3 tiny steps to hugely better digestion


cropped-image.jpgAs I am preparing a small presentation on Ayurvedic nutrition for my local Satsang, my yoga community meet-up, it dawns on me again how vast Ayurveda is and how much there is to share if I want to do it right. But top of the list is a priority to not overwhelm oneself with a million different rules and rather look for balance in all things, keeping in mind harmony and equilibrium.

So here are 3 quick tips you can use today to support your digestion:

  1. SPICE YOUR FOOD with gentle warming herbs that are bitter or pungent. Some good detoxification herbs are cumin, ginger or small amounts of cayenne  – but refer to your dosha or the state of your digestion before taking spice though. Generally speaking Vata and Kapha body types will benefit from warming spices but Pitta must be careful and restrain their intake at the risk of over-heating the body and the mind (loose bowels, irritation, frustration, anger showing as possible signs). The idea is that if you have a slow or irregular digestive system you will enjoy and profit from spices but if you have an overactive, fast digestive system which burns through the food quickly without taking nourishment then you are best sticking to a mild diet with very little or no spice.
  2. THE OPTIMUM PORTION SIZE: in Ayurveda it is recommended to eat only to 2/3rd of your ability, leaving space in the belly for the digestive juices to do their work. Portion size in Ayurveda are often related to a handful called an anjali in Sanskrit. It is thought that the perfect portion size is 2 anjalis or 2 handfuls cupped together of whatever your meal is made of (ideally on the healthy side of the sprectrum).
  3. MEAL SPACING: only take food in after you have fully digested your previous meal. Digesting a full meal takes up to 6 hours. If you are in the process of digesting food, taking in more food will slow down a fully firing digestive process and result in semi-digested food in the body creating ama, the Sanskrit word for toxins and debris that clutter the system. It will confuse your lymphatic system and even result in fuzzy, spacey thinking. In that sense, it is not advised to snack. Should you feel famish as Vata types are more likely to be if they don’t eat regularly then focus on easily digestible, light food. Fruits are your best option especially as Ayurvedic food combining principle highlight fruits as best digested when eaten away from other foods, to avoid a sour tummy.

Small steps to rejuvenate your digestion. What’s that for a plan – will you try?

 

Figs & Pomegranates as Superfoods

Superfoods are nutritional gems the supermarkets have all clocked on. But have you ever heard of figs and pomegranates as superfoods? You’re about to. According to Ayurveda both are tridoshic meaning that they are nourishing and supportive of all 3 doshas, the 3 basic humours (see here for a reminder). Their composition makes them highly antioxidant and rejuvenating. Zoom in below:

FIGS

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Figs are an excellent tonic for energy and vitality. In Ayurveda they qualify as rich in ojas, the essential energetic sap and immunity. Due to their nutrients and high fiber they are a good detoxifier, diuretic and emollient. Figs are considered a blood purifier and activate blood circulation. They are full of vitamins B which are excellent for protection of the micro- blood vessels. Again figs are nourishing, antioxidant and rejuvenating. They’re rich in minerals which restore the metabolism and repair the internal equilibrium of the gut.

In Ayurvedic terms figs calm excess Vata and soothe excess Pitta. They help balance the air and fire elements within the body and mind, generally helping to ground. Ayurveda maintains that natural foods have an inner intelligence which goes far beyond the breakdown of the nutritional elements – an intelligence carried through Rasa (the taste of foods) which communicates with the natural intelligence of our body and mind to properly feed and heal our organism. With this in mind figs are known in Ayurveda to be neuro-sedative, they are helpful in long-time grief and sadness, feelings of solitude or isolation, helping with emotional pain. They are comforting and bring fresh energy that can alleviate sadness and enhance confidence, ease and a sense of wellbeing.

They’re also a laxative, helping elimination. Figs disperse excess heat and harmonise the body’s temperature in Pitta types, soothing inflammatory conditions including those affecting mucous in the body and irritation of the lungs. They even appear to cool overly fiery temperaments.

And here I have the most beautiful illustration, all credits to Kimberly Espinel at The Little Plantation. I have been following Kimberly’s blog for almost as long as it’s been spreading its wings and with the same glee every time I open a new post. Kimberly is exquisitely talented in presenting through her work a passion for “vegetarian, vegan and raw vegan food for the whole family”. Not only is she a genius at designing inspired healthy recipes but she has a delightful eye for beauty that beams through her photography. I am deeply grateful that she has offered me a couple of her beautiful pictures to ornate my website. Thank you! And please go over to check her Vegan Fig And Kale Pesto Pizza.

POMEGRANATES

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Pomegranates are one of the most nutrient dense potent health food you could find and though we in the west are more used to eating the seeds or drinking the juice, all parts of the flower, leaves, bark and peel are known to be used with powerful benefits. Pomegranates are also tridoshic, they are high in vitamin C, potassium and fibre. They are sweet in taste which in Ayurveda makes them cooling, soothing, astringent and mild. The first obvious benefit it derives quenching thirst and hydrating the body. These qualities also reduce fire in the system, and pomegranates are excellent for aggravated Pit ta digestion – the first consequence of which would be loose bowels, diarrhoea and related IBS symptoms such as stomach acidity and low metabolism due to low digestive enzymes.

Their antibacterial qualities makes them a good food to take when fighting parasites and viral infections or simply to boost the immune system. Pomegranates are overall very healing and balancing. They are cooling and pacifying for aggravated Pitta heat in the stomach and also the blood, skin, eyesight and even emotions. Use of pomegranates for cooling a fever is possible.

They are very effective in preventing ama (Sanskrit word for toxins) in the lymphatic system and plasma which in turn enhances the health of the blood, blood pressure and circulation. They are said to lower cholesterol.

Pomegranates are strengthening all around including being considered a tonic for the heart and benefiting blood vessels. Without going too much into the how’s and why’s which I haven’t for lack of space (check out Ayurvedic sources if you’re interested) pomegranates enhance oxygenation to the brain and body as well as circulation of nutrients and energy.

Scientific research shows that they also protect against osteoarthritis.

On a mental level they may help focus and clarity.

Quite the list, isn’t it?

Time to give another credit to photographer Cheryl Juetten who provided the striking picture above which will also start appearing in the banner on the website.

And what better time for me to pick up my copy of Sue Monk Kidd’s Travelling With Pomegranates, a mother and daughter journey I aspire to take one day.

Need some cooking ideas? I take you back to Kimberly with this Roasted Red Kuri Squash With Sumac, Pomegranates And Greens.

As you may have noted though, I am a little late with the season this year in terms of “harvest” time so of course my advice is eat seasonally if you can.

Wishing you all health & happiness this Yule!

 

Start the year with a fresh palate

I am slowly waking up from my deep winter hibernation to wish you all a happy new year. And so you’d have guessed I’m not referring to a new colour scheme for your wardrobe but mouth hygiene. Where’s the glamour in that? Better health begins this January. If we want to start the year the way we mean to carry on then now is as good a time as any to introduce a new habit. I would like you to consider a simple technique to do daily to help eliminate toxins and freshen up the breath: tongue scraping. New habits are more likely to stick if they can easily squeeze in to your schedule and are small but impactful which fits the picture perfectly.

img_1399Why do it?

The benefits are multiple and run deep.

Cleaning your tongue first thing in the morning is like brushing your teeth only it is even more important. Ayurveda makes it an essential practice. The body uses the tongue as a tool for detoxification. During sleep our digestive system continues to remove toxins from our body which will regularly show up on the tongue. Using a tongue scraper to cleanse the depot (ama) on your tongue will give you a fresh feeling and protect teeth from bacteria, removing both the bacteria and gunky phlegm that coats your tongue on waking – preventing them being re-absorbed. This supports your immune system. Scraping helps prevent bad breath and a side-effect is to improve the taste of foods when eaten by increasing your sense of taste. In “Ayurvedic tongue diagnosis” Walter Kacera D.N. Ph.D explains that using tongue scraping allows to use less toothpaste “which simply kills the mouth and throat flora, allowing those substances to reach the stomach and intestine”. So tongue scraping = taking in less nasties from your toothpaste.

Brushing your tongue with your toothbrush does not do the job as it will only move the bacteria and gunk around and you risk being too harsh. It is best to use a stain-steel tongue scraper which you can easily buy online. Holding each side of the scraper start at the back of the tongue and scrape gently towards the front 7 times to activate the tissue layers. The procedure is said to boost your digestion also by improving your tastebuds & causing saliva production. It decreases plaque, dead cells and oral debris.

Finally tongue scraping will also stimulate all the pranic nadis (energy channels) that terminate in the tongue and massages the internal organs that are linked to different parts of the tongue. A pretty punchy benefit for such an easy, quick practice.

See Lorien’s clip for a fun illustration right here.

Blessings of love and light for the new year!

 

When life throws you lemons

Organic Bush Lemon's (3)This beautiful picture of organic Bangalow Bush lemons is my inspiration this week and it comes credit to Lorien Waldron from Wholesome Loving Goodness all the way over the pond in sunny Byron Bay, Australia.

I absolutely love this picture and from now on it will be my blog profile picture and a banner on my website, alongside some of my more humble shots of a local Dorset beach and the Shiva Temple at the Ganga Talao lake in Mauritius from a recent trip.

But back to Lorien! I have been following her through social medias for a few years now and she’s been a bit of a muse with her business sharing Ayurvedic wisdom as a Lifestyle Consultant. She has a real passion for pursuing healing through food and teaching Ayurvedic cooking to the community. What a wholesome goal! She’s also a photographer so check her out on Instagram or via her website, details in the Resources page.

In a previous post I made a quick suggestion that you start your day with a glass of warm water & a dash of lemon with perhaps even some grated ginger and/or honey. Lemon water is a kitchen staple in Ayurveda. Make it fresh every day. It is cleansing upon waking and prepares your digestive system for breakfast. It helps flush toxins out and you’ll feel much more energetic once your digestion is back on track, which this simple technique will help with.

Although lemons are a citrus fruit and acidic in nature they actually have an alkaline effect on the constitution when metabolised, after the minerals dissociate, and so help counteract acidity in the body and over-acidity in diet which is a well-spread issue nowadays. Long term acidic environments are damaging to the cells structure & function and to the human tissues which causes health problems.

Some of the benefits of lemon water first thing in the morning are:

– fighting bad cholesterol

– relieving abdominal colic pain & gastritis pain due to indigestion

– reducing mucus

– helping with weight loss

– detoxifying (reducing ama) and alkalising

– boosting immunity

– glowing skin

– generally supporting to the digestive system, it improves digestive enzymes

There are multiple ways to use lemons particularly as a salad sauce mixed with herbs. Here is a side-dish recipe from “Eat, Taste, Heal” which can’t fail to give you some zing and takes absolutely no time to rustle up:

” Steamed Kale with Lemon and Dill Butter

Ingredients

3 to 4 cups chopped curly or flat kale leaves

1/3 cup organic unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or fennel leaves

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1) Bring about 1 inch of water to a boil in the bottom half of a steamer or in a saucepan with a steamer insert. Put the kale in the steamer, cover, and cook until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes

2) Put the butter, dill, lemon juice and a lemon zest in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper

3) To serve, spoon a dollop of butter on each serving of kale

Vatas can add thyme or rosemary; and Kaphas could replace the butter with safflower oil, and the dill with thyme or rosemary. The Kapha version is dairy-free and gluten-free.”

If you liked this post, join the tribe and leave me your email address to receive weekly inspiration and calls to action. And in return I’m delighted to announce that you’ll get a copy of my freshly pressed free new guide: “The How-To Of Food Shopping, My Top 10 Tips” (and you’ll recognise Lorien’s lemony picture in the background again).

 

The Art of Eating Well

image“The quality of digestion is a major factor in promoting vital biological energy” Deepak Chopra

A few weeks in and I’m really laying out my panoply of Ayurvedic instruments already.

Healthy digestion is the foundation of healthy bodily tissues. From proper food assimilation and the elimination of toxic impurities the layers of our body are built one on top of the other – plasma, red blood cells, muscles, fat tissues, bones and cartilage, marrow, nerve tissue, connective tissue, reproductive tissues.

Not only that but on a more basic level supporting healthy digestion means freeing tons of energy otherwise mobilised in over-work.

So this week I want to focus on your digestion again and offer a few simple suggestions for looking after it day-in day-out. How you eat is nearly as important as what you eat.

1) Eat in a calm & quiet setting. This might surprise you but experts in my field reckon this is one of the most important principles for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Make sure to create a harmonious environment around your meals. Turn the TV off. Try and make an attractive table even. Put your attention fully on eating and the flavours of your meal to support your digestive system and extract the intelligence from the food. If your awareness is distracted your power of digestion weakens.

2) Take your meals at regular set times every day, your system will get used to the routine and digestion will automatically improve.

3) Always sit down to eat and try and sit upright even if snacking. You will digest more thoroughly, firstly because it helps relax your digestive track and again as a result of your awareness being fully engaged. Focus on the taste, sight and aromas of the meal.

4) Don’t eat when you’re anxious, upset or disturbed in any way. Just pause and resume eating when you are calmer and fully present with it. Eating when you’re emotionally upset can trigger IBS and related symptoms. If under stress try closing your eyes for a brief moment and noticing where uncomfortable physical sensations might sit in your body. Fully experience the sensation and it should pass. When you open your eyes you might notice your emotions have lifted too.

5) Don’t overeat or you won’t leave enough space for your stomach to function properly. Eat to three-fourth of your capacity or in other words only until you get to a point of comfortable satisfaction. This leaves space for digestive enzymes to function effectively and for the food to be fully metabolised.

6) Avoid ice-cold foods and drinks which quite literally freeze the digestive fire and are a known culprit in the accumulation of ama, toxic residue clogging the system instead of being eliminated through the digestive process.

7) Don’t talk while chewing your food, you’ll avoid swallowing too much air and diluting your attention.

8) Eat at a moderate pace, eating too fast makes good digestion difficult. Take time to chew thoroughly.

9) Don’t stack your meals, that is don’t eat anything until you have fully digested your last meal. It’s the principle of adding cold water to a dish cooking at boiling point. The cold water will slow down the cooking process. Only eating when you’re hungry is a good sign that digestion is complete. Fruits are the best snacks inbetween meals, being light and easily digested.

10) Sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal to allow digestion to begin and avoid a nervous stomach.

Changing habits is a big deal and you don’t want to feel so overwhelmed that you don’t follow through so may be start with the suggestions that seem the easiest for you. You may think these take some excitement out of your life but you’ll reap huge benefits for your digestion and energy levels if you try them out.

As always I’d be delighted to hear how you get on.

P.S.

I realise I’ve been lashing out tons of resources and other blogs, professionals, inspiring peeps for you to look at and probably spilling out but I can’t help share this delightful post from Dillon at Oh Holy Basil about chocolate pie and Diwali, total bliss right there. Dillon has put into words exactly my thoughts about The Festival Of Lights and Oh Boy, that chocolate pie recipe!!!

Get it here http://www.ohholybasil.com/salted-chocolate-avocado-pie-in-a-hazelnut-crust-a-festival-of-light/

Time to cleanse

I’m lucky enough to have extended my summer by a couple of sunny weeks in the South of France but I’m quite aware that after a most glorious summer, Autumn has been knocking at our door early in the UK and other parts of Europe. The change of seasons are taken very seriously in Ayurveda and especially so the turn from summer to autumn and from winter to spring. The subtle and not so subtle changes in our environments are said to have a profound impact on our bodies and temperaments and I must say that I wasn’t surprised when I first learned of this, it explained a lot of my sluggishness, low mood and the small ailments I seemed to face come the cooler and airy months.

Just as you should follow a pitta soothing diet and lifestyle during the summer or “pitta season” and follow each season’s best practises to support optimum health and well being; it is also important to support the mind-body system with special routines during the change of the seasons.

This is best done with cleansing and detoxing the body, ridding it of toxins (Ama) and rebooting your metabolism (Agni). A better definition for Ama is any food or substance that the body has not fully digested or absorbed and is left clogging the system. Agni refers to our internal fire, our digestive system, the ability for our mind and body to absorb and transform what it ingests into what we become – we are quite literally what we eat and digestion is probably “the” cornerstone of Ayurveda. Good digestion is considered absolutely essential to good health and most illnesses can be tracked back to poor digestion, poor care of our digestion or poor quality food.

You will benefit from detoxing the most if you’re feeling heavy, are congested, suffer from seasonal depression, allergies, skin problems or a generic feeling of cloudiness and blah. A good detox programme will have a period of preparation, say a week, followed by a week of detox proper then a week of rehabilitation where you start reintroducing some of the foods you’d excluded on the cleanse. This is the period of healthy nourishment after the purge.

The ideal time to start such a programme is around the mid-October (I am giving you an early heads up) as you are likely to still feel the impact of accumulated summer heat in the body and environment in the earlier autumn period which you should balance with cooling foods.

A good detox will also provide a schedule of activities and advice about exercise and your overall day’s routine rather than just tell you what to eat. But for today I just want to offer you a couple of simple methods you could use if you’re strapped for time.

If you have just one day I would suggest a full day cleanse following a kitchari diet (yes I did say a full day, breakfast, lunch & dinner and obviously no snacking inbetween). Kitchari is a bit of a miracle cure when it comes to detoxing. It’s an Indian recipe based on basmati rice and dhal (mung beans), see the recipe below. It is said to be healing, rekindling for Agni/your metabolism and nourishing for the tissues and immune system. It is easy to digest which means your body will spend less energy on supporting the digestive system and will be able to clear more Ama/toxins/residues. Kitchari is alkaline, the herbs (coriander, fennel, cumin, turmeric and ginger) make it anti-inflammatory and blood cleansing. It is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids and will sustain you and curb cravings.

Kitchari is balancing for all the doshas. Vata types and most Pitta types will find it very nourishing but Kapha’s and healthy Pitta’s may find much benefit from a 1-day detox based on purely ingesting liquid – this meaning that they can take any (healthy) food they would like but in a liquid form. The 1 day liquid diet can be done weekly or whenever you feel a need for cleansing. It will rev’ up your system and help with weight issues.

Give these a try and let me know what you think here.

Ingredients for your kitchari:

Basmati rice, split mung dhal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, fresh ginger, turmeric powder, coconut oil or ghee, natural rock salt, squash, peas or green beans, lime or lemon (all ingredients should ideally be fresh, organic, from a good source, powdered herbs & seeds in good shelf date). You will probably need to buy the dhal from a specialist health food store.

Instructions:

Soak the Dhal overnight

Melt 1tblsp ghee or coconut oil

Add a 1/4 of teaspoon of cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and grated fresh ginger until they slightly roast

Add 2 cups of the beans (dhal) you have soaked overnight and then rinsed

Add 1 cup of rice

Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder and stir

Add 8 cups of boiling water, stir and bring to boil again

Add a pinch of salt

Add squash cut in cubes, peas or green beans volume to taste

Stir regularly

When the rice and beans are cooked through and creamy, turn off the heat & allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime juice to nourish all the 6 tastes.

Eat in a calm, beautiful environment if you can and switch off from all other activities. Enjoy!

(Check out banyanbotanicals.com for a free downloadable detox based on your dosha incl. bi- and tri-doshic advice & an extensive list of the benefits you might notice)