May 27, 2014

4 Surprising Ways That Ayurveda Can Aid Poor Digestion.

Photo: Jure Gasparič/Pixoto

Are you experiencing heaviness, bloating, and pain upon elimination?

Do you also suffer from inexplicable chest pain and headaches?

Do you feel tired all the time, yet have difficulty sleeping and not know why?

These are all signs that your elimination system could be compromised. Unlike the popular elimination diets promoted by modern, western science and mainstream media, the ancient, 5,000-year-old Indian science of Ayurveda recommends certain health-increasing dietary and lifestyle practices that need not be discontinued after a specified time period.

And whereas in the west, we tend to think of digestion and elimination as being totally separate phenomena, Ayurveda sees both as deeply intertwined. When digestion is optimal, healthy elimination naturally follows. What benefits digestion also supports elimination.

Having struggled with various digestive challenges for most of my life until discovering Ayurveda in my early 20s, I am incredibly grateful for what I have learned. The Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle practices listed below, which I learned and now teach at my Ayurveda school, have transformed my life, and I am therefore delighted to share.

1. Wake up early.

One of the fundamental laws of nature taught by Ayurveda is that of the five great elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These five elements combine to form bio-forces called doshas in the entire universe, as well as inside our bodies.

One of these doshas is called Vata dosha. It is comprised of the ether and air elements. The nature of air is to move, and Vata dosha is thus in charge of movement in the body.

The Rishis (sages) of ancient India, to whom Ayurveda is believed to have been revealed, have observed that Vata dosha is dominant in the atmosphere between 2-6am. The hours of 4-6am are believed by Rishis and Yogis of lore to be a spiritually charged time of day, in which it is most beneficial to meditate and perform other spiritual practices.

As the sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda recommends waking up between 4-6am, for its spiritual impact, and because Vata dosha moves in a downward and outward action in the body during this time, which allows us to more easily eliminate. This can be observed by how birds, babies, and animals all naturally eliminate in the early morning hours.

I cannot fully express how much of a difference waking up earlier has made in my life, its benefits on my digestion and elimination, and the much more positive perspective it has given me.

2. Drink warm water.

There is a concept called Agni in Ayurveda, meaning “digestive fire.” Ayurveda compares our digestive capacity to a physical fire. We ‘extinguish’ this fire when we consume cold water, whereas warm water kindles digestive fire, supporting elimination.

I remember how good it felt to drink warm water immediately upon starting to do so, and there has been no looking back since then.

3. Stop eating salads.

So often touted as the classic ‘healthy food,’ salads actually disturb the elimination process for most people. That is because, like drinking cold water extinguishes digestive fire, eating cold, raw, uncooked vegetables in salads is difficult for our digestive system.

Eating raw vegetables additionally aggravates Vata dosha. When Vata dosha is aggravated for a long time, it can lead to the development of 80 different diseases. Keeping Vata dosha in a state of balance is a priority in Ayurveda.

The science of Ayurveda therefore recommends eating warm, oiled foods, which supports the digestive process and helps balance Vata dosha. You can steam or add oil to salads if you’d still like to eat them.

As a former pasta salad lover, I understand the challenge this tip may pose. In Ayurveda, one’s digestive health is seen as a reflection of overall health, and the quality of health I now experience as a result of sticking with warm, oiled foods is so much better that I don’t miss my once beloved pasta salads at all now.

4. Embrace certain dairy products.

Whereas most western elimination diets recommend restricting dairy and then reintroducing it after 23-30 days, Ayurveda embraces certain dairy products.

One of these is called ghee (clarified butter). According to an ancient Ayurvedic text called Bhavaprakash, having the proper amount of ghee in your food (which will be different quantities, depending on individual health needs) kindles digestive fire, and benefits gas, abdominal pain, and ulcers.

Those suffering from constipation can also drink warm milk at bedtime, as this it is a mild laxative.

Not a day goes by now that I don’t have ghee or warm milk. My digestion and health have thanked me for it.

Try these tips today and your health will soon thank you, too. While it can be challenging to change our diet and lifestyle habits, the rewards will be well worth it.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Jure Gasparič/Pixoto


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Ripa May 30, 2014 9:00pm

Hi Shauna,

Thanks for your feedback.

The ancient Ayurvedic texts do recommend warm, oiled foods as a general standard for most people.

Those who have predominantly Kapha dosha (everyone has all three doshas, in different amounts) tend to actually have slower digestion, so they would not be recommended raw fruits and vegetables.

It is possible that a Pitta dominant person could have enough digestive fire to handle raw fruits and vegetables.

Whether or not someone can handle raw foods does not depend as much on one's state of doshas, however, as it does on their agni (digestive fire or capacity). Only those who have a very sharp and fast digestive fire can handle raw fruits and vegetables.

And one should not mix fruits with vegetables, as a rule of thumb, with the exception of mango, which can go with most foods.

Best wishes,

Shauna Gayle May 30, 2014 10:37am

Hi Ripa,

Nice introduction article! However, encouraging all people to eliminate salads from their diets is only good advice for people with high vata vikruti and vata prakruti. Kapha individuals need raw fruits and vegetables for their GI track and to maintain balance. Possibly next article, include a little more detail into doshas and how to find the food that is acceptable for each individual constitution.

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Ananta Ripa Ajmera

Ananta Ripa Ajmera is a certified Ayurveda practitioner and Yoga instructor. She serves as Director of Ayurveda at THE WELL, a modern wellness club that brings together world-class doctors and master healers for a more balanced you in New York City. As founder of Whole Yoga & Ayurveda, she offers spiritual counseling, workplace wellness programs and retreats to help you live in harmony with nature by integrating her knowledge of Ayurveda for the body, Yoga for the mind and Vedanta (India’s ancient spiritual system of philosophy that underlies Yoga and Ayurveda) for the soul. Her work has been featured on Fox News, Reader’s Digest, The Cut – New York Magazine, Spirituality & Health Magazine, MindBodyGreen and Mother Earth News Magazine. Her book The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More (Storey Publishing, 2017) received the 2017 Silver Nautilus Award (considered a major book award granted to many spiritual luminaries, including Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, etc.) for books that make a difference and inspire in the Health and Healing category. It also received a 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Award in the Mind, Body, Spirit category. A graduate of NYU Stern School of Business, Ananta lives in New York City, where she eats and writes with both hands.