In Ayurveda (ancient India’s medical science of life), healthy digestion is the key to great overall health, so it pays to get things moving. Below, a few of Ayurveda’s time-tested — yet super-simple — practices for how to improve digestion and get your food-processing system functioning at optimal levels.
1. Start with a piece of fresh ginger and a pinch of salt.
Ginger offers many wonderful digestion-promoting properties, and is especially helpful for those who experience constipation. To consume it before a meal, slice a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger into long, thin strips and place in jar. Cover with lime juice (optional) and Himalayan rock salt to marinate. Eat one strip prior to meals.
Salt is also great for digestion. You can cook with it and add it in place of ordinary table salt or sea salt to your savory meals. Ayurveda recommends rock salt, which contains beneficial trace elements, such as potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and copper. Look for brands such as Natierra Himalania Himalayan Pink Salt and Sherpa Pink Himalayan Salt, which you can find in many natural food stores or online.
(Note: If you're experiencing bleeding of any kind — a nosebleed, menstruation or blood in your stool or urine — avoid fresh ginger. You should also avoid it if you experience any burning sensations on the skin, burning headaches or excessive body heat.)
2. Eat warm foods and drink warm liquids.
Many people have observed how their digestion starts to immediately improve when they make the switch from cold to warm water and from raw food to warm meals. Why? The digestive system is thought of as a fire in Ayurveda. Like any fire, the digestive system also gets “extinguished” when we toss cold substances into it. The digestive system is ignited by warm foods and beverages.
"Make the time to sit quietly before meals and feel a sense of connection with and gratitude for your food."
3. View eating as a sacred experience.
We learn from Ayurveda’s vast wisdom that we should view eating more reverently. Make the time to sit quietly before meals and feel a sense of connection with and gratitude for your food. Doing this versus eating on the go in front of a screen (television, computer or phone) or while doing other things makes a big difference in terms of digestive health.
As an Ayurvedic teacher, I have personally experienced a great transformation in my physical and psychological health when I view my body as my temple and see food as a way to make sacred offerings. Make eating a sacred experience each time by slowing down, really chewing the food and feeling the subtle nuances of every flavor and texture. (Learn more about mindful eating here.)
4. Sit on your knees after eating.
Sacred eating also means not immediately running around after a meal. Yoga is the sister science of Ayurveda, and Vajrasana, or thunderbolt pose, can be highly beneficial after eating: Kneel down onto a soft surface, sitting on your knees with your heels and toes touching, ideally.
Even if you can’t sit in Vajrasana, it helps tremendously to simply sit up straight and close your eyes for a few minutes after eating. Visualize your food getting digested into nourishment that will give you strength, energy and vitality.
"Visualize your food getting digested into nourishment that will give you strength, energy and vitality."
5. Cook with Ayurvedic digestive spices.
There’s an array of digestive spices in the Ayurveda tradition that can be added to a variety of foods to make them more digestible. Cumin seeds or fenugreek seeds are wonderful spices to add to your meals that helps stimulate the digestive fire and prevents gas and bloating.
Another helpful spice to try: Ajwain seeds, also called bishop's weed or carom seeds. These are used in all types of Middle Eastern and Indian cooking in the whole-seed form. They look similar to cumin seeds, but taste and smell more like thyme. You can order them from Mountain Rose Herbs, or on Amazon.
Finally, Asafoetida is another helpful spice to try. An herbaceous plant that has flowers similar to those of the parsley family, Asafoetida has a strong pungent scent and flavor. When added in small quantities during cooking savory foods, this space gives a distinct onion and garlic like flavor. Find this spice online at TheSpiceHouse, Amazon, MySpiceSage or Starwest Botanicals.
6. Wait to eat until your previous meal is digested.
It's tempting to snack constantly, especially with our busy on-the-go lifestyles. It may even be an unconscious habit. The danger is that the digestive system doesn’t receive adequate time to process that we’ve just eaten, which becomes a liability to our body and leads to a number of intestinal disturbances.
When your food has been properly digested you will experience sensations such as physical lightness, enthusiasm, genuine hunger and general comfort in the body. Only once you receive signals like these should you proceed to eat more.
7. Avoid eating when you feel emotionally charged.
Emotions are like food in the sense that if they aren’t properly digested, they can become harmful to us. Ideally, take time to calm down from intense feelings, such as anger, grief and anxiety before eating.