Rakhee Thakar tells us what is the ideal amount of water you need to consume every day and the right way to do it, as per the ancient medical system of Ayurveda
In the era that debates about the benefits and hazards of newer processing techniques and packaging of water, it’s time we relearn the forgotten age-old principles of drinking water.
Just like everything in nature, our bodies are made of five elements; earth, water, fire, air, and space. Water constitutes two-thirds of our body mass; it sustains and purifies not only our bodies but all animate and inanimate matter and is essential for our very existence. Staying well-hydrated is imperative for a healthy glowing complexion and mental and physical agility. It helps brain functioning and ability to concentrate, maintains energy levels, and prevents wrinkles and acne by flushing out the toxins.
Avoid excessive water intake
‘More is better’ seems to be the common myth regarding water. This is far from reality as a balance of the elements is imperative for health. While inadequate water intake can contribute to headaches including migraines, urine infection, urinary stones, and poor immunity, its excessive consumption can cause indigestion by dampening the digestive fire (agni). In fact, excessive water intake should be avoided during fever, conditions with excessive secretions from the mouth, nose, and fluid retention, as in heart failure and renal disease.
What, actually, is the ideal amount of water intake? Thirst is no doubt the best indicator. Ayurveda states that suppression of the natural physical urges of thirst, hunger, urination, defecation, sleep, and so on, is the cause of many serious diseases. How often do we postpone drinking a glass of water when occupied with a task not realizing that we are inviting disease? The water requirement also depends on the ambient temperature and physical activity of the individual. It is but obvious that excessive sweating with strenuous physical work in hot weather increases the requirement of water intake. But today, people leading sedentary lifestyles staying in air-conditioned interiors drown their digestive fires with gallons of drinking water, often at cold temperatures. This causes indigestion with symptoms such as acidity, belching, abdominal heaviness, and gas.
A rough guide of optimal water intake would be the passage of pale yellow urine six times a day. More frequent passage of water-like, colorless urine (in the absence of kidney disorders) implies excessive water intake just like infrequent dark yellow urine indicates dehydration.
Get the timing right
It’s not just the amount of water intake but also it’s timing that is important. Water that’s consumed on waking up in the morning helps effective clearing of the bowels and aids effective clearance of toxins from the body. Constipation is often the root of most modern-day chronic diseases. Ayurveda advices drinking 8 handfuls of water (anjalis) on waking up in the morning before going to the toilet.
The maintenance of a healthy digestive fire is the key to health. The process of digestion can be compared to that of cooking food over a fire in a pot. Just as there is an ideal proportion of water to ensure perfect cooking, Ayurveda recommends two-quarters of the stomach be filled with solid food, one quarter with liquid, and the remaining quarter be kept empty to ensure optimal digestion. Overeating definitely hampers digestion by smothering the digestive fire, as does the habit of drinking large amounts of water with meals. Consuming refrigerated or iced water is even more detrimental. Cold water impairs fat breakdown contributing to obesity, constipation, respiratory infection, and asthma; it also increases cholesterol and worsens diabetes, heart, and kidney disease.
The timing of drinking water in relation to meals is also important. Water had immediately before or after meals, dampens the digestive fire hampering digestion that creates toxins in the body which manifest as high blood glucose, cholesterol, or uric acid. This is also an important contributor to obesity.
Sip it with your meal
It is best to drink some warm water in the middle of the meal which should be no more than one-fourth of the stomach capacity. If the meal contains enough water in the form of soups, dals, and curries, there is no need to drink any water with the meal. A dry meal like poha should be accompanied by some warm water ensuring that the amount does not exceed half the amount of the meal.
It is beneficial to drink water an hour after meals. People are often thirsty at mealtimes because of inadequate intake of water in the preceding hours.
During fever, only boiled water should be consumed at a lukewarm temperature. It may be cooled down to room temperature when there is excessive heat in the body like bleeding from any site. Warm water also helps lose weight. Warm water is the best food during indigestion.
It is a healthy practice to consume water while one is seated than standing. This helps in the proper and efficient absorption and distribution of the water consumed. Water should be consumed in small sips and not gulped down. Hence the proverb ‘Eat your liquids and drink your solids.’ Solid food should be swallowed only when it has been chewed well enough till it becomes liquid.
Store it right
The vessel in which the water is stored is also important. Water stored in a copper pot is hot in potency and hence beneficial for those who have a Kapha constitution (more of earth and water elements in the body) whereas people with Pitta constitution (excess of fire element) benefit from the cooling effect of water stored in an earthen pot. Plastic water bottles are said to release the carcinogen dioxin into the water and this process is exaggerated by heat.
The Chandogya Upanishad states that the grossest part of the ingested water forms the urine, the less gross part forms the blood and the subtlest part becomes the prana, the vital force. The next time you pick up bottled water that has been packaged in plastic and been stored for a long time, pause and think.
Best detox drink morning
Melt your fat with warm water
More is not better
Drink when thirsty
Drinking water immediately after meals causes obesity
Drinking cold water contributes to diabetes, high blood pressure, and uric acid
The writer is an MD and currently coordinates Punarnava, an integrated centre of holistic health in Gujarat