Yoga for healthy digestion and appetite

“He whose doshas are in balance, whose appetite is good … whose body, mind and senses remain full of bliss, is called a healthy person.” — Sushrita Samhita, ancient Ayurvedic text

According to Ayurveda, a complete system of natural healing, each of us is made up of a combination of three doshas: vata (air and space), pitta (mostly fire with some water) and kapha (mostly water with some earth). Usually, we’re a combination of two of these, with one dominant. Any imbalance among our doshas causes a state of unhealthiness or disease, so our overall health depends on keeping them balanced. A consultation with an Ayurvedic physician can inform you of your dosha and any imbalances you may have. If you have an imbalance, you may be given specific Ayurvedic dietary and lifestyle guidelines, herbal medicines, plus yoga and meditation practices to help you rebalance.

How your doshas affect your appetite

While an imbalance in your doshas may result in having an unbalanced appetite, an unbalanced appetite is not necessarily indicative of ill-health because the strength and frequency of your appetite are also connected to your doshas. For example, if your dosha is predominantly vata, you naturally have an irregular appetite and digestive system and a tendency to become constipated. If your dosha is predominantly pitta, you regularly experience intense hunger and can’t skip a meal without feeling excessively hungry and irritable. (If you’re with a pitta-type person around midday and they’ve not been fed, watch out!) On the other hand, if your dosha is predominantly kapha, you have mild hunger, slow digestion and a tendency to gain weight easily.

What else affects your appetite?

Your appetite may also be affected by your emotions and your mind. Emotional and mental upsets can reduce your appetite. If you regularly reject food, even when you have an appetite, it may be that emotional factors are getting in the way.

What you eat also has an effect. Eating too many sweet foods can reduce your appetite significantly and is recognised in Ayurveda as a kapha disorder. This can damage your spleen (pancreas), obstruct the flow of energy through your system and reduce your agni (digestive fire). It can eventually lead to obesity, lethargy, heaviness, constipation and vomiting. Continual munching and drinking cold drinks are other habits that may result in low agni and low appetite.

If your agni is weak, partly digested foods form a sticky, toxic substance in your system called ama. This is increased by foods that are sweet, salty or sour in taste. A coated tongue, bad breath, dullness of the senses, depression and unclear thinking can indicate the presence of ama. This accumulation of toxins blocks your body’s inner intelligence and may result in appetite loss.

If ama is accumulating in you, an Ayurvedic practitioner may give you herbs that are light in nature and bitter or pungent in taste. However, prevention is better than cure. To prevent ama forming, here are a few tips:

  • Drink plenty of warm or room-temperature water regularly.
  • Don’t eat late at night.
  • Eat freshly prepared meals (ie eat food within three or four hours of cooking it).
  • Cook with seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid genetically modified foods.

Digestive fire and appetite

Taking care of your digestive system and keeping your agni healthy and strong are two of the most important things you can do to keep your appetite balanced. Not only is your agni an incredibly important factor in your health, but the strength of your agni directly affects the quality of your appetite. When digestion is strong, you automatically have a strong and healthy appetite and the agni is able to effectively “cook” and assimilate nutrients and eliminate what it doesn’t need.

To assess the state of your agni, Ayurvedic healer David Frawley recommends looking at the condition of your appetite, digestion and elimination. If your appetite is regular, digestion smooth, elimination regular and, above all, if you have a pleasant breath and no tongue coating, then your agni is functioning at an optimal level.

Because ama and agni are opposite in properties, whenever we increase agni we also reduce ama. Here are some tips for increasing agni:


  • Eat slowly.
  • Eat with full attention on what you’re eating. Ie, avoid being engrossed in television or heavy conversation. These prevent the mind from settling and weaken digestion.
  • Eat according to your digestive capability. Ie, don’t eat unless your stomach is ready for food. Wait between three and six hours after eating a meal. “Even snacks are not so good if you’re still digesting a reasonably sized meal,” says Ayurvedic practitioner, Dr Carr.
  • Eat until you’re comfortably full. Leave room in your stomach for air (about one-eighth).
  • Eat lunch when your digestive fire is high (11am-1pm).
  • Don’t eat heavy foods in the evening.
  • Don’t eat after 7pm.
  • Sip ginger water or ginger tea to help digest food and to clear away undigested residue.
  • Half an hour before a meal, eat a thin slice of fresh ginger sprinkled with lemon juice and salt.
  • Cook with heating spices, eg ginger and black pepper.
  • Take one teaspoon of triphala (Ayurvedic medicine), boil it in a cup of water for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and then drink.


If you regularly overeat — you keep eating even though you’re full or you eat even when you have no appetite — the source of your overeating may be depression, greed, dissatisfaction, worthlessness or an attempt to fill an emotional emptiness or reduce upset. Eating when you don’t have an appetite may cause gastric problems, digestive disorders and obesity. Food is not just nourishment for your body; it’s medicine for your body, mind and spirit and eating too much destroys the healing opportunity that food presents you, creating ill-health.

The right amount of food

While skipping meals and eating too little can leave you feeling lethargic and weak, eating too much diminishes your agni, weakens your digestive system and leaves you feeling dull and unenergetic. Food is the substance through which we bring nature’s intelligence into our bodies. What we eat and how much we eat are both important. So what is the right amount of food?

In India, food is God and is considered sacred. Your hands, when cupped together, form a position referred to in Sanskrit as anjali mudra, or “reverence gesture”. Anjali mudra is also the size of your stomach and indicates what quantity of food your stomach can comfortably hold. When you eat in accordance with your stomach’s capacity, you’re naturally supporting yourself in being healthier and more energetic and vibrant.

While the act of overeating is often connected to a sense of lack, Dr Carr says, “If you have food in your stomach but still have an appetite, it’s a false appetite; it means you’re misreading your body’s signal.” The more of a connection there is between your mind and body, the more likely you are to be in tune with your appetite and to eat the right quantities of food at the right times.

While you may genuinely want to eat healthy foods — such as those that are satwik (pure and wholesome) — you may have a strong appetite for unhealthy foods. If you don’t have an appetite for satwik foods, Dr Carr suggests, “More often it’s due to the system being full of toxins … and that interferes with us reading our body clearly. If our mind, body, or spirit is out of sync, our connection to our body’s inner intelligence goes awry, but as the system becomes clearer we make the right choices and are drawn to things that are more life-supporting.”

If you are drawn to foods that aren’t life-supporting, here are a few tips:

  • When your body wants something unhealthy, rather than suppress the urge, simply have a little to satiate your inclination for it next time.
  • Sip hot water often to detoxify your body.
  • Eat lighter foods and avoid foods that are hard to digest (such as fried foods and pastries).
  • Include the six major tastes in your daily diet: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Each has specific Health effects and including them nourishes and satisfies your system. However, be mindful to select healthy sweet-food options, such as fruit and whole grains instead of white sugar.

An appetite for yoga

Your appetite for yoga has the potential to balance your appetite for food. Yoga means “union”, a union between your physical body, your mind and your spirit. When these are in harmony, balance exists and when balance exists all the different systems in your body work more harmoniously, including your digestive system and your appetite.

The more satwik (pure) your body and mind are, the more you automatically reach for foods that are better for you and tend to eat balanced amounts of food. According to Frawley, we bring our bodies and minds to a satwik state via pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), asana (yoga poses) and diet.

Before I started practising yoga I was drawn to very rich, salty and sweet foods with low nutritional value as well as meat products. The more regularly and consistently I practised yoga the more I began reaching for more satwik foods. It’s not that I never eat chocolate any more, but the unhealthy cravings I had for foods began to subside. I also started eating less than I used to and felt satisfied sooner. Because of the inner sensitivity yoga gives you, the more you practise yoga the better equipped you become to read the signals from your body.

Yoga poses

Certain poses have a more direct effect on your digestive system and appetite, such as forward and backward bends. A flowing sequence of poses such as Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskar, includes lots of forward and backward bending, working every part of your body, inside and out. This movement, when synchronised with your breath, has a positive impact on all the main systems of your body, including your digestive and nervous systems, which are intricately linked. The lunges and forward and backward bending poses especially stimulate the stomach, spleen and liver meridians.

Surya Namaskar, a series of 12 poses, can be used as a warm-up, as part of a yoga routine or as a complete practice in itself. The poses lengthen and strengthen, flex and extend many of the main muscles of the body, distributing the prana (life-force energy) throughout the system.

As you practise this routine, keep your awareness on your breath. Let your breath lead you from one position to the next. The breathing guidelines are in line with the natural inclination of your lungs — breathing in when your lungs expand in a pose and breathing out when your body contracts. Breathe effortlessly and easily, in and out through your nose, moving as gracefully as you can from one position to the next.

Sun Salutations should be done like a slow dance of conscious movement. Once you know the postures, close your eyes and take your awareness inwards. This will help your mind to settle. If you’re not comfortable in any pose, seek out the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher. Make sure you never strain your body, always working at your own capacity.

Remember, a good yogi is not someone who’s flexible in their body, but someone who’s flexible and accepting in their mind, even when the body is stiff and inflexible. And the more flexible your mind is, the easier it becomes for your muscles to relax and let go, bringing physical flexibility in an effortless way. Always practise on an empty stomach, preferably first thing in the morning, ideally when the sun is rising.

Do not practise Surya Namaskar if you have high blood pressure, hernia or coronary artery diseases, or if you have had a stroke. If you have a back problem, consult a medical expert first.

Stand in tadasana, planting your feet firmly on the ground, lengthening your spine. Inhale and bring your hands together in front of your heart in namaste, prayer position (position 1).

Reach up and backwards with your arms as you inhale, bringing your hips slightly forward into hasta uttanasana (position 2).

Fold down to uttanasana, standing forward bend, as you exhale (position 3), bending your knees as much as you need to, especially if your lower back is weak.

Place your hands on the ground, beside your feet, fingertips in line with the tips of your toes. Inhale as you step your right leg back into ashwa sanchalanasana, equestrian pose (position 4), resting your right knee on the ground and keeping your left shin perpendicular to the floor, head looking forward in a neutral position.

Hold your breath as you step your left leg back to meet your right foot, bringing your body into the plank pose, kumbhaka (position 5), hands under the shoulders, arms and legs straight.

As you exhale, draw your hips back as if you are going into Child’s Pose, balasana, and then slide forward into eight-limb posture, astanga asana (position 6), lifting your hips off the ground and keeping a curvature in your lower back.

As you inhale, come up into cobra pose, bhujangasana (position 7), keeping your elbows bent, chin slightly lifted.

On your next exhalation, move into adho mukha svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog (position 8), gently pressing your heels towards the ground.

Step your right leg forward as you inhale into position 9 (same as position 4) and then, as you exhale, step your left leg forward, moving into uttanasana once again, position 10 (same as position 3). As you inhale, come up into position 11 (same as position 2) and then lower your arms to the side of your body as you breathe out, standing in tadasana (position 12).

Feel the effects. Notice the flow of prana moving through your body and the state of your mind. You may repeat this again, this time stepping the left leg back when you move into position 4 and the left leg forward when you move into position 9. Completing both sides is one round. Complete up to six rounds initially, gradually building up to 10 rounds a day, but don’t to strain your body. Work at your own pace. On completion, rest for 5–10 minutes in savasana.


The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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