Ama, the toxic waste-product of inefficient digestion, can accumulate at any time of the year. Experiencing ama during the holidays is not uncommon. At this time of year we’re particularly susceptible to it.
The bounty of festive meals and lots of sweets tempts us to overeat and eat at irregular times, and these are all triggers for the build-up of ama. If left unchecked, our body can become clogged and our immune system weakened by the accumulation of ama. Do you experience lack of appetite, stiffness in the joints, occasional constipation, respiratory issues, allergen reactions, or weight gain? Ama is the most likely culprit.
So, what is the ayurvedic tool for conquering ama during the holidays? Agni — our digestive fire! If we keep our agni strong, our bodies will be able to digest the food we eat without creating toxic by-products, and we can “avert the danger yet to come.” What a relief!
How do we keep agni balanced and avert ama build-up? These simple tips are a great place to start:
Instead of a big late-afternoon meal or a heavy dinner, we should try to have our main meal between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m., when our digestive fire is the strongest — when the sun is highest in the sky. Eating a big dinner will not only tax the digestive system, but can disrupt sleep. To avoid the discomfort of feeling too full and not being able to sleep well, eat a light easy-to-digest dinner at least three hours before bedtime.
Miss a meal? Skipping meals disrupts and weakens agni. However, eating three times a day around the same time of the day keeps digestion balanced. Eating a meal before the previous meal is completely digested also disrupts agni. Our bodies need at least three hours to finish digesting a meal before eating the next one. An afternoon snack is fine as long as it is small and light: a piece of fresh fruit, dried fruits or soaked nuts are great options for in-between meals! How do we know when our body is done digesting the previous meal? We experience hunger — listen to your body!
This advice might be the hardest to follow, especially during those big holiday meals, but it is very important. Always eat according to your hunger level. Our body knows how much food it can digest; we just have to listen. Take smaller portions, eat slowly and don’t go for seconds if you are not hungry. When you eat slowly, your body will naturally tell you when you are full. Eat to only ¾ of your capacity. Even good food in excessive quantities can create ama.
If we happen to occasionally break one of the above rules, no worries! The holidays are a time to enjoy. We can use nature’s intelligence, ayurvedic herbs, to support agni. We can increase our appetite and gastric juices by occasionally drinking warm water, ginger water or cumin tea, or by eating a thin slice of fresh ginger with a pinch of salt before meals. Or for the sake of convenience, balance and promote digestion with one or two Herbal Di-Gest tablets before a meal.
Some people say certain foods taste better the next day, but ayurveda does not recommend eating leftovers — not even holiday ones. Eating freshly-prepared foods is preferred, because freshly-prepared food is easier to digest and contains more prana, or life energy! In addition to leftovers, avoid heavy, deep-fried foods and cold foods and drinks that diminish agni and contribute to the accumulation of ama. Think of throwing cold water on a fire. That is what we do when we have cold drinks just before, during, or after meals.
This is another area where moderation can save us from dampened digestion and weight gain. If we have a sweet tooth, eating homemade pies and cookies instead of “junk” sweets is favorable. The latter usually contain preservatives, artificial flavors and colors which are toxic for the body and will turn into ama. They also lack nutrients and prana, and are heavy to digest. Commercial pastries and cakes also tend to contain more sugar and fat than our body needs.
Sweet might be the taste of choice — but we know we can’t eat just sweets! Ayurveda identifies six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. For each of our meals we can strive to include all six of these tastes. This will tend to make us feel more satisfied and ultimately have fewer cravings. The vpk® by Maharishi Ayurveda Churnas are excellent spice mixes that include all the six tastes, and as an added bonus they also improve digestion.
In addition to all the tastes, meals ideally include a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. If we eat only carbohydrates, our blood sugar will rise quickly, but leave us feeling fatigued or lethargic later. Not all fats are bad. Why? Because healthy fats such as olive oil and ghee are essential for carrying the nutrients to our cells. Ayurvedically, varied foods and menus supply all the nutrients necessary for complete nourishment. According to ayurveda, when we eat properly we don’t need to supplement our diet with concentrates or extracts.
Regular exercise, at least half an hour a day, will not only help keep the extra pounds off, but will improve agni and reduce ama. A short walk after a meal, for example, is a great way to help digestion. Yoga asanas are the ideal way to balance mind and body and help digestion along the way. Read more about winter (Vata season) balancing asanas, here.
Being regular is important not only for mealtimes, but for our daily routine as well. Our elimination, bedtime and working habits should all be ayurvedically appropriate in order to keep our immune system strong and our body ama-free. Enjoy holiday festivities, but try to maintain normalcy in daily habits as well.
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