The Golden Rules : 10 Ayurvedic Recommendations For Healthier Digestion
I've been referring quite a lot to Agni, our essential power of digestion that metabolizes and transforms the foods we consume and what we perceive through the senses into the elements needed to build and nourish our tissues and immunity, as well as generating and processing thoughts and emotions.
We can then say that that the health of our Agni is a true reflection of our overall health, as it is our basic capacity to assimilate. Without fire to fuel and maintain our bodies and spirit, there is stagnation, lack of awareness, premature aging, low energy and immunity - all of which can eventually lead to disease, from minor symptoms to more serious chronic conditions.
In Ayurveda, tending to the digestive fire is fundamental to any treatment plan. This is done by giving dietary and lifestyle recommendations that aim to bring the body's functions to optimal balance. Although treatment plans are designed specifically for the individual consulting, there are basic recommendations that can apply to all constitutions and can benefit your digestion in very significant ways. These ''golden rules'' have greatly helped in the ongoing healing of my digestion so I speak from experience :)
Here are 10 recommendations you can be mindful of during the day:
1 ~ Eat mindfully and take time to chew food thoroughly : Digestion begins as early as the perception of aromas, colours and texture. As you bring your attention of your meal's qualities, assimilation is already taking place. The physical process begins at the level of the mouth, where essential enzymes are present for initial breakdown of food.
2~ Eat only when truly hungry and at 2/3 capacity : True hunger will normally be present (the stomach-gurgling kind) about every 3 to 6 hours, when the previous meal has had the time to be digested or almost. In terms of portions, Ayurveda recommends no larger than what you can hold with your two hands. A good trick I find works for me (getting intimate here) is this subtle little burp that comes up, telling me there is just enough space to leave before the stomach is filled at fullest capacity. A note on snaking: for some individuals, with high Vata for example, snaking lightly in between meals could be beneficial. Otherwise you can completely omit if hunger is not present.
3~ Chose mainly seasonal, local and organic produce : Take time to learn about the different local grocery stores in your area : you will be surprised sometimes about how that obscure little grocery store you never went into holds some nutritional gems. Supporting them is also great for your close community and the environment! Also, buying seasonally is good for your wallet, as the abundance of a certain food reduces its retail cost. With the growing availability of organic (pesticide, fertilizer and hormone free) foods, we are seeing a (welcomed) decrease in price and bigger chains are also expanding these sections.
4~ Be conscious of liquid consumption: We all know how important appropriate hydration is, however there is such a thing as liquid consumption that can hinder digestion. Try to avoid ice-cold beverages and foods consumed directly out of the fridge, although the occasional smoothie and ice-cream treat can be an indulgence that is good for the soul when the weather is warm enough! Sipping a little water during your meal is fine but excessive consumption of fluids can affect your digestive fire.
5~ Eat while sitting and in a stress-free environment : Your body is made in such a way that a seated position allows optimal transit of foods in your system. Ideally, eat in a quiet environment (I know, it seems impossible with small children at the table demanding ALL your attention! ) or at the very least, avoid any hot topics that arouse negative emotions and reactions. Enjoy your meal in good company and make sure to compliment the cook (even if its yourself!). Calm, comfort and a cheerful atmosphere are the best combination.
6~ Be mindful of proper food combining principles: Here is a basic Ayurvedic food combining principles chart that you can follow:
7~ Post-meal walk: After taking a little time to rest and perhaps to connect with your dining mates, a moderate to brisk 15 minute walk following the meal will assist the natural movement of digestion within the body. If at the office, this is a great opportunity to disconnect and reenergize before heading back to focus on your afternoon tasks. Connecting to the outdoors and sunlight is also a great way to feed the senses and get your daily dose of vitamin D!
8~ Eat at appropriate and regular times: Contrary to western habits, the largest meal of the day is best eaten at midday (time when Pitta dominates), the sun being at its peak. As we mirror our external environment, we understand that the most available energy for digestion is at this time. A small breakfast is usually eaten between 7am - 9am and dinner, the lightest meal of the day, between 5 pm - 7pm (Ideally you have finished your meal by 7pm). Respecting routine and your body's natural rhythms is one of the most powerful tools in Ayurveda, bringing us one step closer to the best alignement possible.
9~ Avoid eating approximately 2-3 hours before bedtime: This allows for your body to completely digest the meal before you hit the sack and therefore spends more energy on regenerative sleep during this 14-16 hour fast. Sound and restorative sleep profoundly influences the health of your digestion.
10~ Enjoy the food you eat!