When we're not digesting well, and experiencing indigestion marked by symptoms like gas, acidity, bloating, constipation, or loose stools, it's a signal that the body is not reacting well to the nourishment you're providing it.
Agni & Āma:
From the Ayurvedic perspective on digestion there are two primary concepts to be familiar with: agni and āma. Agni in a general sense is the principle of transformation in the body. There are many types of agni, that fulfill many duties of transformation in the body, but for our purposes lets understand Agni as our digestive fire or capacity.
When agni struggles to completely and fully digest and assimilate the food you eat, the undigested food particles begin to putrefy creating a morbid, mucoid plaque that Ayurveda calls āma. Āma coats and congests the channels of the body, from the main channel of the digestive tract, to the more subtle channels of the circulatory system and lymphatic system. Āma can disrupt flow, block nutrient absorption, and cause cellular immune system confusion. You may feel the results of internal coating and congestion as fatigue, heaviness, cloudiness, confusion, stiffness, or general body ache. Want a quick āma check? Upon rising, look at your tongue in the mirror. See a whitish, yellowish, greenish, or dark coating on the tongue? That's āma that the body is working to expel.
Ready to clear that toxicity?
So what to do to begin to clear out that toxic plaque from the body? Luckily there are many things we can to help the body balance clear this plaque.
The first thing to do it to support your digestive fire. I think of this like tending a campfire. You have to develop a relationship to the fire you're tending. If you don't give the fire any fuel, it goes out, and then takes considerable time to rebuild. If you dump a bunch of wet wood and soggy leaves on the fire, it smothers, and leaves you with a bunch of unburned (undigested) coals. However if you regularly feed that fire with the type of fuel that's appropriate for where it is in its burn cycle, it will burn brightly and efficiently for you.
What fire-tending looks like in the body:
- Establish a regular rhythm of meal times (3 is typically recommended)
- Start your morning off with foods that will kindle your fire, a lighter breakfast with warm, easy to digest foods.
- Your digestive fire is strongest at mid-day, make this your biggest meal.
- Make your evening meal one that is nourishing but lighter, again so you don't have too much undigested food in the GI tract when you go to bed. (That's a sure recipe for āma.)
- Make meals a meal. Sit down, breathe, un-plug and focus on the nourishment you are about to receive. We know that when the stress-response in active we are physiologically incapable of digestion - so take a moment to de-stress before you eat.
- Have ~16oz of room temperature or warm water ~30 minutes before your meal. This helps to prepare the protective bicarbonate layer of the stomach for the acid production that will happen with digestion.
- You can have a little warm water to sip on during a meal, but no chugging large amounts. You don't want to dilute the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzyme balance your body has worked to hard to create in the stomach for proper digestion. This would be like throwing water on a fire when you want it to burn it's brightest.
- Eliminate or minimize the snacking. Snacking doesn't allow the body to move through a full digestive cycle without interruption. This creates undigested food-stuff in the GI tract, which leads to āma.
What toxicity clearing looks like in the body:
So you've begun to tend to your internal digestive fire, but what about the āma that's already in the system?
- Drink a warm cup of water, or lemon-water first thing, upon rising.
- Drink room-temp or warmer water away from meals. Cold and iced water are Āyurvedic no-nos.
- Drink enough water. The calculation is pretty simple. Take you ideal body weight in pounds, and divide it by two to get the number of ounces. So a 140 lbs person would drink 70 ounces, and a 180 lbs person would drink 90 ounces. Use a container you can measure so you can track it daily.
- Lighten the load. The body can digest āma if given the opportunity. This could look like single day of fasting each week, a short mono-diet, or a seasonal cleanse. Consult an Āyurvedic Practitioner to find out what option would be appropriate for you.
- Get moving. Gentle movement will help the body naturally detoxify. Go for a walk, do some yoga āsana, have a dance party in your living room - whatever it takes to get some movement in.
- Align your diet, your food-combing, and your schedule with your unique constitution. An Āyurvedic Practitioner can help you create a diet, lifestyle, and herbal practice that will be a customized approach for your digestive fire (agni) and digestive plaque (āma).
By learning how to better tend your digestive fire and assisting the body to move out the back-load of undigested food-stuff you'll be on your way to feeling better, thinking more clearly, and having better immunity. Good luck building your relationship to agni & āma and let me know if you have any questions.