The Power of Digestion in Ayurveda

While Ayurveda, India’s indigenous health system, is a vast and ancient subject, much of its common sense wisdom is applicable today. My favorite thing about Ayurveda is the central role that food plays in well-being. Whether you like to cook or not, food is medicine for the mind, and a little intention in your diet can truly change your perspective on life. Harmonizing the energies of the mind can relieve stress, increase joy, and foster spiritual connection. What’s not to love?

Healthy digestion is the most fundamental aspect of overall wellness in Ayurveda. The complete digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food nutrients create the building blocks of the body, called ahara rasa, or “the essence of food.” When you chew and swallow your food, it mixes with water, enzymes, and acids, and the end product is the essence or juice, which is used to make tissues. In this way, healthy digestion makes a healthy body. Digesting food properly connects us to the essence of the food we eat every day and to our planet that provides this food. This explains why diet is a profound aspect of Ayurvedic healing.

Complete wellness, however, takes into account not only physical digestion in the stomach, but mental digestion as well. The digestion of ideas, experiences, and emotions is a key function required for our overall well-being. The right amount of input and enough space to process it result in a calm, steady mind and nervous system. This sustainable, low-stress reality underlies the health of the physical body as well.

The connection between stress and modern ailments is becoming clearer through scientific research—reinforcing the importance of a body/mind connection that has always been at the heart of Ayurveda. The more people I work with—observing this science as it applies to the matrix of household living and the balance of work, family, self-care, and self-evolution—the more I see the importance of mental balance in maintaining health and happiness.

Have you noticed that certain foods can settle you down or pick you up? Ayurveda helps us understand how foods affect our mental wellness by balancing certain energies—specifically, satisfaction, passion, or lassitude. The sattvic diet is a way of eating to keep a simple, contented mental energy alive, and it involves eating more fresh, local foods; being thoughtful about how we prepare them; and sitting down to enjoy them. For me, this way of eating has come naturally as a companion to my yoga practice, and I believe it was this synergy of yoga and Ayurveda that drew me to the diet in the first place. Paying attention to how food makes me feel, not just in my gut, but in both my mood and my heart, has led to a healthy body and a happy head.

From The Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind © 2018 by Kate O'Donnell.  Photographs © 2018 by Cara Brostrom. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. shambhala.com

Kate O’Donnell, an international lecturer and senior yoga teacher, is author of The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook and Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind: 100 Sattvic Recipes.

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