GUT HEALTH 101
Question: How does your food make you feel?
Do you ever notice any post-meal digestive discomfort? Like, oh I dunno, feeling heavy and dull? Or maybe your meals are leaving you with heartburn or reflux.
Anyone feeling bloated or gassy? Let’s be honest: nobody likes a gassy Fox.
In this post, we’re going to look at our gut health and our digestion through the lens of Ayurveda. We’ll explore the four categories of digestive strength, three of the most common digestive complaints, and offer you lifestyle suggestions and botanical support for each of these that are easily accessible and effective at addressing said complaints. Let’s dive in to learn more about ayurvedic gut health!
Gut health from the ayurvedic perspective
When it comes to digestion, Ayurveda has quite a bit to say, starting with the belief that all disease starts in the gut. This is one of the guiding principles in ayurvedic medicine. In conventional medicine, this concept is attributed to Hippocrates. And while the statement may not be entirely accurate, it isn’t far off. All manner of chronic inflammatory diseases can be traced back to disruptions in our microbiome. Everything from the usual autoimmune suspects like IBD and celiac disease, to sleep disruptions, and disorders of both mind and mood.
According to ayurveda, the pathology of disease goes through six stages, the first two being accumulation and aggravation. This is when one or more of the doshas begins accumulating in a certain region of the body or in our tissues and starts causing low-level, mild aggravation. In these first two stages, symptoms may be barely noticeable or just beginning to present themselves. And quite often, this looks like heartburn or reflux, bloating and gas, or perhaps little inconsistencies in our elimination. But we blow it off, toss back a swig of Pepto Bismol, and move on as though this is normal.
These little disruptions to our digestion can lead to bigger events down the road, particularly as we grow older. For example, it’s not uncommon to produce less stomach acid, or for our bodies to become drier with age (hello constipation). If we’ve been ignoring seemingly minor symptoms throughout our 30s and 40s, by the time we’re rocking the half century mark we may be headed for digestive disaster. No one wants that!
Time to tend your digestive fire
Ayurvedic medicine identifies our digestive capacity as agni. If our agni—often referred to as our digestive fire—is strong and steady, our digestion of foods, drinks, and even our emotions, mental stimulation, and the evening news, will likely also be strong and steady. We’ll take it in, assimilate and absorb what is helpful, and eliminate what we don’t need.
There are four categories of digestive strength:
- Variable (vishma)
- Sharp (tikshna)
- Sluggish (manda)
- Steady (sama)
Think of your agni like a campfire
Variable. If your fire is on and off again, you’ll have a difficult time cooking that vegan hot dog on the end of your stick. Someone with a variable agni is famished one day and void of hunger the next. She is pretty erratic in her lifestyle as well as in her dining habits, she’s scattered, and often simply forgets to eat. Know anyone like that?
Sharp. If your campfire is sharp, that suggests it’s a raging bonfire and that vegan hotdog is going to immediately burn to a crisp, rendering it inedible. The Babe with a sharp agni is running too hot; you know her – she gets hangry if she isn’t fed regularly, and has a tendency towards heartburn and reflux. Her fire is raging, her digestion is compromised, and she could very well have undigested food in her stool. Food is just burning up and not assimilating.
Sluggish. Tending to a sluggish campfire is like poking the campfire coals with a stick. Your vegan hotdog simply won’t cook, no matter how long you sit there. So our fox with mandagni just has food sitting in her gut for entirely too long. This results in feeling heavy, lethargic, and, well, sluggish.
Steady. At this point, you’ve probably figured out that steady is where it’s at. If we are experiencing anything short of a steady and stable campfire, we are out of whack.
Life hacks for getting your gut health back on track
- Lifestyle: Since people with a variable digestion tend to be variable and erratic themselves, the most important action they can take to begin regulating their digestive strength is to adhere to a routine. Pick one meal to start with, the one you have the most control over. For many people that’s breakfast. Then stick to a routine around this meal. Same time, same place. Every. Damn. Day.
- Herbal ally: Hingvastak. This blended formula is wonderful for stimulating appetite and getting digestive juices flowing. It’s easily available online at Banyan Botanicals.
- Lifestyle: Those with sharp agni tend to be type A—they are busy manifesting greatness, changing the world, and telling everyone around them what to do. What they need to do is sit their butts down in a chair (not the one at your desk) and take a breath. Or three. Taking three breaths before eating will start bringing her out of her “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system and instead begin activating her “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system.
- Herbal ally: CCF tea is a classic ayurvedic recipe that does wonders for cooling a raging fire without putting it out completely. Savory, nutty, and earthy, this easy-to-make tea is an equal blend of cumin, coriander, and fennel. This simple tea is known for its ability to calm and soothe inflammation, enhance digestion and assimilation, and reduce gas and indigestion.
- Lifestyle: When our fire is too low, food winds up sitting in our intestines far too long. Consider time restricted eating, or intermittent fasting. Ayurveda has long preached that we should eat our last meal before the sun sets, and avoid snacking afterwards. Eat your last meal by 6pm and don’t eat again until 8 or 9am (maybe even 10am) the following day. And when you are ready for sustenance, have a ginger shooter before you eat to stimulate your agni and stir up your digestive juices. Simply take a nickel-sized slice of fresh ginger, sprinkle some lemon juice on it, and top with a pinch of Himalayan salt. Chew this about 20 minutes before your meal.
- Herbal ally: Known as “three pungents,” trikatu is a simple blend of two peppers and ginger. Located easily online, this classic formula is used to fire up agni—and it is HOT—and support healthy metabolism.
Whew, that’s a lot to digest!
This is a broad and fascinating topic and you can bet we’ll be talking about it more in future episodes. If you try any of these suggestions, please drop a note here and let us know how it goes for you! Remember, you’re only as healthy as your agni/digestive strength.
Like this post? Sign up for our newsletter to get notified of new episodes and more!