The Constitution of Human Body

Holistic Health Series

Resource Note # 2

1.         The Constitution of Physical Body

From a biological viewpoint, the human body is a marvelous living assemblage of exquisite organic and other functional systems that operate together in a relatively harmonious manner.

The human being commences its journey as a fertilized egg cell in the womb of an expectant mother. That single cell differentiates into different kinds of cells such as muscle cells, nerve cells, and blood cells. Over a period of 9 months, it spontaneously grows into a fetus and unfolds 10,000 generations of genetic memory. The fetus comes out of the womb, and grows from infancy into childhood and eventually into a human adult that is 5+ feet tall, weighs 60+ kgs and is comprised of nearly 75 trillion cells. Each cell, in turn, comprises of zillions of atoms & sub-atomic particles and is composed of various molecular substances such as DNA/RNA.

Of this large cellular population in the body, about 3.4 trillion are tissue cells while 31.5 trillion are red blood cells, platelet cells, white blood cells, lymphocytes, macrophages, and other reticulo-endothelial cells. Beyond all these native cells, the body contains nearly 40 trillion foreign cells – mostly bacteria in our colon. The average diameter of our native cells is of 0.025 mm, but ranges widely from tiny platelets and red blood cells to the much larger neuron cells.

Each of these body cells is awash in a sea of water inside and outside (protected by a phospholipid membrane), and makes nearly 2,000 proteins per second. Since each protein comprises of a few hundred amino acids, every native cell of the human body is responsible for selecting, organizing, joining, checking and dispatching over 500,000 amino acids per second.

The electrically excitable nerve cells (or neurons) form the core components of the human brain, spinal cord, and the peripheral nerves. One million miles of nerves (each comprising of multiple neurons) run across the body. Nearly 200 billion neurons transmit information across the central and peripheral nervous systems. Each neuron has from up to 1,000 dendrite branches and axon protrusions that culminate in synapses. A variety of neurotransmitter chemicals flow across the synaptic gap. These allow the human being to receive various sensations (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile & kinesthetic sensations, sense of balance, etc.), build perceptions out of these sensations, experience emotions, make value judgments, contemplate plans, store and retrieve memories, and enact motor behaviors with the body.

The human heart pumps nearly 240 million litres of blood in a lifetime (through 100,000 kms of blood vessels) in order to oxygenate tissues, grow hair, digest food, eliminate wastes, manage the 22 internal organs, grow/renew the 600+ muscles and 206 bones etc.

Thus, the constitution of the human body is a veritable miracle. It is derived from the five natural elements, and has four key constituents: a) doshas, b) agni, c) dhatus, and d) malas.

2.         The Five Elements (Panchamahabhuta) – Building Blocks of the Body

Over the ages, numerous conceptions of the universe have been employed to progress from the comprehension of the gross particularity of earthly things to the ethereal pervasiveness of space and time in the manifest world. The most popular among these is the traditional framework of Panchamahabhuta, or the Five Great Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Ether).

The ancient seers perceived that in the beginning, the world existed in an un-manifest state of consciousness. From that state, the subtle vibrations of the cosmic sound Aummanifested.

From the subtle vibration of Aumcame the Ether, or the Space element. This ethereal element then began to move. Through its subtle movements, it created the Air element. The movement of Air produced friction, which in turn led to the generation of heat. Particles of this heat combined to form intense light, which eventually gave rise to the Fire element. The intense heat of Fire is said to have dissolved and liquefied certain ethereal elements. This process gave rise to the Water element, which in turn solidified to form the molecules of Earth. In this way, the five natural elements came into being.

From the Earth element, all the physical bodies as well as organic living beings in the plant and animal kingdoms were created. The Earth was the origin of all the inorganic substances of the mineral kingdom too. All matter was thus born out of the womb of the Five Elements. 

Water provides a classic example of the existence of the Five Elements in all the material forms of the universe. In its solid state, water exists as ice – a manifestation of the Earth principle. The latent heat (Fire) in the ice liquefies it, thus revealing the Water principle. Eventually, water turns into steam – which expresses the Air principle. The steam disappears into Ether, or Space. In this manner, the Five Elements are all present in every substance.  

2.1.      The Five Elements in the Human Body

The human being is a microcosm of the universe. Therefore, the five natural elements also exist within each individual. The nature of the elements determines the nature of physiology.

The five elements that are present in all of nature are likewise present within the body. Ether represents space in our blood vessels, organs, and bones. Air is the constant circulation of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our entire body by means of inhalation and exhalation. Fire is the metabolism of food into nutrients, tissue metabolism or cellular intelligence which helps keep healthy tissues and shed unwanted ones, as well as the digestion of thoughts and emotions. Two-thirds of our body mass is water in the form of plasma, blood, and waste products. Earth is stability, the muscles and bones in our body. When we connect to these elements in nature, it helps us to arrive at a deeper understanding of ourselves.

The numerous empty spaces within the human body are the aspects of Ether, or the Space element. This includes spaces in the mouth, the nose, the gastro-intestinal tract, the respiratory tract, the thorax, the capillaries, and the tissues. Air is the element of movement in the universe, and is present wherever there is motion. Air is present in the pulsations of the heart as well as the expansion and contraction of the lungs. 

The third element of Fire is the source of the metabolism that occurs in the digestive system. Metabolic enzyme systems, body temperature, and digestive processes are all regulated by the Fire element. Fire also works in the gray matter of the brain, where it manifests as the faculty of Thought and Intelligence. By activating the retina in eye, Fire also makes vision possible. 

Water is the fourth element present in the body. It manifests as the secretion of digestive juices, and is present in mucous membranes and in plasma as well as the cytoplasm. Water is vital for the functioning of all the systems of the body. The fifth element present in microcosm of the human being is Earth, from which all the solid structures in the body are derived. 

The Five Elements manifest in certain functions of human physiology too. In their gross form, these five natural elements (Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth) are related to the five human organs of action (mouth, hands, feet, genitals and excretory organs) – which allow people to respond to the input that they receive from the external, objective world. The Five Elements have functional integrity with the five human senses of hearing, tactile perception, vision, taste & smellthrough their subtle forms (tanmatra) of sound, touch, form, taste and odour

Ether is the medium through which sound is transmitted, and is thus related to the function of hearing. The sensory organ of hearing is the ear, while the associated organ of action is the mouth (including the vocal cords, which produce sound). Air is related to the sense of touch. Its corresponding sensory organ is the skin, while the associated organ of action is the hand. 

Fire, which manifests as light, heat, and color, is related to vision. The sensory organ of vision is the eye, while the associated organ of action is the feet. Eyes direct the action of walking. 

Water is related to taste. The corresponding organ o action is the tongue, since it is observed that the tongue is unable to perceive the different tastes without water. The related organ of action is the reproductive system. The tongue is closely related in function to the action of the genitals. In fact, the penis and clitoris are considered as the lower tongue of the human being. 

Earth is related to the sense of smell. The sensory organ of smell is the nose, while the associated organs of action are the excretory organs. The nose is related to the anus – as demonstrated by the fact that a person with constipation (or an otherwise unclean colon), experiences “bad breath” and a foul sense of smell. 

3.         The TridoshaFramework 

Ayurveda conceptualizes the working of the human body and mind, as well as the dynamic interaction between the two, through the framework of the tridosha. The five natural elements are systematically grouped into three doshas, or functional principles of physiology, that manifest as patterns in all of creation. These are named as vatapitta, and kapha.

While all the five elements are present to some degree in every dosha, two of the elements are predominant in each. Thus, vatais primarily constituted of the Air and Ether. Pitta comprises mainly the Fire and Water elements. Kaphais essentially composed of Water and Earth. 

The doshasare dynamic vectors, whose mutual interaction produces the animate complex or the psychosomatic entity that is referred to as the human person. They bind the five elements into living flesh, and are the agents of DNA that form the blueprint for the human physiology. 

For ease of understanding, the derivation of these doshasmay be likened to the results obtained by the factor analysis of the multiplicity of empirical evidence relating to psychological, emotional, mental, spiritual and physical phenomenon which was gathered by the traditional physicians of India through self-scrutiny, careful clinical experience and keen observation.

This analysis revealed that three major functional forces (or groupings) were involved in the human psychosomatic system. These were designated as the doshas. The reduction of multiple variables into three basic categories helped to reveal the essential nature & functions of the system, and also provided a coherent framework for understanding and dealing with disease. 

The tridoshamay be understood as three types of elemental organization, or energy complexes, that are present in everybody and everything. They govern the psychophysiological responses as well as the pathological changes within the human being. As long as the doshasare normal in quality and quantity, they help to maintain a harmonious psychophysiology. However, the moment they go out of balance, the doshasbegin to corrupt, pollute or vitiate the bodily tissues.

Literally, the term dosha loosely translates as “fault, impurity, or mistake”. Thus, doshamay be understood as the principle that leads to disease when it itself becomes vitiated, and thereafter affects the bodily tissues. Doshasare known and recognized by their various attributes (gunas). 

The human body requires energy to create movement, so that the fluids and nutrients may reach the cells. Energy is also necessary to help metabolize the nutrients in the cells. The body also utilizes energy in order to lubricate and maintain the cellular structure.

The doshas fulfill all of these functions in the body.Vatarepresents the energy of movement. Pittais associated with transformation, digestion and metabolism. Kaphadenotes the energy of lubrication and structure. The concept of support is a natural function of all the three doshas.

3.1 The Vata Dosha

The term Vatameans air. It is the subtle energy associated with movement, and has the qualities or attributes of dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear. The Sanskrit term “vata”is related to the verb “uah” – meaning vehicle, to carry, or to move. Thus, vatais the principle of mobility that regulates all the activity in the body – from the number of thoughts one might have during a given period to how efficiently the food moves through the intestines. 

Vatais in charge of prana, the vital life essence of the human personality. It governs the processes of breathing, blinking of the eyes, muscle and tissue movement, the pulsation of the heart, speech, sneezing, elimination and all movements in the cytoplasm and the cell membranes.Vatais associated with an astringent taste, and the brown & black colors.

Physically, people with a predominantly vataconstitution have light and flexible bodies. They have small, recessed and dry eyes as well as big and protruding teeth. With irregular appetite and thirst, they are delicate in health and experience digestive & mal-absorption problems too. 

Individuals with a predominantly Vataindividuals are easily excited, and tend to act quickly without much thinking. They enjoy daydreaming, and have a good imagination. The fear of darkness, heights and enclosed spaces is not uncommon in these persons. They are flexible and ready to change, but the change does not necessarily last for long. Due to their active nature, they earn a good amount of money but spend it on trifles. 

All in all, Vatarepresents those aspects of the psychophysical system that are erratic, unpredictable, the least tangible and perceptible, but also the most subtle and active.

When in balance, vatapromotes joy, happiness, creativity and flexibility. When out of balance, it gives rise to fear, anxiety, and abnormal movements.

3.2 The Pitta Dosha

Pittais hot sharp, light, spreading and slightly oily in nature. It is sour, pungent, and bitter to the taste, and has a fleshy smell. It is associated with the red and yellow colors. 

The word pittais derived from the Sanskrit word tap– meaning “to heat”, and also “to be austere”. Thus, Pitta represents the Fire principle in the body, and indicates all those aspects of the system that are hot, energetic, assertive, and capable of doing work.

Everything that enters the body must be digested or cooked, from the sight of a full moon to a peanut popped into the mouth. It is Pittathat governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, and metabolism in the body, and also regulates its temperature. In addition to the gastric fire, Pittaalso includes the enzymes & amino acids that play a major role in metabolism, as well as the neurotransmitters & neuropeptides that are involved in thinking. It is thus responsible for providing a person with appetite, vitality, learning & understanding.

Pitta people have a sensitive and reactive body with a medium frame and weight. They seldom gain or lose much weight. They may have sharp yellowish teeth, with soft gums. Their eyes are bright, but tend to be sensitive to light. Pitta individuals usually have strong appetite & thirst. 

Individuals with a Pitta-dominant constitution have excellent capability for learning, comprehension and concentration. They are highly disciplined, and are blessed with wisdom. However, they can be judgmental, critical, perfectionistic, and tend to become angry easily. 

Pitta individuals never yield an inch from their principles, which sometimes leads them to fanaticism. They love noble professions, and often earn large amounts of money to spend on luxury items. They may not have a strong sex drive. Overall, the pitta constitution is endowed with moderate strength, much material knowledge, wealth, and a medium span of life.

When in balance, pittapromotes understanding and intelligence. When out of balance, it arouses anger, hatred, jealousy, and inflammatory disorders.

3.3 The Kapha Dosha

Kaphasignifies all those features of the psychosomatic complex that are heavy, dense, gross, sluggish, coarse, slow, cool, oily, liquid, slimy, soft, static, sticky, hard and tending towards the material. It has a sweet and salty taste, and is white in color.

The phrase kaphacomes from two Sankrit roots – “ka” meaning water and “pha” meaning to flourish. Thus, kaphais responsible for supplying the water and the other necessary fluids for all the bodily parts and systems. It represents the energy that forms the body’s structure as well as its cells, tissues and organs. Kapha also maintains immunity, lubricates the joints & organs, builds strong muscles & bones, facilitates memory retention, and moistens the skin.

Individuals with a constitution that is dominant in kaphaare observed to have a strong and large body frame, large eyes, strong teeth and thick, curly hair, and thick, smooth, oily & hairy skin. They also have steady appetite and thirst, but a slow digestion and metabolism. 

Kaphapeople love to eat, sit, and sleep for a long time. They are blessed with a deep and stable faith, love and compassion, and a calm and steady mind. They have a very good memory and a deep melodious voice, but a monotonous pattern of speech. Due to their strong constitutions, Kapha individuals are endowed with excellent strength, knowledge, peace, love and longevity. 

When in balance,kaphais expressed as love, calmness, and forgiveness. When out of balance, it manifests as attachment, greed, possessiveness and congestive disorders.

4.         The Digestive Fire (Agni)

Agniis the radiant energy that manifests in the human body as its temperature, digestive enzymes, amino acids, and all the metabolic activities. This sacred fire in the human body is centered in the stomach, and is referred to as the jathara agni(gastric fire).

The food that we eat contains life energy. However, this food usually needs to be cooked so that its energy (that is latent within) is transformed into absorbable substances that can nourish the body tissues. This is partially accomplished by means of external cooking, but the process is complete only when the food is subsequently cooked or digested inside the body too. 

Digestion is essentially the process of cooking the food within the body, and is in many ways similar to the external preparation/cooking of food. The basic requirements in both cases are: a) fireplace / stove, b) pot, c) fuel, d) air, e) fire, f) water, g) food (the raw material), and h) the organizer.

Within the human body, the small intestine represents the fireplace or stove, while the fire is jathara agni. The cooking pot is the stomach. The fuel is the previous day’s digested food, which gives its energy to the wall of the intestines for the discharge of digestive enzymes that kindle the agni. The ventilating air is the electrical energy required to conduct the heat, while the water is the gastric mucosal secretion in the stomach. Finally, the organizer and governor of all these processes is prana.

The molecules of fire enter the pot, and first kindle the fire latent within the water & thereafter the fire within the food. The external agniactivates the solar energy that lies dormant in the food. The water in the pot helps the uniform distribution of fire to each grain. Circulation and churning happens in the stomach. Every molecule of agnithat enters the water comes in contact with the molecules of food. It is thus that molecular digestion takes place, and the food is cooked. This process makes thepranaenergy available for release within the body.

The term agnidescribes the fiery enzymes & metabolic processes that help to bring about this transformation within the body. Its primary function is to digest absorb, assimilate and transform food and sensations into energy. When this fire is robust, the person can maintain a strong immune system and thereby live a long and healthy life. Agni also relates to maturation and maintenance of the tone of the body tissues. 

Agni is the biological fire that acts as the link between the individual life and cosmic life, and serves as a bridge between the body, mind and consciousness. As the main source of life, it helps to maintain the circulation of nutrients in the body in conjunction with the three doshas. A person is considered to be as old as his/her agni. Without agni, it is impossible to digest any food item or sensory experience. When this vital fire is extinguished, death soon follows. 

5.         Dhatus  (The Seven Bodily Tissues)

The human body is made up of atoms, which gather together to create molecules. Numerous molecules come together to create tissues, which are the constructing or the cementing material of the body. The term “Dhatu” means the tissues that hold the body organs together. It is derived from the Sanskrit root dha means holding “placing, containing, or causing”. 

The body comprises of seven dhatus or tissues, as follows:

DhatuBodily Tissue
RasaPlasma (Serum, While Blood Cells, The Lymphatic System)
RaktaRed Blood Cells
MedaAdipose tissue / Fat
AsthiBones and cartilage
MajjaMarrow, Nerve Tissue, Connective Tissue
Shukra / ArtavaMale and Female Reproductive Tissue

The capillaries collect the end product of digested food (ahara) from the gastro-intestinal tract, and move it into general circulation. This milk-like alkaline product of digestion that is the nutrient precursor is known as ahara rasa, or the essence of food. Also referred to as chyle, it is carried from the intestines into the bloodstream by the lymphatic system. Within five days, the ahara rasabecomes mature rasa dhatu– which nourishes all the successive tissues.

The nourishment of the bodily tissues occurs in stages through each of the dhatussuccessively. As each dhatureceives the nutrients, it processes and digests these nutrients and produces two results. The first product is the mature and fully formed tissue. Its second output is the immature, unprocessed or raw form of nutrition for the next level of tissue formation. The process proceeds in this manner, till the reproductive tissue is finally formed 35 days later. 

5.1.      Rasa Dhatu

Rasa dhaturepresents the veritable juice of all life, and is associated with plasma. It contains the White Blood Cells as well as the blood serum. Rasa dhatu also includes all of the lymph, which is the circulating fluid of the lymphatic system. 

The superior quality of rasa dhatu(which is the rasa sara) is responsible for clear perception, clarity, faith, love, and trust. When the quality of rasa dhatuis superfine, it brings music and perfume to life. The predominant tastes in the rasa dhatuare the sweet and the salty.

5.2.      Rakta Dhatu

Rakta dhatucomprises the red blood cells in the heart and the blood vessels. Its primary function is to transport nutrients from the gastro-intestinal tract, pranaenergy from the lungs and the vyanaenergy from the heart – to all the cells in the body. By carrying nutrients to the tissues, Rakta dhatuprovides vital life support for cellular activities and also acts as a bridge between the internal and the external environment of the body. It also carries all the waste products back from the cells to the excretory organs, including the CO2to the lungs.

The Rasaand the Rakta dhatuswork together in transporting specific hormones (agni) from the endocrine glands to the target tissues. They also bathe all the cells of the body in a stable liquid composition, in accordance with the individual’s unique constitution. A third function of these two key tissues working together is the regulation of body temperature, by means of the redistribution of heat from the skeletal muscles and active organs to the different body parts.

5.3.      Mamsa Dhatu 

Mamsa dhatuis the muscle tissue. It is heavy, elastic, firm, dense, and bulky. The muscular system is derived from the kapha dosha, and accounts for nearly half of the body weight. Muscles give shape to the body, and are responsible for the personality and its appearance.

Muscle cells are specialized to undergo muscular contraction. When a muscle fiber contracts, the chemical energy of blood nutrients is converted into the mechanical energy of muscle movement. Akin to the braking system in a moving vehicle, muscles have the capacity to create resistance against movement in order to halt the body whenever required. When the person stands on one leg, a specific group of muscles are found to contract while the muscles in the opposite group are relaxed. In this manner, muscles help to maintain the balance of the body.

Muscles provide protection by covering the various organs and the other delicate parts of the body. They plaster the bones & joints, and protect the nerves & blood vessels too. Muscles are also responsible for the movement of all the bodily fluids, including the urine, the sweat, the lymph, and the blood. Further, they enable the movement of the joints during walking.

Muscles have the capacity to bring about co-ordination in movement. Handwriting, sketching, dancing, walking on a rope, climbing a mountain or any other form of activity requires that various groups of muscles work together harmoniously in order to bring about skillful action. 

The mamsa dhatuprovides power, ambition and courage to the individual. Together with the bones, muscles too give support to the person. Muscles also help to convey emotion, as for example the expression of joy, happiness, anger, or fear through the use of the facial muscles.

5.4.      Meda Dhatu

The Meda dhatucomprises of adipose tissue, which includes fat, phospholipids, steroids (e.g. cholesterol), and other types of lipids. It is present beneath the skin as subcutaneous fat, and is the insulating material that helps to maintain the body temperature. This loose connective tissue is watery, unctuous, slimy, and soft in nature, and helps the person to feel grounded.

The adipose tissue has a vital function to play in the living cell. It participates in the formation of membranes and other structures of the cell, and also helps to lubricate and nourish them. The fats also store and supply energy for all of the varied cellular activities. 

5.5.      Asthi Dhatu

The asthi dhaturepresents the bones (the densest tissue in the body) and cartilage. It provides internal support within the body. The asthi dhatucreates the cranial, thoracic, and the pelvic cavities within the body. Bones gives shape to the head, face, thorax, limbs, and the nose. They also protect the delicate vital organs, including the brain, eyes ears, tongue, heart & the lungs. The pelvic bones protect the ovaries, fallopian tubes, colon and the prostate gland too.

Indirectly, asthi dhatu maintains water electrolyte balance through the molecules of calcium magnesium, sodium and potassium. It also conducts the sound waves that aid in hearing. All the ambulatory movements too are governed by the asthi dhatu, through the various joints. Working together with the bone marrow, it also facilitates the formation of the red blood cells.

5.6.      Majja Dhatu

The sixth bodily tissue, Majja Dhatu, includes the nerve tissue as well as the bone marrow. Its major function is communication. Majja dhatuis present in the brain, hypothalamus, spinal cord, and also in all the inter-spinal & cranial nerves, including the sub-cutaneous nerves. 

Bone Marrow is a soft jelly-like tissue within the cavity of the bone, which enables the perception of a sense of pain, pressure, and position of the joint. It fills the spaces within the bones, by way of a little hole through which the nerves and blood vessels enter the bone tissue.

5.7.      Shukra Dhatu

Shukra dhatuis the male reproductive tissue, while its counterpart artavais the female reproductive tissue. These tissues are specialized towards producing a new life. Their vital function is to create offspring, and thus provide continuation to the human species. The male seed (sperm) is created in the testicles, while the female egg (ovum) is created in the ovary. 

6.         Mala(The Waste Products)

Malarefers to the non-essential foodstuff, or the elements of waste that are generated as the end products of the digestive processes in the human body. These must be regularly and frequently eliminated from the body, as they are produced.

The term Malamay also be looked upon as a series of events that enable nourishment as well as elimination of waste from the body, after the digestion of food and the nutrition of tissues. The three primary human malasare: a) feces (purisha), b) urine (mutra), & c) sweat (sveda). 

After passing across the small intestine, food comes into the small intra-peritoneal pouch at the junction of the small and the large intestines (known as cecum, or the second stomach) & rests there for a while. The liquid foodstuff becomes thicker as it passes through this last phase of the digestion process. The cecum is thus the root of the body channel that processes the feces.

The main passage of the digested foodstuff is across the large intestine, which includes the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon and the rectum. Certain vitamins, minerals and water are absorbed in the ascending colon and the first half of the transverse colon. In the second half of the transverse colon, the food becomes solid and heavy.

Finally, it develops into well-bound fecal matter in the descending and the sigmoid colon. The opening or mouth of the body channel that processes the feces is the anal orifice, from where the completely formed feces are ejected out of the body through the process of mass peristalsis. 

The urinary channel refers to the structures that produce and conduct urine to the point of excretion. The kidneys constitute the root of this channel, and are responsible for regulating and filtering all the fluids consumed by the body. Any excess water, including that which is absorbed by the mucous membrane of the colon, is discharged as liquid waste by the kidneys.

Urine is formed by nephrons, which are the functional units of the kidney. It then flows through a system of collecting ducts that join together to form calyces, which ultimately join the pelvis of the kidney. From here, it flows into the ureter – a tube-like structure that carries the urine into the bladder. During urination, the stored contents of the bladder are discharged through the opening of the urethra – which constitutes the mouth of the urinary channel.

The channel for carrying sweat in the body begins with the coiled and tubular sweat glands, which are located deep within the skin. They discharge watery secretions, either in the canals of hair follicles or directly on to the surface of the skin. The main passage of the sweat lies through the sweat ducts. The pores of the skin represent the mouth of this channel in the body.

Sweat removes the impurities from the body plasma, and also indirectly regulates the blood pressure and temperature as well as the water electrolyte balance in the body.

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