01 Jan Food Intolerance and Ayurveda
As a yoga practitioner and teacher, the old adage, “Health Is Wealth” truly applies to me. Getting sick or even just being tired or lethargic from lack of sleep affects not only my practice and teaching but also the quality of my life in general.
There was even a time, several years ago, when this feeling of unwellness and imbalance followed me like a shadow. It was probably because of all the stress I was going through at that time. Yoga and meditation certainly helped a lot. It was the perfect time to practice what I teach. But somehow, there’s still this heavy feeling I usually get in the morning upon waking up or in the afternoon after a few hours of having lunch.
Because of this, I decided to check if my food intake is possibly affecting my health and then maybe do some adjustments to it. To get more information, I looked into Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, and became very much interested. If yoga asana is the exercise science behind building a fit and strong body, Ayurveda is the “Science of Life” that provides guidance regarding a wide array of health practices including food and lifestyle management.
According to Ayurveda, the base of all health problems start with a weak digestive fire or Agni. If we cannot digest our food well, the toxic, undigested food residue (Ama) builds up gradually in our gut and decay further causing dis-ease.
To digest our food well, we should take time to check where our agni is at. One way of checking is by asking ourselves if there is “real hunger” or not. If there is, then our agni is ready to receive food. If not, then ama will be created no matter what we choose.
Second, we should consciously select healthy food from all the six tastes that Ayurveda recognizes in proportion to what suits our own personal energetic “recipe” or constitution (Prakruti). This is very important because as a result of each taste (including their amount) a food will either increase or decrease our energetic imbalance (Vikruti). This imbalance directly affects our digestive process, creating ama.
Third, if we already eat food that works towards harmonizing our Prakruti and yet still feel off afterwards, it is good to know if we have food intolerance. Food intolerance refers to difficulty in digesting certain food. It is different from food allergy because its symptoms generally take longer to emerge and may persist for several hours or days.
The symptoms I was experiencing points to this. Knowing which food triggers them can take some time and effort. In a typical exclusion diet the suspected food are removed from the diet for a set period, usually between two weeks to a couple of months. They are then reintroduced in a controlled fashion, one by one, on different days, to discover which ones are causing the reaction. It is good to keep a note of symptoms when you avoid certain foods, and which symptoms reappear when these foods are reintroduced. This requires motivation and discipline but can be highly effective. Keeping a food diary can also be useful.
Ultimately, a healthy agni also comes with a healthy appetite for life. Centurions, people who live to be over one hundred years old, say without a doubt that a passion for life has been their secret to longetivity. They are excited about living and see life as one big adventure. Let us remain young at heart so that our body matches our enthusiasm.