“When diet is right, medicine is of no need; when diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.” -Ayurvedic Proverb
According to Ayurveda, the root of good health and longevity is well-functioning 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. Current research into the science of the microbiome supports this idea: proper digestion underlies everything from mood to immunity to longevity.
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 a heartier meal mid-day 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 restored, our appetite returns. A simple way to care for agni, and thereby our overall health, is to eat only when hungry.
Learn to distinguish real hunger from emotional hunger.
Real hunger signals we have the digestive juices present in our gut to digest food. Like a cake the bakes properly in a pre-heated oven, we digest food best when we are hungry. 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. You can do this in a couple of ways:
1. Skip the morning meal and wait until hunger arrives before eating. Sip on hot ginger root tea or hot water with lime and sip it every few minutes until hunger arrives.
2. As a general practice, extend the time between dinner and the first meal of the following day. Try to go 12 - 14 hours. This simple practice gives your body time to get all the way through the digestive process and then gives your digestive organs a chance to cleanse/rest.
Balanced digestion means balanced agni: Not too hot (acidity) or too cold (no appetite or slow sluggish digestion). Regular hunger and elimination are signs of balanced digestion. Healthy 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.
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 slowly, slowly, one step at a time will bring the healthy habits into prominence!
If your digestion could use some support try these practices:
1. Practice eating 2 or 3 meals a day at regular times, the largest meal mid-day.
2. If you're not hungry for breakfast, have brunch and dinner
3. Don't snack between meals, but let your appetite grow, so you're hungry for meals.
4. If you must snack, have a piece of fruit, or something light enough to satisfy your real hunger so as not to spoil your appetite for dinner.
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 judgment) the results of that old habit. These shifts in awareness, linking effect to cause, are the KEYS to lasting change and growing self-awareness. Celebrate every little success and notice how you feel when you care for you agni.
Here’s to better health and vitality through balanced digestion.
Sending so much love!