Ayurveda may be the oldest medicinal system in the world that is still in use today, but it is also the most relevant for our modern lifestyles. Dietary recommendations in Ayurveda are not influenced by current trends and fads. Balanced nutrition and mindful eating are at the center of the Ayurvedic diet, but it also takes into account the uniqueness of the individual, the changing seasons, and the natural rhythms of the environment. To preserve optimal digestion and strengthen agni, which is the digestive fire, there are a few additional Ayurvedic practices that you should pay heed to. Here are some of the most important Ayurvedic secrets for healthy digestion that most of us seem to have forgotten in this age.
1. Strengthen Agni for Digestion
Kindling the digestive fire prior to meals can help to improve gut health and digestion. There are many ways in which this can be achieved. The first thing that you can do is to get some low intensity exercise like walking to clear the mind and enhance circulation through the body. This will also help to improve mindfulness, reducing the risk of overeating. Herbs like ginger can also help stimulate agni prior to meals; just chew on a slice of raw ginger or have a teaspoon of fresh ginger juice with some lemon juice and salt added in. This can help by stimulating salivation and increasing the presence of enzymes needed to digest food. Try to drink a glass of warm water on waking and about half an hour before meals to stimulate agni, while avoiding cold foods and beverages as they can weaken the digestive fire.
2. Eat for Your Dosha Type
If you don’t already know your dosha type or prakriti, you should take a test or consult an Ayurvedic physician at the earliest. Knowing your dosha type will allow you to follow more personalized diet recommendations that are suitable for your unique constitution. Dosha type diets take into account the interaction between various foods and the doshas, offering suggestions on food choices, food combinations, methods of preparation, and more. Broadly speaking, foods with sour, salty, and pungent tastes and a heating energy will enhance agni, but can aggravate pitta if consumed in excess. When used in moderation however, they can be beneficial and will also help to pacify vata aggravation, which can impair digestion.
3. Meal Timings
You’ve probably noticed that whenever you have a particularly late night out and a late dinner, you wake up feeling fatigued and uncomfortable the following day. This is a result of impaired digestion and it probably affects you daily at a more subtle level, even when your meals are just slightly late. This is because agni is closely associated with the natural cycle, regulated by the sun. Digestion or agni strength is at its peak from noon to about 2pm, which is therefore the optimal time for lunch, which should be the main or heaviest meal of the day. As the sun sets, agni also starts to wane, which is why your dinner should be light and as early as possible. Eating heavy and late dinners can cause a buildup of ama and will weaken digestion in the long term.
4. Practice this Asana After Meals
There are actually 2 asanas that you can practice following meals, but they are almost identical with a minor variation. You can try both and see which one works best for you. The first asana is vajrasana, in which you assume the kneeling position and then lower your body so that you are sitting on the heels. Your palms should come to rest on the knees. The other option is virasana, in which the only difference is that your heels are spread apart so that your body weight sits on the floor, between the feet. These are the best poses to stimulate your digestive meridians, enhancing digestion and lowering the risk of constipation, indigestion, hyper acidity, and other problems.
5. Sleep or Recline on the Left Side
Whether it’s an afternoon siesta after lunch or sleep after dinner, make sure to only recline on your left side. Even if you don’t wish to sleep, reclining on the left sides for 10-15 minutes after meals can help to enhance digestion. Because of the positioning of the esophageal sphincter, liver, and gall bladder, lying on the right side can increase pressure on the stomach and also ease regurgitation of food and stomach acids up the esophageal tract, increasing heartburn, acidity, and indigestion. Lying on the left side does the exact opposite, reducing digestion time, and lowering the risk of gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD.
Ayurvedic herbs and medications that support digestion can also be used to encourage healthy digestion and treat problems like indigestion, diarrhea, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Of course, in addition to using Ayurvedic medications and these tips for healthy digestion, you should also adhere to other Ayurvedic guidelines pertaining to food combinations, physical activity, and dinacharya.