A strong digestion is the foundation of a strong and healthy physiology. According to Ayurveda, the root cause of all disorders lies in poor digestion. This is why there is such an emphasis on making sure that the digestive fire--agni--is strong and able to metabolize what we eat.
When our digestive system is able to break down nutrients, it creates a nourishing essential fluid called ojas which is then circulated throughout our physiology, nourishing our cells, tissues and organs. If our digestive fire is weak, however, the power of metabolism is poor and the digestive system unable to fully break down food into this subtle essence. This incomplete digestion creates toxins known as ama. Poor digestion results in the formation of ama, which prevents the cells of the physiology from fully receiving nourishment (ojas) from the food.
Ama is the opposite of ojas and is an indication that one's digestive strength can be improved. A person whose digestive system is weak might experience some heaviness after meals, or maybe gas or bloating, mental fog and lowered immunity. If the digestive system is strong, then the person will experience clarity in the mind, luster in the skin, lightness after meals, increased energy, happiness and general well-being.
In order to ensure that this is the experience after every meal, it is important to not only know which foods to eat but also how to make sure that the digestive fire is functioning at an optimum level. And here is an important point. This will be done differently for different individuals, depending upon their constitution, or dosha.
This is why different people will digest the same foods differently. Say, for example, a group of friends share a pizza. For one friend the pizza may create heaviness in the stomach even a few hours after eating the pizza, while for another friend digesting the pizza may not take as long. For a third person it may create some congestion, and for the fourth friend, it may create some heaviness in the mind. This is why Ayurvedic consultations are useful in determining how to strengthen the digestive fire and which foods to favor. In this way, each individual can receive specific instruction for which foods to favor and avoid, and also specific spice combinations and routine for bringing balance back to the physiology.
There are, however, some general guidelines and recommendations that can be followed by everyone to optimize functioning of the digestive system:
Eat only when you are hungry. That is to say, eat when your previous meal has been completely digested. Sometime we might think that we are hungry, however, it could only be that we are dehydrated. Be in tune with your body and re-discover how it feels to be really hungry.
Eat in a calm and comfortable place. As best you can, sit down when you eat and eat with as little distraction as possible: no tv, no book, no phone, no laptop…
Eat the right quantity. We are all different, with different needs and different stomach size and metabolic speed. Listen to your body and eat to point when you feel satisfied.
Eat warm meals. Ideally freshly cooked but as long as you avoid anything coming out straight from the fridge you'll preserve your digestive power (Agni). This allows your digestive enzymes to work efficiently.
Eat quality food. Make sure that your meal is juicy or a little oily as this will facilitate digestion and improve nutrient absorption. Avoid foods which are too dry.
Be present when you eat. Use your five senses. Take time to appreciate the smell of your meal, the look of your plate, the texture of your food, the different flavors, etc.
Eat slowly. Take your time to chew. Chewing is an essential step of digestion.
Eat at regular times. Nature likes cycles and regularity so you should abide!
You are not only what you eat; you are what you digest. This is why increasing the power of digestion is just as important to good health as what you are eating. The more in tune we are with what we are eating, how hungry we are before meals, and how we feel after meals, the more we can improve our digestion and our overall health.
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