Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion School
IntroductionDigestion is the foundation of health in Ayurveda. While each system plays its own vital role, none can perform optimally if digestion is defective. The quality and strength of digestion influences the entire body via the blood. What you digest and absorb enters your bloodstream which then circulates to reach every other system, organ, tissue and cell. When digestion is strong and balanced, the food you take in is broken down, absorbed and assimilated efficiently, nourishing the whole body. You feel strong, alert, energetic and vibrant. If digestion is vitiated, even the most perfect diet cannot be processed properly and the body will lack vigor and vitality. Improperly digested food creates toxins known as ama. Over time, these toxins accumulate and also enter into the bloodstream, circulating throughout the body. Ama is a precursor for many future diseases, so Ayurveda strongly recommends prioritizing your time and attention on the maintenance of your digestive health.
While the need to keep metabolic strength (agni) balanced is necessary for all, there are many nuances and variabilities between each person's digestive system. Ayurveda is particularly useful in the assessment of digestive disorders because it takes an individualized approach. Each person's unique digestive history and tendencies are taken into account. Ayurveda has the ability to understand what is going on inside your digestive tract by using traditional diagnostic tools such as analyzing the tongue, eyes, pulse, and stools.
Ayurveda's Approach to DigestionThe digestive tract is a series of hollow organs and tubes that run continuously from the mouth to the anus. The role of the digestive tract is to transform food into nutrients the body can use, then eliminate the remaining waste. Food enters the body through the mouth where it is initially broken down by chewing and the secretion of saliva (bodhaka kapha). It moves through the esophagus and is carried into the stomach where food is churned (samana vayu) and liquefied (kledaka kapha). This churning mixes the food with digestive juices, such as hydrochloric acid (pachaka pitta) and further breaks it down into a substance called chyme (ahara rasa). Chyme then moves into the small intestine (grahani), where more digestive juices are secreted from the pancreas (kloma) and bile from the liver (yakrut), allowing for the final stages of digestion.
Next, the now available nutrients start to be absorbed into the bloodstream where they go on to nourish the seven tissues (dhatus). The unused food matter is passed through the large intestine (pakvashaya) via peristaltic motions (apana vayu). Remaining water and nutrients are absorbed here, and a stool (purisha) for evacuation is formed. This is temporarily stored in the rectum before it is passed through the anus. In Ayurveda, the complete digestion of food through the GI tract takes approximately six hours, with each of the medicinal tastes being digested sequentially (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent). It is advised to avoid eating your next meal until the full process of digestion has been completed.
Agni is often summarized as digestive strength or metabolic capacity, but it is far more than that. Agni is the fire that keeps every person alive. It governs all transformation in the body, from the transformation of food in the GI tract, the conversion of nutrients into tissue, right down the transformation of cellular energy. Agni manifests in many ways, including digestive enzymes, body heat and metabolic processes. Balancing agni is the first, and most important, step to optimize digestion in Ayurveda.
While there are many healthy eating habits everyone can follow to care for digestion, agni is not a "one-size-fits-all" model. A person's unique constitution (prakruti) and individual imbalance (vikruti) must be addressed, rather than focusing on individual symptoms and looking for a quick cover up. There are different types of agni: slow (mandagni)), fast (tikshnagni), irregular (vishamagni)) and balanced (samagni). Each type requires a set of personalized diet and lifestyle guidelines to bring digestion back into balance. Provided it is working well, agni is also your bodies natural defense against disease, as it burns away and cleanses the digestive tract of accumulated toxins. As well as taking your digestive type into account, implementing a diet appropriate for your unique body type will support healthy, strong digestion.
What Causes a Digestive ImbalanceThe digestive system works like a well oiled machine, each part working in unison. It can only carry out its daily duties efficiently, however, if it is properly, and regularly, maintained. A modern diet puts a tremendous amount of stress on digestion. Many foods on supermarket shelves are highly processed and can't be broken down by digestive enzymes. Frequent eating of other poor quality foods like leftovers or bad food combinations also burden digestion. Many people eat foods that are incorrect for their body type, or foods that don't agree with their digestive tendencies. Overeatinge and eating when you are not hungry are two other major factors that can be quite harmful for your digestive system. When you overload your body with excess food, your digestive tract doesn't have the time or energy to process everything that is going in, and ultimately it becomes weaker and weaker. All of these dietary factors lead to the accumulation of ama which further weakens digestion.
The lifestyle you lead also plays a part in digestive imbalances. The body thrives on regularity and routine, and if your schedule is constantly changing or your mealtimes are inconsistent, agni becomes depleted. Many people, particularly after a stressful day, fall into the habit of eating too close to bedtime. Digestion slows down at night and midnight snacks are likely to go undigested, sit in the stomach too long and start to ferment. Social eating is an enjoyable part of life, but eating rich restaurant food too frequently will weigh down digestion and your emotions. Ayurveda has long made the connection between your food and mood, and emphasizes the importance of good mental health for strong digestion. A bad mood, stress, fatigue, insomnia and other mental strain weaken agni and can compromise the strength of your digestion.
Gas & BloatingMany people are embarrassed by passing gas, or feel self conscious with a bloated belly. Gas and bloating aren't just an uncomfortable inconvenience, they are warning signs of a greater digestive affliction. In excess, they can indicate weak or irregular digestive strength (vishamagni) which is the root of many more serious ailments, including malabsorption. Gas forms when food sits stagnant in the digestive tract for too long and starts to ferment, or spoil. This fermentation creates the buildup of gas molecules. The bacteria in the intestines that are behind this fermentation process also leave behind their waste products which can irritate the lining of the digestive tract and further hamper digestion. Bloating is the result of this excess trapped gas in the gut. People often ignore bloating, but severe or ongoing cases can lead to distention, or overstretching of the intestines. This can have a permanent effect on the muscle tone of the bowels.
The first step to tackle this pair of digestive ailments is to relieve gas. In many cases, bloating will automatically reduce. If it doesn't, there may be another source behind bloating which should be confirmed by your healthcare provider. Hingvastak churna is a classic remedy to strengthen weak or irregular digestion, and also help dispel gas. It is a formulation including carminative herbs that helps redirect the flow of gas downwards. Aromatic fennel and mint also both help dispel gas and stimulate digestion. Difficult to digest foods, including cabbage, beans, raw food or cold drinks, should all be completely avoided. Instead, favor warm, well cooked and easy to digest meals that pacify Vata, and sip hot water throughout the day. Tranquil Tummy Tea is a blend of gentle laxatives to reduce food stagnation and digestives to improve digestive strength, eliminating gas and bloating
Inflammation & MalabsorptionMalabsorption is the inability to absorb the nutrients you take in through food. This digestive ailment can stem from a number of different causes including low digestive enzyme production, inflammatory digestive conditions or recurring parasites. Each type of malabsorption requires its own comprehensive assessment. However, there are many techniques that can be followed to promote more efficient absorption, starting with eating a diet that is right for your body type. Before each meal, chew a piece of ginger, salt, lime appetizer to stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes. As with constipation, sipping hot water throughout the day boosts agni and can aid absorption. Eating a diet of easy to digest foods, particularly meals that have been cooked for long periods of time, such as in a slow cooker, will greatly benefit weaker digestion and poor absorption. Malabsorption is often linked with loose stools, so it is key to stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes regularly.
Sluggish Digestion & NauseaDo you wake with that nauseating feeling that leads you to skip breakfast? Is your stomach easily turned, or does it feel queasy on a regular basis? Nausea brings about a sense of unease and discomfort in your stomach. In many cases, it gets so bad it can lead you to vomit. It generally results from excess ama or mucus in the stomach. This ama and mucus forms from following a diet that is wrong for you body type, eating excessively rich, sweet or heavy foods, or meals that contain incompatible food combinations. Nausea can be reduced by avoiding mucus forming and Kapha provoking foods such as heavy meats, creamy cheeses, cold, sweet desserts and iced drinks. Cardamom is one of the best herbs to help destroy the mucus that causes most nausea, along with cinnamon and cloves. Cardamom also helps settle the stomach if nausea is a result of nerves. Fresh ginger is a time tested remedy to prevent nausea, particularly if it is related to motion sickness.
Vata Digestive TonicVatas are most prone to experience irregular digestion (vishamagni). A Vatas bowel movements can often be as erratic and unpredictable as their personality, and usually fluctuate between constipation interspersed with diarrhea. Introducing regularity and routine to mealtimes is key, as is eating easy to digest meals that pacify Vata. Hingvastaka churna is one of the most powerful formulas to balance Vata digestion. It has a particularly affinity for digestive disturbances related to a nervous disposition or nervous stomach, those who regularly eat on the run or experience erratic digestion. It destroys gas, combats bloating and increases digestive strength. A homemade tea of ginger & cardamom also improves Vata digestion by increasing digestive secretions, regulating appetite and eliminating toxins.
Pitta Digestive TonicPitta digestion (tikshnagni) is usually hot, quick and needs some cooling down. Reducing intake of hot, spicy or irritating foods and following a Pitta pacifying diet is the best place to start. Aloe vera is a cooling demulcent that protectively coats the entire GI tract, soothing excess heat and inflammation. Its mild bitter taste also works as a gentle detoxifier. A daily cup of cumin, coriander & fennel tea, Ayurveda's foremost formula for reducing heat, aids Pitta digestion in particular. This simple but powerful brew continues to stoke digestive fire, despite its cooling energy. Avipattikar churna is an effective formula to remove excess Pitta from the GI tract. It soothes the stomach and promotes balanced acidity levels.
Kapha Digestive TonicKapha digestionmandagni) is usually slow, sluggish and needs some stimulation. A Kapha balancing dietTrikatutriphalaConclusion Ayurveda is a science of life, but its area of specialty is digestion. Ayurveda places such great emphasis on digestion as it is the central cog in the wheel of good health. If you can balance digestion, you can balance the rest of the body. The digestive system should be treated with the utmost care, as improperly digested food creates a metabolic waste, known as ama. These digestive toxins can lead to a wide range of both minor and major complications in the body. Ayurveda delves deep into the complexities of the digestive tract, but its methods are simple, user friendly and easy to implement through changes to diet and lifestyle. Ayurveda offers a personalized and accessible approach to balancing digestion. It focuses on removing the cause of a digestive imbalance, stimulating agni, cleansing ama and building digestion strength with tonics according to your unique body type. By balancing digestion, both body and mind will feel more fresh, vital and energetic.
Find Ayurvedic health tips In these main areas:Appetite
Mouth & Teeth
Abdominal Pain Location
Abdominal Pain Type
Pharmacological Actions Affecting Digestion