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  • Writer's pictureHeather Johnson

The Dhatus Part 1: Understanding the Tissues of Your Body

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Your body is made up of 7 different tissue layers, and your health is determined by the vitality and strength of these tissues.

This is Heather Johnson and you're listening to the Ayurveda life school podcast, episode number 92, The Dhatu’s part one, understanding the tissues of your body.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to a beautiful Monday morning today was very interesting because I typically teach yoga on Mondays. And I have not been in the studio for about a month due to my back. I talked about that a little bit, and then my whole family getting COVID. So today was really my first day back on the mat teaching. I've been doing a lot of therapy for my back, which I cannot tell you how much that has helped this last week. I was finally able to do some movement and move a little bit, bend my back and doing some yoga therapy. Every day I took about a half an hour every morning, and about 20 minutes at night, just to stretch it and to do some good restorative yoga poses. And it has been revolutionary. I've been seeing the chiropractor, I've gotten massage, I've done tons of baths and icing and heat and all those things, but until I could actually move it, I really didn't see a lot of benefit.

And I've been thinking a lot about how, when people have arthritis or they have joint issues, they actually get really stiff. The less that you move, and then they hurt more when you do move. And so until you can get into that comfortable space and for some people, if you're starting new year's resolutions, which you know that Ayurvedically, I recommend that you do those in the spring, but if you've begun to make some changes with the new year, it can be hard. It's kind of like coming back to my yoga mat after a month of illness, it's just really challenging. We were about 25 minutes into the practice today. And as a teacher, you don't fully do the flow, but I was ready to be done. I was, you know, pretty much just finished. And so the last half of class, I did a lot more walking around instructing and less demonstrating.

And I just felt like my body has taken some time to kind of come back to itself. And that's an important principle as you start to apply these principles of Ayurveda, because we want things to be perfect so fast, and we want to make changes and be like, Oh my gosh, look at these results. I'm doing amazing. And sometimes we have that reaction, but most of the time change is painful. There's a lot of setbacks. We might kind of go back and forth between our old habits and our new habits. And there are a lot of opportunities to give up to stop. So as you're continuing to implement and add Ayurveda into your life, if you find that you backtrack first off, realize that's completely normal and all of us do that. I've recommitted to sleep patterns this year. So that's been one of my big focus efforts is to get myself to bed at a proper time.

I'm actually going to do a podcast episode more specifically about that and the next of weeks. So be listening for that. If you are also working on getting your sleep habits and your sleep patterns a little bit more consistent, because it's so important, it's amazing how much it affects everything about your body and your health, but there's going to be days and nights that I don't get my sleep in at the right time. And rather than just throwing in the towel, I just recommit the next day. So just continue to do that. Keep working and having progress. Something else I've been working on is creating some meal plans for you. I've had a lot of people ask, “ Well, I’m Pitta dosha. Could you give me an example of what I might eat for a week?” And so I've been creating these meal plans and it's been really fun.

Actually. It's gotten me into some new cooking, some different things. I haven't tried for a little while. I found some old favorites that I forgot that I loved, you know how that goes. You cook something for awhile and then you stop cooking it. And then when you go back to it, it's like a new treat again. So I'm going to be sharing some of those with you because I really feel like that will be helpful. So when those are available, I will let you know how you can get access to them because I'm going to do one for each dosha, as well as the combination doshas. So if you're having an imbalance in Vata and Kapha at the same time, which can be really a challenging one, what should you be eating? Because I think it will help you to just get some sample ideas and then you can get creative from there.

The Dhatus

The more you get in your kitchen, the more creative you'll be. Okay, enough digression. I wanted to talk to you today about a real fundamental Ayurvedic principle from an anatomical standpoint. And this is very applicable as an Ayurvedic health counselor. And I want to help make this more applicable to you as a person. If you are studying Ayurveda t for your own benefit or if you're studying it because you want to teach other people. This is a principle that you should understand, and I've waited a long time to introduce it because I felt like making it applicable was going to be challenging, but I really want you to have that information. So I will do my best with some stories and such to teach you about the Dhatus or the tissues of the body in a way that actually makes it useful for you.

It's not helpful just to know information. We want to be able to apply it. So as you are listening today, and I talk about the different tissues in the body, listen for descriptions of something you might be experiencing right now. And that's what I'd want you to take notes on. I'd want you to write down, Oh yeah, she's talking about more Pitta being in this particular tissue and these are the symptoms. Well, that's what I'm experiencing because the more that you can then apply it afterwards and you'll know, okay, the dosha is increased. This is how it's affecting me. So we're going to go through the seven different tissues of the body from an Ayurvedic standpoint. And I'll talk about what it looks like when you have too much of that tissue, as well as not enough. And then we'll talk about how each dosha affects that tissue when that dosha is increased.

So whenever I talk about a dosha being increased, just as a reminder, I'm referring to it increasing beyond your natural constitution. If you recall, you each have Vata Pitta and Kapha dosha, those are your constitutional factors within your body and in your mind and your subtle body as well. And when one of those increases beyond the level that it was created at the time of conception. When you were conceived, when that egg and that sperm came together to create the amazing human that is you, there was a set dosha level for each dosha. Think of it as a hundred units of dosha. And you may have 25% of Vata. And then 50% of Pitta. And another 25% of Kapha. And that is your constitutional makeup that was formed at the time of conception.

And it doesn't change. We call that your Prakruti. And so as I refer to the different doshas and what they look like when they come into the tissue, the Dhatu, that's what happens when you have an imbalance, when you have had an increase in one of the doshas and that's your Vikruti okay, because we know we naturally already have all three of these doshas within our bodies. And so we have these set constitutional amounts, but then when you have an out of balance experience or an out of balance time in your life, one of those doshas or multiple doshas may increase, and it typically targets different areas of the body, and you can see it in different areas of the body. So that's what I want you to be cueing in and listening for. If you've been noticing you have excess Vata going on watch for, when I talk about Vata, being in the different tissues and see if you're having those symptoms.

The reason that's important is that the deeper the symptoms go into the tissue layers- We start with the superficial tissues and get deeper-Then you know, that disease manifestation is spread. It's gotten into the deeper tissues. It's going to be a little bit harder to treat, and you really want to put some focus into it. Typically it's best if we can catch symptoms when they're at a more superficial level and keep them from getting into those deeper tissues. So let's talk through the seven layers. Now, I'm going to give you the names first, and then I'll talk about each one. So the names of these tissues and they're in sanskrit, are rasa rakta mamsa medas ashti majja Shukra, let's start with the first one.

Having them in order actually is important because that is the order in which they are formed in the body. And that is also from the most superficial to the deepest. So rasa is the most superficial shukra is the deepest tissue. And so the health of all of the tissues are dependent upon the health of the proceeding tissues. So knowing the order they are created and formed in is actually helpful.

Rasa Dhatu 9:12

So when we first looked at the rasa, rasa is the most superficial tissue in the body, and it is translated to mean plasma. Now, when I say superficial, I don't mean that it's on the exterior. I just mean it's the first tissue that is created from what you consume, what you've taken through the mouth, and also what you take in through your senses forms, rasa. So, as I said, rasa means plasma. It can also mean juice or sap, vitality. If you have a lot of rasa, you have more vitality and sap and kind of that energy and excitement for life. So when you look at the blood, the plasma is also in the blood, right? It's that watery component of the blood and blood has plasma in it, along with red and white blood cells. Back in my college days, I used to actually go donate plasma. Didn't realize I was giving away my actual life, energy, my vitality, every time I donated plasma. And then I wondered at the time why I got really sick after a college semester of donating plasma twice a week, I was giving away this vital life, energy, I guess that's why they pay for it.

They see that it's very valuable for you to donate plasma. So rasa is related really to all the fluids in the body. So that includes the lymph, the plasma, breast milk and menstrual fluid. Rasa keeps these tissues from drying out. So it was very important that we have a healthy level of rasa because it hydrates the body. And as it circulates through the body, it provides moisture to all of your tissues. It's kind of like the nourishing provider for all of the other deeper tissues, where you really see that in your skin and in the mucus membranes. So the health of your rasa is really related to the health of the moisture in your body.

Now, when we have too much rasa, there's too much excess of fluid in the body, you're going to have excess water and swelling. So if you've ever had swelling, I know when I was pregnant, I would get a little bit of swelling in my ankles.

That was excessive rasa. That edema was coming from that can also cause higher blood pressure, which is not a good thing, right? And there can be a lot of causes for higher blood pressure, but this can just be one of the factors. It can also increase the secretions of breast milk and menstrual fluid. So if you tend to normally have just a regular flow and then you start having a really heavy flow, that's a good symptom for you, of rasa having increased. When rasa is deficient or there's not enough rasa, you don't have enough of this plasma or the watery fluids in the body, you become dehydrated. And so your fluid volume drops. Your skin, your mucus membranes become dry. And you see that mostly in the mouth and the inside of the nose is where you'll notice it with the mucus membranes.

Vata entering Rasa 12:15

And so we're kind of watching when things get dryer what's happening there. Oh, I don't have enough rasa. Let's look at what each individual dosha does when it enters into these tissues. First off, when Vata comes into rasa, Datu let me say that again, because that sentence can sound confusing when Vata dosha enters, which means it increases and comes into rasa Datu so you have too much air and ether element inside the fluid and the liquids in your body. That's another real basic way to say it. What happens is that the dryness of the tissues of the body is increased. Do you have a lot more dryness? There's a lot more air and ether there. They're drying them out. I like to think of this as the winter time, when the forced air comes on with your furnace and then your mucus membranes get really dry.

I know in the morning, if the heat's been on in our house in the winter time, my nose will feel really dry. My sinuses will feel really dry. So you'll notice that when Vata comes in, that you have that increase in dryness.

Pitta entering Rasa 12:40

When Pitta comes into the rasa, you have more heat, you have more fire. And so the waters of the body become heated. If you think of a fire being lit under you and your blood's boiling, and you have excessive heat in the plasma now over a long period of time, it will cause dryness. But initially when it first gets too hot in there, you can have inflammation of the mucus membranes. So if you're having inflamed, mucus membranes, right, you're having any swelling that's happening within the mouth. That's not feeling good within the sinuses. It's also happening inside the body. You just can't see that visually.

Kapha enters Rasa 13:14

And so that's why it's important to pay attention to what's happening in the parts that we can identify. And then when Kapha dosha that earth and water comes into the rasa, you're going to have more water element, right? Because Kapha already has water in it. And so that causes more swelling and more mucus production. So we want to look at when your sinuses, start to get really stuffy and congested, and you have a lot of excess mucus coming out or congestion in the lungs. That's Kapha coming in and increasing the rasa Datu. So be listening for symptoms. If you're experiencing any of those, then you can immediately say, Oh, my sinuses have been really dry. That's a sign that Vata has come into the the watery tissues of the body.

Rakta Dhatu 14:00

Now on the next level of the tissue, we go into the rakta. The rakta is commonly translated to mean blood or specifically the red blood cells. It has a lot to do with energy circulation, with oxygen, moving through your body, and it's very closely tied into, not only the red blood cells, but the vessels themselves, the liver, the gallbladder, the spleen and tendons of the body, which is really interesting. And so we need to have this rakta because it carries that oxygen throughout your body. That's how you're able to survive, by having that rakta there. But when you have too much of it, too much rakta dhatu, too much of the red blood cells, there's things that can happen on a physical level. The liver and the spleen become enlarged. Because the liver and spleen are really closely related to one another, and they're closely related to the health of the blood.

Rakta and Pitta are Related

Anytime that we have too much heat in the body, or we have too much of that rakta increase, rakta dhatu is related to Pitta dosha. Anytime we have too much of that heat, we start to look at the liver and we want to check out the health of the liver. So knowing the health of your blood and the rakta dhatu is really important because ultimately it's tied directly to the health of the liver and the spleen. And there's so much required of the liver. We want to keep it healthy. That's one reason we do Ayurveda seasonal cleanses is to help heal and cleanse out the liver and kind of give it a break a little bit. Now when heat comes into the body, it's carried in the rakta dhatu. So I want you to kind of think of rakta and pitta as related.

So when you have too much, Rakta, that means more heat is being circulated in the body. And you'll see this in the skin. When you get flushed or inflamed, if the eyes become red, if you start to have a little bit more heat in the skin just by touch. And when you have too much of this ratka, and it's really increased, you can actually have a narrowing in your blood vessels. And that is called atherosclerosis. And it can lead to some really big problems. That's one of the main causes of heart disease. And in the mind, when you have too much of this heated Rakta moving, you get more angry, more intense, more jealous, more aggressive. Now, when you don't have enough Rakta, when it's decreased, you actually can have anemia because you don't have enough red blood cells, right? They need the red blood cells to carry iron and hemoglobin and oxygen.

So it's very important that we have enough red blood cells. And then you get really tired and you lose kind of your invigoration and your mind becomes tired as well. I had a friend who was having some severe menstrual disorders where she was having a lot of excessive bleeding. And even though menstrual flow is tied more directly to rasa, hers was so intense that she was losing a lot of rakta, to a lot of blood flow. And you could tell because she did become very anemic and she became very exhausted and fatigued, and her mind just wasn't working as well. So you always want to watch that if you're having those kinds of symptoms, maybe even get your iron levels checked. And you're able to tell what's happening with the hemoglobin. And that can be an indication of not enough rakta dhatu, not enough red blood cells.

Vata enters Rakta 17:06

When vata dosha enters rakta, you're going to have that loss of invigoration. And that's where the anemia is happening. The fatigue sets in. So we know that when rakta is decreased, it's typically because of Vata dosha.

Kapha enters Rakta 17:15

Now, when Kapha comes into the rakta dhatu, so that's that earth and water element, then there's going to be an increase in the number or the size of the red blood cells, but they aren't going to be the very best blood cells. They're not going to be the most powerful, the strongest, there'll just be more of them. So they may have some disorders, or they may not be able to carry oxygen as efficiently. It's just a larger quantity of them. And that can also cause lethargy because you have more, it's harder for the body to move them through the system and you have less oxygen. That's flowing because they're not working effectively.And this can actually cause your blood vessels to become clogged.

Pitta enters Rakta 18:00

And finally, when Pitta comes into the rakta dhatu the red blood cells become supercharged. There is so much heat that comes along with Pitta because it is fire. And so it adds to the existing heat already of dhatu. And it causes you to have a lot of intensity. You know, that feeling when your emotions start to get really intense and strong and often they'll lean towards, you know, feelings of maybe anger or frustration. And it's almost as though you feel the heat in your body, literally rising. That is the Pitta fire coming into Rakta Datu. And you'll feel that heat in the skin, as well as the blood rushes to the skin. If you have a Pitta constitution, you'll notice this even more, but that is a moment where you can go, Oh my goodness, I have so much Pitta in my rakta, in my red blood cells right now, I really need to cool down maybe to just take 10 deep breaths and step aside and use this energy in a more positive way so that I don't like explode as a volcano.

Now, these two tissues of rasa and rakta dhatu are going to be the ones that you're most easily able to identify and see what's happening with them. You can experience them more on a superficial level and you'll be able to see, okay, I have not enough moisture. I can feel the symptoms of that dehydration, or I can feel that I have too much going on. I feel the swelling, or you might feel that heat in the body, or if you're feeling the anemia, you might feel cold within the skin because the circulation is not moving as well. So really start tuning into those symptoms because those are going to give you some really good clues about the body.

Mamsa Dhatu 19:35

The next tissue that is formed is the mamsa dhatu. Mamsa translates to muscle. So it's the earth and water and fire element in the body. And it's function is to really protect you and give strength to the body. In Ayurveda, the muscle is very closely related to the skin, as well as the ligaments in the body. And as we study the skin, I'm going to do a show about the skin as well, because I really think that having some tips and ways that we can keep the skin we're healthy will be useful, but we understand that the muscles quality is very related to the quality of our skin and they're very tied together. So just knowing those two things that muscle and skin are related can be useful. Okay. So kind of keep that in the back of your mind. Now, when we have too much mamsa, too much muscle tissue, we end up getting muscle bound. I tend to think of the heavy weightlifters that do the excessive bodybuilding that can't stretch at all.

When I was teaching my yoga class this morning, I was talking to them about flexibility and strength. And that if you have an area where you're not flexible, you're also not strong. You have weakness in that area. So when we have an overdevelopment of the muscle tissue and we have a lack of flexibility or movement in that area, because it's too tight, too muscle bound, there's actually a weakness involved. We want to have strength and flexibility at the same time. And I think that applies in a bigger way to most areas of our life. We can't just be rigid. We have to have that ability to kind of flow and to move because that's where our strength comes in. We're going to be too brittle and too hard and dry if we're so set in what we're up to. And I think that ties in with attachment as well, right?

We want to be able to be flexible and not be so attached to what things are right now or where we think they should go or what should be happening. We have to have that ability to kind of flow and move with it. Okay. So when we have too much muscle tissue or mamsa, the ligaments and the skin also become thicker and you can actually eventually grow muscular tumors. Even when you have too much muscle, you'll have more joint stiffness. And then on the opposite side, when you have not enough muscle tissue, when there's too little of it, you become weak and you really can't take action in the world. There's not a lot of strength involved there. Your ligaments get really loose and you become hyper mobile.

So you'll see people kind of at those opposite ends of the spectrum, where they have a lot of muscles and appear strong, but no ability to move. They're really stiff and inflexible. And then you have the other ones that aren't very strong, but man, they can jump into the splits in yoga. No problem. But it's just because of that lack of mamsa dhatu.

Vata enters Mamsa 22:30

Now, when we look at Vata entering into the tissue air and ether has come into the muscle tissue, then we're going to have less muscle. So you're going to have minimal musculature, you'll be more weak and your skin's going to be thinner. Remember that connection between the skin and the muscles. And you can actually test this on your inner arm, on your forearm. Just take a moment and pinch that skin right there and just see, is there a thinness there? Do you feel thin skinned? Is it more moderate or does it feel really thick? And this would be a fun thing to do with your family members and friends that you're associating with that you're around is just to pinch that inner part, not in a painful way, but we're just testing it to see is that muscle or that skin thin thick, or is it somewhere in between that gives us a lot of indication about the health of the muscle in the body as well.

So it's kind of an interesting way to diagnose your doshas and what's happening in the muscles. So when the skin appears really thin and the joints are really mobile, hyper mobile, then we know Vatas in there. And mentally, when you have too much vata that's entered into the muscle, you actually have more fear, more worry, lower self-confidence and lower self-esteem. And that's all related to the muscle, which is interesting.

Pitta enters Mamsa 23:30

When Pitta comes into the mamsa- in the muscle tissue, then the Dhatu is overheated. So it becomes too hot. There's too much fire going on. And over a long period of time, this can actually burn out the muscle tissue. So it looks like muscle inflammation. If you are exercising a lot, and you're creating a lot of heat in the muscle tissue and it becomes inflamed, you know, that feeling when you've done too much and it's almost tender and there's a hesitancy to engage the muscle and to use the muscle because you know that you've kind of aggravated it quite a bit.

So that's what happens with Pitta increasing in the mamsa and you'll also see inflammation then of the skin and the ligaments. Okay. So if the muscle is inflamed, you're going to see it externally in the skin and the ligaments, the ligament inflammation occurs more often if you have a Pitta type of arthritis. So if you're experiencing that, you know, the muscles are involved as well. Now on a subtle mental level, if you have more fire and you've had more earth and fire added to the muscles, you actually might be more violent. So a more violent person tends to have more heat and Pitta inside their muscle tissue.

Kapha enters Mamsa 23:40

When Kapha enters the mamsa or the muscle tissue, you're going to have more muscle tissue. So earth and water is going to increase in the muscles and you'll have more muscle mass. So you'll also have more strength, but you won't have that definition that you would see in a Pitta.

A pitta is going to have much more defined musculature. Kapha is just going to have more mass. So their body size is just going to have more mass to it. But the muscle itself, the quality of that tissue is actually decreased when there's excess Kapha in there and you lose some flexibility and the ability to move as well, because it's just kind of bulky. It's almost like it's restrictive. So there's too much mass and you can't move around a lot. So flexibility and motion are definitely decreased here.

And just as a review, we did rasa, which was the plasma, all the liquids, Rakta - red blood cells, mamsa, which is the muscle. From an Ayurvedic standpoint, we say that it takes about five days for the food that you eat to move through each layer of tissues. So it takes almost a full month before the food that you ate is affecting the deepest layer of tissue. So that's why it's really important that we're getting good nutrition over time.

We are going to end the conversation part one of the Dhatus here. Begin to really study, learn, understand, and absorb this information. And we'll be back next week with part two of the Dhatus.

And if you find that you are learning a lot of information, but maybe not applying all of it, I would invite you to join the 28 day Ayurveda immersion. This is a group that starts at the beginning of each month, and we take that whole month to study basic Ayurvedic principles, apply them to our lives, use them and learn from one another. We do live calls each week. We have a lot of emails, videos, good support, and it's a very interactive program. I invite you to learn more about this and to join the group. You can find out more at

Have a beautiful week. We'll talk to you next week for part two of the Dhatus.

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