The 7 Dhatus: An Introduction to Ayurveda’s Tissue Layers
The tissues in our body allow us to experience sensations of pleasure and pain, sense the world around us, and respond according to how we feel. They make up the physical fabric of who we are and how we interact with the world.
In Ayurveda, there are seven tissue layers known as the dhatus, and they are a vital component to our overall health. Understanding how to care for each one can be a powerful tool on our journey to vibrant health.
Here we will explore an overview of the dhatus and will dive into the first tissue layer, rasa dhatu. Stay tuned for an exploration on the other dhatus in the coming months, with rakta dhatu coming up next.
In this article:
- An Overview of the 7 Tissue Layers
- Rasa Dhatu: The River of Life
- Keeping the Lymphatic River Flowing
An Overview of the Seven Tissue Layers
The origin of the word “dhatu” stands for “root building block.” It literally translates to “that which holds,” relating to our body’s collection of cells which maintain the potential to nourish, support, and protect us.
“Sapta” translates to seven, so saptadhatus refers to the seven specialized tissues that are the building blocks of our physical nature.
These seven tissue layers include the lymph (rasa), blood (rakta), muscles (mamsa), fat (meda), bone (asthi), nerves (majja), and reproductive organs (shukra).
These seven tissues hold our organs in place, construct our structure, and provide the freedom to move around with ease.
Our seven tissues also act as an excretory system to release toxins and to create secondary tissues that are essential parts of our physical make up. These secondary tissues are called the “malas of saptadhatu.”
For example, our hair, nails, and teeth are made from our bone tissue, and their texture depends on what vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients are available.
This natural flow of nutrition allows our internal state of health to show up through the tissues. If we see something on the surface of the skin that doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves, we can understand it as a tissue imbalance, telling us exactly what we need to know.
Our bodies are so beautifully designed: by seeing and feeling our tissues, we can gather vital information and recognize how to make changes for better health.
Dhatus and the Power of Touch
Our tissues are what we see when we gaze in the mirror at ourselves, and they are intimately related to the feelings we form about how we look. When we are touched, either physically or emotionally, a sensation occurs.
The experiences we take in through our senses create the lustrous light we see in our being when we are happy, as well as the sadness that shows when a situation gets under our skin. Even our tears are made from our nerve tissue, and we produce them depending on how the nerves are affected.
In Ayurveda, one primary form of self-care is established by touching ourselves through the practice of self-massage, or abhyanga. This is done by applying massage oil to the body and assessing how one feels and which tissue needs attention.
Abhyanga cultivates embodiment and keeps us connected to ourselves through the power of touch. It leads to the cultivation of self-love and helps us to face the truths of what needs to change.
There is no perfect body, life, or person, but every body deserves to be respected and cared for daily.
Dhatus and the Role of Digestion
We are what we eat, and our tissue strength is governed by the digestion of the food (and emotions!) we choose to take in.
Proper stomach metabolism, known as jatharagni, is essential to the proper functions of the tissues. This primary state of digestion affects each and every layer of the dhatus and is essential to our overall health.
In addition, each dhatu is believed to have its own individual digestive process, each one feeding into the health of the following tissue layer.
Every tissue has its own vital action which relates to how we look, feel, and present our truths—through body language and our individual appearance. This is our dhatu agni in action.
Rasa Dhatu: The River of Life
Rasa, the first dhatu, refers to the primary waters of the body. The word “rasa” means sap, juice, essence, or liquid. But rasa is more than just fluid—it is the very nourishment that forms all the other tissues.
Rasa dhatu supports the essence of who we are, influences what we look like, and affects the strength of our immunity.
Essentially, it is a one-way river that moves water through our system, flushing out debris along the way and ensuring that the river of life does not get stagnant. If the river slows or clogs, bacteria can breed more easily—this is why when we are run down, we tend to get sick more easily.
In the physical body, rasa is the liquid exchange of plasma in our lymphatic system, the non-cellular portion of the blood and interstitial fluids. This is well represented by its role in creating and sustaining life itself—it includes breast milk and the ability to release excess hormones through menstruation.
In the energetic body, rasa dhatu affects the pituitary gland’s capacity to be excited or calmed down as needed, supporting homeostasis and the ability to handle stress and to go with the flow.
Essential electrolytes are what keep our lymphatic river moving and overflowing into the blood stream. Like the waves in the ocean, consistently coming in and going out, the energy of rasa is supplied through water volume.
This also builds our ojas, or vitality, the nectar of life that makes us feel juicy, look juicy, and have the juice to take action as needed.
Keeping the Lymphatic River Flowing
Imagine arriving at a river where the waters are flowing effortlessly, the sound soothes your soul, and you feel at ease to rest and replenish your body, letting the world go by for just a little while. This is possible anytime, right within yourself, when your river of life is flowing.
There are several practical ways to nourish the flow of rasa dhatu. The following tips are great for all doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha.
- Hydrate: Drink plenty of room-temperature water throughout the day.
- Neti pot: The traditional practice of neti helps to cleanse and clear stagnation.
- Self-massage: Practice regular abhyanga, moving from feet to heart and hands to heart.
- Salt scrubs: Scrub your whole body with vigorous motions, always moving towards the heart.
In addition, here are tips for recognizing how each of the doshas may affect rasa dhatu and how to support a balanced and healthy flow.
Vata in Rasa Dhatu
Cold hands and feet, dry mouth, dry skin, tightness in the chest, neck, or jawline, clenched jaw, hard lymph nodes, emaciation, brown moles, feelings of fear, anxiousness, or depletion.
Exercise: Swimming, yoga, stretching prior to a strenuous workout; stay warm and take a hot bath after exercise.
Herbs: Ashwaganda, khus, licorice, astragalus.
Spices: Basil, ginger, fenugreek, oregano, asafetida.
Nutrition: Avoid astringent, dry, crunchy, cold, and raw foods.
Pitta in Rasa Dhatu
Sensitive glands, tender lymph nodes, discomfort, skin irritation, excessive sweating, red moles, feelings of irritation or defensiveness.
Exercise: swimming, bicycling, break a sweat slowly then stop, finish with a cool shower.
Herbs: Neem, burdock, gentian.
Spices: Coriander, dill, fennel, anise, mint, cilantro, turmeric.
Nutrition: Avoid pungent, sour, oily, hot, and acidic foods.
Kapha in Rasa Dhatu
Fluid in lymph nodes, weight gain under arms, forearms, or thighs, excessive bodily fluids, feelings of lethargy, low self-esteem, or grief.
Exercise: swimming, walking, break a sweat vigorously, stimulating cardio workouts.
Herbs: Ginger, brahmi, cleavers, bilva.
Spices: Asafoetida, cumin, rosemary, chili pepper, marjoram.
Nutrition: Avoid sweet, salty, and heavy foods, processed carbs, and dairy.