Good digestion is the key to health and a strong immune system, but Ayurveda views digestion as much more. Healthy digestion is so integral to Ayurveda, it is thought to affect every aspect of health, not just our ability to break down food. In Ayurveda, the main digestive fire is called agni, and it is responsible for our ability to communicate, think creatively, experience joy, and have patience. Physically, it governs everything from our body temperature to the glow of our skin to the regularity of eliminations and sweat! As such a crucial function of the body, digestion is worth nurturing, and sometimes the best way to do that is with a simple reset and reboot. To understand how and why you might need a digestive reboot, let’s first discuss the Ayurvedic perspective of agni, to offer some background.
The Four Types of Agni
Which type of digestion do you have?
- Sama—Balanced agni
When agni is balanced, you are hungry at meal times and elimination happens once or twice per day (depending on your constitution type). Stools are fully formed, banana shaped, and have minimal odor. When agni is balanced, you will not have gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, or heartburn. You feel calm and clear after meals and food moves through the digestive tract easily. Cravings are generally healthy and mild, and an indicator of what the body’s needs are for balance.
- Manda—Low agni
When agni is low or weak, appetite is minimal and after a meal it may feel like food is sitting in your stomach without moving through. After meals, you may feel heavy, lethargic, or sleepy. Other signs that agni is weak include mucus (in the respiratory system or in stools), pale or clay-colored stool, and an aversion toward food. Manda agni is often associated with a kapha imbalance.
- Tikshna—Sharp agni
Sharp agni is characterized by excessive heat or burning sensations either in the esophagus (acid reflux), chest (heartburn), or during bowel movements. Hunger is often strong or overwhelming and can be accompanied by anger or irritability. Stools are loose (diarrhea), and may be green or yellow in color, happening three or more times per day. Tikshna agni is often associated with a pitta imbalance.
- Vishama—Irregular agni
When appetite is variable (sometimes you’re hungry, sometimes not) or when stool consistency and regularity changes from day to day, this is called vishama agni. You may experience constipation alternating with loose stools that are not always associated with what you have eaten. Sometimes the same food will digest well and other times it does not. Vishama agni is generally associated with a vata imbalance.
Balanced agni can be interrupted by eating while in a hurry or while distracted (watching TV, checking email), overeating, eating too many heavy foods, eating right before bed, and by taking in very cold food and drinks, such as ice water. While there are many other causes of imbalanced agni, these are some of the most common causes. Healthy agni allows the body to fully absorb and assimilate all of the nutrients in our food, thus building new healthy tissues; it also impacts our mental and emotional health because the gut is considered the second brain. Further, in Ayurveda the final and most refined product of digestion is ojas, which can be translated as our inner glow, immunity, and vitality.
If a two-week cleanse doesn’t fit into your life but you would like to bring digestion back into balance, the following simple one-day digestive reset is a good alternative.
Simple One-Day Digestive Reset
Follow a mono-diet of simple, easy-to-digest food. In Ayurveda we typically choose kitchari because it has a plethora of supportive properties for cleansing. You can flavor your kitchari with spices that are beneficial for your dosha. Food is important during your digestive reset because it kindles balanced agni.
Follow a regular meal schedule. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner without snacking in between. Be sure to wait at least 3 hours between each meal to allow the previous meal to properly digest. Make dinner your smallest meal and eat early, finishing at least 2–3 hours before bed. Lie on your left side for 10 minutes after meals to facilitate proper digestion.
Drink plenty of warm or hot water. This helps to hydrate the body on a deep level. Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces for the day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink at least 75 ounces of warm water.
Drink 2–3 ounces of Lemon Digestive Tonic 10 minutes before each meal. Do this during your one-day digestive reset, but also continue to do this for several days after. The following recipe makes a large batch that will last for about 2 days. You can increase the quantity and store the tonic in the refrigerator.
Spend time resting, meditating, and practicing gentle yoga and pranayama. Yoga poses that are particularly beneficial for the digestive system include twists like Revolved Abdomen Pose, Bridge Pose, Wide-Legged Forward Bend, and Sun Salutation. For weak or variable agni, practice Kapalabhati pranayama. For sharp agni, practice Nadi Shodhana pranayama.
Lemon Digestive Tonic
Adapted from The Mindbody Cleanse by Adrian Nowland and Ronly Blau
Makes 2 cups
- ¾ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (3–4 large lemons)
- 1 ¼ cups filtered water
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a container with an airtight lid. Stir or shake to dissolve the salt. For tikshna (sharp) agni, omit the fresh ginger.
This simple one-day reset can be practiced once a month, or even once a week. The more you do this type of reset, the more your body will respond. Tend to your agni regularly for better health on all levels—physical, mental, and emotional. Happy cleansing!