The practices of Ayurveda and yoga honor the connection between our mind and body — and more specifically, the connection between our brain and gut. Ancient Ayurvedic texts tell us, “Rog sarve api mande’anau.” Translated from Sanskrit this means, “All diseases have their basis in dull digestion.” It’s clear that digestion is an all-important consideration for our health and well being.
“My understanding of Ayurvedic medicine lies in understanding what is going on in the gut,” says Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, Integrative Neurologist and pioneer in the field of Integrative Medicine.
When our digestion and elimination are balanced, we can properly transform our food into nourishment and waste, and ultimately create ojas, the master product for creating a mind and body full of bliss. If this transformation is ineffective due to dull, imbalanced digestion, our bodies create ama, toxins that block the flow of our intelligence — nature’s intelligence — and may create the foundation for imbalance. According to ayurveda, when imbalance becomes dominant, the result is expressed as a health issue.
In order to avert ama or “burn” existing ama, our bodies need a strong digestive fire, known as agni in ayurveda. Agni is the foundation for strong, healthy digestion. It transforms the food we eat and allows us to absorb nutrients and prana (the life force we know as breath).
In her new book The Prime, Dr. Chaudhary explains: “Agni is an important concept in Ayurvedic medicine because it is the energy of metabolism, turning food into fuel for living, but it also is the digestive fire for emotions, experiences, and everything else we ‘ingest,’ physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
How can we support the digestion of everything we ‘ingest’ with the practice of yoga asana, you ask? Read on to learn more…
Yoga Asanas for Digestion
When practiced properly, and at a comfortable, regulated pace — not creating undue stress or strain on our bodies — yoga asanas clear away physical tension and can aid in the process of transformation of prana. Be your best teacher as you listen to your body and practice the following yoga asanas for balanced digestion:
Agni Stimulators: Belly-down Backbends
Belly-down backbends add the gentle pressure of our own body weight to our bellies and softly compress and then release the abdominal region, increasing circulation to our internal organs and stimulating our digestive system.
Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx)
Twisting postures physically wring our bodies out, like a sponge wringing out water. We release anything that is no longer serving us — physically, mentally, emotionally. When we practice a twist, we start the pose from our belly and, depending on the depth of the pose, our shoulders, neck, and head are the last regions to follow.
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle)
Jathara Parivartanasana (Core Supine Twist)
Methodically moving our bodies in dynamic postures, where breath and movement are linked together, we stimulate and balance Apana Vata, or downward energy, essential for elimination. Poses that we think of as “core work,” like Navasana, can fire up our bellies and inspire fire in our digestive system as well. Try starting and ending your yoga practice with this gentle knees-together variation of Balasana (see below).
Balasana, variation with knees together (Child’s)
Apanasana (Wind Release 1)
Apanasana (Wind Release 2)
Last but not least: Pranayama and Meditation
Yoga Asanas, done together with Pranayama (breath work), prepare our bodies for meditation.
The practice of meditation, just 20 minutes twice a day, allows the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the “rest and digest” system) to restore our bodies to our calm, natural state, and support relaxation and repair. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for controlling balance and maintenance of our body’s systems. Our bodies undergo several specific responses when the parasympathetic system is activated, including the increase of saliva and the release of digestive enzymes, both contributing to balanced digestion.
Behavioral rasayanas are the highest form of practice — the equivalent of herbal rasayanas, or elixirs. Try these to further support digestion:
- Eat the main meal of the day at lunch, when your digestive fire is the strongest.
- Prepare and eat a light, easy-to-digest dinner at least three hours before bedtime. Our sleep can be disturbed by our body digesting a meal that we eat too late, or too much of, in the evening. The result is that our sleep is not as restful and we do not efficiently digest our meal — leading to possible long-term imbalance.
- When possible, go to bed by 10:00 p.m.
- Eat according to the season and according to your prakriti, or current state of balance.
- Detox daily with Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus).
- Eat meals in a quiet, settled environment.
- Aim to not overeat. You should be hungry when the next meal comes around.
- Use a tongue scraper to remove ama from the mouth. Tongue scraping cleans the taste buds on the tongue, allowing them to work efficiently and to send the right messages to the brain, thus strengthening the digestion process.