Whether it is heartburn, stomach ache, malabsorption, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, ulceration or other GI conditions, most people experience some manifestation of indigestion (ajirna) in their lives. Here, we take a look at the causes and Ayurvedic remedies for indigestion.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the root cause of these indigestion symptoms is an impairment of the digestive fire, known as agni. Agni is said to manifest in four different states:
Sama Agni – Balanced, healthy, and strong.
Manda Agni – Underactive due to an imbalance of Kapha dosha.
Tikshna Agni – Overactive due to an imbalance of Pitta dosha.
Vishama Agni – Irregular due to an imbalance of Vata dosha.
Whenever agni is weak, there is a risk for the development of indigestion, known in Ayurvedic medicine as ajirna. It is classified by the following characteristics.
- Acute onset of GI distress
- Effects jathara agni, the central digestive fire
- Easier to cure than agni mandhya (a chronic impairment of the digestive fire)
- If left untreated, it can lead to agni mandhya
In addition to this, three types of ajirna are discussed.
- Vata-type Visthabdhajirna
- Pitta-type Vidaghajirna
- Kapha type Amajirna
Causes Of Indigestion
A number of causes of ajirna (indigestion) are described in the classical texts. The following are most significant:
Eating An Excess Amount Of Food
When more food is taken into the body that can be processed in one sitting, it is said to dampen the digestive fire.
This leads to heaviness, sluggish digestion and, ultimately, the formation of unprocessed toxic food waste known as ama.
On the contrary, it is also important to consider that undereating can lead to an impairment of the digestive fire as well, due to underuse and malnutrition of bodily tissues.
Eating At The Wrong Time
From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is considered ideal to eat 2-3 meals per day with around 6 hours between each meal so as to allow for the complete digestion of the prior meal before beginning the process again.
Because of this, snacking and “food stacking” are contraindicated and are considered causes of indigestion. Eating at the wrong time can also mean eating when not hungry, eating while stressed, or emotional eating.
Eating Unwholesome Food
It is best to favor organic and minimally processed foods.
If the foods you are eating have long ingredient lists, with ingredients you cannot pronounce, or look as though they may not have existed 100 years ago, the could be contributing to digestive distress.
Furthermore, it is best to cook meals from fresh ingredients at home, avoiding the use of microwaves and frozen goods.
Foods high in prana (fresh produce purchased at a farmer’s market, for example) are most supportive of the process of tissue nutrition via agni.
Not Eating According To Doshas And Seasons
Check in with your Ayurvedic Practitioner to see which foods are most supportive to your constitution. Note that these recommendations will change throughout the year as the balance of dosha changes within the body and in the environment.
Disobeying Bodily Wisdom
One of the root causes of all disease in Ayurveda is known as prajna paradha, or disobeying bodily wisdom.
With regards to food, this can mean pursuing misguided cravings for foods which are known to imbalance doshas or produce ama (processed sugars, for example).
Not heeding the call of the body’s wise and intelligent cravings for particular nutrients, and other dietary habits that are harmful.
Ayurvedic Remedies For Indigestion
Ayurvedic medicine has much to offer when it comes to the treatment of GI conditions such as ajirna. The initial and most effective line of treatment in Ayurveda is usually to remove the cause.
The first step in treating ajirna would thus be to assess the above list and shift any dietary or lifestyle factors that reveal themselves as hetus, or causative factors of disease. Then, other treatment protocols may be integrated.
The following are some excellent remedies for both the treatment and prevention of indigestion and other conditions of anna vaha srotas.
There are many variations on fasting that can be adjusted to best suit individual cases. For some, this may mean drinking fruit or vegetable juices for a period of time, for others, it could be a mono-diet of peia or kitchari.
In rare cases, water fasts are recommended for short periods of time. By lightening the load that the GI tract has to process, we can give agni a chance to rekindle its flames.
Remember to consult your primary healthcare and Ayurvedic practitioner provider before starting a fast.
Dipana and Pachana
A dipana is an herbal medicine taken before meals with the intention of kindling agni for the meal to come.
A pachana is an herbal medicine taken after meals with the intention of burning ama, or toxic waste that is a byproduct of undigested food in the GI tract.
Some common dipana and pachana herbs are trikatu, hingvastak, ajamodadi vati, ajwan, panchakola1, chitrak, bhaskar lavana churna, lashunadivati and shankavati.
Blend 4 parts water to 1 part yogurt with a pinch of roasted cumin seeds. Drink after meals to aid digestion.
Upon waking, drink a warm glass of water to help kindle agni
Steep equal parts cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in 1 cup of boiling water.
Charak taught that agni is the mula (root) of all life.2 Similarly, according to the Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta, balanced agni is integral to health and the treatment thereof integral to Ayurvedic medicine.
The digestion of food via agni is the beginning of dhātu prinanam, the process whereby all bodily tissues are formed and nourished. When agni is impaired, the body’s ability to regenerate and heal is diminished.
Beyond nutrition, agni is said to govern our ability to process thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensation. When agni is compromised, so too is our mental capacity for these experiences.
Agni also governs wider metabolic functions in the body, immune responses, body temperature, complexion, the production of prana, tejas and ojas, as well as confidence, courage, and passion for life.
By caring for agni, we therefore not only prevent digestive issues such as ajirna, but support and uplift many other facets of our health and wellbeing.
Consult your Ayurvedic practitioner before trying these remedies and treatments for indigestion or ajirna. Remember to always check in with your Ayurvedic Practitioner and primary care physician before embarking on a new diet and/or lifestyle plans to ensure that safety and efficacy are upheld.
- More, Sangita D. “A Clinical Study of Panchakola Siddha Yavagu in the Management of Agnimandya.” Ayujournal, 2011, http://www.ayujournal.org/article.asp?issn=0974-8520;year=2011;volume=32;issue=1;spage=70;epage=75;aulast=More
- Agarwal, Akash Kumar. “Physiological Aspects of Agni.” Ayujournal, vol. 31, no. 3, July 2010.