The majority of Americans suffer from occasional digestion problems: gas, bloating, stomach discomfort, constipation, heartburn, and fatigue after eating. A lot – perhaps all- of these problems can be alleviated by following Ayurvedic practices. Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old Indian science of health. It fathered both Herbology and Chinese medicine, and is the framework for western medicinal practices today.
In Ayurvedic theory, you are not what you eat. You are what you digest. Digestion and nutrient assimilation are paramount pillars of Ayurveda.
Here’s a few tips to alleviate any digestion issues you might be having, and prevent any from occurring:
Stimulate the digestive fire before eating
Your digestive fire, or agni, is at the center of optimum health. Ayurveda suggests you prime yourself to digest your food. There are a few ways to do this. You can:
- Drink warm water with lemon.
- Lemon promotes the production of not only stomach acid, but bile which is required to break down fats.
- Eat or drink bitter foods:
- Bitters stimulate the production of saliva, gastric juices and bile to prepare your body to digest foods.
- Eat a piece of ginger with salt:
- Ginger is full of digestion-promoting properties, aids in constipation, and kills cough and cold. Rock salt also stimulates saliva and provides trace minerals needed to support the eyes and heart
Avoid iced and chilled beverages
Ayurveda advises against the practice of drinking chilled water no matter how hot it gets. Cold foods and beverages slow down the rate of digestion because they must be “heated up” before proper digestion can take place. This extra energy that is now used to regulate the temperature would have been originally used in the process of digestion and absorbing nutrients. So rather than spending energy to assimilate nutrients, you are spending energy to heat up your body.
Eat Foods in the Proper Order
In Ayurveda, food is categorized by taste, not caloric intake. There are 6 tastes that every meal should have, ideally:
Sweet, Salty, Sour, Pungent, Astringent, and Bitter.
Agni, or digestive fire, is increased by pungent, sour and salty flavors. It is beneficial to start a meal with these flavors. This way, more gastric juices are produced and you can fully digest and assimilate all nutrients of your meal.
Avoid Improper Food Combinations
Did you know that your meals may have ingredients considered “incompatible”? Food combinations is something I had never given a thought to, other than taste, prior to learning about Ayurveda.
A great place to is just to have an awareness of what improper food combinations you might have in your diet, so you can be aware of your energy levels and digestion during and after a meal. For example, I had no idea that eating fruit with other foods can create digestion issues. Fruit is simple to digest and generally moves along quickly through your system. However, when inhibited by the more complex food, the fruit tends to move through the digestive tract too slowly and can cause fermentation, gas, and bloating.
Other improper food combinations include:
- Grain + fruit and tapioca
- Milk + Fruits
- Radishes + bananas, raisins, and milk
- Beans + fruit, cheese, eggs, fish, milk, and yogurt.
- Lemon + milk, tomatoes, and yogurt
- Nightshades + melon, cucumber, and dairy products
Time your Meals Properly
Routine meal times are essential for health. Eating off schedule can cause indigestion and it also confuses the body’s biorhythms. Try to eat with a full 4-6 hours between meals, with your largest meal being lunch.
In general, try to eat breakfast by 7am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5pm. Make sure to wait at least 2 full hours after eating to eat again, as it takes that amount of time for the stomach to push your meal into the duodenum.
A lot of individuals eat a heavy dinner. This is against Ayurvedic practices. As our digestive fires wane in the early evening, it’s important to eat a lighter, easy-to-digest meal for dinner, and wait at least 3 hours before bed. This will prevent undigested food from sitting in your system and causing indigestion issues.
Make your largest meal lunch
During the peak of the day, our digestive fires, or agni, are at our strongest. Our agni can be compared to a campfire. When we leave the embers out the night before, we must stoke the fires gently with a warming breakfast so that they may reach their peak during the day, and finally wane into the evening.
It’s best to consume your largest meal at lunch so you have the maximum length of time to digest any complicated food that you consume. There is lots of research that suggests eating lunch as the largest meal has great health benefits, including increasing insulin sensitivity, greatest spike in weight loss, and reduction in “afternoon slump“.
Eat Sitting on the Floor or with “Active Sitting”
If you are a yoga practitioner, or have read “why sitting is killing you“, then this probably makes sense already. Sitting and eating is bad for your digestive health. Let me clarify: Sitting and eating in a chair is bad your digestive health.
For centuries, people either squatted to eat, ate cross legged, or sat on their legs to eat. All of these different positions activate different abdominal muscles. Today, we face issues like “sitting disease“, where people are noting weight gain and adverse health effects from sitting all the time. We tend to sit all day in an office and eat “on the go”.
When we eat with our legs crossed, at a low table or on the floor, your digestive juices are concentrated in your stomach and prepared for digesting the food you eat. You tend not to overeat as well!
Here is an article from Mind Body Green about Ayurveda and sitting while eating.
Allow Stomach to expand properly
Laying on your left side allows the stomach to expand completely, so that all food has ample room for digestion. Art historians have noted many paintings and sculptures lying on their left sides, and scientific evidence has confirmed that lying on the left side improves digestion after a meal. (Left to Digest, and Healthline)
If you are experiencing gas and bloating, perhaps the time for lying down has passed, but you can partake in mild exercise to help release trapped gas:
- Taking a walk can help massage the gut, helping gas pass more quickly.
- Laying on your side and drawing your knees up to your chest puts a gentle pressure on your intestines and helps release trapped gas.
Feed the Soul and “digest” negative emotions
Ayurvedic theory states that we digest our experiences and emotions as well as our food. If you are experiencing a lot of negative emotions and aren’t dealing with them, you might notice difficulties with digestion. We know that our microbes are affected by stress. We also know that our feelings directly impact the microbes, who in turn morph our genetic code. (AnthroSource)
In Ayurveda, food can impact the health of our mental, emotional and spiritual bodies as well. Someone who deprives themselves of a sweet taste will likely have a more rigid and cold attitude about them, they’re also likely not having any fun in life. Someone that is stressed out, angry, or otherwise emotionally “constipated” can see physiological symptoms begin to show up from in otherwise healthy bodies.
Digest our emotions fully. Never deprive our bodies of the 6 tastes.
The best advice is to follow the body. Use all six flavors and a balanced diet to maintain balanced digestion. Absorb and assimilate all life’s experiences, whether physical or emotional. Eat following the wax and wane of the digestive fires, and try to keep fast-and-slow digestive foods separate during meals.
Go forth and eat happily!