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.