7 Ayurvedic food rituals to aid digestion
In Ayurveda, both eating food, and the physical and emotional act of eating it, is of great importance: it’s even considered equal to traditional medicine – when consumed correctly according to Ayurvedic practise – for good health and longevity.
Ayurveda physician, Dr Anil Alexander explains that according to Ayurvedic principles, you should eat for your gut, as gut and digestive health underpin many of these principles.
“You should eat a balanced diet, which includes proteins, carbs, fat and vitamins. Ayurveda is not about emphasising vegan or vegetarian diets, instead, you should eat according to your gut and to keep your doshas balanced.
“Ahara translates to food – which means that whatever we absorb in, or consume through the mouth, is Ahara. Ahara gives you life, maintains your Prana (energy or spiritual light), and is one of the three pillars of life.”
- Ahara – food.
- Nidra – sleep or harmony of biological clock and life clock.
- Brahmacharya – emotional balance.
With these three pillars in mind, here are seven Ayurvedic practises you can adopt to optimise your digestion, and ultimately, whole-body health and well-being.
1. Sit on the floor to eat
“Sitting cross legged on the floor triggers the signal of the brain and prepares the stomach for digestion,” says nutritional therapist, Anuja Jalota.
“As you move your body slightly forward to eat and come back to your original position, the repeated action results in triggering of the abdominal muscles, which increases the secretion of stomach acids needed for digestion and allows food to be digested faster. This results in greater absorption of nutrients which are needed by the body to carry out vital bodily functions.”
“If we’re not sitting our attention is likely being diverted elsewhere. Sitting down and giving attention to food honours eating as a time to feed the body, mind, and soul.”
It’s important to view the physical act of eating as more than just a mindless necessity to restock, afterall, Ayurveda is a sister science of yoga, and movement matters.
2. Adopt mindful eating
As with sitting down to eat, learning to adopt mindful eating at mealtimes is a key practice to reap the full benefits of your nourishing food. “The Ayurveda diet suggests that mealtime is an opportunity to connect with the inherent energy and information of the food you consume. Pay attention to the colours of the food (your food plate should be made up of a rainbow of colours), taste the flavours, and bring awareness to the sunshine, soil, and earth that have collaborated to create the food being consumed.” Says Anuja.
“Mindful eating promotes focusing on the food on our plate by bringing all our senses to the meal’s sight, smell, touch and taste. We need to chew our food thoroughly as digestion starts in the mouth and eat slowly. When we give food our full attention, it tastes better and we feel satiated with the proper amount of food which nourishes our body.”
3. Eat when you’re hungry
This ties in with mindful eating and intuitive eating; acknowledging your hunger, responding with nourishment, and recognising when you are full. Dr Alexander recommends seeing the stomach in thirds: a third for solid foods, a third for liquid, and a third for air and space.
He says, “This helps the natural creation of gastric enzymes and hormones. Generally, the main meal should be consumed between 10 am – 2 pm as that’s Pitta time, meaning the digestive fire is high during this time. I would suggest everyone use buttermilk curry during this time for all Dosha types.”
4. Ignite your digestive fire
Your Agni refers to your digestive fire: your digestive enzymes and the gut microbiome. The Agni breaks down food and everything else you have ‘consumed’ from the environment, sorting it into useful nutrients and waste products. What you eat can both ignite your digestive fire, or ‘put it out.’
Having ice-cold water or responding to a hunger pang with a cup of coffee will dampen your Agni, meaning it will have to work twice as hard when your next meal does come. Hunger is a signal that your digestive fire is awake and ready for food. Cooked, nourishing vegetables with fresh spices like cloves, basil and cumin aid the Agni’s work in digestion and stoke the fire!
5. Eat seasonally
Ritucharya, the Ayurvedic practise of eating for the seasons, follows a set of ideals that utilises goods in season to cope with the mental and physical impacts and threats (disease) of changing seasons.
Springtime is an important season in Ritucharya as it’s prime time for the body to dispel any toxins. This is because the diet is rich in alkaline foods that are known for their detoxifying properties such as spinach, kale and almonds. This powerful produce nourishes the gut bacteria and enables good bugs to flourish.
Spring is also a good time to increase your use of herbs and spices in cooking, particularly ginger, turmeric, rosemary and chilli, which have antioxidant properties.
6. Eat to support your Dosha
Anuja explains that an Ayurvedic diet is based on determining your dominant Dosha and eating specific foods to promote a balance between the three Doshas: Kapha (earth and water), Pitta (fire and water) and Vata (air and space). She says, “According to this diet, your Dosha determines which foods you should eat to promote inner balance.
- Pitta focuses on cooling, energising foods and limits spices, nuts, and seeds.
- Vata favours warm, moist, and grounding foods while restricting dried fruits, bitter herbs, dried and raw veggies.
- Kapha limits heavy foods like nuts, seeds, and oils in favour of fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
The Ayurvedic diet for all Doshas encourages eating healthy whole foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, and grains, limiting processed ingredients, red meat and artificial sweeteners.
7. Practice a yogic blessing or mantra
Pause for a moment to acknowledge everyone that has come before you to provide the meal you’re about to eat, to give thanks and gratitude, and acknowledge a private moment to connect with the food in front of you.
Saying a yogic blessing before a meal encourages a sense of calm that prepares the digestive system to perform optimally when food is received, and often, people find they eat more slowly – thus supporting digestion – when they start off their meal in a state of calm.
You could either create your own blessing, or start off with one from Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu scripture.
- Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir / The act of offering is Brahman.
- Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam / The offering itself is Brahman.
- Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam / The offering is done by Brahman in the sacred fire which is Brahman.
- Brahmakarma Samadhina / He alone attains Brahman, who, in all actions, is fully absorbed in Brahman.
Dr Alexander also recommends additional Ayurvedic practises to try, including:
- Don’t talk too much while having food.
- Don’t drink a lot of water immediately after having food.
- Wash hands and mouth after having food (if possible).
- Don’t take a shower or hard exercise immediately after having food.
- You can sit in Vajrasana/diamond position after having food.
Dr Alexander’s buttermilk curry recipe
- Mix one cup of homogenised fat-free yoghurt with three cups of pure water. Whisk thoroughly.
- Gently heat the buttermilk mixture with ½ tsp turmeric, little cumin seeds, Indian curry leaves, a few cloves of garlic (sliced) and enough sliced ginger, and garnish with roasted mustard seeds. If you like hot flavour, two to three green chillies can be used while heating the mixture. Ghee or coconut oil can be used for roasting mustard seeds.
- Avoid boiling the buttermilk mixture.
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