“When diet is right, medicine is of no need; when diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.” -Ayurvedic Proverb
The root of health is good digestion and good digestion begins with strong AGNI. Agni means “fire” and it exists in every cell of our body, governing all metabolic activity. The central bodily Agni, like the pilot light in your oven, is located in the gut.
Caring for agni is like building a fire at the beginning of each day. You begin with a little kindling. For breakfast, we have just enough to satisfy, without overwhelming. A warm, light meal is best when it’s cold out. As the fire builds in intensity, we can add more wood. Eating heavier foods at the mid day meal when your hunger is stronger will ensure better digestion than those same heavy foods in the morning or at night.
We experience agni as hunger. Real hunger is that feeling in the belly that signals we need to eat. When we’re on the verge of getting sick we lose our appetite, and when our health is returning, our appetite returns. A central way to care for agni, and thereby our overall health, is to eat only when hungry.
Learn to distinguish real hunger from emotional hunger.
Like a cake the bakes properly in a pre-heated oven, our food is digested best when we are hungry. Real hunger signals we have the digestive juices present in our gut to digest food. Put an unbaked cake into a cold or luke-warm oven, and you get a gooey mess, not cake. Eat when you’re not hungry and you get AMA—undigested food—which is toxic to the body.
Signs of Ama:
Loss of appetite
Foul taste in your mouth in the morning
Fatigue after eating
Foul smelling body odor and elimination
Dull complexion, hair and skin
Muscle and joint pain
If you think you have ama in your system, a simple way to begin to eliminate it is to refrain from eating again until you have real hunger. FAST on hot ginger root tea and sip it every few minutes. This will give your body time to burn the ama and rid you of the toxic effects.
Digestive imbalance shows up differently in different people. Ayurveda has distinguished three types of imbalanced digestion:
Irregular: too much wind, sometimes hungry, sometimes not. Sometimes digests food well, other times forms gas, bloating and constipation —associated with elimination that is hard, dry, effortful or like rabbit pellets. For this type, eat a few pieces of fresh sliced ginger root ,with a little salt and lime juice 15 – 30 minutes before a meal. Eat food that is warm and a little oily like soups and stews, and skip dry, raw and rough foods like crackers, rice cakes and too many salads.
Sharp: too hot, produces a raging appetite. These people can’t miss a meal without becoming angry and upset. Acidity, slight nausea, irritable bowel and acid reflux occur—associated with loose stool, diarrhea and burning during elimination. For this type, avoid hot, spicy and fatty, fried foods and limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine. Include more bitter greens and apples in your diet. Enjoy pomegranate juice spritzers between meals.
Slow: too heavy and damp, may not feel that they can digest much at all. Even a little food or water feels like it just sits in the belly. May burp or belch the after taste of the last meal or feel tired after eating. Slow, sluggish, mucous-y elimination is common. For this type, favor more dry, light food and eat fewer carbohydrates (less rice and bread). Addpungent spices like garlic and black pepper. Limit or avoid dairy.
Balanced Digestion means Balanced Agni: Regular hunger and elimination with no signs of indigestion after eating. Elimination is timely and feels complete, lacks offensive odor or straining and has the shape and consistency of a banana—some a little dryer, some a little looser—and tends to float without leaving a sticky residue on the toilet or on you. Other Signs of Balanced Agni:
Luster in the eyes, hair and skin.
Clear mind/ clear thinking
Good body temperature (not too hot, not too cold)
Enthusiasm for life
Download this Balanced Digestion PDF to use at home.
Changing our habits around eating is very deep work. The origins of these habits go all the way back to the breast (and even before that).
The old adage that food is love is true! There are emotional components to being well-fed, satisfied, contented, cared for and well-nourished. But some of the ways we’ve learned and habituated to self-soothe with food whether we’re hungry or not, are making us sick. So slowy, slowy, one step at a time will bring the healthy habits into prominence!
If your digestion could use some support, Pick 1 practice to focus on this week. Celebrate your little successes and notice how you feel.
Ayurveda, like yoga is a life process not a quick fix.
Practice staying awake when you get into an old bad habit and notice (without judgement) the results of that old habit. These shifts in awareness, linking effect to cause, are the KEYS to lasting change and growing self-awareness.
Want some help? Schedule a free 15 minute Zoom session with me and I will help you determine your next best step. (Zoom is a video conferencing platform. All you need to run it is a smart phone OR computer, and you don’t have to download anything—I will send you a link, and your computer will take it from there).
Here’s to better health and vitality through balanced digestion.
Sending so much love!