Water has a deep and rich history in Vedic tradition, the basis of both Ayurveda and yoga. In fact, there are more than 100 words and synonyms for water in Vedic texts. When it comes to spiritual rituals, water was always the medium. It was used to carry intention, bind spiritual wishes, and as a vehicle for blessings in ancient practices. Rivers were admired and highly regarded for their mother-like nourishment to life. The flowing and connecting property of water is what helped sustain life.
Considering water’s spiritual significance, it’s not surprising that Ayurveda sees water as extremely important to our overall health. There are three essential things that support life itself: breath, food, and water.
Why You Need Water
Ayurveda suggests there’s a separate system that carries fluids in the body (known as udaka vaha srota). Its main control mechanism is under the upper palate, near where the major endocrine regulating hypothalamus and pituitary glands are located. There are several diseases and health issues that are thought to come from the imbalance in this channel or system, including diabetes, fluid retention, and swelling, like edema, and excessive thirst, to name a few. If someone doesn’t drink enough liquids, or consumes the wrong kinds (like too much alcohol), then damage to these fluid-carrying channels can occur.
Physiologically speaking, Ayurveda says that everything in the body has to move. Fluid is constantly flowing throughout the body. Water also supports two fluid tissues in the body: blood and lymph. If fluid is deficient, both blood and lymph lose their functionality, which causes a whole host of health problems. Lastly, the two waste products our bodies produce, sweat and urine, depend on fluid as well. In short, to sustain life, maintain tissues, and eliminate waste, water is invaluable.
When to Drink Water
Ayurveda recommends a series of morning rituals that should be completed before starting your day. It’s said that if you want to live 100 years, you should complete these rituals each day, without fail. One of them is drinking water—eight palmfuls to be exact. This measure is unique to each person and the size of his/her hand, and is done mainly to improve digestion and cleanse the body.
It’s also advised to keep the amount of water needed in a metal vessel. The type of metal you use depends on your body type. Ideally, you use copper for kapha (water), silver for vata (wind), and then gold for pitta (fire). Many people choose copper regardless of their dosha because it helps remove bacteria from the water.
For the rest of the day, drink water when you’re thirsty and based on the season. In the summer, you might need to drink more, and in the winter, you can drink less, but you should never force yourself to throw back bottles and bottles just because you feel like you should be consuming a certain amount.
There are also some specific recommendations about when to drink water in relation to eating food. Ayurveda says that if you want to lose weight, you should drink water before you eat. About 30 minutes before meals, you should drink a quantity of water that quenches your thirst. The reasoning behind this is simple: the more water you drink, the less hungry you will feel.
If you want to maintain your weight, you should sip water along with eating your food. This will help to mix the acid in your stomach with the food properly, and satisfies the volume of your appetite, because it takes a little space in between.
If you want to gain weight, you should drink water after you eat. This way, there’s more room for food in your body, and you won’t give away precious real estate to libations.
How to Drink Water
Drinking water, in general, is considered to be health-promotive in Ayurveda, although it’s very specific about what type of water to drink. Rain-harvested water is best for everyday drinking. The rationale behind this is that it hasn’t been mixed with other elements of the earth, so it doesn’t aggravate any of the doshas in a person’s body, and can easily reach and hydrate all the tissues in the body because it’s so pure.
Right now, most Ayurveda practitioners don’t drink rainwater because it’s a logistically difficult practice to implement. But I’m sure, in the future, there will be an industry for harvested rainwater bottled for people to drink.
When it comes to water itself, research has shown that water from different sources has different qualities. Water from the rivers that flow from the Himalayas to the east has different qualities from the waters that flow to the west. Well water, stream water, and rainwater all have different properties and qualities. Spring water is different from pond water. This is important because certain types of water can aggravate various health issues, and some types of water are harder or easier to digest. Generally, I’d recommend spring or mineral water because it’s the closest in quality to rainwater.
It’s common practice to treat the water you drink, since most people can’t drink rainwater. This can be done by boiling the water to reduce its volume by about half. You let it cool off, and drink it while it’s still warm.
Ideally, Ayurveda says you should never drink cold water. Summer is the only time when you can drink cold or room temperature water—but never ice cold. Why? Warmer water is thought to have metabolism-boosting benefits in Ayurveda, as well as health-promotive effects on the gut and digestive systems, and may help to prevent gas and bloating.
Bottom line: Drink warm or room temperature water first thing in the morning when you wake up, and continue sipping on it for the rest of the day whenever you feel thirsty in order to maintain your overall health.