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Understanding Ama (Toxins)

Understanding Ama (Toxins)
Photo by Dan Meyers / Unsplash

Ama as defined by Dr. Vasant Lad is raw, uncooked; toxins, a toxic substance that impairs bodily or mental functions and can be physical, as in undigested food, or mental as in any incomplete thought, experience or emotion; ama always arises from physical or mental indigestion. To elaborate further, ama or a toxic substance, is born from a weak or low agni which allows the toxin to find a home in the body and create dis-ease. Unlike agni, which is hot and sharp and responsible for immunity and health. Ama is heavy and dull. These qualities lead to a coolness and/or slowness which further extinguishes agni and ultimately allows the toxins to wreak havoc on the tissue and systems of the body.

When agni is impaired undigested foods, emotions and experiences do not get properly digested and ama is created. As mentioned, ama can originate from a low or impaired agni, specifically jathara agni, which would affect the stomach and digestion. And, it can also originate from a buildup of waste products, which would affect the elimination process, dosha aggravation, by taking part in wrong diet and lifestyle activities, and/or unresolved emotions, which would create mental ama. Ama leaves a person feeling bogged down or heavy, tired or confused, and ultimately uncomfortable as they suffer with various digestive problems.

As ama continues to manifest additional, and more severe, problems can also arise. The tissues and systems of the body (dhatus and srotamsi) are uniquely interconnected. Within the initial stage of disease, the srota are more affected. This creates an impaired function in the affected srota. As disease is extended and transitions to chronic disease, a structural change can happen, affecting the dhatus. These functional and structural changes are categorized into four distinct classifications: overflow, stagnation, growth, and a false passage or wrong flow. 85% or more of disease is a result of ama in the body. By this logic ama can be seen as the root of disease.

Depending on an individual's constitution, ama will also present itself in different ways. A person with a vata predominance may experience: constipation, various types of pain in the body, congestion and other vata related symptoms that bring about irregularity, pain and general lowness. A person with a pitta predominance may experience: vomiting, nausea, inflammation or other pitta related symptoms that bring about strong smells, indigestion, and the quality of spreading. A person with a kapha predominance may experience: thick mucus, coldness, and fatigue or other kapha related symptoms that bring about a slowness and swelling. It is important to note that any person, regardless of their individual constitution can have vata, pitta or kapha related issues.

To understand ama, looking at an individual's waste products is common practice. Tongue scraping is generally the first indication of a toxic buildup. Additionally, one could examine their stools, urine and sweat. Abnormal stools would have an intense smell, stick to the bowl of the toilet or person. The person may also experience diarrhea or constipation. Abnormal urine would also have an unusual odor. There may be pain or irritation while urinating. Abnormal sweat would have a foul smell as well as leaving behind sweat stains. It could create a burning or itching sensation on the skin.

Mental ama is due to a suppression of emotions or feelings. It can also manifest through negative self talk, judgment, resentment and any unprocessed emotion. Rather that repressing emotions it is important to allow the emotion to be felt and processed with your full attention. Ignoring the symptoms of mental (or physical) ama will cause pain in the various seats of grief in the body and again ultimately lead to disease.

To reduce my personal ama, the steps I need to take are pretty simple. I need to practice better habits around personal hygiene and sleep. Although I go to bed before 10pm and have established a good nighttime routine, I am awakened multiple times at night by my toddler. I also feel like my past illnesses have been largely due to dosha aggravation. So, committing to activities that pacify the vata dosha - like body oiling, a general sense of slowing down, and proper layering in the cooler months will allow me to live a more healthful life.