Ayurveda Sadhana PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Dr. Marc Halpern   

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Part 2: The Sadhana Of Optimal Digestion

Digestive diseases and related imbalances are more common than imbalances in any other system of the body except the mind. While conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, gastric reflux disease, ulcers and ulcerative collitis are quite common, it is the milder disturbances such as gas, bloating, cramping, constipation and diarrhea that plague most people. Everyone experiences these conditions some of the time, and for many people, they are chronic annoyances that cause both discomfort and embarrassment.

Ayurvedic medicine understands that these imbalances are more than sources of discomfort; they are the root causes of a host of other conditions in the body. Ayurveda teaches that the doshas can become aggravated in the digestive system and then those aggravated doshas spread and afflict other tissues and organs. As a result, correction of the digestive system is a part of the treatment of every condition in the body.

The sadhana of optimal digestion defines the actions that lead a person to most directly and swiftly correct imbalances, and in doing so, brings an end to suffering and prevents future disease. While herbs can be helpful in treating digestive imbalances, the sadhana of optimal digestion is focused on habits and behaviors that are part of our everyday lifestyle.

The foundation of this sadhana is based on understanding our relationship with food. When we consume and then properly digest food, the atoms and molecules within the food join with our bodies and build new tissues. Through food we both connect to nature and we realize we are nature. When we live in harmony with all of nature we experience optimal health and peace of mind. When we are out of harmony, we experience suffering. In realizing our connection to nature through eating, our relationship with food becomes a sacred experience.

Ten Practices That Will Optimize Your Digestion

Become present with your food: This first practice is the most important. All other practices are dependent upon this. In order to become present, it is necessary to sit down and focus your attention on the food. Avoid eating on the run, eating in the car or nibbling while doing other activities such as working, reading or watching TV.

Say Grace: There is no one single grace that is correct or right. What is most important about grace is that doing so honors the interconnectedness of each of the elements in the process of eating. Thus the food should be honored as well as the person(s) who grew and prepared the food. Even the process of digesting the food should be honored.

Chew your food well: There is no formula for how many times to chew the food; chew enough so the food has a smooth, even consistency when swallowed. To know when this occurs, your awareness must be in the mouth. This is difficult to do if you are distracted by reading, television or excessive conversation.

Eat until you are 75% full: Excessive consumption of large portions of food is a common cause of indigestion as well as obesity. Most people recognize satisfaction as a feeling of being full rather than the alleviation of hunger. It takes retraining and often fasting or a period of very simple, light eating to break old habits and remember the feeling of true hunger. When a person experiences true hunger, alleviating that hunger is truly satisfying.

Drink small amounts of warm water with food: A little water with a meal supports digestion by softening the food, thus making it easier to chew and swallow. Too much water or other liquid dilutes the enzymes and other digestive influences that are referred to by the Sanskrit word agni in Ayurveda. Agni is a type of fire. Too much water puts it out. When agni is suppressed, proper digestion cannot occur. Agni is depressed by both too much water and too much food. In addition, if the food or water is cold, agni will also suffer. Thus, ice water should be avoided.

Take foods that are fresh and of the highest quality: Regardless of constitution, each person should enjoy food that is fresh and organic. Avoid frozen, fast and canned food as the prana (life-force) contained within these foods is minimal. Prepare your food fresh daily and cook for yourself as often as possible. In this way, you are connected to the process of bringing food to you. Preparing your own food will support you to slow down and realize your connection to the food on a deeper level. When you prepare a meal you can keep it simple and delicious and use the ingredients best suited to your constitution.

Eat food that has been prepared with attention, consciousness and love: Ayurveda teaches that everything has energy and all energy interacts. As such, the energy of the cook is in the food. This energy is the unwritten ingredient. Food prepared with the intention of nourishing you will support you much better than food that is prepared while a person (the chef) is angry, resentful or disinterested. The cook should always prepare themselves with a short meditation before preparing food.

Allow at least three hours between meals: By allowing three hours between meals, food will have time to properly digest before new food is introduced into the digestive system. When food is taken too soon, the process of digstion and absorption become more complex and are compromised, making indigestion much more likely.

Rest before going on to the next activity: Resting before moving on shows respect to the digestive process. In order to secrete the proper enzymes needed to digest food, the body and mind must be relaxed. Stress and activity both interfere with digestion. In addition you must be relaxed to allow the blood vessles to dilate for the proper absorption of nutrients. Thus it is best to rest for at least twenty minutes before engaging any serious physical or mental activity and it is even better if you can wait thirty to forty-five minutes. This is a good time for light conversation or a slow stroll through the park.

Eat with the rhythm of the sun: Through our connection with nature, the movement of the sun impacts digestion. The sun is our connection to the fire element. When the sun is high in the sky, digestion is stronger. Therefore, Ayurveda recommends eating our largest meal during the midday hours and smaller meals in the morning and evening.

A person who follows all of the guideliness for healthy eating is more likely to avoid digestive difficulty, even if the foods taken are not perfect for their constitution. How we eat is truly more important than what we eat. Even making just one key change in your approach to food can make a tremendous change in the quality of your digestion. The goal of optimal digestion is fully realized through mastering the journey. Be patient, go slow and keep moving forward.

Dr. Marc Halpern is the founder and president of the California College of Ayurveda (ayurvedacollege.com) and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (ayurveda-nama.org) and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (ayurveda-caam.org). He is also a yogi in the lineage of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu Devananda. Look for his new book, Healing Your Life: Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda this fall on Lotus Press. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by calling (866) 541 - 6699.

A sadhana is a spiritual practice or habitual pattern. Our sadhana choices can help us to find greater health and well-being, from an Ayurvedic point of view.

 
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