Ahara-Vihara (Eating Consciously) I
by: Ram Rao PhD, CAS
Jatharagni: The Main Digestive Fire
According to Ayurveda, digestion is of utmost importance in staying healthy. The food that is ingested is digested, absorbed and assimilated for the maintenance of life. In Ayurveda, the term “Jatharagni” is used to indicate digestion of food and metabolic products. It allows for the first stage of transformation in the Digestive tract. Jatharagni converts food to energy and is said to be the basis of life. Ayurveda considers Jatharagni as vital for complexion, strength, health, nourishment, luster, and ojas (immune strength). If Jatharagni is optimal then the digestive system will also function normally, diseases can be averted and diseases that are present can be healed. Any mental or physical condition will show up first as some sort of an imbalance in the digestive system. Gas, constipation, stomach cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, and bloating are harbingers of potential health problems at the physical and/or mental level. Thus, the knowledge of Ayurveda is important to correct any digestive imbalances and restore optimal Jatharagni and a normally functioning digestive system.
Individualized Assessment of your Constitution:
According to Ayurveda, each of us is unique so Ayurveda aims to help a person understand what is right for him/her as a unique individual. Following a detailed analysis of an individual’s body structure, digestion, hunger, appetite and other systems of the body function and the current health complaints, an ayurveda specialist will design an individualized diet specific to the client’s needs. Three people coming in with similar complaints may get three very different recommendations.
Ayurveda traces the digestive tract as the first stage of imbalance that occurs internally. Hence it pays great attention to nutrition, the individual’s ability to digest and to absorb the metabolized nutrients to build and rejuvenate an individual’s tissues and immune system. Ayurveda not only addresses what food is best for an individual, but also how food is best eaten and how it is best combined. Correct food choices taken in the best possible manner will keep most digestive problems at bay, thereby preventing more serious diseases in the deeper tissues and organs of the body.
Ayurveda Guidelines for Eating:
Proper digestion begins not only with what you eat but how you eat it. Here are some important ayurveda guidelines about good eating practices (Ahara Vihara).
- Begin meals with a moment of stillness. When the body and mind are relaxed, digestive juices get released in the mouth and gut.
- Eat in a calm environment without being distracted. Any agitation in the mind can compromise digestion
- Avoid debates and discussions at the dinner table
- Chew your food well until it is an even consistency.
- Eat until you are satisfied, overeating is one of the major causes of digestive disturbance
- For optimal digestion, it is important to rest after eating. Failure to rest means that the body’s physiology will switch away from digestion and toward the activity of the muscles of the body. This leaves poorly digested food in the digestive system.
- Do not drink cold drinks just prior to eating. This weakens digestion
- Do not drink large quantities of liquid during meals, as this also weakens the digestive process by diluting the secretions of digestive juices.
- Allow a minimum of three hours between meals to allow the food to digest.
- Digestion is strongest around noon. Since the body’s circadian rhythms are in sync with the nature, it is best to eat the largest meal at noon with the morning and evening meals being lighter.
- Avoid eating food prepared with resentment and other negative emotions.
Eat according to your Constitution:
Ayurveda discerns three predominant forces (doshas) called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These serve different Functions. Vata is the force of propulsion and life force. It moves nutrients in and out of cells, organs and in and out of the body. All movement in all directions depend on Vata Dosha. Blockage can result in pain. Pitta is the force of transformation, digestion and metabolism both of food, nutrients and thought. In the physical body it is mainly all the enzymes and hormones. Kapha is the building force. Likened to clay, it is responsible for the building blocks of cells, organs and the body as a whole, allowing for the integral structure to stay healthy and lubricated. Different people are dominant in different doshas.
Ayurveda teaches that the best diet is the one that is proper for a person’s constitution-their unique balance of body energies also called doshas. Ayurveda teaches that people who have a “Vata” dosha (characterized by people who are thin, dry, and often feel cold)-need nourishing and grounding foods. So they need more grains, dairy and nuts, oils, and warm spices in their diet. They need to eat regularly. Such a diet is useful to curb mental issues including fear, worry, anxiety and physical complaints including pain, gas, constipation, sleeplessness among many other conditions.
People of “Pitta” nature tend to be warm, intense and can easily burn themselves out. Such people need more raw vegetables, whole foods (both cooked and raw) that are mildly spiced, cooling, hearty and energizing. These foods calm pitta by decreasing internal heat, preventing inflammation, balancing the digestive fire and grounding the individual. Hot, spicy food is believed to lead to a greater incidence of Pitta conditions like fever, infection, inflammation and rashes, anger, judgement, rage and jealousy.
People of “Kapha” nature–those who tend to be stocky, sturdy and put on weight easily. and often move and speak very slowly, will benefit from lighter foods such as vegetables and salads and hot, spicy foods. Light grains such as quinoa and millet are perfect for Kapha individuals. These individuals need to avoid sweet, heavy, oily foods as it can lead to greater fluid accumulation and weight gain.
Importance of Nourishment:
Ayurveda is a path of finding out what is right for each individual, their constitution and natural ways of rectifying their imbalances. With a proper diet and lifestyle, Ayurveda seeks to optimize digestion and provide the rest of the body its best chance of getting well. Healthy body leads to a healthy mind and a peaceful soul. Thus, through a proper diet and nutrition plan, Ayurveda’s goal is to help each person reach their maximum potential, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
NOTE: While there are many charts that can be found online to evaluate one’s Dosha, CAAM recommends an evaluation by a qualified Ayurveda Practitioner, because while one must keep one’s Constitution in mind in food and lifestyle, one must first get rid of the imbalance which may be due to a different Dosha without aggravating one’s constitutional Dosha. For this one needs Professional Counsel.