I believe that understanding how our digestion works is key to creating health and wellbeing. If we learn how to work with our digestion, we can experience glowing skin, radiant energy, balanced hormones and a long and healthy life. This sounds fabulous in my book, don't you think?
Growing up, I had no idea that my digestion was important. I paid absolutely no attention to my bowel movements. I had constipation for years and never realised that this was indicating that I was dealing with a health problem. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in my late teens and neither I nor my parents realised how serious this was. There did not seem to be a solution anyway, so I just carried on living my life.
It was only when I started studying Ayurveda, that I found out that our digestion is the key to our health. In Ayurveda, everything is centred around Agni - our digestive fire. Agni is so important, that there is actually a god called Agni, he is the god of fire!
Agni is the biological fire within us that governs our body's ability to digest, absorb, assimilate, transform and mature matter. This happens with thoughts and emotions on a conscious level and with food and water on a physical level. We can tell how our digestive fire is performing by looking at how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
The goal in Ayurveda is to have Agni that is balanced. This means that we digest our food, thoughts and emotions effectively. If we do not, we end up with Ama - toxins in the body. And according to Ayurveda, Ama is the root cause of all disease.
The Ayurvedic texts state that disturbed Agni causes a buildup of Ama. Ama is described as half cooked, half processed, half-digested, half metabolised food particles, thoughts and emotions.
How do we know if we have Ama? Here are some signs and symptoms:
Fatigue, exhaustion, mental fogginess, irritation and sluggishness.
Obstruction by way of constipation blocked sinuses or lymph congestion.
Indigestion by way of bloating, wind, gas, heartburn, acid reflux or diarrhoea.
Reduced or poor appetite.
Heaviness, aches, pains and stiff joints.
A coating on the tongue.
Smelly stools, breath and sweat.
So, if we have Ama, what can we do about it? We can take exquisite care of our Agni, so that we are able to easily digest and assimilate everything we take in through our senses.
Here are some ways that we impede our digestive fire:
Eating a diet that is not supportive of our constitution.
Faulty food combining.
Poor eating habits.
Eating too much heavy or fried food.
Eating too much cold or raw food.
An excess of sweet, sour or salty foods.
Highly processed food.
Stress, emotional upset and unresolved emotions.
Too much or too little sleep, exercise or food.
Caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
Environmental toxins, like pesticides, fertilisers and chemicals.
Adverse weather that unbalances our constitution.
Our goal is to keep our Agni healthy by supporting our digestion, eating wisely and avoiding everything that creates Ama.
Some ways to take care of Agni:
Drink warm water. Cold water puts out our fire. Always ask for no ice when eating out and keep sipping on warm water throughout the day. This keeps the fire stimulated. Ayurveda always looks at everything through the lens of nature. So, imagine feeding your fire all day long by giving it fuel. Cold puts the fire out, whereas warm keeps it burning happily.
Take a walk in nature after eating. Try and take at least 108 steps after you eat!
Eat food that is well spiced. We need the pungent taste to keep our fire burning. The western diet consists too much of the sweet, sour and salty taste. Read my blog post on Ayurveda 101 for Spring. It gives you many ways of stimulating the digestive fire.
Eat warm, unctuous food that is prepared with love and is seasonal. If you eat out at a restaurant, choose a place that is happy and uses food that is seasonal and local.
Eat until 80% full. This gives space for food to digest in the stomach. A portion size of cooked food should be the size of your two hands cupped together. You may need to buy some smaller bowls to help with portion control. This is what I realised when I brought my two hands together!
Fully digest the previous meal before eating the next one. It is important to only eat when hungry.
The main meal of the day should be at midday, as this is when the gastric fire is the strongest. The digestive fire moves in strength in line with the sun. I told you Ayurveda looks at everything through the lens of nature :).
Eat mindfully in a relaxed atmosphere. Chew your food really well. This gives the body time to digest and settle into the parasympathetic nervous system. There is a reason French women don't get fat - they have 2-hour lazy lunches every day.
Take time to enjoy your food, let it be a celebration of the bounty of nature and a chance to nurture your body. Food is not just fuel, food is an opportunity to celebrate life. When we eat in a joyful way, our Agni thanks us.
I hope these tips have inspired you to take good care of your digestive fire. If you need specific support, I can support you deeper with a mentoring session.
I would love to hear how you take care of your Agni.