In the heat of summer, many people reach for iced beverages. At first thought, this makes sense. It’s hot outside and ice is cold. But go deeper -- what are ice and ice cold drinks doing to your digestive fire?
Agni, or digestive fire, is responsible for our digestion of food, emotions and experiences in life. Just like a fire, agni needs to be tended. When left to smolder or allowed to grow too strong, it will result in indigestion, symptoms of imbalance and eventually disease.
When agni is balanced, digestive fire is stronger in the cooler months and weaker when the weather is hot. This allows you to take in heavier foods in the winter so you can maintain a protective layer of tissue to stay warm. Whereas in the summer, you may be drawn to eat lighter meals.
What to eat when it’s hot
Salt has been used worldwide for centuries. As the oldest form of seasoning, it is well known as a culinary staple. However, it may surprise you to learn that salt has also been used medicinally for thousands of years. It is a key ingredient in several classical Ayurvedic formulas, such as hingvastak, to promote digestion or clear congestion.
Despite the many benefits of this mineral, salt has been questioned and demonized by the modern medical system. But eliminating salt, or reducing it too much, can have great consequences.
The practices of Ayurveda allow us to prevent illness, but the science also has a lot to say about what to do in those times when you do get sick.
Illness is a time to take care of your body. It is a signal to slow down, rest and come back to balance. It is important to allow time for full recovery -- nothing else is more important. What you do during this time matters greatly in how fast you will heal and the level of health you will reach afterward. Until symptoms subside, let go of your daily responsibilities, stay in bed, avoid looking at computers or screens and, most importantly, eat only very simple foods.
Agni, digestive fire, is weak during illness, so you cannot digest the same kinds of foods you enjoyed before. Yet as you are healing, your body needs nourishment. Kunyi, a soupy rice cooked with mineral salt and ghee, offers a meal that is very easy to digest and perfect for times of illness.
It may surprise you to learn that eating an Ayurvedic diet means you get to enjoy your food -- perhaps more than you ever have. That’s because true enjoyment comes from eating in a way that nourishes your body and mind.
Using Ayurvedic spices for balance
Ayurvedic wisdom says that you should enjoy your food five times: planning it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it and digesting it (although we added a sixth way in our most recent Ayurvedic chef training: serving it). At each step, you have the opportunity to engage your senses to get the most out of the experience. Your food should look and smell wonderful. It should taste delicious and you should feel better for having cooked it and eaten it. A sure way to enjoy each step is to include Ayurvedic spices in every meal.
In nature, fire is the great transformer. When a fire sweeps through a forest, the ground is made more fertile and space opens for new sprouts to rise. But when fire comes too often to a forest, or it burns for too long, it creates a place where little can survive.
What is true in nature is also true in us. Pitta dosha, the fire element within us, has the power to transform. When balanced, its power can make space for new experiences to grow. When imbalanced, it leads to an inhospitable environment where nothing can thrive. Learn to tame the fire within to use pitta’s power as a benefit, not a burden.
By Myra Lewin
I recently worked with a woman who had experienced great health all through her life. Yet she had recently begun to experience symptoms associated with menopause -- hot flashes, weight gain and a scattered mind. After talking through her relatively balanced diet and lifestyle, we centered upon one small, but significant factor that was getting in the way of a balanced transition to maturity: an insulated bottle that she always kept filled with ice cold water.
From a distance, drinking out of an insulated bottle seems far too insignificant a factor to cause menopausal symptoms. But cold beverages restrict and weaken agni, digestive fire. Over a few years of using this bottle daily, the ice cold water had reduced her ability to digest food and life experiences. This created dosha imbalance and her health issues.
If you want to feel better all day, eat a breakfast that brings balance.
When you wake up in the morning, agni, digestive fire is low. Just like a fire that has burned down to embers, you must stoke agni gently to ensure its steady strength all day long. When the flames are stable, you will be better able to digest what you eat and experience with ease.
Breakfast means to break the fast, and it’s important to do so with care. The traditional Western fare of bacon, toast and eggs are heavy and hard to digest, weakening agni by expending too much of its limited energy first thing in the morning. This affects your digestion for the rest of the day, and, over time, causes imbalance that will lead to disease. Opt for a simple and nourishing meal at the beginning of your day instead. One of our favorite is steamed bananas.
Once you’ve discovered the nourishment that comes by including the right proportions of grains and other augmenting foods in your meals, you can begin to explore the many varieties of grain that are available. Each one brings new tastes and textures and allows you to access your creativity and tastebuds.
How did you feel after your breakfast this morning? Nourished? Whole? Grounded? If the answer is no to any of these, it’s time for a bowl of porridge.
The first meal that you eat after waking sets the energy and intention for how you will digest your food and experiences in the day to come. After a sound sleep, agni, digestive fire, is weaker and must be gently rekindled with simple, nourishing food. Grain, cooked into a soft porridge, is the perfect meal for breakfast.
If you want to experience lifelong health, make vata dosha your friend.
The doshas, or three vital energies, help us understand how internal and external factors influence your health and well-being. Each of us has all three doshas, just in different amounts. While any dosha can become imbalanced in us at any time, the dosha you have most of is the one that is most likely to go out of balance. When you understand your tendencies related to imbalance, you can avoid doing those things and focus instead on what makes you feel your best.
When you are feeling imbalanced overall, vata is often the reason. With the light and subtle qualities of ethers and air elements that make up vata, it is the easiest of the doshas to go out of balance. And because of the mobility of the air element, imbalanced vata will disturb the other doshas toward imbalance.