Lifestyle practices that support digestion are essential components of the science of ayurveda. We know that food has a huge impact on digestion, but we may be less aware of how the way we live can enhance or harm the inherent intelligence of agni, our digestive fire. The number one thing to consider in terms of lifestyle and digestion is our personal relationship with stress. A stressful lifestyle has a negative effect on digestion. I often think of stress as the opposite of space. Too much stress, not enough space, rushing around, eating on the go, multitasking while we eat, too much stimulation—these are common experiences for many of us, and they can deplete us of nourishment and hamper our digestive capacity.
As you consider your relationship with stress in your daily life, also contemplate your experience of nourishment and space. What does this mean to you? Do you have any nourishing space in your life? Do you have time for yourself—time to practice self-care, time to rest, and time to contemplate your experience in the world? Thinking about these questions in a deeper way can give us a lot of valuable insight into how our lifestyle is either nurturing or stifling the power of our digestive intelligence. One of the most effective ways to manage stress and create more space in our life is to implement the practice of ayurvedic daily routine, or dinacharya. To practice dinacharya means to align ourself with health. Health in the context of ayurveda means a holistic approach encompassing body, mind, and spirit—and digestion is at the heart of it.
Here are five key dinacharya practices to promote good digestion. You may also want to refer to the dietary practices suggested in the previous article in this series.
1. Wake up early.
Early rising—around 6:00 a.m.—will give you enough space to have a morning elimination before your daily duties begin and will allow you to take advantage of the body’s natural inclination to cleanse first thing in the morning. Late rising can make us— and our agni—feel sluggish.
2. Scrape your tongue.
Every morning before eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth, use a metal tongue scraper to gently remove the white coating on your tongue. This coating is made up of toxins that your body is working to eliminate upon waking. Tongue scraping also helps to remind your body that morning is a time to cleanse.
3. Move your body.
Set aside a few minutes each day for gentle, breath-connected movement and stretching. This helps to release tension and increase your overall awareness of your body, which will support the optimal movement of prana (life force energy). Prana is directly related to agni.
4. Connect to your breath.
Practice crocodile pose and/or sandbag breathing to strengthen your diaphragm and cultivate healthy breathing, which is deep, smooth, continuous, and quiet. This way of breathing will support the entire physiology of your body, especially your digestion.
5. Practice agni sara.
Agni sara (essence of fire) is an effective practice for balancing and nurturing your agni. You may want to refer to the first article [link to article #1] in this series to determine the state of your agni (high, low, or back and forth) and to find the specific version of agni sara that will be best for you.
In addition, it’s important for each of us to take time periodically to reflect on our relationship with stress. How can we organize our life to cultivate more nourishing space as a counter to the stress we experience? Ayurvedic daily routine and a deeper awareness of the way we live are powerful tools for supporting our digestion. They form a supportive structure for our lives and carve out space for optimal nourishment and self-care.