Flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and bad breath are all signs of bad digestion. They are all indicators that something isn’t functioning as it should. If the situation continues, it may well have a negative impact on your overal health.
The role of digestion in Ayurveda
It isn’t difficult to understand why good digestion is important. After all, our food contains the building blocks for the renewal of our cells, and those building blocks only become available after digestion.
In Western medicine, this is about as far as we go when discussing the potential effects of bad digestion. Ayurveda looks at it from an entirely different perspective though.
According to Ayurveda, our digestion is the physical basis of everything. Any disease can be brought back, at least in part, to a digestive disturbance.
Let me explain why this is so: when we eat, digestion starts in the mouth. By chewing our food before swallowing it, we cut it up in smaller parts. That makes it easier for digestive fluids in the stomach to attack the morsels and make them even smaller, before they move on to the small intestine.
Our small intestine has the job to break down our food to its basic bits of sugars, fats and amino acids. These pass from the intestine into the blood, to be distributed to all parts of the body. So far so good.
However, if for some reason, something isn’t completely broken down it will become what is called Ama in Ayurveda. Ama can diffuse through the wall of the intestine into the blood stream. It has the ability to make itself at home almost anywhere in the body. Depending on a person’s weak spot(s), it will settle in one or several places. As it accumulates, one or more dosha’s become increasingly disturbed and problems arise.
This is a two-way street. Which means that, if you are somehow out of balance (physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually), Ama is created and will cause problems. And those problems aren’t restricted to physical problems. Body, mind and spirit are inextricably bound together and will always influence one another.
Before explaining what you can do to improve your digestion, allow me to explain about Agni. Agni is the term Ayurveda uses to indicate our “digestive fire”. When your Agni burns bright and steady, you can digest almost anything.
People with a Pitta dominance are usually blessed with such an Agni. In Vata dominant people, Agni is variable; it can burn low one moment and high another, depending on many different circumstances. Kapha dominant people usually have a slow burning Agni. It takes much longer for them to digest things.
Improve your digestion
Everything in your body functions optimal at approximately 37°C (body temperature), Agni included. One of the most important things you can do to make and keep your Agni happy, is to maintain the temperature of your stomach. So don’t drink (ice)cold water (or other drinks), especially with your meals. Because doing so is like pouring water over a fire: it decreases Agni.
Eating an ice cream between meals is less bad than eating ice cream for desert. Drinking (cold) white wine with a cheese fondue is one of the worst things you can do. Imagine what that cold drink does to the melted cheese in your stomach. I hope you get the picture…
Cooked vs raw
Many people have difficulty digesting raw food, for example a salad. It gives them gas and makes them fart. Or, if they try to prevent those farts from exiting, it will give them a belly ache.
It’s no wonder that raw food causes problems, because the digestive system has a lot of work to do on it before it is transformed into molecules that can be used by the body. In contrast, cooked food is much easier to digest, simply because it has been “pre-digested”, so to speak. Cooking food means that the cells that make up the food are partly destroyed. Which makes it far easier for digestive fluids and bacteria to do their work.
Timing your water-intake
We are becoming more and more conscious of the importance of drinking enough water. Our body needs to be sufficiently hydrated in order to function well. So more and more people get into the habit of drinking water throughout the day. Considering that many people are dehydrated, this is a good thing.
Beware though to stop drinking half an hour before any meal until half an hour after the meal. You can drink a small amount of (room temperature or luke warm) water during the meal, but try not to drink more than half a cup. Because the fluid dilutes the digestive juices in your stomach, making it once again more difficult to properly digest the food you are eating.
Check your emotions
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: body, mind and spirit are intricately connected. Therefore, you shouldn’t eat when you are in a negative mood, because that will certainly dampen your Agni. Particularly, that’s why emotional eating has such a bad influence on your overal wellbeing. You’re eating for the wrong reasons, thus creating Ama.
If you are feeling in any way unwell, go for a walk in nature if you can. A park or garden will do fine. Change your mind by changing your thoughts. The movement will be beneficial to your digestion, so it cuts both ways.
Another theme that we hear more and more of is mindfulness. And it’s true, it applies to all areas of life. Many of us often eat without being aware of it. Especially when we snack. But also during meals, when we eat in front of a screen or while reading or discussing work. We consider this normal, but it’s really a bad habit that takes its toll on our digestion and our health. One of the effects mindless eating has is, it can make us fat.
My sister in law has been struggling with her weight ever since she was a young girl. Last year, she consulted yet another health professional about this. And this time, she got some really good advice that went like this: whenever you eat; EAT. Sit down, take a moment to gather your thoughts and then eat. Chew your food, savour it and do nothing else. No tv, no phone, no reading. Just eat. She followed the advice without changing what she ate and lost 5 kg over a period of a couple of months.
Eat good quality food
This may be a bit of an open door, but I still want to mention it. The quality of the food you eat has a mayor effect on your digestion. Eat fresh, seasonal, home made meals.
On a more spiritual level: have you ever wondered what eating the meat of animals who have never seen the light of day, who have been miserable their entire (short) lives, does to you? Can such animals produce quality meat or milk? And how about vegetables and fruit that have been sprayed with a cocktail of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides every other day? You decide for yourself.
In order to improve your digestion, here’s what I recommend:
- do not eat or drink (ice) cold with any meal;
- eat cooked foods as much as possible;
- drink enough and at the proper time;
- do not eat when your mood is low/bad;
- be fully in the here and now while you eat;
- eat good quality food.