Eating for good digestion (part 1)
Ayurveda is India’s timeless traditional system of medicine. Although developed more than 5000 years ago, it is based on the fundamental, unchanging laws of nature so remains as relevant today as ever before.
However, Ayurveda is more than a medical system; it is a ‘science of life’, teaching principles and practices that help us live a life of greater depth, health and happiness.
Food is at the very heart of this journey. Ayurveda teaches us how to choose, prepare, eat and relate to our food in a way that makes it deeply nourishing to our body, mind and spirit.
Many of the books and cookbooks about Ayurvedic nutrition and cooking that exist tend to scare the ‘new explorer’ of this beautiful science away before they even begin. This has been our personal experience and we have seen it with many clients and friends over the years. Why? Because Ayurveda can get very complicated and confusing. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
When starting out on the Ayurvedic path, it is vitally important to take baby steps. You need to get to know yourself a little better and to get to know your food a little better; over time. This is a relationship that cannot be rushed! You also need a simple framework or context to work within, so you know why you are doing what you are doing – but not too much reasoning. Knowledge is a bit like salt in a dish. You want just enough to enhance the other flavours but not so much that it takes over and spoils the dish!
Below is a very brief overview of how we at the Mudita Institute teach ‘eating Ayurvedically’ at our talks, workshops, retreat and in our publications.
The first thing you need to understand about Ayurveda is the concept of AGNI. ‘Agni’ is a sanskrit term that refers to our digestive fire and it plays a central role in Ayurveda whether you are eating breakfast or undergoing heart surgery. In every case, in every situation, Agni is at the forefront of a practitioner’s mind because it is believed that, at the physical level, imbalanced Agni is the root cause of ALL disease.
Agni can have several states. It can be BALANCED (or ‘sama’), or it can be imbalanced. There are three states of imbalanced Agni – SHARP (or ‘tikshna’), DULL (or ‘manda’) and IRREGULAR (or ‘visham’). So how do these imbalanced states feel and what effect do they have in the gut?
If our AGNI is too sharp, we will have an insatiable appetite… but our food will be ‘overcooked’ in the gut and nothing but charcoal will remain. SHARP AGNI can manifest as things like heartburn, reflux or burning pain after eating.
If our fire is too low or dull, our appetite will also be low… and when we eat, our food won’t be cooked properly. If we have DULL AGNI we can eat very little and still gain weight. We may feel heavy, dull and lethargic, especially after eating.
If our fire is variable we may have a raging appetite one minute and no appetite at all the next. We may think we’re really hungry but then as soon as we eat something, we feel full and bloated. When we put food on a variable fire, it remains uncooked – some bits may be burnt, other bits remain uncooked. VARIABLE AGNI can manifest as things like bloating, pain, burping and farting.
The undigested food (undercooked or overcooked) that remains from these three imbalanced states of AGNI is toxic to the body. In Ayurveda, it is called AMA.
AMA is a thick, heavy, sticky, mucous-like substance that lines the walls of our digestive tract, hampering our digestion further. However, it is also absorbed into our blood stream and enters the many thousands of channels in our body – channels responsible for carrying nutrients to our cells and wastes away from our cells. These toxins hamper our cellular nutrition and eventually lodge into areas of weakness in our tissues where they cause disturbance of cellular intelligence and the manifestation of disease.
General symptoms of Ama in the body are a thick coating on the tongue in the morning, general fatigue, a lack-lustre of the skin, all of the states of indigestion described above, irregular elimination, fluctuations in energy level, mood and appetite and pain and stiffness in the joints.
Normally the body is capable of eliminating AMA all on its own. However, when the digestive fire is imbalanced and the ‘toxic load’ increases with every meal, the body becomes overwhelmed and the disease process is inevitable. To reverse the process, you need to bring your attention to cultivating balanced AGNI.
*** Stay tuned to find out just how to build a balanced AGNI while reducing AMA, in part 2 of this article… ***