Satmya means something that is naturally favourable or comfortable for the body. It is said that even if something is not compatible to the human body in general, after exposure for a long time, starting with small quantities; the body makes physiological changes to adapt itself to that particular substance. It can be anything, from excessive salt in food to poison. It is believed that in ancient times, little girls were given small portions of poison to develop them into assassins (Vish kanya or poison girls).
Satmya is of two types according to 2 Kshetra of human existence – Manasic (Mental) Satmya and shariric (physical) Satmya.
Mental Satmya is clearly more important than the physical Satmya.
Let us consider an example to understand the mental Satmya. Some communities eat living fish, because according to them it is the freshest, which is true beyond doubt. They have a mental acceptance for this recipe. But people unaccustomed to this, will find it very gross and unpalatable.
Let us take another instance; for stanch Hindus, eating beef will be absolutely disagreeable, even if they are starving. Same goes for pork in case of Muslims. Eating beef and pork is not seriously detrimental to human body in general. Only risk is the one posed by tapeworm infection. But a Hindu might feel sick of guilt after eating beef; this is more dangerous than actually falling sick.
Mental Satmya is very important. One should not eat anything that she/he does not like. In fact, according to the ayurvedic rule for ideal meal, one should eat things that she/he loves (Priya). A meal that does not result in happiness and contentment does not nourish the body. The concept of Satmya starts with the mind and evolves in the body. If mind accepts a food, body will be nourished from it. According to some researches, people hypnotized and given non-existent/ fake food survived and even gained weight!
Examples of shariric (physical) Satmya are multiple. Eating fish along with milk is not considered a healthy combination in ayurveda. But people in West Bengal are accustomed to it. Too much of vinegar is not a healthy choice, but people in China, Thailand etc. consume lots of vinegar every day and still stay healthy and live long.
The essence of Satmya is that either we should get accustomed to something or don’t eat it at all. Any variation from the ideal meal also comes at a price. Body has to accommodate the change somewhere else in the body or the mind. Charak says that generations of people habituated to excessive intake of acids have slanted eyes and wrinkled face, as in case of population of noodle eating countries.
Do not eat something that is not compatible to you mentally or physically in large quantities. If you must get adapted to the incompatible or astamya, start with little quantity in a disease free state of body and gradually increase the dosage according to your comfort. The initial quantity and the incremental dosage differ from individual to individual. Consulting an experienced physician will be a better choice.