Eating. This is a universal thing all living beings must do to stay alive. It is something we do not give much thought to, after all, it seems as mechanical as breathing, sleeping or walking. Yet, if one begins to investigate further into the health woes of the 21st century, a lot of people suffer from digestive disturbances: hyperacidity, indigestion, constipation, sluggish digestion and/or gastroesophageal reflux disorder to name a few. There is something the majority of us must be missing and it is called food sadhana. The term sadhana is Sanskrit for a spiritual practice or the act of making something sacred. Food sadhana brings us back into a present state of awareness while preparing and enjoying meals. The art of eating is something we must reclaim to support optimal health and joy. Luckily, Ayurveda has what has been called, Guidelines for Healthy Eating, which provide a roadmap for us all to intake and digest foods properly. Below are 15 Guidelines for Healthy Eating that we suggest to slowly incorporate into your daily routine. Only choose 1 or 2 guidelines each week to try and once those feel second nature, invite in 1 or 2 more.
- Eat Food Prepared by Loving Hands in a Loving Way
When food is prepared by loving hands, food sadhana occurs. Food sadhana is bringing the energy of the sacred into the kitchen. When food is prepared with love & awareness, there is prana or positive life force energy within the food. The end result is a sattvic or harmonious meal to be enjoyed.
- Say Grace Before Meals
You do not have to be religious to incorporate this guideline. One can simply sit and before eating any food, take 3 deep belly breaths, thanking the food for its presence and ability to nourish your body.
- Food Should Be Taken in the Proper Place
The environment in which one eats affects digestion. Therefore, Ayurveda recommends for proper, healthy digestion, that the environment should be calm, peaceful and pleasant, free from emotional stress and/or strain.
So, to all of the pitta predominant types, this means that all political debates should occur AWAY from the dinner table!
- Food Should be Eaten Without Distraction
Being distracted when eating takes away from the sacredness of the meal itself. Food is a gift which fills us with prana, or life force energy. We must eat with respect and reverence for the plants and minerals that make up our meals. Try to eat at a dinner table or outside in nature. Start with one meal a day, then two meals per day, then all meals per day. Take small steps & you will be successful!
- Food Should be Taken with a Proper Frame of Mind
The mind should be peaceful. If you are feeling angry, overwhelmed, anxious or melancholy, meditate before your meal to step into a balanced headspace.
- Food Should be Warm
Warm foods are digested easier than cold foods & warm foods also help stimulate our agnis or digestive fire. An exception to this rule is if it is pitta season (summertime) and agni is strong, then cold foods can be consumed in order to cool & detoxify the body.
- Food Should be Taken that is Oily or Moist
The ancient Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita states:
“One should take unctuous food; unctuous food is delicious; after intake, it provokes the subdued power of digestion; it gets digested quickly; it helps in the downward movement of vata; it increases plumpness of the body, strengthens the sense faculties, promotes strength & brightens complexion”
- Avoid Cold Drinks
Ayurveda recommends avoiding cold drinks, especially before meals. Ice water weakens agni, or the digestive fire, which is needed for proper digestion. As a rule of thumb, I do not consume ice water in the fall, winter or spring but in the summer, I may put 1 or 2 ice cubes in my water if I am camping, working or playing in the hot summer sun. When you begin to abstain from ice water, you will be amazed to find that when you do drink ice water again, it will be a quite unpleasant shock to your system and you will wonder why it is standard to serve ice water at restaurants.
- A Small Amount of Liquids Should be Taken with Meals
An excerpt from the California College of Ayurveda:
“Do not drink large quantities of liquid during meals, as this also weakens the digestive fire. A half-cup of room temperature water is about right, on the average. Dry meals may require more, and moist meals–like soup–require none at all. It is okay to sip a little wine during a meal”.
- Food Should not Have Opposite Potencies
For example, combining hot & cold foods is contraindicated in Ayurveda as well as combining fresh fruit with other foods. Ayurveda believes that fruit should be consumed away from meal times, on its own as a snack. The reasoning behind this is that combinations such as these will be difficult to digest & will result in ama or toxins to build up within the body.
- Food Should Be Taken with Confidence
You should always feel good about yourself and what you are eating & putting into your body. According to Ayurveda, self-confidence effects the internal forces of the body & helps to aid in proper digestion. A lack of self-confidence can actually stimulate the nervous system in the form of anxiousness & overwhelm which can directly impact the digestive system. When digestion or agni is not performing optimally, it can lead to ama or toxic build-up. Thus, always feel good about yourself and the food you are bringing into your body, it will help you digest well & feel your best.
- Chew Food to an Even Consistency
It is easy to chew on your food only a couple of times and then send it down into the stomach; however, if you chew your food to an even consistency, it will help aid in the absorption of nutrients and make digestion easier for the belly.
- Eat Until You are 75% Full
Ayurveda explains that the surest way to extend life is to eat less. There is a tendency in our society to eat mindlessly, without chewing our food to an even consistency which leads to overeating, an increase in kapha dosha, feeling uncomfortable & too full. After eating a meal, there should not be a heavy, bloated or tired sensation. Instead, if we eat until we are only 75% full, we will feel satisfied, light & awake. In this way, we ensure proper digestion & longevity.
- Take Time to Rest After Meals
Ideally, Ayurveda recommends taking one hour after meals to rest and digest. One could go on a gentle walk or read a book if time allows. Of course, an hour after each meal is not always available but taking a small amount of time is better than no time at all. If you are in a time crunch, before rising up from the table, take at least 3 deep belly breaths to signify the end of your food sadhana.
- Allow 3 Hours Between Meals for Food to Digest
It takes 3 hours for a meal to completely digested in the human body; thus, waiting 3 hours until the next meal is recommended in order to keep agni (digestion) strong and the doshas in balance. If one becomes hungry quickly after the previous meal, scan the body and check in. The body may be craving hydration and water should preferably be consumed rather than diving into another meal. Also, the desire to eat again too quickly can come up from an emotional desire rather than true hunger.
The Ayurvedic Guidelines for Healthy Eating are not meant to be rigid. Instead, they are meant to bring us all back to the sacredness and joy of eating. Food sadhana is something quickly forgotten in this age of television, smartphones, tablets and constant distraction; yet, it can be the answer to harnessing awareness and the experience of proper digestion. Please feel free to comment below and let us know which food guidelines you resonate with the most and to keep us informed on how things are going on your food sadhana journey.
Image by Carly Beaudin, RYT & Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist