So many women in their 40’s to 50’s come to me saying “I’ve always been healthy” or “I’ve been eating a healthy diet” “Something is wrong”.
For some that something wrong or funky is just this general feeling that things are not running as smoothly, or a combination of change in energy levels, complexion changes, strength, immunity and radiance is off.
For others there are tangible symptoms of
- weight gain or loss
Many of the tangible symptoms come on slowly, like that extra pound or two a year. Sometimes it’s a feeling of heaviness after going out for a meal. For some its having constipation after flying somewhere. When these things happen in our youth we usually just blow them off.
Instances of digestive distress become more frequent and more persistent.
Many women start investigating the cause and contribute it to aging or hormones. The “conventional wisdom” of aging and hormonal imbalance is missing the point. Investigating and acting upon subtle and not so subtle body clues in can alleviate the symptoms of both aging and hormonal imbalance.
Ayurvedic Wisdom says these subtle body clues are an opportunity to check your digestion.
Your capacity to digest, assimilate and circulate food is key to health. With health comes the capacity to do most anything in life. Ayurvedic word for the capacity to transform food into healthy body tissue is Agni. The direct translation of the word Agni is Fire. A balanced and appropriate digestive fire is key to health. The condition of your agni (digestive fire) is directly related to your dosha (constitution), season and environment if left untended. If you tend your fire diligently external conditions do not have to affect your digestive fire or agni.
Agni is your digestive fire or capacity. The qualities of agni are dry, sharp, hot.
The agni in you can fluctuate according to how you care for it. Like stoking a fire, sometimes the fire is weak, sometime the fire is high or just right depending on dryness/air, type of fuel and flame.
There are three stages of life according to ayurvedic wisdom.
Your age and time of life is dominated by certain doshas (bioenergetic qualities).
- Kapha (oily, cold, heavy) in Childhood
- Pitta (a little oily, sharp, hot) in Adulthood
- Vata (dry, light, cold) from Midlife on.
The older you get the more Vata qualities of dry, light, cold is applied to your body, life and mind.
In the beginning throughout childhood, Kapha (oily, cold, heavy) dominates (ages 0-25), there is plenty of fuel to feed the digestive fire.
Adulthood (25-50) is when pitta qualities of a little oily, sharp, hot dominate. The fuel from childhood is being used and the digestive flame is strong.
In Vata time, the wisdom years (50+), there is less fuel and the digestive flame diminishes or spurts irregularly.
Changes in Agni, as we age, are the cause of the tangible symptoms like gas, bloating, weight gain, constipation and more.
Hormonal imbalances of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone don’t get into the picture until after the digestive capacity is compromised.
Production of hormones or lack thereof are how the body reacts to a current and historical set of circumstances.
When the qualities of Vata (dry, light, cold) becomes dominant due to the aging process, we need to take notice. A good remedy is to adjust eating habits by reducing vata provoking foods (foods that are dry, light, cold).
“Healthy foods” that worked for you in earlier stages of life may not work now as they can increase vata qualities (dry, light, cold).
Healthy food example
An example of what comes to mind are raw salads.
Raw salads are light, cold and dry and rough. The addition of meat or cheese with the quality of heavy to digest making the food incompatible with the lightness of the raw vegetables. Add fruit to the salad and your enzymes will fire up to digest the fruit first and leave the vegetables for a later time so that they are basically roughage (if we are lucky), it has very little nutritional value as they are not fully digested. So a typical Waldorf Chicken Salad is a recipe of food incompatibility and can become indigestible in later years as yummy as it is.
Throughout our lives we’ve been told to eat salads, they are healthy. But in ayurveda we ask for whom? Do you have a baby digestion? A child’s digestion? An adult digestion? A midlife digestion? An elderly digestion?
Foods such as salads may be healthy for someone who is moist, and hot. However salads for someone who is going into vata time (40ish to 50ish) or has a vata constitution or lives in a vata dominated climate may not be the best choice. Salads can create a digestive environment that creates constipation and gas. That Waldorf Chicken Salad may be eaten occasionally when your digestive fire is strong.
I’m not against salads! Salads are simply a very clear example of how a healthy food can create discomfort. Discomfort is an early stage of possible disease. The sooner digestive discomfort is addressed the easier to maintain health through the wisdom years.
These are three pairs of the main food qualities you want to watch out for when caring for Agni.
The qualities of Agni are dry, sharp, hot, so you want to be sure to keep an eye on these pairs of qualities to support your Agni (digestive capacity).
Hot ⇔ Cold Heavy ⇔ Light Dry ⇔ Oily
Hot Quality of Food
The understanding of the hot quality is that it is both spicy (having a sharp taste) and temperature.
Some foods that contain the quality of hot are:
- Pepper (except bell & sweet)
- Raw Garlic
- Raw Onion
- Tabasco & Hot Sauces
- Hot Soups
Cold QUALITY OF FOOD
Foods that contain the cold quality are often sweet or astringent. Cold is also the temperature of the food.
Some foods that contain the quality of cold are:
- Dairy – Yogurt, Sour Cream
- Iced Drinks
- Raw Vegetables
- Raw Fruit
- Frozen anything
Heavy QUALITY OF FOOD
The meaning of heavy is dense or takes a while to digest. Heavy is a relative term. Protein is heavy but compare beans to nuts to red meat. Each one of these have a slightly different heaviness about them when it comes to digestion.
Some foods that contain the quality of heavy are:
- Sweets (chocolate cake)
- Root vegetables
- Cold Dairy Products
Light QUALITY OF FOOD
Light quality means it is easy and quick to digest. It may also mean light in weight.
Some foods that contain the quality of light are:
- Properly cooked rice
- Leafy greens
- Carbonated Foods
- Popped foods (popcorn0
Dry QUALITY OF FOOD
Dry quality means it absorbs water and contains little or no fats and oils.
Some foods that contain the quality of dry are:
- Rice Cakes
Oily QUALITY OF FOOD
Oily quality means it can retain juiciness and helps in lubrication.
Some foods that contain the quality of oily are:
- Meat (somewhat)
- Vegetable Oils
- Raw Nuts
Managing these qualities according to your age (midlife digestion):
If you are in Kapha time, you want to support growth so you may add foods that have oily, cool, heavy qualities. These are the qualities that promote growth. At this time Agni (digestion, absorption and assimilation) is being trained. Think of this time of life as building a fire, you add kindling make sure there is proper ventilation in the early stages. Later once the fire is established you can add the heavy logs.
At Pitta time, you may enjoy lots of activity, you require lots of energy. You may enjoy the quality of hot but at some point the fire (agni) is too hot so you add cooling foods, this is when salads may be useful.
During midlife and beyond the Vata qualities of dry, light, cold are beginning to dominate and eventually fully dominate. You wants to add oily, heavy yet easy to digest, warming, smooth and stable foods within reason.
Action Steps and Rules to support and maintain midlife Digestion
Rules for Agni Maintenance
- Eat when Hungry
- Don’t Eat when Not Hungry
- Drink when Thirsty
- Don’t drink when hungry
Questions to Ask:
- What qualities of food does my Agni want now?
- Is the food I’m about to eat Hot or Cold?
- Does the food have the quality of Heavy or Light?
- Is the food I’m about to eat Dry or Oily?
If you want to know more about the qualities of tastes and how they affect your body, I’ve prepared a Free Cheat Sheet on the Six Tastes of Ayurveda. Grab yours today. It’s also in the Ayurveda Free Resource Library with other goodies.