Over the past year I have studied and practiced Ayurveda. The benefits I have seen on this path have been incredible, far greater than any other approach to healthy living I have experienced before. Yes, I have lost nearly 50lbs of excess body weight, but it goes far beyond that. I see a different person in the mirror, my eyes are lighter, my skin clearer, my smile brighter. My ojas is potent and my aura electric. In my daily life I have more energy, my mind is clear, I am more patient, more conscious, stronger, and generally happier. I have made many small changes but I attribute much of my success to these 3 simple Ayurvedic principles I wish to share with you today.
Essentially these three points all revolve around proper management of your agni, literally translating from sanskrit as fire, your digestive fire. In addition to taking care with the types of foods we put in our bodies, Ayurveda puts an emphasis on the timings of meals and drink, in consideration for the strength of your agni. It is ALL ABOUT HEAT. The stronger your fire, the more effective your body will be in digestion and the less aama, which translates as waste (fats, toxins, residues, build up) that will be left inside your body.
1. Hot Water
As simple as this is, I think this has been the most useful lesson I have learned in my studies. Given that our agni thrives on heat, it makes absolutely no sense to drink cold water! It is one of our worst habits and literally puts your fire out. Drink cold water as little as you possibly can. Hot is the best but not always practical, but even room temperature is much better than cold. Now that I am aware of the effects of cold water on my body I am able to notice how much it slows me down when I do take it. All of your bodily systems turn to recovering from that dose of ice water, using precious energy to get back up to its optimal operating temperature. In this time, aama is created. Hot water is arguably the best thing you can put in your body. Also, avoid taking any water within 30 minutes of meals. If you must, take a little and make it warm. All water has cooling properties and will decrease your agni and thus should be avoided before, during and after meals.
2. Eat ONLY when you are hungry
In the west it is a strange and ‘unhealthy’ idea to skip any of our regimented 3 daily meals. In Ayurveda we are taught that we should eat ONLY when our bodies are hungry and asking for food. Don’t starve yourself, but do not eat only out of habit. If I am not hungry, I will simply skip a meal. Our bodies do not require large doses of food to be thrown down our throats every 4-6 hours. As you begin to feel hungry, this is your agni cranking up and preparing itself to properly digest and assimilate a meal without creating aama. I usually let this feeling of hunger build for 30-60 minutes before eating. The more your body is asking for food the stronger and more effective it will be in digestion. Changing our perception from ‘I am hungry’, to ‘my agni is ready to burn through a meal’ empowers us to listen to our body, which actually has to do all the work of digestion, rather than to our minds and our mouths. I am not saying deprive yourself of food, I am encouraging you to listen to what your body is telling you, and to respect the strain of digestion on your system. This goes the same for when you are very hungry, eat more, eat until you are satisfied, but not stuffed to the point of discomfort.
3. Be Conscious With Snacking
As I have gone over, our agni is at its strongest and most capable when we feel the most ‘hungry.’ If you have a snack 30-60 minutes before a meal, your body will not be nearly as effective in processing and getting the best out of that meal. When you sit down to eat you may think well I am not that hungry now that I had that snack, but I will still take this meal. In fact your body is satisfied and is working with the snack you gave it as though it were an inadequate meal. Your agni has been cooled and is essentially occupied. You now should wait until you are truly hungry before taking a meal to have your body properly process it. If I am feeling like snacking and it is not meal time, I generally wait, or have a larger snack which will carry me through and I skip my next meal. Traditionally in Ayurveda we are taught to never snack, however in our modern way of living this is often impractical. However, just being aware of the impact a snack has on your digestive fire should be enough to allow you to make some smarter decisions with the timing of your snacks and meals.
I understand these philosophies on how we approach food are quite different to the habits we have all formed growing up in modern western society. It would be very unhealthy to implement these ideas over night and if it led to improvements in health it would likely lead to relapse back to old habits. I am not saying stop drinking cold water, skip meals and stop snacking. What I want to encourage and spread is a re education in the way the west views food and our health. Consumption of food is a great pleasure and should be enjoyed. I do snack, drink cold water, and over eat at times. I have had these habits my whole life and it takes time to change them. But for me, having this knowledge in mind has simply empowered me to speak the same language as my body, and thus be a good listener. Through a new awareness we can bring about small change, and gradually we may live more in harmony with the natural desires of our bodies. And remember, it’s not all about weight loss! Each of us is created differently; some bigger, some smaller. The point is to restore balance in your body, along the way rediscovering and reconnecting with your true Self.