“It’s Not What You Eat, It’s What You Digest” – Ayurvedic Keys to Healthy Digestion

Ayurveda has been made popular in the US over the past twenty years by high profile celebrity physicians like Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. John Douillard. However, these have gained their knowledge of Ayurveda from a handful of leading Ayurvedic physicians, or vaidyas, who have spent most of their lives studying and practicing these ancient healing methods.

Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar is one of these unsung leaders in the North American Ayurvedic community. He’s a classically trained Ayurvedic physician and one of several accomplished Ayurvedic physicians in the US, originally brought to the U.S. by TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1980s.

In this interview, Dr. Kshirsagar explains the Ayurvedic approach to prevention, health, and longevity. As a clinician who has treated more than fifteen thousand clients, Dr. Kshirsagar has plenty of experience with the benefits and effects of Ayurveda.  Dr. Kshirsagar serves as lead faculty at several Ayurvedic institutes worldwide and he is a featured presenter with many prestigious organizations.

Q: How does the Ayurvedic approach to health and prevention differ from Western medicine?

Suhas Kshirsagar: The principles of Ayurvedic prevention, or Swastavritta, ask, how do we learn to promote our health by maintaining a kind of a balance? How can we learn kind of a self-diagnostic tool to find out and ascertain things to ourselves? How do the diseases become more prevalent in a system and how can you nip it in the bud by preventing the imbalance to go to the next level?

The changes of the seasons, the changes in the Doshas, and the six different stages of the disease formation have to be taken into consideration. Ayurveda looks at how the disease gets accumulated and aggravated, how it gets localized in certain parts of the body and perhaps creates an organic disease. Disease may start at the functional level and soon it will have a structural manifestation. Many times, at that level, it might become irreversible at times.

In the Ayurvedic framework, digestive health is the core basis of everything. So you should be eating the right kinds of foods. You should be eating at the right time of the day in smaller portions, respecting your body type and body constitution. There’s a wonderful Ayurvedic saying, “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest that’s important.”

Q: In a sense, the Ayurvedic understanding of what we ingest doesn’t just apply to the food we eat. It applies to the whole field of experience that we have to pay attention. We ingest our experiences, just we ingest the food we eat and it has an effect on our overall health. Is that a correct way of putting it?

Suhas Kshirsagar: Yes, we ingest from every field of perception, from every mode of intellect. All of our sensory experiences, the movies we watch, the books we read, the arguments we hear, the stresses we have at the workplace, our wants and the desires – all of these become part of our core being. The real prevention, I think, happens by paying attention to what we do and slowly making the right kind of efforts to mindfully change those things.

Prevention is not popping some vitamin pills so that you’re preventing diseases. Prevention is the collective effort that you put on to your own everyday living twenty-four/seven in order to prevent the onslaught of diseases. The Ayurvedic path to prevention involves improving the functioning of digestion because if you eat good, organic, healthy meals and you don’t digest it, you still create Ama.

Q: Could you please explain the Ayurvedic concept of Ama?

Suhas Kshirsagar: Ama is residual digestive impurities. Ama tends to make you feel dull, heavy, sluggish, and groggy at times. That’s the beginning of accumulated toxicity which starts throwing kind of a wrench in the functioning of the physiology. It accumulates cellular debris. If we learn how to re-spark or re-ignite our digestive fire and get rid of these accumulated digestive impurities, then the detoxification, cleanses, and all the things that we will do to balance ourselves is actually very important.

Q: I think that concept of removing Ama, rekindling your fire and being mindful of what you ingest is exactly where Ayurveda differs from Western approach to prevention. The key is creating a healthy vibrancy, not just avoiding disease. Ayurveda seems to be a way of staying youthful, having that zestful life.

Suhas Kshirsagar: Exactly. Eighty percent of all chronic diseases are lifestyle diseases. Lifestyle medicine is a new area of preventive medicine. Things like heart disease can be prevented, even reversed, by simple changes in diet, exercise, and stress management.

What we have also learned is the new, emerging science in medicine is that personalized treatment which identifies genetic and metabolic difference is effective. From there, drugs, treatment programs, and therapies are prescribed. This is new cutting edge medicine – Ayurveda is exactly the same.

This new field has a fancy name, Nutrigenomics, but it’s basically the study of identifying or understanding how food or nutrients can influence the expression of genes in our body. We talk a lot about this from Ayurvedic literature because there’s a lot of scientific verification of the ancient Ayurvedic principle that food is medicine. It’s everything, what you take in is going to make your genes turn on or turn off.

Dr. Khsirsagar leads an Ayurvedic Clinic offering diet and lifestyle consultations, Vedic counseling, medical dietology, and herbal medicine. He is a rare recipient of a gold medal from the prestigious Pune University in India, a leading school of Ayurveda.

For more information, see his course on YogaUOnline on Ayurveda, Digestion and Detoxification – Keys to Lifelong Health here.

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