The ‘Pathya’ Equation


Words: Dr Ambika P NAYAK

There are three support systems of life as elucidated in Ayurveda literature — aahaara [food], nidra [sleep] and brahmacharya [self-discipline]. The objective of food is to maintain a healthy body and mind through nourishment. This sets the precedence to treatment — as is the relevant concern, according to Ayurveda, so is the focus towards identifying and preventing the most likely, or apparent, causative factor.

We are witness to a bludgeoning fact — that most of the health problems today stem out of, or are triggered by inappropriate eating habits, viz., unhealthy food, unsuitable food and combinations thereto. This is also why every health-conscious individual, or someone with a smattering of it, is keen to using Ayurveda, be it lifestyle, healthcare, cosmetic products, or medicines. 

The only irony is that most people seem to have a wobbly concern — they are sceptical speaking to, or consulting, an Ayurveda physician, owing to the ‘fear’ of being advised pathya, or a ‘strict’ diet regimen. This is common, no less, in clinical practice, because the physician is, more often than not, asked awkwardly, before the consultation, “Will I have to follow a rigorous diet?”

There are more than a brace of misconceptions regarding the terms, diet and dieting. Here goes the right perspective. A diet is any food pattern followed by the individual, or the whole family, as a part of daily routine. The terms, diet and pathya, to set the record straight, are not synonymous. Pathya refers to anything that is not detrimental to the physiological system and is heartily liked by the one who is asked to follow it.

Pathyam patho anapetam yadyacchoktam manasa: priyam |

Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthana, Chapter 25

‘Pathya’ Holds The Key

The word pathya originates from patha — a pathway, or conduit. Pathya refers to wholesome, while apathya is contextualised as unwholesome. Any victual, or regimen, that does not unpleasantly affect the body and mind is viewed as pathya; that which affects adversely is evidenced as apathya.

Ayurveda suggests that wholesome food is prerequisite for our growth and well-being, while unwholesome food is the source of all disease. Maharshi Charaka laid emphasis on the fact that food emerged first among the three supporting pillars of life, along with sleep and measured sexual activity. Suśruta quantified the idea — that food is the foundation of vitality, complexion, immune defence, among other factors.

It is obvious that preparing a diet chart is certainly better, for the physician, than planning pathya for the individual, or patient. Once this is done, the equation between the doctor and patient is tangibly healthy — it sets the right tone for a useful conversation and consultation.

Essence Of ‘Pathya’

A diet pattern, or plan of favourable and adverse diet [pathya-apathya] isn’t targeted only towards weight loss; besides, it is not right to believe that medicines would not be effective, if a good diet and lifestyle is not followed. It is necessary to understand that the right kind of regimen is instructed and followed, in Ayurveda, to regain health in the quickest time-frame and in the best manner possible.

Every disease has a specific food and lifestyle attribute — this is decided by the Ayurveda physician after a thorough analysis of the individual, and their case, based on certain factors, like the body type, season and imbalances in the vata-pitta-kapha dosha, including ethnicity, among others.

It goes without saying that pathya is all the more important now, as over the years we have brusquely forgotten to eat and drink what is right. We eat to live, and not live to eat. Food is entirely a matter of taste today. Most of the population is ignorant about the right food, also their nutritive value. Yes, food should be tasty and pleasant, acceptable to the body and mind. But, the most important thing is we should consider our choices, with more than a ‘pound’ of logic, without compromising our health, nutrition and taste.

The legendary Benjamin Franklin, the First Scientific American, placed the whole idea in perspective, as only he could: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Remember: a deleterious diet and lifestyle is, perhaps, the first and foremost reason for occurrence of disease. This bids fair to the fact that prevention through pathya is more than crucial as the first line of treatment.

The bottom line is simple, also profound. Do not ‘fear’ pathya. It is the first step to achieving healthy longevity and a vibrantly happy and fulfilling life.

Dr AMBIKA P NAYAK, MD [Ayurveda], is Founder & Managing Director of Ayurvedeeyam, a speciality Ayurveda Clinic in Bengaluru. Her passion for the ancient, yet ‘completest’ natural medical system, and professional clinical skills are keyed to raising awareness for Ayurveda as a first choice of treatment for illness and healthy living, just as much as her axiom, Svasthasya svāsthya rakṣaṇaṃ — the age-old, fundamental principle of Ayurveda. Dr Nayak, who has presented papers and participated in national and international symposia, is also a strong advocate of panchakarma, thanks to its fully holistic and proven therapeutic efficacy in the treatment and prevention of illness, or disease.

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