Chitta Happens, an Ayurveda San Francisco Clinic, Approaches to Digestion and Overall Health
A vital part of illness prevention in Ayurvedic practice deals with creating strong agni, also known as “digestive fire.” You can help your body live harmoniously through changes that occur daily as well as seasonally by understanding and monitoring your diet, herbs and lifestyle—as well as by implementing yoga and meditation routines—that will help you support better digestion.
Each focusing on different aspects, your dominant dosha in the triad (pitta, kapha and vata) determines how it influences and affects the digestive system. For instance, people with the pitta dosha most prominent often have potent agni and an active metabolism, which provides them with strong appetites and the ability to consume significant amounts of food since this dosha concerns the gastrointestinal tract’s acid secretion levels and digestive enzymes. Practitioners of Ayurveda San Francisco also say the dosha of kapha, on the other hand, is typical among individuals who experience slow, steady rates of digestion that generally means they have good agni but a penchant for excessive weight gain due to overeating.
The third dosha, known as vata, has characteristics such as trouble with constipation and irregularity of bowel movements as well as a tendency to experience frequent appetite loss. Vata’s variable energy also dictates digestive movement, including peristalsis and waste product excretion. Additionally, those who practice Ayurveda San Francisco note the fall season will often stimulate the vata dosha due to the change toward weather characterized by wind, cold and aridity because of the dosha’s relationship to the air and ether elements, which you can see by its strong influences on choices regarding changes in diet, environment and lifestyle.
People in whom the dosha vata takes dominance often experience increases in the cool, rough and dry qualities of both their internal and external environments. When left unaddressed, this can sometimes result in a disturbance in a variety of vital organs and tissues, which typically manifests externally via the appearance of excessively dry skin and/or lips. Meanwhile, Ayurveda San Francisco professionals note that internally a person might experience a lack of moisture in the places where vata often accumulates such as the large intestine and colon. Digestion issues aggravated by problems with the vata dosh include bloating, bowel movement irregularity, constipation, decrease in appetite, diarrhea (often altering in tandem with constipation), gas and hiccups.
Diet Changes for Better Digestion
Unsurprisingly, seasonal fruits and vegetables including root vegetables such as beets, carrots and sweet potatoes as well as winter squashes such pumpkin, acorn, buttercup, butternut and delicate can help bring balance to and provide appropriate nutrition for the body because the dense, heavy, moist, smooth and sweet qualities of these vegetables balance the vata dosha. Ayurveda San Francisco practitioners suggest including them in casseroles, stews and soups, allowing them to warm the body from the inside out.
You should also add salty, sour and sweet dishes in your diet to combat vata-related issues. For instance, experts at Ayurveda San Francisco know a diet rich in sweet grains such as basmati, brown and sushi rice; buckwheat udon noodles; and whole wheat pastas can ground the vata if you increase your intake of them in autumn.
Additionally, consider the base ingredients and seasonings you use in preparing dishes. For instance, at Chitta Happens Ayurveda San Francisco clinic, we recommend warming spices such as asafetida, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, dried ginger and nutmeg, which can help vata-related digestion issues, promote sleep and reduce nervousness. Healthy oils (almond, sunflower, sesame, etc.) and ghee (South Asian clarified butter) allow for better oleation (maintaining the body’s oiliness), allowing you to increase the absorption rate by igniting the agni.
Finally, Ayurveda San Francisco professionals suggest avoiding astringent and bitter flavors; cold foods (including raw vegetables); cold drinks (especially the consumption of such during or immediately after meals); and stimulants (including caffeinated beverages) as much as possible, as they can further aggravate the vata dosha and related digestion issues.
To further nourish yourself with a healthy diet that allows the body to maintain balance when you experience vata-related issues with the digestive system, establish routine times to eat and stick to them as much as possible. Additionally, the Ayurveda San Francisco team recommends making lunch your largest meal and using an appetite stimulant such as Hingvastak if necessary. Do not rush through meal preparation, instead doing so thoughtfully while taking pleasure in the process.
Lifestyle Tips from Chitta Happens’ Ayurveda San Francisco Clinic
As with diet, establishing and sticking to a consistent routine proves more effective as a method of prevention than treating a medical issue that results from an imbalance in the vata dosha. Experienced Ayurveda San Francisco practitioners insist consistency proves key to restore and maintain balance to the body, thus preventing stress and anxiety.
Ayurveda San Francisco experts often suggest daily abhyanga, a type of oil massage, for strengthening and nourishing the body. The practice improves blood circulation, stimulates the internal organs and facilitates sound sleep patterns—all important components in reducing digestion issues related to the vata dosha.
If you suffer from emotional stress and anxiety related to the vata dosha, adding the routine practice of meditation to your daily life can help alleviate it. When you feel stress coming on, take a moment to center yourself by taking conscious note of your breath and focusing on stilling yourself internally. Ayurveda San Francisco practitioners also recommend you implement elements of Pranayama, also known as “yoga breathing,” to help further calm the nervous system. Additionally, strive to get plenty of restful sleep each night.
Though it may seem contrary to popular opinion, Ayurveda San Francisco experts say those with vata imbalances should avoid strenuous physical exertion and excessive exercise. However, many yoga poses incorporate moderate and appropriate exercise that also promotes good vata practices. For instance, the asana Pawanmuktasana (also known as the “knees-to-chest” or “wind relieving” pose, assists in expelling air that collects in the colon. This simple pose can also relieve lower-back tension, massage the intestines and abdomen, tone the spine, and alleviate constipation-related pain. To execute this pose, follow these steps:
- Lying flat on your back, draw your right lower leg to your knee and then gently lift the knee toward your breastbone.
- Thread together your fingers and use them to gently support the knee as it rests near the chest.
- Life your head and move as though to touch the tip of your nose to your knees.
- Holding your breath, maintain this position for five to 15 seconds.
- Straighten your right leg; repeat the process with the left leg.
- Repeat the process again, this time drawing both legs toward the chest simultaneously.
Herbs for Digestion and Relaxation
Many herbs support a healthy vata digestive system. For instance, fennel, ginger, licorice and peppermint teas can prove soothing, while munching on a few fennel seeds following a meal typically promotes proper digestion. Similarly, Hingvastak herbal tablets can ease and prevent indigestion related to high vata conditions because they contain ajamoda, asafoetida, black cumin, black pepper, cumin seeds, ginger root, mineral salt and pippali. Ayurveda San Francisco practitioners often recommend this traditional synergistic blend because it addresses indigestion issues, including appetite loss, constipation, flatulence, hiccups and malabsorption.
Ayurveda San Francisco practitioners generally consider Haritaki to rank highly among herbs known for their vata dosha balancing properties. A natural purgative and laxative, this herb helps eliminate accumulated toxins and undigested food lingering in the gastrointestinal tract while nourishing and strengthening tissues and supporting proper colon, liver, lung and spleen function. Traditionally taken as a remedy for all vata disturbances, Haritaki can aide in many digestive issues, including indigestion, emaciation, constipation and flatulence.
Remember, the way in which you care for your body and spirit in autumn can dramatically affect how you “winterize” your body and prepare it to maintain good health in the following, colder season.
Ayurvedic Recipe: Spicy Oatmeal
- 2/3 c. dry oats, rolled or instant
- 2 c. water
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1/4 c. raisins
- 1 cardamom pod (about 3-4 seeds)
- 1/4 t. cinnamon
- 1/8 t. ginger
Put oats, raisins, salt, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the rest of the ingredients, breaking open cardamom pod to put whole seeds in the cooking cereal. Cover and cook on low until done, 2 to 10 minutes, depending on type of oats used.
Comments: Can be served with ghee, maple syrup, and/or coconut. Good warming meal on a cold winter morning.
For more information about Chitta Happens’ Ayurveda San Francisco Clinic or digestion and overall health, contact Renee Rivera @ (415) 994-8704 or reneerivera108 [at] gmail.com.