Happy belly, happy life

The importance of a healthy digestion.

In Ayurveda a huge emphasis is put on a healthy digestion. It is said that only when your digestion is healthy, you can become healthy. But why is it so important that we digest properly?

Digestion is of great significance because our physical body is build from the nutrients (like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) we extract from the things we eat and drink. It is our digestive system that breaks down food and drinks and takes out smaller molecules which the body uses for building new bodily tissues (called dhātus in Ayurveda), energy and cell repair. Once foods are broken into small enough parts, your body can absorb and move the nutrients to where they are needed. The waste products of digestion (or Malas in Ayurveda) will go into your large intestine and become a stool.

If there is no proper stool (sluggish, constipation or diarrhea) it means that the nutritions can not be absorbed properly and toxins (which we call Ama in Ayurveda) build up. Resulting in malnutrition and accumulated toxins in the body which in the end will cause disease. Sounds very logical, isn’t it? That is why it is so important that we poop every day and also why Ayurveda puts so much attention on a healthy digestion.

An unhealthy digestion results in malnutrition and accumulated toxins in the body

Before diving deeper into the things we can do to promote our digestion let’s first have a closer look at our body structure from an Ayurvedic perspective.

According to Ayurvedic anatomy there are 7 dhātus or bodily tissues. These 7 dhātus are the foundation of our physical body and are – as mentioned above – produced from the food we take in. The 7 dhātus are plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscle tissue (māmsa), fat (meda), bone tissue (asthi), nerve tissue (majjā) and reproductive tissues (shukra/ārtava).

The production and nourishment of the bodily tissues occurs in stages through each of the dhātus successively. Rasa dhātu (plasma) is the first dhātu which is formed from the things we take in and from there transforms into the second dhātu rakta. Again, the immature rakta dhātu transforms into the mature next tissue and so it continues. In the end the reproductive tissue is formed. From the reproductive tissue it goes into the heart where Ojas (the essence of our immune system) is established.

Each stage takes 5 days. Starting from the moment we take in food. From intake it takes 5 days to transform the food into the first dhātu (rasa). Meaning that rasa dhātu becomes potential new life within 35 days. I find this absolutely stunning (and logical!) and yes it is therefore that I called this online platform startwithrasa.com. So why not start today?

Rasa becomes potential new life within 35 days

If you want to start today promoting your digestion then there is one more Ayurvedic principle you need to be aware of which is called “Agni”. Agni literally means “Fire” and we use this term (among other things) in Ayurveda as a metaphor to refer to our digestive fire which is the main force behind our digestion.

Here is how it works: our digestion and the absorption of nutrients depends on our enzyme functioning. Enzymes are special proteins in the body that bind themselves to other particles for the purpose of transforming them into something else. Our body produces a lot of enzymes to transform things. The main digestive enzymes are the ones that are secreted by the stomach, liver, small intestine, gallbladder and pancreas. The functioning of these enzymes is called “Agni” or digestive fire (as we need fire in order to cook things). Accumulation of toxins (Ama) and malnutrition are the result of poor digestion.

It is therefore of utmost importance that we have a lifestyle that promotes our digestion and by this the nourishment of our bodily tissues. Diet is of course the main tool to do so, but also things like our yoga practice, the amount of rest we take and sports we do can either build or destroy our bodily tissues.

Are you inspired to improve your digestion? Here are some Ayurvedic advices you might want to take into consideration:

  • In order for your body to digest the food and drinks properly the following “food-drink-space ratio” will help: ⅓ food, ⅓ liquid and ⅓ space.

  • Sipping small amounts of tea or lukewarm water during the meal aids digestion, but not drink too much as this will actually lower your digestion.

  • Only eat when hungry. This sounds very logical. Still we tend to eat out of habit, boredom, tiredness or emotion.

  • Having the biggest meal around noon as this is the time when your digestive system is the most active.

  • Leave enough time in between your meals. It’s better for your metabolic system to digest one meal completely before adding more to digest. Snacking is therefore not always a good idea.

  • Avoid drinking too cold drinks (like ice water or water from the fridge) as this is a shock for your system and lowers your digestion.

  • Conscious breathing before and after diner. If you eat without being fully there your mind won’t be satisfied and thinks it need more food.

  • Give your body the time to reset once in a while by doing a cleanse. This doesn’t have to be a very intense kind of detox. Eating the same food for 3 till 10 days (like we do in an Ayurvedic kitchari cleanse) will already help.

  • Support your digestive tract with the Ayurvedic formula Triphala. A blend of three fruits that aids digestion and nutrient absorption. Take for 8 weeks 3 times a day ½ teaspoon with lukewarm water. Tablets are also fine and sometimes even more handy when you are on the road. The packaging will show you how many you should take.

Below you will find some more specific solutions to naturally aid your digestion when there is something in particular you need to work with.

Do experience a sluggish digestion and you gain weight easily?

  • Agni booster: mix chopped ginger and a pinch of himalayan salt and top it off with a squeeze of lemon juice. Take a teaspoon before each meal.

  • Make sure the biggest part of your meals are green vegetables (½) and have it with ¼ of carbohydrates and ¼ proteins.

  • Avoid mucus-producing foods like cheese, yoghurt, bread and sugar. This will make your digestion even more sluggish.

  • Spice up your meals with heating digestive stimulating spices like turmeric, chili, black pepper, cinnamon & mustard seeds.

  • Skip your breakfast. Have a cup of fresh ginger tea or green jasmine tea instead.

  • Add ginger shots to your diet, but make sure the shots are made from 100% ginger and that there is no fruit juice added (as the latter will actually do the opposite for your digestion).

Suffering from diarrhea or watery stools at the moment?

  • Have 2 to 3 glasses rice water a day: cook basmati rice and catch the water while draining the rice. Let is cool and drink as this will stop the constant discharge and keeps you hydrated.

  • Eat spiced bananas: chop one or two bananas into pieces and cover this with spiced ghee (clarified butter). For the spiced ghee you warm up a teaspoon of ghee in a pan and add a pinch of nutmeg- and cardamom powder. The high kalium levels in bananas will support the binding of your stools.

  • Drink enough fresh organic coconut water to cool down the digestive system (which is overheated when there is diarrhea).

  • Shatavari-arrowroot remedy: mix together ½ teaspoon shatavari and ½ teaspoon arrowroot in a ½ cup of lukewarm water. Take it 2 to 3 times a day. Shatavari will cool down the digestive system while the arrowroot is there to bind the stool. I find this natural (grandma’s) remedy very powerful. I even found out that arrowroot is used as a natural binder for soups, etc. But you maybe already knew it from your own cooking.

  • Drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.

  • Start your day with a cup of hot water with ½ squeezed lemon (also one of grandma’s remedies that immediately works for me).

  • Have a glass of carrot juice to provide your body with vitamins and minerals.

Do you feel bloated after eating or suffer from constipation (dry hard stools)?

  • Agni booster: mix chopped ginger and a pinch of himalayan salt and top it off with a squeeze of lemon juice. Have it together with your meal. You can even put it on top of your meal.

  • Use lots of fiber in your diet. Cooked apples, avocado, pumpkin seeds & oats are a good choice.

  • Make yourself a nice warm cup of fresh full fats cows milk with a teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) before going to bed.

  • Start your day with 4-6 overnight soaked prunes.

  • Flaxseed shot remedy: boil one tablespoon of flaxseed with a cup of water for at least 2 to 3 minutes. Drink the whole cup with all the seeds.

  • When it’s really bad you can try taking 1 tablespoon with castor oil, but this one is very powerful. Make sure you can stay at home when you try this one.

Of course remember, like always in Ayurveda: there is no “one-pill-fits-all-solution”. We are all unique and that uniqueness changes constantly. The above are therefore just some suggestions that worked for me, but you have to see for yourself what works for you.

Let me know if you have any suggestions for me here.