Though it's not the sexiest thing to talk about, gut health is the very foundation of skin health and general well-being according to Ayurveda (and personal experience). Talking about it may get uncomfortable, but trust that it'll prevent a lot of discomfort down the line!
Below are five all-too-common digestion issues and how to heal them using the ancient, time-tested practices of Ayurveda:
Heartburn is a Pitta-imbalance condition that can be avoided by practicing a Pitta-pacifying diet. Ayurveda recommends several natural cures for heartburn and general acidity in the stomach:
- Aloe vera: Try 2 tablespoons of aloe vera with a pinch of baking soda for an immediate soothing sensation. Aloe vera is available fresh at many grocery stores, or you can rely on a high-quality edible gel when not available fresh.
- Natural "Alka Seltzer": Mix 10 drops of lime juice, ½ teaspoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon baking soda (add this last) in 1 cup of water. Drink immediately to alleviate heartburn. (Lime is a cooling sour that also improves digestive function by stimulating microcirculation.)
- Papaya juice: Add 1 teaspoon sugar and 2 pinches of cardamom to 1 cup of papaya juice. This works to treat stomach acidity and indigestion because of the fruit's papain, a protein-dissolving enzyme that eases many stomach ailments and is an exceptional digestive aid.
- Breathing exercise: Inhale while keeping the tongue curled for 4 seconds, then exhale through the nostrils for 6 seconds. Repeat this over the course of a few minutes.
Ayurvedic tradition says that the body’s agni—gut fire—is responsible for good digestive health. An overly rich diet, filled with too many greasy and liquid foods can inhibit the agni and cause indigestion. Overeating or eating the wrong foods together can have the same effect.
So how do you keep this “gut fire” burning most efficiently to avoid discomfort? By adopting preventive measures. Besides avoiding overeating, chewing your food properly (up to 30 chews per bite of food!) is key to good digestion. Eating garlic before eating, and a cup of lassi after can help digestion.
When you do experience indigestion, try these Ayurvedic remedies:
- Lime juice: Using a fresh lime, squeeze a quarter of its juice into a cup of warm water. Add ½ teaspoon baking soda and drink immediately. (This works well for severe indigestion.)
- Garlic: Try chopping up one clove and sprinkling it with a little salt and baking powder before consuming. The pungent heat of the garlic will stimulate your gastric juices for relief from gas and ingestion.
- Yoga: Simple seated poses like hero (Virasana) or lotus (Padmasana) are great for digestion. If you want to up the ante, try peacock pose (Mayurasana).
Bloating & Gas
Ayurveda dictates that Vata influences on the colon cause gas to build up. Preventive measures include avoiding fermented food, most types of beans, raw food, and other Vata-aggravating foods. Ayurvedic herbal remedies for bloating and gas include:
- Ginger + lime juice: Take 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger pulp and mix with 1 teaspoon lime juice. Drink right after eating. (Ginger is a powerful carminative, meaning it helps prevent gas or expel it.)
- Charcoal: Take two tablets after your two biggest meals to prevent gas.
- Lemon juice + baking soda: Stir 1 teaspoon lemon juice and ½ teaspoon baking soda into cool water. Drink after a meal to help digestion.
- Yoga: Seated and spinal twists as well as forward bends and bridge pose are excellent for relieving bloat and flatulence.
According to Ayurveda, diarrhea occurs when the agni becomes weak, meaning a Pitta-pacifying diet should be adopted. Avoiding dehydration is also key to keeping diarrhea at bay. Make sure to see a doctor if diarrhea persists for more than a few days. When diarrhea occurs, try these food and herbal remedies:
- Yogurt + water: Mix equal parts yogurt and water together (about ½ cup each), and add a bit of freshly grated ginger. Drink the whole glass. The yogurt contains bacteria that will naturally help restore the normal bacteria in the digestive tract.
- Ginger + sugar: Mix ½ teaspoon ginger powder and 1 teaspoon of natural sugar together, then chew the mixture with some warm water. Repeat 2 to 3 times a day.
Ayurveda dictates that constipation is a Vata condition caused by low water and fiber intake as well as poor exercise habits. New diets and pre-existing conditions can cause constipation as well. Take preventive action against constipation by eating a Vata-balancing diet, which involves choosing warm foods and drinks over cold foods, as well as adding a little oil to the diet.
A general recommendation is always to eat more fiber: whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables, etc. Exercising regularly will also help your digestive system function optimally. A good rule of thumb is to aim to do 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week.
Here are some effective Ayurvedic home remedies for constipation:
- Flaxseed: Make a flaxseed tea by boiling 1 tablespoon of flaxseed in 1 cup of water for a few minutes. Then drink the cup (including the seeds). Flaxseed is packed with fiber.
- Milk + ghee: 1 to 2 teaspoons of ghee in a cup of hot milk at bedtime can be a very effective (and gentle) means of relieving constipation.
- Figs: Or black raisins, soaked overnight and consumed first thing in the morning can be a gentle and effective solution for forming good morning bathroom habits.
- Yoga: Try practicing 12 cycles of sun salutations a day.
While medical treatment does need to be sought at certain points, centuries of Ayurvedic wisdom have created these natural cures and preventive measures for many common ailments. In all cases, being conscious of your dosha, as well as your lifestyle choices and the environmental factors you are exposed to, can be even more effective in getting the most from your Ayurvedic practices.