Digestion is one of the most important factors in physical health. Besides water and air, food is the primary way we nourish ourselves on a daily basis and is the building block of every cell in our body. But even if we eat good quality food, what happens when we don’t have the digestive strength to break it down properly? In this post I’ll explain why balancing your digestion is one of the most important long-term factors in healing disease, maintaining good health and preventing future health problems.
Agni is a Sanskrit word meaning “fire.” In Ayurveda we use the metaphor of “digestive fire” or agni to describe how food is metabolized in the digestive system. Imagine that there is a fire burning in your belly that metabolizes the food you eat. Just like a campfire, there are certain conditions that help to make this fire optimal. When we eat, our agni breaks down food into smaller components that become the building blocks of new tissues in the body.
When our digestive fire is imbalanced, what happens to the food we eat? If it’s too low, our agni will not break all the food down and it putrefies in the digestive system. This putrefied food matter is referred to as ama. Ama is essentially toxic build-up that eventually gets drawn more deeply into the system, relocating to other areas of the body, and disrupting the healthy functioning of cells, thus causing disease.
When agni is too high, food is broken down too quickly. A person may have a very strong appetite but may experience low body weight. High agni can actually digest the tissues of the body, also resulting in poor health. Some people fluctuate from having low agni to high agni, which is also a form of imbalanced digestion.
How do I know if I have imbalanced digestion?
When someone has digestive symptoms, that’s a clear indicator that there is some imbalance. Burning indigestion, gas, bloating, heaviness and sleepiness after eating, diarrhea, constipation and nausea are just a few examples of digestive disturbances. Although these digestive problems are commonplace in our modern society, they should not be overlooked and should be treated as soon as possible.
Here’s the catch. A person can also have a digestive imbalance without current digestive symptoms. It may manifest as something that they don’t identify as “digestive” (such as headaches) because the imbalance has been drawn more deeply into the system. The role of agni is so important that in some cases, even without significant digestive symptoms, a practitioner will treat digestion nevertheless.
The different mind-body types (or doshic types) tend to have specific digestive imbalances. These are just some examples and tendencies of the doshic types:
- Vata types: gas, bloating, constipation, belching, variable appetite or forgetting to eat
- Pitta types: burning indigestion, diarrhea, gastritis, ulcers, colitis, very strong appetite, very irritable/angry when missing a meal
- Kapha types: nausea, heaviness, sleepiness after eating, mucousy stools, low appetite
How do I heal my digestion and clear ama?
Here are a few general ways in which digestive health is optimized through Ayurveda:
- Eating an organic diet appropriate for your doshic type
- Eating mindfully through specific healthy eating practices
- Avoiding overeating
- Cooking with spices appropriate for your doshic type
- Taking an herbal digestive formula designed for your needs
Cleansing (Panchakarma) with the support of a qualified practitioner is very important for clearing the building up of ama (toxins) that have accumulated in your body. Our upcoming guided cleanse is focused in doing just that – clearing ama from your body so that your body can heal itself.
Before practicing Ayurveda, I dealt with chronic digestive complaints for years due to improper diet, overuse of antibiotics, not eating mindfully and other factors. I speak from experience about the significant impact Ayurvedic treatment has on digestive health and how seemingly unrelated health problems can also heal as a result of treating digestive imbalance. I encourage you to check in with your digestion on a regular basis and seek support from a practitioner if you have current or past health problems (digestive or other).
To learn how to strengthen that fire in your belly and heal yourself naturally, feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.
May your (digestive) fire burn brightly!