Why is Healthy Digestion So Important?
In Ayurveda, healthy digestion on the physical level is the most important thing to cultivate to have long-term wellbeing on all levels. Healthy digestion creates a healthy life. Weak digestion creates an unhealthy life. It is not always that simple, but oftentimes it can be.
Strong, balanced digestion ensures that your body is actually assimilating the nutrients you are taking in through what you eat and drink. The saying “You are what you eat,” is quite literal in this sense. Those assimilated nutrients become your dhatus, your bodily tissues. But if your digestion is weak, your muscles, nerves and blood will also be weak and more prone to diseases.
There are several key players in the samprapti of disease. There is jatharagni. Jatharagni is the digestive fire that controls the breakdown of solid food during digestion. When jatharagni is weak, malabsorption occurs and ama (toxins) is created. When jatharagni is too strong, ulcers and burning sensations in the abdomen occur.
Pachak Pitta holds Pachak Agni, and is a component of Jatharagni. Pachak Agni controls the breakdown of food, so its job is basically that of Jatharagni. But it’s important to consider that because Pitta is both fire and water, it is absolutely possible to have high Pitta and weak Agni.
Samana Vayu is another major player in digestion. It can be compared to a wind that blows on the body’s Agni. If the wind is blowing strongly, then Agni is strong. If the wind is weak, the fire will burn out into embers. When the wind fluctuates, so does Agni. Imbalanced Samana Vayu typically causes diarrhea, malabsorption and gas. This is a subdosha of Vata that governs how well the nutrients are absorbed and utilized by the body.
Apana Vayu, another subdosha of Vata, needs to be balanced for proper digestion to occur. Apana governs the downward movements and processes in the body, particularly feces and toxins, so when Apana is balanced and strong, bowel movements will be solid yet soft. When Apana is imbalanced, a host of health problems can manifest.
Kledak Kapha, when balanced and healthy, develops the mucous lining of the digestive system and protects the membranes from too much heat or dryness. When Kledak is in excess, nausea, constipation and mucous are common symptoms. When depleted, symptoms that include dryness, redness and irritation occur.
Ama, which was mentioned earlier in this article, is basically the consequence of poorly digested food. Ama is sticky, so it can quickly collect in the channels, srotas, of the body, and stops the flow of nutrients and release of toxins. These toxins collect in the digestive tract and is then released into the organs and tissues of the body where is supports the manifestation of diseases. Bad-smelling breath and gas are usually two of the first noticeable symptoms of ama collecting in the body.
What Does Unhealthy Digestion Look and Feel Like?
- Abdominal pain
- Burning sensation in stomach
Western medicine has names like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), colitis, ulcers and pancreatitis to describe what is essentially indigestion.
What Does Healthy Digestion Look Like?
When you have strong, balanced and healthy digestion, you can experience…
- Moderate and regular appetite. You will be hungry about three times a day and you will feel satisfied after consuming a moderate amount of lightly spiced food.
- Consistent and easy elimination. Each day you should have at least one bowel movement, though two is even better. Your bowel movements should be formed, moderately sized and a brownish color.
- No symptoms of digestive problems. If you have healthy digestion, you won’t experience gas, bloating, indigestion, burning sensations, acid reflux, lethargy or nausea.
- Overall vibrant health. This includes a strong immune system, clear complexion and even skin tone, plenty of energy, deep sleep and good breath and body odor.
What Causes Unhealthy Digestion?
The cause, nidanam, of digestive problems, typically rests solely in when, what and how we consume food, liquids and emotions. But what we eat and drink is something that we can more easily control and that has the bulk of the impact on our digestive system.
- Vata Dosha is imbalanced by consuming too many items that have the same qualities as Vata, so things that are cold, dry and light. Raw vegetables and chips are a good example.
- Pitta Dosha is pushed into excess by consuming too much of things that are warm, oily, sour, hot and light. Some examples are fried food and spicy food.
- Kapha Dosha is increased over a balanced amount when too much food and liquids are consumed that are moist, heavy and cold. Iced drinks, dairy and ice cream are good examples.
The way in which you eat also has an impact on the state of your digestion. Eating very late at night, drinking a lot of liquids while you eat, eating too quickly, eating too much, eating in front of the TV or while in a stressful environment and eating an improper combination of foods are just a few of the practices that can weaken the digestive system. Even the healthiest, freshest meals won’t be digested and assimilated well into the body if they are not eaten in a relaxed and conscious way.
Here is a simple list to review with 8 tips for healthy digestion that can be applied starting today.
- Begin every meal, including snacks, with a minute of reflection or meditation to create a sacred and calm environment.
- Eat without distractions like the television, reading or loud music.
- Chew each bite well. Do not swallow whole pieces of food.
- Eat warm, gently cooked food. Avoid raw and/or cold food.
- Meals should be eaten without drinking liquids entirely or only with a small amount of room temperature water.
- Leave time for resting at the end of each meal, but be sure to not lay down or sleep as this can disturb digestion.
- Eat the largest meal at lunch, between noon and two p.m. when the sun is at its peak and Agni is strongest.
- Avoid overeating. Healthy eating means that you look at mealtime as an essential and sacred part of each day, instead of an opportunity to stuff yourself. Overeating also has a direct negative impact on digestion.
How Can An Ayurvedic Practitioner Help?
An experienced, attentive and educated Ayurvedic practitioner will be able to hold consultations with their clients and come to a deep understanding of the samprapti, pathogenesis, of the disease. By understanding how and why the disease is manifesting itself in the body, an Ayurvedic practitioner will be able to create the best treatment plan to support the healing process. A healing plan will typically include both lifestyle changes and herbal remedies and practices.
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The purpose of this article is to provide information about Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health problems please consult a trained health professional. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor, please call (800) 215-9934 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide you with our affiliated practitioners. Check with your doctor before taking herbs r using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.