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March 21, 2011

Improve Your Digestion—with “Fire.” ~ Yogi (Michael Boyle)

Photo: Creativity 103

Agni! The Wonders of Digestion and How to Stoke the Fire.

There is much debate in spiritual, yogic and health circles about what type of diet is the “best” for one and for all. Whether to be vegetarian or not is perhaps the hottest topic within this genre. I’m not going to get into that here, but maybe we can agree on these 2 things:

  1. We can all benefit from considering the food we eat as something sacred, and from maintaining a sense of genuine gratitude for the gift of life and nourishment.
  2. No matter what we eat, life is better when we have strong digestion!

From the perspective of the natural wisdom of yogic “psychology,” powerful digestive fire enables us to not only get the essential nutrition we need for our physical health, but it is also directly correlated to our mental and spiritual wellbeing. If we can properly digest our food, then we can more easily “digest” the emotional difficulties that inevitably arise in our lives. Forgive my potty mouth, but who cannot recognize the experience that life is “smoother” when we take a good, satisfying dump every morning?

So, I don’t need to bore you by convincing you of the importance and multi-factorial benefit of strong digestion. It should be common sense.  Instead, I would rather share with you a practical principle of eating that should help you raise your digestive fire.

Think of the “fire” in your belly as a campfire. You want to build a fire that has a medium-paced, steady burn that throws off enough heat and light for people to stay warm and enjoy each other’s company with clarity of vision. But, if the fire gets too big then everyone gets too hot and bothered. If it gets too small everyone gets cold and no one can see clearly.

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

So, in your meals you need a combination of:

> Kindling (small pieces of wood that are good for starting the fire)—these can be a few slices of ginger (chili is too hot), pickled veggies (like daikon, etc), a small bit of stuff that is crunchy, light, dry, etc.

> Some bigger sized pieces of wood for the “meat” of the fire. Once you have the fire cooking you want to throw a few logs on that will burn steady and smooth—a moderate size piece of meat, fish, or some well-cooked veggies, etc.

> You also want some moisture in there so the fire doesn’t burn out of control – this can be your white rice, sauces, etc.

These principles should be kept in mind not only when ordering and cooking, but also when eating. Not only will you have the proper ingredients to create a good environment in your stomach for optimal digestion, but you also must eat them in the proper order and mix things around.

Photo: Erin Kohlenberg

-While you do want to start off with some kindling, you might want to save some to eat every few bites to keep the fire strong.  You don’t want a layer cake in your stomach where you eat all of one part of your meal, then another.

-Your body will more easily digest something that is in the form of a stew.  So, obviously, eating hearty stews is great.  For everything else, we can use water, sauces, and various ingredients to create these conditions internally, even if we eat a meal that does not look like a stew on the plate (from the ayurvedic perspective it is a common “health” mis-understanding that solids should be taken separately from liquids).

-Like a campfire, a good digestive fire needs SPACE.  It is easy to suffocate a fire… it needs air to breathe or it will go out. So, don’t eat to the point of being stuffed.  Leave some room in your stomach for things to turn and churn around.  A good principle I’ve learned about this one is one-third solid food, one-third liquid, and one-third air/space.

Finally, a suggestion that is really, really, really important for digestive power.  I emphasize it so strongly because there are many people who believe and practice differently.  But, from our view water/liquid should not be sipped all day long.

This is not the best way to stay hydrated, which is important. By sipping all day, we send a constant message to our system that it must go into digestive mode.  This is an incredible drain on our body.  Like everything else, our digestive system requires rest.  We can “put our fire out” by throwing too much water on it.

Photo: Peter Roberts

Therefore, we should take water/liquid as meals, in a few big gulps at one sitting (equaling the same amount of water that you need in a day, only spread into separate drinking occasions).  It is advised, depending on our digestive power, that we wait a few hours after a meal of solids to have a water meal, and then don’t eat anything again for about another hour after that so that you can digest your liquid.

Liquid does need to be digested, just like solid food, in order to hydrate and nourish us.  When we sip all day long, our liquids likely run right through us – providing a serious burden to our kidneys, which can have all sorts of negative health implications.  We have to give our digestive system good chunks of time when it has nothing to do.  Rest is an essential aspect of living.

Regardless of where you sentiments lie in the meat, or no meat controversy, I hope these universal principles will help us all to be more healthy and happy.  Then, with a greater ability to digest our emotional reactivity, perhaps we won’t care so much about arguing over this topic, which is one of the most common debates in spiritual, yoga and health-oriented circles.

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Yogi (Michael Boyle) is co-founder of Energy of Mind: A Sauhu Therapy, which offers counseling through the lens of yoga, ayurveda, meditation, etc. all within the context of psychological insight and understanding. Yogi is a graduate of Trika Institute’s, seven year, “Tantrik Yoga Studies Program” as well as JFK’s masters psychology program. He is a student to Dharmanidhi Sarasvati (Adi YogaTrika Instutitute)to whom he credits for anything worthwhile that he has to share with clients and readers.  Yogi works with clients online, in Bangkok, and at his home, the rural yoga and meditation retreat center in Northeast Thailand, Kailash Akhara.

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