There are so many edible delights on offer over Christmas that it is hard not to over-indulge and accumulate Ama, the toxic waste-product of incomplete digestion.
Festive meals and an abundance of tempting sweets can lead you to over-eat and snack at irregular times, and promote the build-up of Ama. If this process is left unchecked, your body can becomes clogged up and your immune system weakened.
The first symptoms of this culprit called Ama will be lethargy, lack of energy and lack of appetite. Stiffness of joints, respiratory issues, allergen reactions, occasional constipation or weight gain can also be experienced.
So, what is the Ayurvedic solution for conquering Christmas-time Ama? Keep the digestive fire, called Agni, burning!
Over-indulgence in all those rich Christmas treats will overwhelm your digestive Agni. When that precious fire, which breaks down food to nourish cells and which purifies metabolic waste, gets weakened, so does the rest of your body.
When Agni is strong your body is able to digest food efficiently without creating toxins. The point is to “avert the danger yet to come,” and avoid creating the seeds of future illness.
How do you keep your Agni strong and avoid building up Ama? The following tips will help:
1. Eat your main meal at midday
Christmas lunches can be lavish affairs that take a lot of preparation, and it is often mid-afternoon by the time the meal starts and late-afternoon by the time it finishes. According to the natural laws of your digestive cycle, Agni is at its highest, and you are more able to digest rich, high-nutrient food, at midday. So try and schedule your Christmas lunch between 12 noon and 2pm.
When it comes to the evening, a big meal will not only tax your digestive system but can disrupt your sleep. Avoid discomfort and lack of good quality sleep, by eating a light easily-digested supper at least three hours before going to bed.
2. Keep your meal-times regular
Avoid skipping meals, as this can disrupt and weaken your Agni. Your body loves regularity and eating three times a day, around the same time, will keep your digestive fire well balanced.
To keep Ama-free and healthy there is one tip you should always follow – only eat when you are genuinely hungry. Hunger is the signal that the previous meal has been completely processed by the numerous Agnis in your body.
For all the digestive Agnis to do their work, a large meal can take 5 hours or more and a smaller meal can take at least 3 hours. Eating before this process has finished disrupts Agni and the partially processed food that remains becomes Ama. In turn, Ama clogs up the tissues and the fine channels that provide cells with nutrients and that aid in the removal of metabolic waste.
An afternoon snack can be fine as long as it is small and light, such as a piece of fresh fruit or a soaked nut.
The main thing is to listen to your body. Are you really, truly hungry for that snack or meal, or are you just eating out of habit and compulsion.
3. Stop eating before you are full
As there are often so many gastronomical delights on offer over Christmas, the advice in the line above may be hard to follow at times. But it is very important that you always eat according to your hunger level.
The Ayurvedic rule is to leave 25% of your stomach empty at the end of a meal – you should feel satisfied but not completely full. This allows room for the digestive acids and enzymes to do their work.
Again it’s a matter of listening to your body. When there is animated conversation, intoxicating wine, and many tastes and smells to tempt the senses, you can often ignore your body-signals and end up feeling bloated and sleepy.
Eat slowly, take smaller portions and avoid seconds. When you eat slowly and quietly, it is easier to tell when you have reached the point of satisfaction. Even the freshest organic foods will create Ama when eaten in excess.
4. Use herbal digestive aids
So, occasionally you break the above rules – it happens, especially over Christmas. You can use nature’s intelligence to support your Agni, in the form of spices and herbs. To give your digestive fire some help:
- drink warm or hot water between meals (not immediately before or after meals, though sipping warm or hot water during meals is recommended)
- drink ginger or cumin tea 30 minutes before eating, or with your meal
- as a digestive stimulant before a meal, eat a thin slice of fresh ginger with a little lemon juice, honey and a pinch of salt
- before eating, take the Maharishi AyurVeda preparation Trikatu with Clove (MA99) to help stimulate Agni. This formula also helps the digestion to cope when taken after a heavy meal
- take one or two Herbal Digest (MA927) tablets as an appetiser before food. When taken after meals, this formula helps balance digestion and reduces gas production.
If you have over-indulged and have created Ama, Maharishi AyurVeda’s best herbal remedy for removing excess Ama is Triphala Rose (MA505). Besides helping you detox, Triphala Rose helps in the efficient absorption of nutrients and in restoring health, energy and immunity.
5. Avoid Agni-destroying foods and drinks
Some say that certain foods taste better the next day, but Maharishi AyurVeda does not recommend eating leftovers — not even left-over turkey. Most cooked foods oxidise over time and previously cooked food is said to produce Tamas or dullness in the mind and Ama in the body. Freshly-prepared food is easier to digest and contains more Prana, or life force.
Other items that diminish Agni and contribute to the accumulation of Ama:
- heavy, deep-fried foods are hard to digest
- foods eaten cold from the fridge – they fill your digestive tract with their cold quality and dilute your Agni fire
- ice-cream is cold, sweet, heavy and oily and therefore very taxing for the digestion
- iced drinks with meals is killing to Agni – it’s like throwing cold water onto a fire.
6. Watch out for those sweets
When energy levels are low, its tempting to snack on those chocolates, biscuits, cakes or sweets that seem to be so abundant over Christmas. Although this self-medicating energy boost can be very tempting, a bit of moderation can save you from dampening your digestion, creating Ama and gaining weight.
Most shop-bought confectionary contains high levels of sugar and usually sugar of the worst kind – highly refined sucrose that, though it can give you instant energy, eventually diminishes your body’s ability to effectively metabolise food into energy. The result is an energy crash. Shop-bought confectionary can often contain artificial ingredients that your body will not recognise as food and which will turn into Ama.
If you have a sweet tooth, try creating your own homemade cakes and sweets. Making your own allows you to use un-refined organic ingredients, such as coconut sugar – a more complex carbohydrate that releases its energy slowly and offers many useful nutrients.
7. Enjoy all six tastes in your meals
Of course, one can’t live on sweets alone! Ayurveda identifies six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent, and recommends we try and have all six in every meal. The relative proportion we need of each taste will vary from person to person, according to their Doshic body-type, as well as from season to season.
Having all six tastes in your meals will make you feel more satisfied, as your body will recognise it has had a good range of nutrients. This will ultimately lead to fewer cravings for sweets and between-meal-snacks.
Maharishi AyurVeda Churnas are excellent spice mixes that include all the six tastes. They also have the added bonus of improving digestion:
- Use Vata Aromatic Spice Mix during Vata season (Autumn and early Winter) and if you have a Vata body-type
- Use Pitta Aromatic Spice Mix during Pitta season (Summer) and if you have a Pitta body-type
- Use Kapha Spicy Spice Mix during Kapha (late Winter and Spring) season and if you have a Kapha body-type.
The following delicious teas will also help provide the tastes you need:
- Organic Vata Tea to balance Vata
- Organic Pitta Tea to balance Pitta
- Organic Kapha Tea to balance Kapha.
8. Balanced meals
While making sure you get all six tastes in your meals it is important that they also include a balanced combination of fats, carbohydrates, fibre and protein. If your meals are filled with carbohydrates, your blood sugar will quickly rise and you will become fatigued and lethargic later in the day.
Fats are not the baddies they are often made out to be. Every day, each cell in your body, especially brain cells, needs its supply of healthy fats. And this includes all sorts of fats, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Olive oil, coconut oil and ghee are excellent suppliers of such cell nutrients. Fats also offer far more energy to your body than carbohydrates, but in a slow and controlled way.
From the Ayurvedic viewpoint, by including all six tastes and by varying your diet, you should be able to supply your body with all the nutrients it needs, without having to resort to supplements. Yet, over the decades, modern farming practices, industrial food processes and food storage methods, have greatly diminished the mineral and vitamin content of the food found on supermarket shelves. So, as much as you can, source your food for local organic suppliers to ensure greater nutritional content.
9. Exercise daily
A minimum of thirty minutes daily exercise will not only keep off the extra pounds, but will improve your Agni and burn off Ama. Something as simple as a short walk after a meal is a great way to aid digestion and help the detox process.
Yoga asanas stretch your body this way and that and exercise muscles, joints and tendons in a way that other exercise routines rarely do. They are also an ideal way of increasing Prana, balancing both mind and body, aiding digestion and removing Ama.
If you have followed all the Ayurvedic guidelines – only eating when you are hungry, not-over-eating, not snacking between meals, getting all the six tastes in your meals and exercising daily – by now you will be totally free of Ama and have a well-balanced Agni. You be feeling as fit as a fiddle and will not need to read this section.
But just in case you have strayed from the straight and narrow, and have gathered some Ama along the way, fasting is a quick fix.
Studies done on regular light fasting have shown that it extends life and brings numerous health benefits. It has also been practiced by almost every culture, for religious, spiritual and health reasons.
Many Ayurvedic practitioners recommend a light fast for one day per week, though it can be done any time you feel you have over-indulged, have a low appetite and feel clogged up with Ama.
This one-day fast can be very simple – just a matter of skipping breakfast and eating a light vegetable soup for lunch and supper. Try this for one day and the next day you will be amazed by how much your appetite has improved.
A short fast allows the digestive fire to recover its strength. It also gives your Agni the time to do its other job – burning away and removing any Ama that has accumulated in your cells and body channels.
Always drink plenty of warm or hot water on fasting days, as this helps in the effective removal of Ama.
11. Panchakarma detox therapy
Because they recognised that despite all the health advice we can still build up toxic Ama over time, the ancient Rishis (seers) of Ayurveda created a series of detoxification processes called Panchakarma, designed to remove the seeds of disease before they develop.
Panchakarma means five actions (pancha = five; karma = action) or broad groups of purification procedures. The individual therapies developed by the Rishis systematically build on and complement each other. The aim is to achieve a long-term and extremely profound purification of the body by eliminating toxins and other harmful substances. These toxins have accumulated as a result of improper food, lifestyle, environmental toxins and stress.
Our Maharishi AyurVeda Health Centre in Skelmersdale has over 30 years of experience and has treated thousands of people with Panchakarma. Come to our well established clinic in rural Lancashire and enjoy a wide range of Panchakarma treatments to restore your health and improve your energy levels and your zest for life.