It is often said that you are what you eat. But in Ayurveda, things are viewed a little differently. According to Ayurvedic teachings, you are what you digest. And that's where our modern lifestyle of following trends can get in the way. Take for example raw kale salads or green smoothies. These are currently all the rage and touted as health bombs that are absolutely packed with vitamins and other nutrients. But just because they contain so many valuable nutrients doesn't mean that they are absorbed by our bodies when we eat them. For our bodies to fully utilise the nutrition in any food we eat, we must first properly digest it.
This is where a central concept of Ayurveda comes in: Agni, also known as the digestive fire. Imagine a small fire burning in our stomach and intestines. The aim is to stoke this fire without letting it blaze out of control or letting it go out. Each individual digests their food differently. In one person drinking a green smoothie could have the unexpected effect of adding a large soggy piece of wood to the fire, causing it to be extinguished. In the long run, this can lead to big problems. On the other hand, another person who is blessed with a strong Agni can digest it with ease and benefits greatly from it.
Digestion is Important
How do you know if you can digest certain nutrients well? It is not difficult to find out. Shortly after waking up in the morning, we should feel hungry. Our bowel movements should be smooth and regular. After a meal, we should feel satisfied, energetic and content. If instead we feel lethargic, exhausted, uncomfortable or are in pain after a meal, then this is a sign that the meal is not being properly digested. Other signs include a lack of appetite, fatigue, constipation or diarrhoea.
Good and Bad for our Agni
Besides our own constitution and the foods we enjoy eating, Agni is the most important factor in deciding what we eat and how. Agni can be negatively impacted by the following factors which should be avoided:
eating too much
eating too little (undernourishment)
eating the same foods year-round, regardless of the season
drinking too much water with meals
not enough sleep
lack of exercise
At the same time, there are some things we can do to support our Agni. Here are some tips:
Listen to your body. If you are not hungry, don't eat.
Resist the temptation to eat small snacks all day long if you are not hungry.
After a meal, it is advisable to wait for two to three hours before undertaking any strenuous physical activity.
Try and eat in a relaxed atmosphere. Avoid, for example, using the computer and smartphone while eating. Relax and enjoy your meal. It is amazingly refreshing.
It is important that you eat foods that match your Dosha and thereby keep your body in balance. It is equally important to eat foods that are in season in the right amounts.
And don't forget: it is absolutely essential that you savour and enjoy your meals!