Heaviness, bloating, stomach pains, indigestion – even hearing or reading these words can create a sense of discomfort in any person. Eating food is a necessity and also one of the great joys of life, but poor digestion can make this daily activity a hassle and drastically decrease the quality of your life. Not only does improper digestion negatively affect your body, but it also creates tension and frustration in the mind, prevent you from engaging in daily activities productively, and can sap away the joy from eating. Thus, if you face issues of digestion, it becomes important to remedy them immediately for the sake of your overall physical and mental health.
The Ayurvedic Perspective: Food As A Central Tenent and Ama
Ayurveda in Sanskrit means the knowledge of life and longevity, and the term refers to a system of medicine that was developed in India during ancient times (with some sources suggesting that this knowledge existed even in the Indus Valley Civilization), and has roots in the religion of Hinduism. A holistic system, Ayurveda deals with everything ranging from general medicine to surgical techniques, enhancing lifespans, and even possession by evil spirits.
Food plays a central role in Ayurveda, which recognizes it as the source of the human body’s energy. When food is properly consumed and absorbed, it creates building blocks of the body called ahara rasa or the essence of food. In modern terms, this concept refers to the way our body absorbs nutrients such as proteins and calcium from food and then uses it to build bones, muscles, and tissues. In Vedic terms, this cycle goes as follows. Thus, proper consumption and digestion of food mean that our body is able to build and maintain itself effectively, and hence the emphasis on food and digestion.
Indeed, so central is food and digestion to Ayurveda that ama is considered to be the root cause of all diseases. Ama refers to the toxins that form as a result of improper digestion. When ama begins to accumulate in the body, it interferes with daily processes of the mind and body, causing fatigue, frustration, lethargy – in other words, the foundational basis of illnesses. Ama if often described as ‘undigested, raw, or incomplete’ all of which indicate the failure of the digestive system to properly process the food. Why does this happen though?
Fueling the (Digestive Fire): Jatharagni
According to Ayurveda, our body contains a biological digestive ‘fire’, likely an allusion to the acidic nature of digestive juices of the body. There are many poor eating habits that can diminish this Jathragni, which in turn can cause poor indigestion and the creation of ama. Some such poor eating habits include –
- Eating food that is incompatible, such as fruits and starches like potatoes together. Incompatible foods can not only create ama, but also cause issues such as bloating, acidity, and feelings of nausea.
- Eating food that has been leftover for a long period of time. Reheating food often diminishes the nutrients in it, and old food simply does not stimulate your digestive system as it should.
- Eating too much at dinner, just before you sleep. Our digestive system slows down during sleep, which means that the food is going to remain in your system for a longer period of time and not be digested properly.
- Eating mindlessly means that you consume food rapidly and with no concern about its nutritional value. Such snacks are also likely to be highly processed and eaten at odd times, such as post dinner.
- Skipping meals is another poor eating habit as it deprives the body of fuel, slows down metabolism, and causes the digestive process to take place without any raw material to digest.
These are only some of the few bad habits that can cause the flame of your jatharagni to go down drastically. Thus, to ensure good health, you should replace these poor eating habits with some Ayurveda approved habits, which can not only keep your digestive system healthy, but also promote overall health and happiness.
Ayurveda Way: Eating Habits to Promote Good Digestion
Here are some culturally tried and tested, natural ways to keep your digestion smooth.
- Plan Your Meals – A little planning can go a long way when it comes to your digestion. Plan your meals so that you are able to spread out food types, thus preventing you from eating incompatible food together. Meal planning can also help you in ensuring that you start off with a hearty breakfast and end with a light dinner which will boost your energy levels in the morning and help your diminished jatharagni to digest dinner easily.
- Avoid Processed Food – This especially means avoiding food that is overly processed. Such junk food is usually reheated multiple times, frosted and defrosted, and contains incompatible elements thrown together, all of which can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Remember that just because it tastes good does not mean it will sit well in your stomach.
- Eat Live and Fresh Food – Consume fresh fruits and vegetables raw and whole to the greatest extent possible. Be mindful of the quantity of food you cook, as you would not want any leftovers in the fridge. Cook your food in a kitchen that is clean and unclogged, and enjoy the cooking process – think of it as a time dedicated to yourself, and you will find both your food and feelings turning out better.
- Add Some Spice – Homemade and fresh food does not mean that your dishes have to be boiled and bland. Ayurveda in fact recommends liberal (but mindful) use of many spices such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic etc., which not only enhance the taste of the food, but also remove toxins and help in absorbing nutrients present in it.
- Eat Mindfully – Remove distractions such as TVs and mobiles while you eat. Chew your food slowly, and relish its taste and the conversations on the table. This will help you in eating less, feeling fuller, and your digestive system will find the food easier to digest. Mindful eating can also reduce incessant snacking and cravings, both of which often cause stomach issues.
- Mind Your Water Too – Drinking too much water before or after meals can slow down your digestion. Only drink a few sips before your meal to cleanse your palate and food pipe, and wait at least half an hour after your meal to drink water. Keep consumption of water during the meals to a minimum too, and under no condition should you gulp down water – take small, measured sips.
- Be Active Post a Meal – Ayurveda suggests a walk after meals to help in digestion – walking even a hundred steps can help in both digestion and blood sugar levels. If you do not feel like walking, do practice the Vajrasana, which helps in stimulating blood flow to the digestive organs of the body.
- Be Still for Meals – Don’t consume food standing up, and definitely not while you are moving around. Besides the hazard of choking, walking while eating also means that you digestive system will not be able to work properly. Sit down wherever you can, and whenever possible drink water while sitting down too.
- Eat Seasonal Foods – Consuming seasonal foods can keep you and your digestive system in rhythm with the larger world and improve functioning. For example, eating jaggery during winters can give you that extra warmth to power through the cold, while the freshness of curd can help you avoid the negative effect of heat in the summers.
- Listen to Your Body – In the end, Ayurveda emphasizes on listening to your own body. Be aware of the signs of true hunger, of cravings generated by boredom or stress, the way your body reacts to certain foods and food combinations, and the positive changes that comes from these tips above, which will motivate you to continue on the right path.
Thus, Ayurveda states that poor digestion comes not just from poor food, but also from poor eating habits. These habits are often aggravated by our lifestyle practices. Hence, in order to change, you will have to work holistically at all levels. In turn, you will find that the positive consequences of these changes reflect not only in your digestion, but also your overall physical and mental health.
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