Essential Ideas for Optimal Digestion
In Ayurveda, the way we digest our food, is the way we digest our life. This phenomenon is referred to as Agni. Agni is our digestive fire. It is also our ability to digest thoughts, feelings, and life experiences. When speaking on optimizing digestion, it is important to identify our relationship with food. One thing I like to suggest to my clients is replacing the word 'food' with the word 'nourishment.' This offers the framework to view eatings as the gift that it is, rather than a chore or mindless activity we do while rushing to meetings. Nourishing yourself is an act of intention and radical self love. It is truly something to be celebrated! By using the tools in this article, nourishment can become a fun avenue for building a relationship with yourself.
The Importance of Good Digestion
When your Agni, or digestion, is balanced you have passion and excitement for life, you are well nourished and naturally energized. You can easily assimilate your food and have effortless, regular elimination patterns. When you have poor Agni you begin to have a toxic sludge build up. In Ayurveda we refer to toxins as Ama. Many of our diseases start from a build up of Ama in the body and this happens because our metabolic fire is unable to process what we are consuming. The good news is- with proper food hygiene and eating in accordance to your dosha (Vata, Pitta, or Kapha) you can feel good in your body by having balanced Agni and experience low Ama.
Proper Food Hygiene
Research shows that 90% of all digestive disturbances will resolve when we are consistent with our food hygiene. Take a moment to think about the last meal that you had. Where were you? Were you fully engaged with your meal free from the chaos of work, kids, a phone, TV or activating conversation? Were you actively appreciating the flavor and preparation of your food? Did you chew consistently / fully, taking moments of pause before having another bite? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you may consider the benefits of incorporating proper Ayurvedic food hygiene!
I always suggest using an additive approach, and being incremental about your changes. This way the practices are more attainable and it (hopefully) won't seem as overwhelming. Begin with choosing two practices from the list below that are the most exciting to you. Commit to incorporating those two practices at every meal for two weeks. Then add another 2, for 2 weeks and continue this cadence until you feel as though you have a regimen that feels good to you!
- Predictable, consistent meal times and proportions every day
- Appropriate environment- somewhere calm and non stimulating (no phone, tv, intense music, or activating conversation)
- Eat when you’re hungry, not before
- Eat food prepared seasonally, Well spiced, well oiled and with love
- Take a moment of pause to drop in before you eat. When your body feels rushed or distracted it will not digest as well
- Chew food fully, put down utensils between each bite
- Eat to 75% full, stomach should be part food, part liquid, and part space
- Avoid cold or iced drinks- this suppresses the functions of our digestion
Signs You May Have Imbalanced Agni (Digestive Fire)
- Unexplained weight gain
- Belly bloat
- Burping or gas
- Acidity or heartburn
- Itchy rectum
- Loose stools or constipation
- The feeling that your poos just aren't "complete"
- Feeling super full after a normal-sized meal (or that you need a post-meal nap)
- Dry, cracked nails
- Dry, cracking skin
- Bad breath
- Lots of coating on tongue
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- Eczema, hives, and other rashes
- Unexplained brain fog, bad mood, lethargy
What Balanced Digestion Looks Like:
- Unable to identify the location of food in the digestive process
- No burping, gas, burning, or acid
- Easy to maintain healthy weight for your individual body type
No signs of Ama
- Clear tongue
- No body odor
- Fresh breath
How to Regulate Inconsistent (Vata) Agni
Identifying Vata Type Digestion
The Vata dosha is represented by the elements air and either. You may have Vata Agni if you are experiencing gas, dry skin, constipation, anxiety, or jet-lag. Your body will likely benefit from incorporating more warming, grounding, stabilizing, comforting, and wetness into your life and nourishment.
Healthy Vata Practices
Eat your meals well cooked, well oiled, and well spiced. make sure your meal times consistent every day so your body can regulate with routine.
- Sweet, salty, sour
- Ghee, baked fruits, cooked veggies, mung beans, avocado, warm water, and calming teas
- Bitter, astringent, pungent
- Dry foods like chips, toast and granola, dried fruits, cruciferous veggies, caffeine, and carbonated beverages
How to Calm Fiery (Pitta) Agni
Identifying Pitta Type Digestion
The Pitta dosha is represented by the elements fire and water. You may have Pitta Agni if you are experiencing inflammation, hyper-acidity, anger, intensity, an overheated body, loose stools, acne, or skin rashes. Your body will likely benefit from incorporating more cooling, calming, drying, grounding or spaciousness in your life and nourishment.
Healthy Pitta Practices
Eat your meals in calm environments, practice being mindful about what and how you eat, incorporate calming and cooling herbs, be consistent with eating all three meals a day.
- Sweet, bitter, astringent
- Herbs such as peppermint, licorice, and chamomile, raw veggies, fresh green juice, coconut, and grains
- Pungent, sour, salty, spicy
- Nuts, onion, tomato, vinegar, alcohol, caffeine, and meats
How to Spark a Dampened (Kapha) Agni
Identifying Kapha Type Digestion
The Kapha Dosha is represented by the elements Earth and Water. You may have Kapha Agni if you are experiencing mucous, excess weight, fluid retention or heaviness. Your body may benefit from incorporating more dryness, lightness, circulation or spice into your nourishment and life.
Healthy Kapha Practices
Eat light soups or broth based meals and spicy herbal teas in the evening. Eat a thin slice of ginger before meals. Eat dinner no later than 6pm. If you have any dairy make sure its eaten alone, well spiced or with something sweet (grains, honey, brown sugar).
- Pungent, Bitter, Astringent, Spicy
- Green juice, dandelion greens, kale, fenugreek, green tea, ginger, pungent herbs 30-60min before eating
- Salty, sweet, sour, fats
- Milks, meats, fruit, chocolate, wheat, fatty foods, alcohol, sugar, processed foods, sodium, heavy oils
Ayurvedic Practices for a Lifetime of Wellness
Ayurveda takes into consideration your physical body, mental body and energetic body, when it comes to creating a lifetime of wellness. This article spoke on some physical body practices for digestion in order to clear Ama and deeply nourish yourself. You can continue your Ayurvedic wellness journey by reading other articles from the Medicin Journal, by transforming your wellbeing by working with an Ayurvedic practitioner or by healing at home with our curated line of Ayurvedic products!