Once upon a time, the wandering sadhus roamed throughout the rugged Himalayan Mountains spreading the seeds of Ayurveda as a science to promote longevity and improve health to people living in rural communities. The roaming physicians lived in harmony with nature and discovered by observation and experimentation that it doesn’t take much more than proper diet, sleep, and love to make humans healthy. By healthy I mean a person is svastha (established in themselves), awake and conscious to their whole nature as a spiritual being, has good digestive fire, manages their senses in relation to their object of affection, and respects and cooperates with nature. Over time, the knowledge from these old school physicians has stood the test of time and Ayurveda is alive and well today as it has been for thousands of years.
Since Ayurveda teaches us to read nature for clues on how to adapt our daily routines, take notice of when you begin to see the end of summer in your horizon. It can be helpful at this intersection to slow down, sleep more, hydrate, and prioritize strengthening your gastric fire to avoid falling ill in the early phase of the autumn season. Here are some ideas on how to strengthen the first of three pillars in your daily routine. This pillar is Right Diet. I will discuss the other two pillars—sleep and love—in upcoming newsletters.
1. Pillar #1: The Right Diet.
One of the perspectives that I appreciate in Ayurveda is that everything in Mother Nature’s pantry is food for someone or something. Food is not good or bad; the question is can you digest what you’re eating? It’s important to remember that food for one person can be poison for another and that we all need different foods and tastes to be healthy and satisfied. The food you eat in one season, like a watermelon or cucumber, might be the taste you need to help you cool down in the summer season but yet it can create ama (toxic, undigested matter) when eaten in another season. When creating your next seasonal menus, consider taking a visit to the farmer’s market and see what’s growing near you, or read the signs at the grocery store that indicate where the food came from. Local food is usually the medicine you and your community need to thrive.
In addition to selecting foods that are in season and easy for you to digest, another important factor to consider is how strong is your jatharagni (gastric fire). In some cases you can be eating the right foods for your constitution and discover that your agni is weak, thus making it difficult for your body to breakdown and absorb useful nutrients from your diet. Agni typically has four states and is described as either being normal, high, irregular, or low. How do you determine the strength of your agni? For starters you might pay close attention to your appetite and weight.
- Normal agni has a steady rhythm to it and will tend to trigger hunger signals four to five hours after eating. After eating, there are no signs of indigestion. If this is you, keep doing what you are doing to maintain your equilibrium! Signs of good digestion include: no discomfort after eating, no belching or gas with odor, the stomach empties in a timely manner, and bowel movements that are consistent and regular.
- High burning agni means a person tends to feel hungry all the time and may eat a lot but not gain weight. This is usually the case for pitta imbalances. A person in this scenario will benefit from eating denser and perhaps larger quantities of foods in order to prevent their raging inner fire from drying up body tissues or irritating the lining of the stomach or small intestines. Without sufficient quality and quantity of foods, there is the danger of wasting precious body tissues as well as rapid weight loss.
- Irregular appetite is just that…irregular. Some days you might feel hungry every few hours while other days you barely have an appetite. This example is typical of a person who has a vata imbalance and usually leads to digestive challenges. If this is occurring for you, my advice is to try and eat simple broth-based soups as often as possible until your agni is back to normal.
- Low agni is indicated by a reduced appetite and weight gain. This is typical for kapha imbalances where you might see a slower metabolism and digestive rates that eventually lead to ama formation. Signs of ama accumulation include: coating on the tongue, bloating, lethargy, slow moving stool or stool with mucous, poor circulation, and a general feeling of heaviness. The slower rate and weakened fire is often due to overall nature of kapha, which is heavy and wet, qualities that weaken fire.
If you are interested in improving the quality or strength of your digestive agni, consider trying to incorporate more herbs, seasonings, condiments, or pickled food from the list below:
- ½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger with a pinch of sea salt and lime 20 minutes before eating.
- Seasonings/herbs to help improve low agni conditions, for vata/kapha) these would be ginger, clove, cinnamon, pepper or Indian herb chitrak and for pitta these would be fennel or coriander
- Pitta folks can benefit from traditional bitters before a meal
- A teaspoon of ghee alone can stimulate agni and help improve digestions
- Kapha individuals might benefit from skipping a meal or consider a fast until their hunger returns
- Vatas can benefit the most from adding pickled/fermented foods as a condiment to their meals to help increase agni imbalances
If you are unsure whether or not your diet is right for you, consider booking a one-on-one session with a nutritionist or Ayurvedic practitioner to help you identify what foods are best for your constitution and season. Stay tuned next month for the blog on sleep, which is the second of the 3 pillars.
• 1 cup yogurt
• 2 cups water
• Pinches of ginger, cumin, salt and black pepper
Blend until frothy.
• 1/3 tsp whole cumin seeds
• 1/3 tsp whole coriander seeds
• 1/3 tsp whole fennel seeds
• 1 cup water
Boil the water then add the spices. Remove the pot off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Strain the seeds and enjoy.
• 2 inches fresh ginger root
• 4-5 cups water
• 1 tsp sweetener
Grate ginger root, add to boiling water, and simmer 5-15 minutes. Strain and enjoy.