitter, astringent, and grounding. The small amount of oil helps with absorption of the herbs as well as nourishing and bringing moisture to Vata’s typically dry temperament. The trikatu, with its black pepper has been shown to increase absorption of turmeric by 2000%. I love to have this tea first thing in the morning after I finish my practice and before consuming any food.
For the Kapha person in late winter, early spring, when it is wet and cool (primary qualities of Kapha), and they are feeling congested and pleghmatic, the tastes of pungent, bitter, and astringent, can be used to heat, dry, and stimulate movement in the cold, sticky, wet climate of a kapha imbalance. Foods like bitter greens, broccoli, and stimulating, heating herbs like cinnamon and ginger will help to bring kapha dosha back into balance. One of my favorite kapha herbal combos is trikatu, a combination of black pepper, ginger root, and anise seeds, powdered and mixed in equal parts, taken in a small amount of raw honey (an anupan, or carrier) before meals to stimulate sluggish kapha digestion. Trikatu, or tri (three) katu (pungent/spicy) herbs, dries and heats kapha cold and wet stagnation.
Ayurveda recommends having a balance of all six tastes in each meal, with emphasis on the tastes that will help your general dosha or particular doshic imbalance to come into harmony with nature through nature.
Your Prakruti, or constitution is your ‘nature’, Vikruti, or disease, means deviation from nature. Ayurveda is not (only) a far away foreign system filled with Sanskrit words, it is an intimate and simple to access, yet vastly complex, system of self referral and subtle awareness of our connection with all things which promotes balance and harmony on all levels of being.
If you’d like to learn more about Ayurveda, the five elements, the six tastes, and your doshas, come and participate in my upcoming spring cleanse workshop in Carpinteria, California the first two Sundays in April.