BY LINDA EGENES

The Most Important Ayurvedic Secret to Great Health

Ayruveda Vata Pacifying DietThere was a time when I developed a severe bronchial cough every spring and couldn’t shake it for months at a time. My medical doctor said, “Get more rest,” and handed me an antibiotic prescription.

I took the antibiotics two years in a row (the first medications I had ever taken in my life) and by the third year, they stopped working. Stuck with a miserable cough, I heard about Maharishi Ayurveda and scheduled a consultation. The vaidya, or ayurvedic expert, used a diagnostic technique called “pulse diagnosis,” placing his fingers at the radial pulse on my wrist.

“Your problem is due to poor digestion, from eating too many heavy foods,” he explained. “And it’s been compounded by the antibiotics, which have killed the friendly flora in your intestines and weakened your immunity further.”

Say what? How could a persistent lung problem be due to poor digestion? I questioned this diagnosis, but since I was desperate, I took the herbal remedies and made the changes in diet and lifestyle that he suggested. And miraculously, I have never had a bronchial infection since. In fact, decades later, having made a conscious effort to improve my digestion using the practical principles of Maharishi Ayurveda, I rarely catch a cold.

Why Poor Digestion is Linked to Disease

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, digestive weakness is the cause of many diseases. The reasoning is simple: incomplete digestion leads to the build-up of sticky, gooey, digestive toxins (called ama). Ama circulates throughout the body and blocks the tiny passageways that carry waste away from the cells, causing further toxins to build up at the cellular level. At the same time, the passageways that carry nutrients to the cells also get gummed up by ama, leading to poor absorption and weakened immunity.

Depending on where the ama settles, digestive toxins can contribute to a wide range of diseases—from colds and flu to sore joints. In later stages, the build-up of toxins can actually cause distortions in the tissues and passageways, leading to more serious diseases such as atherosclerosis or arthritis.

That is why digestion is considered the key to health in Maharishi Ayurveda. Fortunately, it’s  not that hard to improve your digestion. Here are ten simple tips to give your digestion a boost during the cold and flu season this winter.

  1. Eat sitting down, in a settled environment, without watching TV or talking on the phone. Many Americans today eat standing up or in their cars. Your digestive system needs relaxation in order to function properly. A stressed or rushed atmosphere can actually cause food to curdle in your stomach, creating ama and destroying health.
  2. Try to eat your main meal at noon. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, digestive strength is optimum when the sun is at its strongest, at around 12:00. In most traditional cultures, the main meal is eaten then, because that is the time your digestion can handle heavier foods and larger quantities. Eating a heavy meal before bed is a sure way to create toxic buildup and interfere with sleep.
  3. Schedule regular meals. If your eating schedule is haphazard, your digestive system has to work overtime to catch up. Plan your meals to occur at the same time every day, and your digestion will run more smoothly.
  4. Stimulate your digestion. Eat a slice of fresh ginger squirted with fresh lemon juice before a full meal to give your digestion a jump-start.
  5. Drink  a light yogurt smoothie at lunchtime for pro-biotic digestive support. Put one-part fresh, plain yogurt and three-parts water in a blender and whip it to a froth. Traditionally, salt, cumin and coriander are added for a digestion-enhancing yogurt drink, although most people enjoy raw honey, rosewater and cardamom flavoring instead.
  6. Eat fresh, organic, whole foods. Leftovers and processed foods bought canned, frozen or packaged are difficult to digest. Processed foods also contain many chemicals and preservatives that create toxic buildup. Eating food freshly cooked with love will soothe and stimulate your digestion.
  7. Avoid ice-cold food and drinks. Sipping icy drinks with a meal puts out your digestive “fire,” and can cause bloating or stomach cramps. Try hot herbal tea or hot water with lemon to improve your digestion. Eat your food warm and freshly cooked to give your digestion a break.
  8. Rest for a few minutes after your meal. “Sorry to eat and run,” goes the saying, and your digestion feels sorry too. Rather than jumping up after your meals, take two minutes to remain sitting and allow your digestion a healthy start.
  9. Wait at least two to three hours after a full meal to eat again. A sure way to disrupt digestion is to pile fresh food into your stomach before the previous meal has digested.
  10. Enjoy. Consciously appreciating your food—the beautiful colors, the subtle dance of flavors—actually helps digestion. Even before you take your first bite, your eyes are digesting the food, causing your salivary glands and digestive juices to begin flowing. Take it from the Italians—beautiful food, a beautiful setting, beautiful people—what could be more natural and healthy? And your digestion will thank you.

Linda Egenes is the co-author of three books on ayurvedic health care, including Super Healthy Kids.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 2 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsImmunity depends on healthy and vibrant digestion during childhood and beyond. This is a central principle of Maharishi Ayurveda.

The digestive juices are likened to a fire, called agni. In fact, the word agni refers to the sun and fire, and to the digestive and metabolic transformations that take place in the body. Charaka Samhita (an ancient text that expounds the principles of Ayurveda) states that strength, health, and longevity all depend on the power of agni.

Agni also refers to the digestive enzymes and secretions in the stomach and small intestines. Called jatharagni, the main agni, these digestive enzymes and secretions are responsible for breaking down food and turning it into chyle, or nutrient fluid. When jatharagni is healthy and strong, the nutrient fluid is formed correctly and easily reaches the cells to create and nourish healthy tissues.

After the process of digestion breaks down the food you eat into nutrient fluid, the various tissues of the body are metabolized through a series of transformations. These tissues include plasma, hemoglobin, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, the central nervous system, and the reproductive tissue including semen and ovum.

The creation of tissue, called dhatu, requires a brightly burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. This is because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, starting with the nutrient fluid in the blood and ending with the reproductive tissue. If there is any block or abnormality at any point in the digestive process, then there will be a weakness in that tissue, and in all the tissues that follow in the chain of transformation.

So you can see how very important a strong digestion is to children, who are growing so rapidly and need to develop healthy blood, bones, organs, and brain. The following chart outlines the seven dhatus with their Sanskrit names.

chart:

The Seven Dhatus (Body Tissues)

Rasa—Blood plasma, chyle, nutrients

Rakta—Blood cells, hemoglobin

Mamsa—Muscle

Meda—Fat and adipose tissue

Asthi—Bone

Majja—Bone marrow and the central nervous system

Shukra—Reproductive tissue, including semen and ovum

This process of forming nutrient fluid into new tissues takes place in the cells—thus agni also resides in each cell. In fact, there is a meta- bolic process (agni) associated with each tissue (dhatu) cell, to trans- form that tissue into the next tissue in the sequence.

Thus rasa agni transforms nutrient fluid (rasa) into blood (rakta).

Once that transformation is complete, rakta agni transforms blood into muscle (mamsa). Mamsa agni transforms muscle into fat, and so on. A disturbance in mamsa agni could cause the muscle to be weak, and because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, all the subsequent

transformations—of fat to bone and bone to bone marrow, and so on—would also be weakened.

In order for the nutrient fluid to be completely healthy, and in order for each dhatu agni to complete its transformation in each cell, the jatharagni, or digestion, must be functioning smoothly. You can see how healthy food and healthy digestion are essential for your child’s blood, muscles, fat, and bone tissues to be properly formed.

Agni also exists in every cell as the metabolic or transforming function, and thus maintains the proper functioning of the RNA and DNA. Agni is responsible for keeping the body’s cellular function vibrant. Each of the billion cells in the body has its own function, its own mechanisms. One may be concerned with seeing, one with hearing, one with digesting. Each organ and each cell has its own mechanisms. And in a healthy child, they’re all vibrant.

Strong Immunity Means Strong Digestion
Toxins in the Digestion

When digestion is weak or irregular, a sticky, toxic, waste product of digestion forms, called ama. Ama is the result of undigested food. It collects in the stomach first, but if it is not eliminated, it can spread to other parts of the body through the nutrient fluid and cause disease.

When digestion is weak and the nutrient fluid does not metabolize properly, it gets mixed with ama. Ama blocks the channels that carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in undernourishment, and if left unchecked, weakness and disease in the tissues. Ama also causes blockage in the channels of circulation and elimination, resulting in fatigue, lack of energy,  lethargy, and a heavy, dull feeling. It can cause the flow of Vata to reverse itself, which results in constipation, indigestion, excessive belching, bloating, gas, heartburn, bad breath, or regurgita- tion of food. In general, ama can cause dullness in the eyes and skin and a dull mind.

Ama creates a fertile environment for bacteria, thus contributing to disease. It also provides a breeding ground for free radicals, the reac- tive oxygen molecules that many scientists believe cause 90 percent of disease.

Signs of a Healthy Digestion

You’ve now seen how a weak digestion can affect your child’s health. On the bright side, a healthy digestion can create a state of health that is so invincible that disease rarely, if ever, happens. When digestion is balanced, the body produces greater quantities of the vital material called ojas. Ojas is the end-product of digestion, the essence of the dhatus, created from the proper transformation of each of the agnis. It is always present in the body, as it resides in the gaps between the body tissues and also in the heart.

The healthier a child is, the more ojas, and vice versa. When ojas is lively, it creates contentment, enthusiasm, vitality, bliss, and clear thinking. It is reflected in a sparkle in the eyes and luster in the skin. You could say that ojas is the material form of bliss in the body. It is also the expression of immunity, or bala. Ojas helps prevent disease and maintains the balance of the doshas and dhatus.

Ojas is the finest material form of consciousness, and exists at the junction point between consciousness and matter. It is similar to bal- anced Kapha dosha in quality: heavy, soft, smooth, thick, sweet, stable, clear, and unctuous.

You can see that ama and ojas are exact opposites. When digestion is balanced, then food gets digested without excess waste, ojas is cre- ated at each transformation, and the tissues are properly nourished and infused with vitality. When digestion is weak, toxins (ama) mix with the nutrient fluid, are transported throughout the body, obstruct the channels, diminish ojas, and create weakened or abnormal tissues.

When immunity is fostered with proper health care, then each cell functions to the best of its capacity. Then there is perfection at the basic level of the cell—perfection in digestion, perfection in metabolism, and perfection in the RNA and DNA. Immunity is at its peak in every cell—whether in the brain, the muscles, or the skin. The immunity and strength in the body create vitality, a happy smile, and the vibrant health of youth. And more importantly, immunity and digestive strength wipe out disease.

This is the primary goal of Maharishi Ayurveda: to create total health in mind, body, and emotions throughout life. You could say that conventional medicine is treating at the level of the wave, while Maharishi Ayurveda treats the level of the deep ocean, at the source.

When immunity is based on the strength of the deep ocean, then germs are like little waves on the surface, and do not pose a problem.

They come and go and are not disturbing. If there is enough bala or immunity in the body, the child doesn’t get the flu so easily. After all, the germs will always be there—whether your child succumbs to the infection or not depends on his immunity. If immunity is strong, various physical, emotional, and environmental changes won’t affect the child’s basic stability and strength.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010.