Digestion's Hidden Power: Supporting Transformation
The act of eating is life-giving. In ayurveda, the digestion of what we eat is considered one of the most important functions in the body — it's the beginning point for all the transformations in the body. That is why digestion is considered a foundation of excellent health and superior quality of life.
The process of eating, according to Maharishi Ayurveda, is something reverent and essential for the development of consciousness and our physical health. The transformation of food into life-giving matter takes place through the digestive fire — called agni in Sanskrit. Agni is more than a chemical process. It is an expression of Nature's intelligence.
Supporting the intelligence of your agni, therefore, is a healthy choice that can deliver a wonderful range of benefits, from development of consciousness to extraordinary levels of wellness. Over 90% of Americans suffer from everyday digestive problems such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, heartburn, and fatigue after eating. Maharishi Ayurveda provides simple solutions to these common complaints by considering not only what we eat but how we consume our meals.
Eating Habits That Support Health
Our bodies need an uplifting and settled environment in order to process and absorb the nutrients from our meals. If that is not available, then at least we should be sitting down to eat — not standing, walking, or driving our way through a meal.
When we sit down to eat, our stomach is in a relaxed posture and our awareness is on the taste, texture, and smell of the food. This allows the digestive process to take place in a natural and integrated way, and will greatly improve the digestion.
Another way to improve the digestion is to stimulate the agni, or digestive fire, before we begin eating. Ayurveda recommends eating a small amount of fresh, shredded ginger (about one inch or less) mixed with a few drops of lemon juice and a few pinches of salt before a full meal. This starts to activate the salivary glands, producing the necessary enzymes so that the nutrients in the food are more easily absorbed by the body. Weak digestive agni may result in fatigue after eating.
Keeping your digestive agni balanced is a key principle in ayurvedic medicine. That's why ayurveda recommends a number of general practices for better digestion. Our digestive agni can be compared to a burning fire. If we are cooking something and the flame is very low, it will take a long time to cook the food. If the flame or fire is too big, it can burn the food. If we overeat, it's like putting a huge log on a low fire and it will extinguish it.
Our digestive fire should be balanced so that we can digest our meals efficiently and smoothly. The ginger and lemon juice recommendation helps to increase the digestive power. If, however, you suffer from an overactive agni, and have too much internal heat and acid, then something that balances and cools the agni such as Pomegranate Chutney may be more suitable for you.
The next ayurvedic recommendation also addresses agni. Ayurveda recommends avoiding cold drinks at meals and ice-cold foods in general. Putting cold food and drink in your stomach is like putting cold water on the burning logs. The iced water normally served at restaurants extinguishes the digestive fire. Even cold juice or milk right out of the refrigerator is too cold for the digestion. Juice should be taken at room temperature and water taken without ice.
Once you get into this habit of drinking beverages at room temperature, you will notice a dramatic improvement in your digestion and the way your body feels while eating and after the meal. Cold drinks and foods mixed with warm cooked foods can cause stomach cramps, bloating and general discomfort in the stomach area.
If you have a high Pitta imbalance (too much fire), you can take cool drinks in between meals. Cold or frozen foods are usually not encouraged, but as always with ayurveda, it depends on your body type. One size does not fit all in this health science. As a general rule, favor slightly cool drinks made with Organic Rose Water, or milk blended with dates or fresh mangos.
When you eat is as important as what you eat
The next recommendation has to with the time of the day that you eat your meals. Have you ever gone out for a late dinner and found that it was a strain to wake up the next morning, or that it was difficult to be efficient during the following day? These are often the side effects of improperly-digested food. The best way to avoid these problems is to follow nature's prescription of suitable times to eat.
The strength of the digestive agni is connected with the cycles of the sun. When the sun is strongest, between 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m., agni is also strongest. That is why ayurveda recommends that lunch be the largest meal of the day, since that is the time the digestive agni is working at its maximum potency. As the sun goes down, so does our agni. Eating in tune with the sun is one of the ways that ayurveda seeks to connect our mind and body with the environment.
Dinner should be lighter than lunch and should ideally be eaten before 8:00 p.m. Late-night meals interfere with sleep, according to ayurveda. Eating after 10:00 p.m. keeps the body working to burn off toxins and continue to digest food from the day. If you eat after 10:00 p.m., the food may cause toxins to accumulate in the system, and as a result the next day you wake up tired. If you are not waking up fresh and clear, it is important to analyze the quantity of food and the time of night you are eating dinner.
Another ayurvedic tip for digestion is to drink a fresh yogurt drink called lassi at lunch time. Sweet lassi consists of ¼ cup fresh homemade yogurt, 1 cup room-temperature water, and sugar to taste. Blend it for one minute in the blender. Lassi is light and contains lactobacilli — necessary bacteria that lubricate the intestines to help digestion go smoothly. Lassi drinks help to reduce gas and bloating. They also taste delicious and can make a meal more satisfying and nutritious.
There are many recipes for lassi, including this Digestive Lassi for warding off gas and bloating.
Recommendations from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians for good digestion:
- Eat sitting down, in a settled environment, without the television on.
- Eat shredded, fresh ginger sprinkled with lemon juice and salt before a full meal, or Pomegranate Chutney to balance Pitta.
- Drink lassi at lunchtime.
- Avoid ice-cold drinks and food.
- Lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. Dinner should be a lighter meal and eaten before 8:00 p.m.
A Classic Ayurvedic Digestive Tonic
If you are feeling sluggish, dull or constipated, chances are toxins are building up in your body. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, toxins accumulate when your digestion — and elimination — is out of balance, leading to skin breakouts, menstrual cramps in ladies, fatigue, depression and many diseases. The classic texts of ayurveda describe an herbal formulation called Triphala to support balanced digestion. Our Vaidyas, or Maharishi Ayurveda experts, include a fourth herb to boost the strength of the other three: Cabbage Rose. We call this blend Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus).
Organic Digest Tone contains three remarkable fruits — Amla berry, Haritaki and Bibhitaki — and each possesses the superior healing and anti-aging qualities known as rasayana. It contains three elixirs in one compound, plus a fourth, Cabbage Rose, to enhance assimilation and increase the effect of the other three herbs.
A mild laxative, Organic Digest Tone purifies so gently that when used over a long period of time, it allows even the deepest tissues and organs of the body to release toxins. Despite its powerful cleansing quality, it actually enhances food absorption rather than depleting the body of nutrients. Organic Digest Tone promotes ojas, the finest product of digestion, which promotes overall health, creates luster in the skin, and rejuvenates vital energy.
To ensure that only the purest ingredients reach your cells, Maharishi Ayurveda uses only the rarest, highest grade of these fruits described in the traditional texts. The fruits are grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or exposure to environmental pollutants. Finally, the fruits are harvested only when they are ripe on the tree, to ensure that you receive the full value of this amazing rasayana.
Following the advice of Maharishi Ayurveda can help you awaken digestion's hidden power and thereby improve your overall health and well-being.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.