Annam Brahma – food is divine, declare the Vedas. But if you want to maximize the functioning of your mind-body in a yogic or ayurvedic way, you have to pay attention to another factor besides what you eat. How you eat has a tremendous influence on your digestion. Therefore, proper eating habits are as part and parcel of a sattvic lifestyle as a pure diet.
One of my first teachers of Ayurveda used to say that you may even eat nectar, but if you cannot digest it properly, it is of little use. In other words, even the highest quality food will just rot in your guts and poison your system if your body doesn’t have the ability to break it down properly and absorb its nutrients. In the eyes of Ayurveda, you are not simply what you eat, but what you digest – what you make out of the food you have.
Ayurveda places a huge emphasis on digestion. If it is strong, then the body builds up healthy tissues, removes its impurities and runs smoothly. If the digestive process is impaired, one has a good chance of developing chronic problems sooner or later. According to leading ayurvedic experts, as much as 80 percent of chronic problems can be linked to improper digestion.
The following ten tips are time-tested ayurvedic principles that promote strong and smooth digestion:
Choose your food according to your constitution (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) and the season.
Eat fresh, good quality food that is nourishing, light and easy to digest. A sattvic diet will naturally promote the positive, life-supporting qualities of sattva in you.
Eat only when you are hungry, and refrain from eating when the previous meal has not been digested. According to Ayurveda, this upsets the balance of all the doshas, damaging them at the root of their formation.
Always sit down to eat and have your meals in a settled, peaceful atmosphere. Take your time, do not hurry. When you eat, your mind-body metabolizes the whole atmosphere and your state of emotions. Have your full attention on your meal: no TV, no computer, no magazines, just you and your meal. The mind’s attention on eating helps the secretion of digestive enzymes.
When you finish eating, stay seated at the table for a few more minutes. This gives time for your digestion to kick in. If you jump up right after the last bite, it may upset your Vata dosha. This can lead to a weaker digestion, and feeling restless and edgy in general.
Eat less, live longer. Ayurveda advises to fill half of your stomach with solid food, a quarter of it with liquid food (dahl, soups, drinks) and to leave another quarter empty to facilitate digestion. Stop before you reach maximum fullness, at the point when you feel settled but not completely full. Mind the advice of the Bhagavad Gita: “yoga is not for those who eat too much or too little.” (6.16.)
To be able to feel when you are settled, it is good to eat slowly, chewing your food well. Digestion starts in the mouth. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that start to break down food already in your mouth.
Avoid iced food and drinks. They put out the fire of digestion, or in more scientific terms, deactivate the digestive enzymes. During the meal it is best to sip a little warm water after a few mouthfuls of food, layering solid food and liquid. Take just a little water, too much can dilute the digestive juices.
Make lunch the main meal of the day. Just as the Sun, the heavenly fire is at its peak of brilliance at midday, so is its bodily counterpart the strongest at this time. In the evening, digestion is weaker, so if you tend to have a heavy dinner, it can lead to an unwanted weight gain and the accumulation of undigested toxins.
Say a prayer, give thanks, or just keep a short period of silence before eating. This is also a wonderful opportunity for the whole system to downshift a few gears, and prepare itself for absorbing all the good things that your food contains.
These tips are not meant to be rules carved into stone. Don’t force them upon yourself. Rather, build them into your life very gently, very comfortably. You will soon discover that they are exactly the principles that Mother Nature uses to keep you run smoothly, healthily, and efficiently. Enjoy!