In Sanskrit, dhatu translates to ‘constructing element’ or ‘that which binds together.’ The seven dhatus are the basis for the structure of the human body. In ayurveda, they are the explanation for human physiology. Each element impacts specific body functioning as well as the whole. They themselves also work in conjunction with one another, as their own system. One dhatu transforms into another, and each consecutive element directly affects the next. Their order follows the natural flow of energy in the body, as food becomes fluid, which becomes blood, and so on.
As a whole, the dhatus are responsible for the immune system in ayurveda. They are driven by agni, which is the ‘biological fire’ of the human body. Agni instigates metabolism, which is the precursor for the first dhatu, rasa. Motivated by this force, the seven dhatus work for our development and nourishment. When one is out of balance, its direct body functioning is affected first, followed by the subsequent dhatu and its functioning until the whole body is impacted. Eventually the body becomes unprotected from disease, and the immune system is not able to work at its optimum level. In ayurvedic healing it is important to care for all of these bodily substances.
What Are the Dhatus?
The seven dhatus are body tissue, from fluid to hard bone. They are the basis of the physical body.
- Rasa The first dhatu is the nutrient plasma which is created when food is digested. It is the starting point of the system of the seven dhatus. Food is transformed into rasa from agni. Rasa helps to maintain menstruation and lactation.
- Rakta Rakta is blood, the life-giving fluid that circulates through the body bringing nutrients and oxygen to all tissue. When the blood is impure, disease will always soon follow. Rakta is responsible for the functioning of the muscle tendons and blood vessels.
- Mamsa The third is muscle tissue. The role of mamsa is to cover vital organs, and to provide movement and strength. It regulates the functioning of flat muscle and skin.
- Meda Fat, which lubricates all body tissue, and maintains a normal body temperature, is the fourth dhatu. Meda controls fatty tissue, and perspiration.
- Asthi The fifth is bone. It is the hard skeletal structure, supporting the entire body. According to ayurvedic healing, the most difficult disease to cure is one found in bone. Asthi maintains the teeth, hair, and nails.
- Majja Both marrow and nerves are included in this dhatu. Marrow lies within bone, creating blood. When the sixth dhatu is not functioning properly, it cannot make healthy blood. The nerves carry motor and sensory impulses throughout the body. Majja maintains lacrimal glands, which play a role in the formation of tears.
- Shukra and Artav Reproductive tissue, semen and the ovum, are the seventh dhatu. They are responsible for creating new life. Of all the dhatus, it is the seventh that requires the most amount of energy, and has the most important function. Shukra and artav contain the instructions for all tissues.
The well-being of each of the seven dhatus is equally important in ayurvedic healing. They are, in essence, one in the same as all of the dhatus were at one time all of the others, and each is dependent on the well-being of the whole. The way to health is to maintain a balance of the tridosha (the three basic principals that make up the human constitution in ayurveda) through a healthy diet, exercise, and rejuvenation. This will translate into the health and vitality of all dhatus, so they may play their role of growth and protection.
Lad, Dr. Vasant. “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing.” (Lotus Press, 1984).
photo credit: DTL
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