by Monica Yearwood
The formulation of our entire body begins in our digestion. Digestion includes what we eat, how we eat it, and what we eliminate. We do not just eat food, we consume through all of our senses (taste, touch, smell, sight). Proper digestion refers to our ability to extract the nutrient from what we consume, and effectively excrete its mala (waste). When a mala is not excreted properly, malformed, or irregular, we can infer that that our digestion is not functioning optimally. A mala is the memory of our tissues. It tells the journey that was made as it moved through our body, and births the evidence that we can look at and learn from. When we observe a mala, we can learn more about the tissues that produced it, and our body’s deeper level functioning from an ayurvedic perspective.
Three of the most important malas, called ahara malas, are easy for all people to observe and include our purisha (feces), mutra (urine) and sweda (sweat). Observing their elimination from our body indicates our current digestive capacity, and toxicity levels that are paramount for staving off illness.
Purisha (stool) is perhaps the most obvious indicator of our digestive strength and toxic loads. Agni, meaning spark, is the process of assimilating nutrients and breaking down wastes that is part of all digestive and metabolic processes. There are several variants of agni that correspond to the metabolic fire inherent in each of the body’s tissues, as well as in digestion, and the mind. When agni is not functioning, ama (toxins) begin to accrue that instigate numerous disease processes, and nutrient accessibility diminishes. As long as agni is functioning properly in the body, there is usually protection against toxic overload and systemic weakening. It is the strength of our agni that assists us in the correct utilization of the nutrients we can extract from what we consume, and properly excrete its mala. The mala is the tissues vital memory. We can see the state of our agni by the mala, or memory, the body produces.
Ayureda describes four varieties of agni, which are often associated with the appearance of purisha. Imbalances are caused by abnormalities in agni function.
Vishamagni (irregular): is most common in vata types who are easily disturbed by anxiety and/or nervous tension. It manifests as irregular appetite, bloating after eating, constipation, cramps, dry stool and gas. The fluctuation of digestion leads to the production of ama (toxins).
To regulate vishamagni: Eat a simple diet of healthy and easy to digest foods (grains, steamed vegetables, and warm spices). Eat at regular times every day. Work to regulate anxiety or stress.
Conditions: Autoimmune disease, anxiety, arthritis, belching, bloating, breathing difficulty, constipation, degeneration, diarrhea, gas, malabsorption, multiple food allergies, sleep apnea, systemic ama.
Bowels: dry, hard, diarrhea that vacillates with constipation or absence of movement, fats are visible from low functioning liver/gallbladder, which can be mistaken for mucus.
Mandagni (slow): Those with low agni cannot healthfully digest even the smallest amounts of food properly. Inadequate agni will inevitably create ama often associated with Kapha dosha, and is associated with slow digestion, weak hunger, a feeling of heaviness following meals, sluggish bowels and sticky stools. There are usually cravings for stimulants and sweets with weight gain. This type of digestive imbalance is compiled by toxins that build in the chyle during digestion, and are transported through the body via the thoracic duct. The distribution of toxins leads to contamination of all the body’s tissues. It clogs the channels of the body, leads to deeper toxicity, inability to lose weight and further compromised digestion.
To regulate Mandagni: Detoxification programs are strongly indicated. Fasting programs, diaphoretic herbs, and a light diet that favors pungent spices increases agni and destroys ama (toxins).
Conditions: hypothyroidism, fatigue after eating, craving sweets and sugar, oozing eczema, cysts, masses, growths, dairy and wheat allergies.
Bowels: Mucus in bowel movement is visible, feels incomplete, formless, heavy, slow.
Tikshna (high agni): Is common in Pitta types who experience intense hunger with quick digestion. Excess pitta causes nutrients to move quickly through the small intestine, and the person always we feels hungry. Consequently many nutrients are not absorbed by the small intestine, and loose stools result. Lack of nutrient absorption can cause deficiencies and systemic inflammation.
Symptoms include: diarrhea, colitis, ulcers, acid indigestion, dryness in the mouth or skin with irritability and burning sensations.
To regulate high agni: Avoid pungent spices such as garlic, onion and cayenne. Eat a simple fresh diet of grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits. Use cooling herbs and spices such as burdock root, dandelion roots and greens, and coriander.
Conditions: anger, burning conditions through the skin, diarrhea, fast digestion, hemorrhoids, hyperthyroidism, hypersensitive immune system reactions, inflammation, diarrhea.
Bowels: constipation with skinny and snake-like movements, burning, formless, diarrhea, broken, green from excess bile.
Samagni (balanced agni): Indicates a balanced digestive tract. This will be experienced as normal hunger without intense craving. There are regular and daily bowel movements. Food is digested within four to six hours. When digestion is strong and regular, we should have one solid bowel movement per day. Pitta types will have two or three bowel movements per day. A health stool is 6-12 inches in length, well shaped and brown in color. The stool should be free of odor and leave the body easily. When transit time is slow, toxins that would normally leave the body are reabsorbed into the system.
Conditions: None, digestion is regular. Each constitutional type has one bowel movement or more each day. There is no craving, and one feels fulfilled and satisfied.
Ayurveda teaches that nearly all disease comes from inadequate digestion. Everything that we are in this moment is the culmination of what we have digested. The foods that we have eaten have become a part of our hair, skin and nails. Our emotional processes leave their stories in our bones, muscles, and fluids. Digestion is the epicenter of our immune system, and primary door way through which all nutrients and pathogens enter. Proper functioning digestion influences all states of health, contributes to disease, and can be a powerful catalyst in disease reversal. The accumulation, or faulty elimination of, any of our malas indicates a disturbance to our body’s digestive capacity and toxic load. By observing the ahara malas purisha (stool), mutra (urine), sweda (sweat)), we can come to understand the strength of our current digestive capacity.