My own experience of Ayurveda comes from being with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as he re-enlivened this ancient science of health. For over a quarter of a century, Maharishi worked closely with the greatest Indian Ayurveda experts, along with modern medical doctors from all over the world. The most senior experts were Dr. Brihaspati Dev Triguna, the recognized master of pulse diagnosis, Dr. Balraj Maharishi, one of the leaders in Dravyaguna, the knowledge of medicinal plants and their medical uses, and much revered Dr. V.M. Dwivedi, who possessed the ancient knowledge of rasayanas, which are herbal and mineral preparations used to prolong life. One of Maharishi’s greatest contributions to the world was to revive powerful techniques for the development of consciousness. The result of his years of intense focus is a new and complete body of Ayurvedic knowledge, which is known as Maharishi Ayurveda.
Two of the most effective steps that Maharishi Ayurveda uses to restore the gut are the elimination of ama and the rekindling of agni. In modern terms, ama can be defined as undigested food or a foreign substance or toxin that gets into the body. From the perspective of Western medicine, the word toxin refers to chemical poisons, harmful bacteria, dangerous waste, and pesticides, which are life-threatening and require hospitalization. In Ayurveda, however, the presence of ama does not constitute a medical emergency. Although ama may not be immediately dangerous, if it is allowed to accumulate in the body, it will eventually lead to chronic and ultimately life-threatening disease.
Agni is the digestive power of our gut and includes the metabolic processes that take place in every tissue of the body. If agni is powerful, then our metabolism is powerful and our immune system strong. If our agni is weak, our digestion is weak and ama accumulates. When we are not overwhelming our body with food (especially the wrong kinds of food) whatever ama may be present can be naturally digested and our gut is able to spontaneous reboot itself in a process of detoxification. In Ayurveda, the rekindling of agni is called deepana, while the elimination of ama is called pachana.
How can you tell if you have excess ama? Is your tongue coated in the morning? Are your joints stiff? Do you feel dull and sleepy after eating? Is your mind sometimes foggy? Other symptoms include lowered immunity with frequent colds or flu, constipation, or diarrhea.
Western medicine is beginning to grasp what Ayurveda has known for millennia, that the state of our gut is the key to health. New information about the microbiome has completely altered the way science considers the gut and its role in health and disease.
The term “Leaky Gut Syndrome” occurs in hundreds of Internet articles. But what does it really mean? It refers to a range of digestive symptoms, which include heartburn, gas, bloating, cramps, nausea, indigestion, and food sensitivities. Recent articles have appeared in top medical journals using this term, suggesting that everything from Inflammatory Bowel Disorder to Type 1 diabetes is caused by a leaky gut.
How does Leaky Gut Syndrome relate to Ayurveda? Our gut lining is a critical barrier, designed to keep out anything dangerous to the body. Digested food particles are meant to be transported across the membrane of the cells lining the gut wall through highly selective “gates.” In a leaky gut, the tight junctions that hold the cells of the gut wall together become loose, with the result that undigested food and harmful substances “leak” through the wall and into our bloodstream, causing damaging inflammation. This is remarkably similar to the concept of ama entering our system and disrupting our physiology.
In our book GUT CRISIS, and on our online course HEAL YOUR GUT, we have developed a diet that helps to detox and eliminate ama, and to regenerate the gut and its digestive power, agni. As part of this diet, we recommend taking daily probiotics (see DocGut’s Probiotics Rating). Studies verify that probiotics can help patients with conditions including Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, constipation, and diarrhea, among others.
Where does Ayurveda fit into the probiotic revolution? Different times require different measures. Ayurveda was created during a period when neither environmental toxins nor antibiotics existed. The challenges we face now, however, make it enormously advantageous to integrate the latest probiotic research with the basic principles of Ayurveda.
One of the biggest weaknesses of most gut repair programs is their lack of knowledge of the individual nature of each digestive system. We are all born with different genetic traits and tendencies, so it is hardly appropriate for everyone to have the same diet. Some people may be lactose intolerant, while others have genes for celiac disease. One person will naturally produce more gas than another, even when they are eating the same food. Some are prone to constipation, others to diarrhea. One individual can skip meals, while another must eat on time to function well.
Nature and nurture are both important. Twins, with exactly the same set of genes, often have quite different types of digestion and metabolism. One twin becomes fat, while the other stays thin. In one, certain genes are turned on, which are not active in the other. The fact that our genes are turned on or off at any given time is what determines the style of functioning of our Gut/Brain network.
For centuries, Ayurveda has recognized that each individual is different and has a different combination of doshas—the fundamental energies or forces that govern our physiology. Pitta people need to eat on time or their gut will send signals to their brain causing irritabity or even anger. Vata people have a variable digestion, and if they go out of balance, they can easily become nervous and constipated. Kapha people have a slower metabolism, and when Kaphas are out of they have a tendency to gain weight.
Modern medicine now understand what Ayurveda has known for centuries:
1. Each person is different and each needs a diet that suits their particular dosha type or Nature.
2. The state of our gut and digestion has a powerful effect on our physical and mental health.
3. Food is medicine.
Wilkins, T et al., Probiotics for Gastrointestinal Conditions: A Summary of Evidence. American Family Physician Aug 2017; 96:3,170-178
Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD and Samantha Wallace, Dharma Publications, 2017
Transcendental Meditation: A Scientist’s Journey to Happiness, Health, and Peace, Adapted and Updated from The Physiology of Consciousness: Part I by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Dharma Publications, 2016