One of the verses of an ancient authority, Caraka Samhita, declares that digestion (agni) is the root of health, vision, courage, intellection, happiness, and longevity. It must, therefore be protected at all costs.
Some (herbal) compounds are rich in the fire (agni) principle and stimulate digestion, as given by the law of cause and effect—whatever one experiences increases that value in the body-mind. If we ingest spicy, sour, salty foods digestion can be increased. There are different modes of action for this result but the basis for the effect is the same—experiencing fire yields fire in the digestive organs. This effect is a direct approach to increasing digestion and yields best results when the herb (substance) is taken in a way that permits its tastes to be experienced. Herbs in capsules are not a good idea, by the way, because the capsule casing blocks taste and awareness. Hot spices such as ginger, cayenne, black pepper, cumin, ajvain, mustard seed, hingu, citraka, etc, are examples of the pungent tastes producing an increase of digestive fire. Some are used in the cooking and others following cooking. Herbal wines are also useful for this purpose, as they are pungent. Sour foods such as yogurt, vinegar, and sour fruits and their juices such as orange, lemon, lime, pineapple also produce a digestive effect. Salts are of many kinds and one of their many actions is digestive. Finally, Ayurveda says that today’s food becomes tomorrow’s digestive secretions. From modern nutrition this means that an on-going daily variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is necessary for synthesis of enzymes and other digestive secretions.
Indirect approaches to increasing digestion are diverse as well. Just balancing the governors of the body—vata, pitta, kapha—can improve digestion. Excess mucus in the stomach dulls digestion. This excess kapha can be eliminated by panchakarma (vomiting) or other techniques.
There are many herbs/substances that act on digestion in a cooling or soothing way, including: shatavari, guduci, aloe vera, kamadudha, licorice root, shankha bhasma, and arrow root. Some may absorb excess secretions without compromising digestion. Guduci is bitter and this taste reflexively causes the secretion of saliva, liver bile, pancreatic enzymes and intestinal digestive secretions, too.
There are many behavioral practices which facilitate digestion (see our article “Eating Guidelines”). Some work on the nervous system to calm it and others are as simple as chewing more thoroughly,
Another indirect approach would be to clean up the gastrointestinal tract where digestion takes place. Secretions would not be blocked or mixed with toxic substances in this area. Frequently a cleansing herb, such as amalaki or a compound, called triphala, might work well for this purpose. Sat isobgol (psyllium) may be useful for this purpose, although its main use is as a laxative.
Ironically, the balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, proper oils (EFA’s, ex.), and micro nutrients—Ca, Mg. Zn, etc., has a role to play in good digestion. Remember that vitamins in greatest abundance in fresh foods are enzymes which catabolize metabolic processes.
Avoidance of suppression of urges can have an effect on digestion also. Suppression of elimination of feces can lead to chronic constipation, which causes gases in the colon to accumulate and to circulate throughout physiology. These can affect every aspect of physiology by affecting the entire nervous system (See our article Ama).
Elimination of stress is very important also. Here our emotions provoked can undermine digestion. Avoidance of causative factors or reduction of their effects via meditation, yoga asanas, and pranayama are important techniques for this.Yoga, postures and breathing techniques, is another important strategy as it causes the stimulation of internal organs. This stimulation improves physiology in many ways. Purification also results directly form these practices. “Breath of fire” is particularly efficacious for improving digestion.
Exercise is another important way to improve digestion. It increases agni and circulation. Both help transformation of good and bad things in the body and elimination of them as well. Do it often and regularly.
Signs of good digestion:
In summary Ayurveda places great importance on agni and the process of digestion. The direction, quality, even span of life are governed by digestion. We have suggested some means for complementing our native intelligence—including some dietary, behavioral, and herbal practices. Some work to balance digestion by direct action and others work indirectly. Your wealth is your health and your life is as your digestion so protect it at all costs.
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