Get to know your gut

What is your digestive type? Understand your digestion better and improve your health with this fundamental wisdom from Ayurveda. By Julia Clarke

We’ve all heard the adage that you are what you eat, but according to yoga’s holistic sister science Ayurveda, when it comes to your health it’s how well you digest your food and not just the contents of your fridge that count.

Think back to your last dinner party. Chances are everyone around the table ate the same meal, but you probably didn’t all have the same experience. Some guests might have become full very quickly and perhaps couldn’t finish their meal, while others were probably licking their plates and going back for seconds. After dinner, some might have felt drowsy and others might have been surreptitiously reaching for the antacids. Though it’s easy to blame the chef for how you feel during and after a meal, Ayurveda maintains that your unique digestive type is more likely the real culprit.

In the simplest terms possible, digestion is the process of breaking down large molecules of food into smaller, water-soluble molecules that can be absorbed into your blood plasma and carried to your organs for energy and growth. In Ayurvedic science, digestion is called agni (meaning ‘digestive fire’) and it is seen as the key to both health and disease. If your physiology were a complex machine running on the ‘fuel’ you put in it, the functioning of the whole system would come down to how well the furnace at the centre is working.

If the fire is burning too dimly, you might not be generating enough heat energy to break down your food into usable parts, but if it’s burning too hot, the whole system could melt down.

The three distinct digestive tendencies outlined in the ancient Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita helpfully explain why you feel the way you do during and after your meals. Some of us tend towards a slow or sluggish digestion which can lead to feelings of fullness, nausea, fatigue and low appetite. At the other end of the spectrum, those of us with an especially sharp appetite might exhibit bouts of ‘hanger’ even shortly after eating a large meal and may suffer from heartburn and diarrhoea. Then there are the folks who swing between those two extremes, exhibiting a markedly irregular digestion which can express any of the above symptoms alongside gas, bloating and constipation.

The good news is that understanding your digestive type arms you with knowledge of what foods wreak havoc on your system, and which foods to prefer to sidestep digestive discomfort once and for all. According to Ayurveda, a balanced digestion (sama agni) is one that is neither too sharp nor too sluggish and presents as good appetite, good energy, and feeling good during and after meals. Best of all, with a few tweaks, it is within reach for all of us.

people, healthcare and problem concept - unhappy man suffering from stomach ache at home

Manda Agni (slow digestion)
Does your physiology take a relaxed attitude to digestion? If you tend towards slow digestion, you’ll be familiar with feelings of fullness and sleepiness long after even a small meal and unwanted weight gain despite your best efforts. While your energy is generally good, you might tend towards laziness. This digestive type is aggravated by cold foods like ice cream and heavy foods such as cheese, pasta, potatoes and large amounts of meat which smother an already dim digestive fire and can lead to bloating, nausea and mucus production. Kindle your digestive fire with small portions and focus on warm foods like steamed leafy greens, barley instead of rice, and lentils in place of animal protein. Cooking is considered pre-digestion in Ayurveda so help your gut by doing half the work up front and feel free to load up on digestive spices like black pepper, mustard and ginger.

Tikshna Agni (sharp digestion)
It’s been said that you should never get in between a person with tikshna agni and their next meal. If your friends tend to give you a wide berth when you’re hungry, it’s probably because of your strong appetite and quick digestion which can leave you a little short tempered. Though being able to eat a lot without gaining weight sounds like a dream come true for many, this type of digestion can be accelerated by too many hot chillies and sour, acidic foods like alcohol, vinegar, pickles and fried foods that produce symptoms like diarrhoea, hyperacidity and acid reflux. You probably quite like intense foods which make the problem worse, so instead of going for it and relying on antacids to recover, stick to sweet, juicy fruits like melon and mango, green vegetables, fresh dairy, all whole grains and plenty of lean protein to keep you fuelled throughout the day.

And remember: plan ahead so you’re not floundering for food when hunger hits.

Vishama Agni (irregular digestion)
Does your hunger and diet change like the wind? This digestive type tends towards variability in hunger, digestive speed and energy levels. You’re probably no stranger to symptoms such as unwanted weight loss, gas, bloating, belching, constipation and abdominal pain and your digestion s aggravated by eating cold, raw and dry foods and an erratic schedule. To keep your digestive pattern in check, a regular meal and lifestyle schedule is key. Focus on warm, cooked meals with plenty of moist vegetables like squashes, nourishing whole grains and digestive spices like cumin, ginger and turmeric. Since your digestion can be temperamental, easy-to-digest meals like vegetable soups are your best friend.

Julia Clarke, E-RYT 500, is a writer, Ayurvedic practitioner and university teacher. She is the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners and teaches graduate studies at Maharishi International University. Visit:

Ginger and lemon in bowl with turmeric ready for healthy beverage preparation

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