As one of the world’s most ancient healing systems, Ayurveda teaches that the health of the digestive system is the foundation of an individual’s well-being. The 5,000-year-old Indian health care tradition maintains that the strength of one’s digestive fire (“agni”) determines whether we stay well or become ill. In fact, according to this system, every disease develops as a result of inefficient digestion.
Here are seven habits recommended by Ayurveda to keep your agni strong and balanced, and your digestion smooth and efficient.
Avoid cold water
While a nice glass of cold water sometimes sounds like the perfect refresher, the Ayurvedic system recommends against indulging. Why? Drinking a glass of warm water — especially early in the morning — stimulates the digestive system and helps ease and prevent constipation. On the contrary, drinking cold water is thought to be like pouring ice water on the digestive fire. If you absolutely hate warm water, at least stick to cool or room temperature water.
When you’re eating, let your focus be on eating. This means taking time out for your meal every day, not eating on the go or multitasking. It also means maintaining good posture while you eat, as well as noticing the tastes, textures, temperatures and smells of what you’re putting in your body. Traditionally, Ayurveda recommends keeping conversation to a minimum during meals as well. Although not talking while eating may feel strange for many people, try challenging yourself to keep quiet and only focus on your food during one meal per day and see how you feel.
Make lunch your biggest meal
Ayurveda teaches that our digestion is strongest when the sun is strongest — around noon. That means lunch should be the biggest meal. Both breakfast and dinner should be fairly light, and dinner should be eaten before eight.
Learn to embrace ginger
In Ayurveda, ginger is thought to be a universal remedy for the body. One of the conditions it’s thought to cure is poor digestion, which it treats by relaxing the intestinal muscles and relieving gas and cramping. A study from the Journal of Gastroenterology confirms this finding, suggesting that consuming ginger can speed up digestion and reduce digestive discomfort. Ginger can be added to all kinds of curries and sautéed vegetable dishes, as well as smoothies, teas and other hot drinks like ginger, lemon and honey water.
Know your dosha
The three body/personality types (doshas) in Ayurveda are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These three constitutions affect you in surprising ways, including what you look like, what diseases you are at risk for and how well your digestive system functions. Knowing your constitution is crucial, as it determines what kind of foods you should be eating in order to optimize your digestive system.
Don’t drink during your meals
It’s typical for people to drink one or more glasses of water with their meals to wash food down and keep from overeating. However, this is a big no-no according to Ayurveda, which teaches that drinking water with meals dilutes the digestive juices and slows down your body’s ability to digest food efficiently. As part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle, it’s best to avoid drinking from 30 minutes before to 30 minutes after a meal, with the exception of small sips.
Sipping versus drinking
You know those moments when you realize you haven’t drunk any water all day, so you start chugging to make up for it? That is a bad habit, according to Ayurveda. Water should be sipped throughout the day, never chugged or drunk quickly. Water that is consumed too quickly won’t be absorbed and will run right through you, leaving you dehydrated. Chugging water is also thought to dilute the digestive juices, which makes it more difficult to digest what you eat.
Other Ayurvedic tips for better digestion include getting in a walk or another form of gentle exercise every day, eating organic foods that you prepare yourself and taking care of yourself emotionally.
Teresa is a freelance writer and yoga teacher currently living in Sri Lanka. She loves to write about policies, ideas, and practices that promote a healthy planet and create healthy people.