“We Are What We Eat” Series, Part V, Finito!

Today we summarize this series on the diet’s Ayurvedic dimensions and role in maintaining good health and preventing disease.  In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Lord Kṛṣṇa compares Himself with the digestive fire, or agni, which assimilates and digests food in order to sustain Life.

God's secrets

Though diet plays a vital role in Ayurveda’s healing modality, these “rules” flex and bend gracefully according to the transient nature of living in your particular body.  Your constitutional make up (prakriti) is unique as are your current needs for balance (vikriti); thus, your dietary needs are also unique.  You will not find pre-set body weights or calorie counting instructions in Ayurvedic Dietary Theory.  You will find recommendations for listening to the voice of your physiology to hear what, where, when and how you should eat.  You will find instructions to include the six different tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent – at every meal, favoring those tastes that are suited to your current needs and incorporating lesser amounts of the rest.  Including different tastes at each meal reduces cravings and balances appetite and digestion naturally, providing clear instructions via the senses, supported by the voice of your own physiology.

Food influences both physical activities and psychological activities.  Agni requires food to maintain the body’s constant activity, much like a furnace providing heat in exchange for the life of a tree; the body of Earth.  Improper, excessive, heavy, and cold food extinguishes this fire and produces endotoxic substances called Ama.  For supplementation, Tattva’s Herbs offers Ginger, Triphala, Chyawanprash and Trikatu to stoke the fire of Agni.

The Ayurvedic way of cooking brings together a harmonious collection of fresh wholesome ingredients into a feast for all your senses.  In a well-prepared Ayurvedic meal, a medley of tastes, textures, colors, aromas and flavors blend together to restore balance to your body, mind, spirit, senses and emotions.

Indian colored spices at local market.

Ayurvedic Relief for Muscles and Joints

Ouch!  In response to lifestyle, diet, and emotional pattern, our doshas; vata, pitta, and kapha, can easily move out of balance. These imbalances slow down agni, or digestive fire, resulting in the toxic by-product of inadequate digestion known as ama.

Vata, the main active dosha, brings ama into the colon.  From there, ama travels throughout the system, lodging in the bone tissue and joints, giving rise to the stiffness and pain characteristic of chronic joint disorders.

Ayurveda works through both diet and supplementation to remove ama from the joints and move it back to the colon, where the body can then eliminate it.  For this, we need to keep the colon clean and active.  Triphala is the most commonly used herb for cleansing the colon, or the combination of Triphala and Guggul.  Ayurveda recommends general techniques to increase the intensity of agni and burn up the toxins harming the body.  We begin with our food by adding more spices to the diet, such as turmeric, chilis, pepper, cardamom and cloves when cooking.  herbs in bulk cropHerbal extractions of Turmeric Curcumin and Boswellia support a healthy inflammation response and ease of movement, while Ashwagandha helps balance all the doshas and reduce negative effects of stress in the body.

Various oils may be applied to the skin to help the body clear toxins, relieve pain and restore mobility.  Ayurveda has used two traditional oils in particular for thousands of years:  Maha Vishgarbha Oil and Maha Narayan Oil, both containing dozens of herbs in a sesame oil base. Massaging these oils into painful areas can improve flexibility, stiffness, muscle fatigue, circulation and ease pain. These oils when massaged into the skin can also assist in breaking up blockages. After oil application; warm heat, yoga, bath, and mild exercise can further relax and relieve the body.  Tattva’s Herbs Joint Care Oil, featuring Boswellia as a topical option, is also a potent and cooling application for both chronic and acute situations.

You May Also Like to ReadHow to Enhance you Inner Strength using Ashwaganda?

Why Digestion Is Like a Campfire

By Sara Bowes, L.Ac, MSOM
Portland, OR

campfireDigestion should not be taken for granted — really, it is the central pivot for all functioning in our body. Occupying the actual physical center of the organism, and being the interface between our own inner world and the external environment, as we bring the outside world into us in the form of food, the digestive system ought to be paid utmost attention and care. Nevertheless, modern Western culture has for the most part abandoned any traditions that promote optimally-functioning digestion. The repercussions are multifold. It is no shock that our culture is plagued by fatigue—why should we feel energized if the fire we use to burn our fuel has been essentially extinguished? Not to mention the fact that the fuel we now choose to burn is generally imitation and low-quality. When digestion is compromised, an endless array of disease can manifest—from chronic inflammation and associated presentations like arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes, to mental and emotional afflictions like depression, ADHD, and mental fogginess. Traditional cultures and healing systems, like Ayurveda, for instance, have long recognized the centrality of digestion in terms of overall health, and only recently is modern research beginning to catching up.

The simplest and most profound things we can do to help our digestive center generally involve gently stoking its inherent fire. In Ayurveda, this fire is called agni. So long as agni is strong and functioning well, both food, and also experiences, emotions, and sensory impressions will be processed and assimilated in a healthful fashion. If agni is weak, an excess of poorly processed substance and experience accumulates, resulting in a range of problems on the physical and also emotional and psychological levels. As much as we can contribute to the building of this fire, and at the same time, avoid practices that put it out, digestion will thrive. Just like a campfire, digestion generally likes to be warm and dry. Of course the warmth and dryness must be moderated to a degree so that the fire doesn’t turn rampant.  A variety of factors, including constitution, dietary choices, and climate all will contribute to the terrain of the digestive tract. Depending on these factors, your own unique digestion will require more or less assistance in achieving optimal balance.

Simple practices to encourage our own internal fire should be emphasized by every person whose aim is to enhance the absorption of the food he puts into his body. First, ice water should be avoided at all times—most crucially at mealtimes. Cold does to our bodies what it does in nature, which is to freeze and slow. Pouring ice water into the stomach literally puts a halt to digestion, and is especially detrimental to a system whose preference already is to be comfortably warm. A small quantity of warm water or tea around mealtimes is preferable to cold beverages. Abstaining from drinking large amounts of liquid altogether, however, for 30-60 minutes prior to and after a meal will best benefit digestive function since the acids and enzymes excreted in the digestive process are simply diluted by the addition of liquid. Traditionally, in Indian and Chinese cultures, for instance, small servings of hot tea and/or soup with warming and aromatic spices like ginger and cardamom are eaten at the start of a meal to warm up the digestive tract and prime it for the rest of the meal.

The sun’s presence in our eating ritual is a simple practice to assure that the food we put into our bodies is given the best chance to digest. The biggest meal of the day should really be eaten at midday when the sun is highest in the sky—our bodies absorb and respond to the sun’s power and energy, and so will our digestive center, which particularly thrives in its glow.

Similarly, putting fire into our food, quite literally—through the process of cooking—further takes a load off of the body’s own internal reserves. Cooking food benefits digestion. The process itself can be thought of as a pre-digestive process. Raw food, though full of heat-sensitive enzymes, are for the most part, rough on digestion. It is difficult to assimilate foods in their raw state, and this is often reflected by the tendency to suffer from gas, bloating, loose stools with undigested food, and diarrhea on a raw food diet. Furthermore is the tendency to lose weight and strength (and vitality) when eating strictly this way. Clearly, raw foods can be helpful in particular situations with particular constitutional types, especially in for limited periods of time, for detoxification purposes, for instance. If such a diet is adopted, then it is all the more important to “supplement with fire” from other sources rather than cooking, such as hotter seasons and climates, midday eating focus, and warming herbs and spices.

Quite obvious but nonetheless overlooked is the mouth’s participation in the digestive process. Chewing thoroughly and mixing food with saliva is a necessary first step in breaking down food. Chewing clearly initiates the breakdown of food mechanically, and also introduces energetic warmth to the process by the nature of movement and friction, in the same way that rubbing two sticks together can start a fire. Just as important in this act is the thorough mixing of food with salivary enzymes, which are important for breaking down carbohydrates and fats especially, and for the rest of the digestive process to go according to plan, the optimization of the functioning of these enzymes is necessary. The stomach itself does not release these particular enzymes, nor does it have teeth, so it is crucial that the initial process of digestion in chewing and mixing is done well and thoroughly so that the stomach is not bombarded with a job it is not outfitted to perform. Traditionally, it is recommended that each bite is chewed thoroughly an average of 30 chews, until food is thoroughly liquefied, before swallowed. This will naturally slow down the process of eating, allowing the body’s satiety sensors to register the food being introduced to the system, preventing overeating, which is a natural detriment to digestive functioning as it becomes overwhelmed with the sheer volume of food.

Implementing these simple practices—and learning to recognize habits that are working against your digestion and putting out precious agni (eating in a hurry, chugging ice water before meals, ice cream, living off of raw foods in the winter in a cool climate) will surely over time become preferences as you begin to notice the correlations in digestive comfort and energy levels with the adoption of simple eating habits.

Agni and Plants

An excerpt from The Yoga of Herbs – An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad

Ayurveda views the health of the body as the functioning of a biological fire governing metabolism. It is called agni. Agni is not simply a symbol for the power of digestion. In the broader sense, it is the creative flame that works behind all life, building up the entire universe as a stage by stage unfoldment of itself, which, thereby, contains within itself the key to all transformations.

spices-ayurvedic-agni

Agni is present not only in human beings but in all nature. It has a special ab

ode in plants, which contain the agni of photosynthesis. When agni is strong, food is digested properly, toxins of various kinds, largely from undigested food particles, (called ama in Ayurveda), accumulate and breed disease.

Plants contain agni, through which they digest sunlight and produce life. Herbs can transmit their agni to us, their capacity to digest and transform, and this may augment our own power of digestion, or give us the capacity to digest substances we normally cannot. The agni of plants can feed our agni. Through this interconnection, we join ourselves with the cosmic agni, the creative force of life and healing.

The agni from plants is magnetically attracted by its opposite nature to the negative life-force of the ama, or various toxic accumulations in our body. The result is their neutralization and a restoration of harmony.

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Herbs can be used to supplement agni and thereby restore our autoimmune system. This restores the power of our aura, which is nothing more than the glow of our agni.

By their very nature the fight herbs and spices can feed agni, directly strengthening the basic energy of the body-mind, allowing for the right digestion, not only of food but also experience.