Of course, we all know that eating healthy is important. But in Ayurveda, we often approach food a little differently than in Western nutrition. In this blog, you’ll read more about the power of a healthy digestive system.
The power of good digestion
Have you ever had those days when you woke up feeling amazing? There’s lightness in your step, your hair looks shiny, your skin glows and you can take on the world! And then the next day you have the opposite experience; you wake up feeling sluggish, a little puffy, and your hair is too oily or too dry, and things seem to easily upset you?
You may not think of it right away, but often it is our digestion that determines how we feel, how we look and how we experience the outside world. Nowadays, there’s a huge amount of research to be found on the relationship between your brain and your gut, confirming the influence of a healthy digestive system on your physical health, your mood, your immune system, your adaptability and your ability to learn. In India, of course, they’ve known that for a long time!
Agni – Your digestive fire
A core concept in Ayurveda is Agni – your inner fire. Agni is the power of transformation. It’s the process that works on anything that is ingested, it transforms it and makes it part of the body. The primary function of Agni is digestion; the absorption, assimilation and transformation of food and sensations into energy.
The 3 doshas control Agni and allow Agni to function properly. You may think of Agni as a group of enzymes, which enable food to be broken down and assimilated. Enzymes are special proteins in the body that bind to other particles, with the aim of turning them into something else. It basically turns food into macronutrients, but also helps assimilate micronutrients further down the digestive tract.
You’ve probably heard the saying that you are what you eat, but we like to say instead “You are what you digest”. There is no point in eating good things if your body is unable to convert the nutrients into usable substances for your entire being.
If Agni is not functioning properly, your body will contain more waste products from the digestive process, which we call Ama. This is basically useless material that needs to be reprocessed or removed from your body, otherwise Ama can cause diseases and discomforts. For that reason, a well- working digestive fire is very important to feel clear, fit and emotionally balanced!
Your body is a microcosm
In Ayurveda, we are reminded that as human beings, we are nature. What happens outside of you also happens inside of you. Your Agni is therefore called your inner sun. This is a very meaningful word, because what we’re trying to do with Ayurvedic life is to keep our internal calendar running in the same rhythm as the calendar of nature. So, in order for your digestion to work properly, we tune into the rhythms of nature.
When we think of the sun outside, it is at its highest in the afternoon; and the same goes for our inner sun. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have your biggest meal around this time for optimal digestion. It is also generally advisable to snack as little as possible, in order to give your body time to fully digest the meal before adding more ballast. Later in the day, in the early evening, you should preferable eat a light dinner.
After dinner, we ideally no longer eat, so your body can rest completely and does not have to send energy to digestion during the night. Your sleep will be of better quality and you will feel more rested at sunrise. I’m telling you!
What else can you do to optimize your digestion? 5 tips
- Reduce stress. Stress is the most disruptive factor for your health and for your digestion as well. If you can’t avoid stress for a while, make sure you fit enough rest into your day in order to teach yourself to relax during stressful situations
- Drink warm water or herbal tea throughout the day. A tea that we highly recommend within Ayurveda is CCF tea. Here, you make a tea of equal parts Cumin seed, Coriander seed and Fennel seed. Fresh ginger tea is also recommended. And preferably leave coffee out as much as possible.
- Do a detox at the change of seasons, especially in spring. This helps your body in the natural detox it starts after late winter. A detox cleanses your body of Ama and stokes your digestive fire. If you want to join Tripti’s spring detox, take a look here!
- Cook with spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, thyme, rosemary etc. Spices and herbs make your food easier to digest and fuel your fire.
- Ayurvedic massage such as Abhyanga (oil massage) or, in spring, dry brushing. This will boost your digestion and lymphatic system.
Our health is highly dependent on a healthy digestive system. And of course, we don’t always have an influence on it. Travel, external circumstances, the supply of food and sometimes inevitable stress all affect our system. We all get off balance from time to time, and that’s fine. The power of Ayurveda is that it teaches you what choices are best for you, and how to engage in dialogue with your body and rebalance her when life has given you a little push.