Agni, our inner fire, is the power of our digestion. As we explored in the first article in this series, it is an inner intelligence that knows how to process whatever we take in. Ideally, this intelligence functions efficiently and effectively. However, that is often not the case. When our physical digestion is out of balance, we may find that it cannot easily process all the foods we take in. According to ayurveda, it is not necessarily the food that is the problem, but rather our ability to digest it. Therefore, strengthening and supporting our digestion is usually ayurveda’s first area of focus when considering diet. This approach is unique, as we have most likely not been taught to consider diet through the lens of digestion.
We are doing our best to eat in a healthy way, but we are confused about what that is. There is so much conflicting dietary information circulating on the internet about different ways of eating, some bordering on the extreme. Should we eliminate foods like sugar, dairy, and gluten? Should we eat more fats and less carbs? It is overwhelming. We may even refer to some foods as “good” and some foods as “bad,” which sets us up for a negative, punitive relationship with food that definitely does not support healthy digestion.
Should we eliminate foods like sugar, dairy, and gluten? Should we eat more fats and less carbs?
Ayurveda can help us make sense of all of this information by reminding us that there is really no one-size-fits-all approach to diet, because people are different. We have different inherent constitutions, different imbalances, different needs. Also, if we eliminate large categories of food from our diet, we may gain some initial relief from our digestive ailments, but we don’t address the root cause of our symptoms. We want to identify and resolve the underlying imbalance in our digestion so that we can enjoy a broad variety of foods and avoid more significant health problems that may result from poor digestion. So, in a nutshell, healthy food is food that you digest well. That will vary from person to person. Shifting our primary focus to digestion when thinking about diet takes time, but it makes a big difference.
Here are six daily dietary practices to support digestion that are simple in nature but will require us to adjust our habits, giving us additional insight into our current relationship with food and eating. If these are unfamiliar to you, begin by trying some or all of them as an experiment.
1. Start your day with warm honey-lemon water.
When you wake up in the morning and the sun is rising, so is your own inner sun—your digestive fire. Cold or even room-temperature water may not support this awakening and could dampen it. Instead, begin your day with warm water with honey and lemon. Both honey and lemon have a gentle warming effect and support optimal cleansing while also enhancing nourishment. I like to use the following recipe:
10–12 ounces of warm water (not too hot)
½ teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon of honey
Stir and enjoy first thing in the morning after scraping your tongue.
2. Establish regular mealtimes.
Regular mealtimes can be a powerful practice for supporting healthy digestion. When we are eating at different times each day, or even skipping meals, it’s hard for agni to get into a routine of predictable eating. When we establish a routine around eating, agni is able to ramp up and prepare to effectively and efficiently break down our food.
3. Eat only when hungry and limit snacking.
The point here is not to starve yourself, but rather to use hunger as an indication that the digestion of your previous meal is complete and your stomach is ready to receive more. If we eat because we are bored or stressed, we may be disrupting the important process of digestion, which can lead to bloating and gas.
4. Eat mostly warm, cooked foods and limit raw foods.
Cold and raw foods take more energy to digest. Cooking food and adding spices and healthy fats help to make meals more nourishing and easier to break down.
5. Limit beverages while eating and avoid ice at all times.
It’s fine to sip warm or room-temperature water throughout your meal, but refrain from consuming large amounts of cold liquids, as these douse and dilute your digestive fire. Ice causes digestive tissue to constrict, which stifles the power of agni.
6. Connect to your food and to the act of eating as a sacred moment.
Before eating, take a moment to breathe and to connect to the experience of eating as an offering made with gratitude and reverence to the divine intelligence of agni within. Enjoying your food and the experience of eating is crucial for optimal digestion!
Work with these practices for about 40 days and then notice how you feel. Remember that when we improve our physical digestion, we improve our non-physical digestion as well. When we digest better, we feel better, and when we feel better, our experience of life is transformed.
In addition to these dietary tips, there are lifestyle practices that support digestion by helping us de-stress and create nourishing space in our life. Stay tuned for more on these in the next article in this series.