Written by Brook McCarthy

ayurveda, healthChoosing what to eat is taken very seriously by many on the yogic path. But the endeavour doesn't stop there. In Ayurveda, the power of your digestion, known as agni or ‘fire', is the most important determinant of your health and longevity. "Whether your body makes good nutrients or toxins, known as ‘ama', from your food depends on the strength of your digestion," says Jacinta McEwen, Byron Yoga Centre Ayurveda teacher trainer.


"Agni is the powerful transformative energy that breaks down and converts food into fuel for our bodies' trillion cells." Good digestion and a healthy metabolism according to Ayurveda, is absolutely essential for a long healthy life.

A well stoked agni fire runs the body efficiently and minimises the build up of ama. A dampened digestive fire, like a camp fire on a rainy day, is not able to burn its fuel (food) completely. It leaves partially-digested food materials and metabolic byproducts to collect in the tissues of the body.

Weak digestive power is also responsible for an overall decline in our digestion as we age. Studies indicate that our ability to digest and absorb nutrients is reduced as we get older, leading to recurrent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. These deficiencies play an important role in chronic health problems which tend to arise in our later years. The western sedentary lifestyle and abundance of processed foods is contributing towards ever-weakening digestion. "The number of younger people I consult for at Mullum Herbals that have vitamin and mineral deficiencies and less-than-optimum digestion suggests that our agni is weakening in people at younger ages than ever before," says Jacinta.

Working as a nurse in Adelaide, Jacinta has recognised ama in ailments termed by modern medicine as illnesses caused by accumulated metabolic wastes – excess cholesterol, free radicals, trans-fatty acids, uric acid and homocysteine, among others. "Atherosclerosis (blockage of the arteries due to disturbances in cholesterol metabolism), gall stones (from sludgy bile), gouty arthritis (due to excess uric acid from faulty protein metabolism), or kidney stones (from the build up of calcium or oxalic acid) are all diseases that result from too much ama," says Jacinta.

According to Ayurvedic theory, it is not just the above mentioned ailments but nearly every chronic disease which involves the accumulation of some form of ama somewhere in the body. The root cause of this is poor digestion and absorption. There are many things you can do to aid your digestion.

Tips to aid digestion


  • Select wholesome foods full of life force and organic if possible.

  • Eat appropriate foods for your constitution and the current climate.

  • Prepare your food in a relaxed and loving way.

  • Digestion begins in the mouth – so chew your food slowly and with presence of mind.

  • Eat in a pleasant, relaxed environment.

  • Do not drink with meals (except a very small amount if eating dry foods) and especially avoid cold drinks with meals.

  • The ideal time to eat your main meal is at noon. The best time for breakfast is before 8 am.

  • It is best to avoid heavy food after sunset. If this is unrealistic, then take the Ayurveda herbal compound triphala beforehand to aid digestion, so that you don't go to bed with undigested food in your stomach. Triphala is especially good before rich, harder to digest meals.

  • Ignite your digestive enzymes by chewing a slice of fresh ginger doused in lemon or lime and/or a little rock salt (though not for those with a Pitta dosha) before meals.

  • Take a quarter to a half teaspoon of triphala powder with ghee, warm water or honey before meals or, if this is too hard, take one to two triphala capsules.

Jacinta is running an Ayurvedic head massage workshop in the Byron Bay hinterland on 28 June (2008). For more info, visit www.ayurvedicwomenshealth.com.