If you’re suffering from digestive unrest, Ayurveda can help. According to yoga’s sister science, many digestive problems are due to diet and lifestyle choices. That’s actually good news, because it means that we can take our health into our own hands. Ayurveda is highly individualized, so you’ll get the most benefit from working with a skilled practitioner who can tailor your digestive health program to your specific needs. In the meantime, here are some general rules for strengthening your digestion.
1. Chew your food properly. Ayurveda says that how you eat is even more important than what you eat. One of Ayurveda’s golden eating rules is to chew each bite of food 32 times. (It’s the first step in your digestive process, so you might as well do it right!) Chewing properly also encourages you to eat more slowly and mindfully, which Ayurveda also recommends.
2. Don't eat when you're stressed out, upset or grieving. When you’re tense or emotionally triggered, your nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode, not rest-and-digest mode. So it will be harder for your body to digest food properly. Instead, engage in a relaxing practice or activity, and eat later, when you’re calm.
3. Eat regular meals, at the right times of day. Eat a nourishing breakfast in the morning; your biggest meal of the day at high noon, when the sun (and your digestive fire) is the strongest; and a lighter dinner before sunset, before agni fades. Don’t eat your meals and snacks too close together—this can overwhelm your agni (digestive fire) and lead to gas, bloating and other forms of indigestion. And no midnight snacking—you’ll regret it in the morning!
4. Eat local, seasonal foods. What’s growing in your neighborhood is the healthiest fare for your digestive system. From an Ayurvedic point of view, fresh foods that have been ripened by the sun contain more prana (life force) than foods that are shipped and stored thousands of miles from their harvesting point.
5. Take a walk after meals. The ancient Ayurvedic prescription of walking for at least 15 to 20 minutes after a meal helps food move through the stomach faster. One study of diabetic patients showed that it may also lower blood sugar levels after eating.
6. Get eight hours of sleep. Sleep has a lot to do with good digestion. The rest-and-digest function of the central nervous system peaks when we are sleeping. Poor sleep, on the other hand, leads to all sorts of issues that create digestive problems.
7. Try yoga nidra. Yoga nidra, a deep relaxation practice also known as yogic sleep, can switch on the rest-and-digest function, too. Try it when you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, or as a prelude to sleep. A skilled yoga teacher can walk you through the process, or you can find guided audio recordings online.
8. Practice mindful eating. If you’re dealing with digestive unrest, look at how you manage stress. Slow down, in both your life and your eating. Practice mindful eating in a calm, quiet environment. Give yourself a warm sesame oil massage. Do some gentle yoga and slow, deep breathing.
Digestive Tips for Your Dosha:
For sluggish, kapha-imbalanced digestion: Make an Ayurvedic nightcap with pipali (also known as pepper longa or long pepper), cinnamon and cardamom mixed into almond milk.
For acidic, pitta-aggravated digestion: Steep a tablespoon of fennel seeds in a quart of water and drink one cup at the end of a meal, or chew on a few fennel seeds.
For irregular, vata induced digestion: At night, drink six to eight ounces of almond milk mixed with pinches of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.