Most of us have experienced a form of indigestion at some point in our lives, and others may experience it chronically from day to day. Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia) refers to a difficulty digesting food. Indigestion is a condition that is often a symptom of another, underlying condition and is associated with various forms of discomfort in the stomach including pain in the upper abdomen.
Conditions that can lead to indigestion include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammation of the stomach (gastritis), peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach cancer. Indigestion is often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, bloating, belching and gas, and heartburn, and can lead to excessive salivation, debility, fainting and delirium.
In Western medicine, patients can be treated medicinally with the administration of aspirin, antacids, anti-flatulents, and proton pump inhibitors (though such methods have been questionable in their effectiveness). Other Western medical practitioners have suggested sufferers modify their lifestyle by eating less, eating slower, refraining from emotionally eating and under the influence of significant stress, refraining from drinking alcohol, and not smoking.
Ayurveda considers digestion to be central to the balance and health of a person’s physical being, and poor digestion can be the root cause of disease. The incidence of indigestion is therefore considered to be not just a source of discomfort and pain, but a stepping stone to more serious and debilitating forms of illness. Ayurveda teaches us that indigestion stems from unhealthy eating habits (like consuming processed foods) and poor lifestyle habits like eating late at night and getting irregular amounts of sleep).
Unlike other diseases that are primarily associated with one doshic imbalance (e.g. The mucus in bronchitis is predominantly associated with the heaviness of Kapha and constipation is predominantly associated with the dryness of Vata), indigestion is associated with all three doshas.
If a person’s symptoms are related to a feeling of abdominal pain and the retention of gas, then he or she likely has the dry and frenetic Vata-based form of indigestion.
If a person’s symptoms are related to burning sensations in the stomach and sour belching, they likely have the heated Pitta-based form of indigestion.
If a person’s symptoms are related to a feeling of nausea and heaviness, they likely have the moist and heavy Kapha-based form of indigestion.
An Ayurvedic practitioner will work with patients to strengthen digestion with the help of an appropriate diet as based on the patient’s constitution, proper lifestyle choices, and certain herbal and other remedies that help to build a strong digestive fire. This fire is what helps to burn toxins and break down food for nutrients and eliminate any waste the body doesn’t need.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. Below are foods to be eaten for each of the three different types of indigestion:
Whole wheat (unbleached)
Rice (white basmati)
Avoid raw and cold foods
Rice (white basmati)
Avoid nuts, lentils, and sour foods
Avoid nuts, seeds, and sweets
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha.Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha.Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods should be avoided in response to whichever type of symptoms manifest in the indigestion:
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Raw and cold foods
Sour foods (like yogurt, sour cream, and pickles)
Sweets and candies
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and buildup from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Standing forward bend
Seated forward bend
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Vata-like indigestion can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, cinnamon, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, or sandalwood oil.
Pitta-like indigestion can be treated with sandalwood, tea tree, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lily, iris, mint, lavender, or lotus oil.
Kapha-like indigestion can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, musk, cedar, frankincense, or myrrh oil.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
For Vata-like indigestion, repeat the syllable “Ram” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
For Pitta-like indigestion, repeat the syllable “Aum” (pronounced ohm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
For Kapha-like indigestion, repeat the syllable “Hoom” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress. Like with the yoga postures above, breathing exercises are likely to be of significant benefit to those who suffer from considerable amounts of stress.
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