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Ayurvedic guide to develop the digestive balance

If you see an Ayurvedic doctor, don't be surprised if he asks you a hundred and one questions about the state of your digestive system, no matter what brought you to his office! Regardless of where your imbalances manifest, Ayurveda places incredible emphasis on the state of digestion, also known as agni .

According to the Ayurvedic paradigm, a digestive imbalance is considered to be the root cause of most diseases (Frawley, 2000). Conversely, a strong and balanced digestive system puts you more likely to achieve and maintain optimal health. This article will explore Ayurvedic methods to support digestive health and ultimately build digestive power.

How hot does your fire burn?

To begin, it may be helpful to explain why Ayurveda places so much emphasis on digestion. Our digestion is our processing system for almost all of our food. Of course, some nutrients are received through the air and our skin also has its own absorption. But, as we all know, one cannot live long without eating and drinking.

Also, although it is wonderful to have high-quality food and liquids, if we cannot make use of that food through good digestion, it is of little use to us. Going a step further, strong digestion produces healthy blood, and healthy blood is carried throughout the body, leading to healthy organs. Thus, our gut is the digestive system's first portal of nutrition and treatment, or regulation of agni., is the fundamental approach for most diseases (Frawley, 2000).

The state of digestion is classified into four main categories in Ayurveda:

  • mandagni (under digestive fire),

  • tikshnagni (high digestive fire),

  • vishmagni (variable digestive fire), and

  • the elusive unicorn of Ayurveda: samagni (perfectly balanced digestion) (Frawley, 2000).

It is rare (but not impossible) to find perfect equanimity in digestion. Signs of healthy digestion include, but are not limited to:

  • just a very thin coating on the tongue,

  • pleasant breath and body odor,

  • Good energy,

  • healthy circulation,

  • regular daily bowel movements, and

  • a healthy appetite for food (Frawley, 2000).

It is quite common for agni (the digestive fire) to be unbalanced in one direction or another. This article will mainly explore methods of developing digestive power, which is appropriate in cases of mandagni (low digestive fire) and sometimes in cases of vishmagni (variable digestive fire). ).

Signs that your digestion needs to improve

In general, weak digestion is an expression of kapha dosha . Those with a kapha constitution are more prone to slow or sluggish digestion. However, anyone can experience mandagni . Also, late winter and spring is the time of year ruled by kapha , so your digestive power may drop a bit at that particular time of year.

For vatas , digestive power is often variable. Sometimes the intense hunger for vata may need to subside; at other times it can use a little of agni boost. Therefore, these guidelines may also be useful for people with variable digestion. Pittas , on the other hand, tend to have very powerful and warm digestive systems. A digestive pitta imbalance is characterized by intense hunger, burning indigestion and perhaps diarrhea. Therefore, these guidelines are less suitable for pitta types or those with a pitta digestive imbalance.

If you are really perplexed about the condition of your agni , it is always advisable to consult with an Ayurvedic doctor. However, here are some general signs of low digestive fire:

  • little appetite,

  • tendency to gain weight even when eating very little,

  • a thick coating on the tongue,

  • feeling of heaviness or sleepiness after eating,

  • bad breath and body odor,

  • excess mucus and congestion, and

  • frequent colds and flu (Frawley, 2000).

How you eat is just as important as what you eat

There are classifications of foods and herbs that are particularly effective for developing digestive power, which I will list later in this article. However, before we delve into the details of what you get on your plate, it's worth considering how you eat your food.

Here are some basic guidelines for cultivating healthy eating habits. All these guidelines are described in the Caraka Samhita, one of the most renowned classical texts of Ayurveda. Like many classical texts, it is not clear who exactly wrote it, however it is one of the foundational pieces of Ayurvedic literature.

1. Eat the right amount

It's important to eat neither too little nor too much. Being malnourished will eventually weaken all of the body tissues and cause a number of vata imbalances. However, eating too much will put out the digestive fire and likely lead to excess weight and slow digestion.

You may be wondering how you know when enough is enough. The Caraka Samhita leaves us a clue: “The amount of food that, without upsetting the balance, is digested and metabolized, at the right time, should be considered the right amount” (Sharma & Dash, 2014 , Vol I: p.106).

This may sound a bit obscure to most readers. A modern interpretation, and one that I personally use, is the 75% rule. The 75% rule states that you should not fill your belly with food and liquids beyond 75% of its capacity. Of course, there is no way to exactly measure this. It is a felt sensation. However, I recommend letting the burp be your guide. If you are eating your food slowly enough to pay attention, there will usually be a spot in your food where you will have a small burp. The next time you sit down to eat, see if you can detect the burp. If you spot it, put your fork down and see if you end up at a good 75% mark – the Goldilocks satiety principle!

Eating just the right amount of food will prevent feelings of bloating after meals and allow you to digest food more efficiently, thus preserving the strength of your agni .

2. Eat in a quiet environment without distractions

Mindfulness has become a buzzword these days, but there's a lot to be said for being mindful while eating, especially when it comes to developing digestive power. In modern times, this means disconnecting from technology during meals. It also means not working while eating and having a nice, light-hearted conversation at mealtimes. The Caraka Samhita takes a strong stance on this, suggesting: “One should not talk, laugh or be inattentive while eating food” (Sharma & Dash, Vol II).

Although the position described in the Caraka Samhita is quite austere, we can learn from these ancient teachings and use meals as a time to be quiet, reflect and simply enjoy the wonderful food in front of us. us. Of course, there is something to be said for enjoying a nice meal with friends and family. However, as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I advise having light-hearted conversations, as well as avoiding business lunches, where possible, which distract us from savoring our food.

3. Eat at a moderate pace

Interestingly, the Caraka Samhita advises against eating too fast or too slow, as this affects the ability to properly savor and enjoy your food. (Sharma & Dash, Vol II). Also, eating too slowly is problematic, as the food will cool down and digestive irregularities may occur (Sharma & Dash, Vol. II). A helpful rule of thumb is to put down your fork between bites. I find this helps a lot to eat at a moderate pace.

4. Do not eat until the previous food has been digested

For most, this means waiting at least three hours between meals and snacks. This is also where the concept of true hunger comes into play. Many Americans are used to snacking frequently. However, from an Ayurvedic point of view, eating too frequently dampens agni and will inhibit the building of digestive power. Metaphorically speaking, you want to give the fire a chance to burn its fuel before accumulating more fodder. The Caraka Samhita clearly explains that eating too soon after the last meal will make all the doshas worse, since the partially digested food will mix with the new food and cause an obstruction of the physical channels.

In addition, the Ayurvedic point of view here is that allowing enough time between meals stimulates agni , helps the body eliminate ama (toxins), sharpens the mind and restores the balance of the doshas (Palanisamy, 2015).

There are a number of other guidelines for healthy eating listed in the Caraka Samhita as well as contemporary Ayurvedic texts. However, the four listed above cover quite a bit of territory and are a great place to start. Once you've mastered these, a couple of other guidelines are to eat mostly warm, moist foods and also not to drink more than a half cup of warm water with meals. Ice water, especially with meals, is contraindicated as Ayurveda teaches that it will weaken the agni .

The latest guidelines are based on an understanding of the nature of agni . Since agni is naturally hot and fiery, to fuel agni and ignite that fire, it is ideal to choose foods that mimic the nature of agni . Warm, moist foods are considered to be easier to digest and have a more encouraging effect on agni . Therefore, when developing digestive power, it is advisable to eat in moderation, eat with awareness and gratitude, and focus on hot, moist, and cooked foods (Svoboda, 2010).

Rasa to develop digestive power

The word rasa has many meanings in Sanskrit. One of its meanings essentially translates into taste, and more specifically, the taste of food when it first hits the tongue (Lad & Lad, 2009).

There are six main tastes according to Ayurveda:

  1. sweet,

  2. sour,

  3. salty,

  4. bitter,

  5. spicy, and

  6. astringent.

To develop digestive power, spicy, sour, and salty flavors are best (Sharma & Dash, Vol 2). This does not mean that if you are trying to increase agni , you will exclusively eat these foods. However, it is advisable to emphasize spicy, sour and salty foods on a regular basis if that is your goal.

The spicy flavor is especially good for increasing agni in the short term, while the sour flavor is better for increasing agni in the long term. The salty taste is useful for stimulating the appetite: it gives food a good flavor and, like spicy and sour flavors, has a warm energy that inherently stimulates agni .

Examples of spiciness include chili, onion, mustard, radish, and garlic. The spiciness is excellent for stimulating agni and burning excess kapha , which can manifest as mucus, watery discharge, or a thick tongue. Kapha types can use spiciness liberally, Vatas better take it in small doses, and Pittas should minimize spicy food , since it intensely aggravates the pitta dosha (Morningstar, 1995).

Sour taste is found in foods such as vinegar, yogurt, cheese, citrus fruits, and pickles. This flavor stimulates salivation as well as agni, so it is helpful to have a small amount of pickles or hot sauce with meals. However, like hot taste, too much sour taste will aggravate pitta and may cause mild inflammation of the intestine (Morningstar, 1995). However, if your digestive power is weak, you can probably benefit from a little more tartness. Keep in mind that small amounts taken frequently with meals are better than consuming large amounts of vinegar and pickles all at once.

The salty taste is found in rock salt and sea salt, as well as sea vegetables (Morningstar, 1995). Again, it's wise not to eat large amounts of the salty flavor, but if you're looking to boost agni , having a little salt with your meals on a regular basis will stimulate the digestive fire. Another interesting fact about salt is that it is quite solid and therefore beneficial for vata dosha (Morningstar, 1995).

There is one more aspect of working with taste, agni and doshas that is important to understand. Although spicy, sour and salty flavors have a general stimulating effect on agni , one should always consider the individual constitution . For example, if someone has a low digestive fire and also a very strong kapha constitution, the spiciness may be suggested in copious amounts. However, it would be unwise to recommend that this person eat large amounts of salty and sour flavors, as these flavors dramatically increase the kapha dosha.. As always in Ayurveda, the protocols are tailored to the individual. In this case, the pungent flavor would be recommended along with many bitter and astringent foods, since pungent, bitter, and astringent flavors pacify the kapha dosha .

Conversely, someone of vata constitution who has a weak agni would benefit from a large amount of sweet and sour flavors and smaller amounts of spiciness. Salty and sour flavors pacify vata with its warm, wet and heavy nature. Too much hot and spicy food dries out and overstimulates the vata dosha and therefore smaller amounts are recommended. For pitta dosha, the goal is generally to cool the digestive fires, so sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes are best.

Spices to light your digestive fire

Finally, spices are crucial for developing digestive power. While the list of beneficial spices is long, here are some ideas to inspire you.

Ginger ( Zingiber officinale )

Ginger is one of the most versatile and powerful digestive spices. For my vata clients, I recommend fresh ginger tea. For kapha clients, dried ginger is best. This can be taken as a tea, when cooking, and even in capsule form. Ginger has a spicy and sweet taste, heat energy and, depending on whether it is fresh or dry, a nourishing or purifying effect on the body. (The fresh root is nutritious, while the dried root is purifying (Dass, 2013).) An easy way to take fresh ginger as a digestif is to thinly slice the root, squeeze some lemon or lime on top, add a pinch of salt, and simply chew before meals. This is a surefire way to give the agni a bit of a head start at mealtime.

Fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare )

Fennel is special because it stimulates agni without aggravating pitta dosha . People of a pitta nature generally have inherently robust digestion, but even pittas can use a boost of agni from time to time. Fennel is the perfect choice. Fennel has a sweet and slightly spicy taste, fresh energy and an overall nourishing effect on the body (Dass, 2013).

Since it is sweet and nutritious, fennel is also an excellent choice for those of a vata constitution (Dass, 2013). Dried and powdered fennel makes a delicious tea. Also, chewing a few dried, roasted fennel seeds after meals is a wonderful way to take in this pleasant and digestively effective spice.

Black pepper ( Piper nigrum )

If you're looking for a heavy hitter, black pepper is a great choice. Black pepper is ideal for kapha dosha and for those with particularly slow digestion. This is because black pepper has a pungent taste, heat energy, and purifying effect on the body (Dass, 2013). These small spicy peppercorns are excellent for stimulating agni and helping the body burn ama (metabolic waste and/or undigested food matter). Adding ground black pepper to your vegetarian soups and curries is an easy way to weave a little Piper nigrum into your daily meals. Additionally, black pepper is part of the potent digestive trifecta known as Trikatu, which consists of equal parts dried ginger, black pepper, and pippali (Piper longum) . Trikatu is one of the main herbal mixtures used in Ayurveda to increase agni.

If you're developing digestive power, you can use spices liberally in cooking. However, it is helpful to know the energy of spices and how they affect your dosha so you can make the best choices. Some other great digestive spices include cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum ), cumin (Cuminum cyminum ), coriander ( Coriandrum sativum ) and fenugreek ( Trigonella foenum-graecum ).

Taking it all in

If your goal is to develop digestive power, it's wise to consider how you eat, what you eat, and the proper use of spices and seasonings. Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all, so there are general guidelines that we can all follow to strengthen agni . However, one should always consider the constitution of the individual and adapt food and spice choices that balance and harmonize.

In general, spicy, sour, and salty flavors are better for stimulating agni , as are foods that are warm, moist, and light. In addition, we can all benefit from more attention to our diet. So a great place to start for everyone is with the guidelines for healthy eating outlined in this article, remembering that how you eat is just as important as what you eat. > eat.

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Greta is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA) and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (CIYT) based in Palm Desert, CA.


Dash, B. & Sharma, RK (2014). Caraka Samhita (Vol. 1 and 2) . Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.

Dass, V. (2013). ayurvedic herbology . Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Frawley, D. (2000). ayurvedic healing . Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Lad, U. & Lad, V. (2009). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing . Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press.

Svoboda, R. (1999). Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution . Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Morningstar, A. (1995). Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners . Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.


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