Ayurveda: 3 food combinations that could be affecting your digestive health

Did you realize that it’s not just the food you eat but the combination of food in meals that causes discomfort and a difficult digestion after eating?

So, what are the side effects of improper food combinations? If you’re experiencing bloating, gas, indigestion after eating this could be linked to food combinations that are difficult for your body to digest together.

Why do food combinations matter? Combining foods with different energetics can overwhelm the digestive system and dull your digestive fire (Agni) which is linked to your entire wellbeing.  Ayurveda’s definition of health takes a holistic view where all aspects of our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing are linked. A balanced Agni (digestive fire) is part of a healthy person. If the mind, senses and soul are happy, we will be less likely to make choices that lead toward ill-health.

As well as feeling the side effects of poor digestion, incompatible food combinations can lead to the body generating toxins and undigested food (Ama) which builds in the body. Being aware of food combinations can significantly improve your digestive health, giving you more energy so you can enjoy food and feel great after eating.

Surprisingly it’s common to eat some of these food combinations in Western diet and modern cuisines and they are considered normal foods to eat together.

If this concept is completely new to you, start by just noticing how you feel after eating these food combinations. There are quite a few food combinations to take into account in Ayurveda but I’m going to outline 3 common ones which apply regardless of your dosha.

3 incompatible food combinations:

1.      Beans with cheese – try eating beans with grains, vegetables, and other beans

Beans and cheese are similar in that both tend to be heavy and difficult to digest. To break them down properly they both demand digestive strength. Eating them together results in poor digestion and the accumulation of Ama (toxins).

Other foods to avoid eating with beans: eggs / meat / fish

2.      Fruits with any other food – try eating fruits alone

Fruits are acidic and digest quickly. When fruits are eaten with foods, there is a discrepancy between the amount of time required to digest the fruit versus the other more complex foods. The digestion of the fruit is slowed down by the other food and moves too slowly through the digestive tract leading to gas and bloating

Couple of key combinations to avoid:

Bananas and milk are one of the heaviest food combinations; bananas are heating, and milk is cooling. Bananas become sour as they digest and break down. So now our digestive fire must process this sour substance and milk at the same time. Milk curdles when mixed with sour substances, like lemons for example, and what happens here in the digestive tract isn’t much different.

Fruit and yoghurt aren’t compatible for digestion and in-particular sour fruits mixed with cold yoghurt reduce the digestive fire and can lead to sinus congestion, colds and allergies

3.      Nightshades (peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes) with cheese – try eating with beans, other vegetables and grains

Nightshades and cheese are another taxing combination. Nightshades naturally contain complex compounds called alkaloids as a defense against insects. These compounds can create dramatic chemical reactions in the body which can be mildly to fatally toxic to humans. Nightshades are difficult to digest and have the capacity to disturb the dosha. The food combination with cheese which is already heavy to digest is very demanding on the digestive system. 

Sivananda: The Universal Practice

Sivananda yoga is a practice close to my heart because it was my first self-practice and took me on a big journey of self-growth. Most of my classes now take principles from Sivananda and I’m still very inspired and connected to the practice.

Sivananda is a style of Hatha yoga – single postures in isolation. Swami Sivananda was a doctor in India and he saw a gap in medicine for optimal health, so he created this sequence of 2 pranayama (breathing exercises) followed by 12 poses for the health of the mind and body.

Why is Sivananda yoga a great self-practice?

Sivananda is a set sequence and when beginning a self-practice the body and mind need repetition and familiarity. It helps to create a routine and practice at the same time of the day. You are more likely to see depth in poses and your body responding from repetition. It removes the obstacle and internal dialog of ‘what should I practice today’ so your mind can be introspective. You will notice the days when your mind is quiet and when it is moving, naturally increasing your self-awareness.

The poses are accessible for all levels – and where needed the sequence can be condensed to suit your ability. It’s not an intimidating practice.

Sivananda removes the fluff of other practices and the 12 poses cover the key poses in yoga, if you master these you have a solid foundation of flexibility and strength through the whole body.

The full traditional practice includes chanting and pranayama (breathing techniques). It’s a holistic practice that introduces the concept of yoga beyond just poses. As a beginner the breathing exercises can be simplified and developed over time.

What are the benefits?

Relaxation: There are multiple Savasanas (periods of relaxation), the full sequence should leave you feeling calm and relaxed. Sivananda has moments of exertion where the heart rate increases followed by moments of stillness where you can observe the effects on your body from the poses. It allows us to practice being quiet with ourselves and the discipline of not rushing through the practice.

Improves back flexibility, strength and posture: The specific order of the poses promotes strength and flexibility in the spine. This will improve your posture and health of the nervous system – which is connected to the health of the brain, whole body and mind. Most of us don’t have a lifestyle that is conducive to a good posture, this is a great practice to keep through all stages of your life so you can age feeling mobile.

Grounding: There is an epidemic of anxiety in western culture, more than ever we need to ground down to balance this heightened feeling of anxiety.

Why is the sequence grounding?

Energy: There are many poses that are close to the ground: the multiple savasanas slow down the practice and slow us down. The earth’s telluric energy grounds us down.

Ha-tha yoga is the balancing of the Ha (male, solar, active, positive) and Tha (female, lunar, passive, negative). Telluric energy is more negative and its important to have this grounding passive element to the practice. As a student I notice many modern Vinyasa classes don’t feel balanced in this way – the majority of the class is a fast paced standing flow. A practice with both dynamic and passive elements will create a feeling of balance.

Chakras: The sequence has been defined to move through the chakras from the Crown Chakra (at the crown of the head) to the Root Chakra (at the base of the spine) bringing the energy down. This is unusual and the reverse structure of many yoga styles.

The root chakra is associated with feeling grounded, connected to the earth, secure, safe, and believing the world will provide for us. Ending the class with a single standing posture signifies our connection to the earth. Strengthening the legs that eventually will create a feeling of stability in the pose.

Why yoga retreats are the perfect life reset 

Retreats are really where the yoga magic happens, and it’s one of the best ways to understand yoga in the more holistic way it’s meant to be practiced. The whole experience can have a big impact on your mindset and even transform your life.  Here are my top benefits:

Relaxation: Proper relaxation is something you don’t always get from a night’s sleep. We’re living in a busy over-stimulated world and have multiple work and family responsibilities putting stress on the body and mind. If you find relaxation challenging it might be a sign that you need to prioritise it. A retreat is your time to step away and find a deeper state of relaxation. Relaxation is essential for good physical and mental health. 

Simplicity: Retreat life shouldn’t be fancy or extravagant, a real yoga retreat isn’t about luxury. A yogi just lives with the basics they need. Going back to basics is a lesson we all need reminding of once in a while. Simplicity is humbling.

Nature: Take yourself away from the city and reconnect with nature, there is a lot nature can teach us. We can become complacent with our surroundings in the city and sometimes don’t feel connected to others even though we are surrounded by people, nature reminds us we are a part of something bigger. 

Self love: Putting your own self-love and care first allows you to truly care for others, you can’t keep giving from empty.

Routine: The body thrives on routine, it’s grounding for the mind and helps with anxiety. A retreat routine will connect you to the rhythm of nature, waking up before sunrise and eating meals at regular times is important for the metabolism and digestion. 

Discipline: Self-love is discipline. Yoga retreats aren’t for self-indulgence, step back from processed food, meat, alcohol and an unhealthy diet. A retreat will include fresh, nourishing vegetarian meals. 

Detox: Detox your mind and body. Take a digital detox and sign off from social media, you will become aware of how the things you hear and see effect your mind. 

Self-reflection: You will naturally find yourself self-reflecting during the retreat. The yoga philosophy sessions will help you to reflect. Reflection improves self awareness so we can grow, pause for a week and stand back from your life. 

Heal: The time and space we create in the retreat, where you won’t have access to your normal distractions, is space for self-reflection and a chance to heal. You are in a safe supportive environment to work through your emotions. 

Community: You can spend time alone or with a wider group in the retreat. You will have others around you who are experiencing the same thing and you can share your experience with. Being in a retreat removes everyday influences and temptation, you will be surrounded by others working on similar positive goals. 

Learn: Learn about the wider concept of yoga and the yoga lifestyle. Yoga philosophy and meditation are as important as practicing yoga. Learn the tools to bring these benefits to your everyday life. 

Refocus: Now your mind is clear and in a balanced state, refocus yourself on your life goals and dreams. Act from a place of clarity and a level head. 

Finding my happy place

The last few years of travelling and constant change of scenery, jobs and people around me has made me think a lot about happiness and what it takes to feel fulfilled in life. There certainly isn’t a specific place or demographic you can pinpoint this to and it proves happiness can be found in all walks of life. 

Travelling opens your eyes to different cultures and witnessing the spectrum of happiness, sadness, depression and addiction that exists everywhere. The more you move and live in different places, it becomes clearer that it’s not your surroundings that make you happy but your outlook on them.

There are people with few material things living a basic simple lifestyle who are happy, and there are others with families, high achieving careers and an abundance of wealth who aren’t happy or fulfilled. We strive to achieve but can only be fully happy if the outcome doesn’t define us – who are you underneath if it all disappears?

One of my biggest inspirations is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk that started a peace movement during the Vietnamese war, which seems to be a paradox that someone can find peace at huge time of suffering.

Of course, not having shelter, food and water – the basic essentials to survive, does impact happiness. Beyond this baseline, the three key things that strike me the most are: purpose, love and positivity.

Purpose

It’s common not to know your purpose, and this doesn’t need to be a profound idea or even your ‘life purpose’ but a purpose for today. Whatever your job is, do it with a feeling of lightness and put care and effort into it, all jobs are important. Your job may not be paid, it might even be housework, a hobby, or something creative.

Listen to what you’re drawn to and explore it, we aren’t all born knowing our purpose but a part of life is to figure it out, so try not to become frustrated with this concept. Trust that you’re on the path to uncovering it.

When you know your dream take mindful action towards achieving it, but let go of the outcome of those actions. You can’t control the outcome and it’s not a reflection of your own worth. Take action with love and effort, the more love we give the more we receive through living a fulfilling life. 

Love 

I think most of us are seeking love in some capacity that could lead to a relationship, marriage or creating a family. It’s common to put a big dependency on these things to fulfil us, but ultimately we may not have a choice if we fall in love or can have children – does that mean we can’t ever be happy or fulfilled? 

To feel loved, stop looking for external things or people to love you, start putting love into everything you do and people around you. When someone tries to help you or give you love, let them. Love doesn’t need to just come from a partner or family member, it is all the same love. To give love is to receive it, and to receive love is to give it. 

Positivity

Finding positive thoughts in any given place or time. There may be situations when the only positive is that you’re still breathing, and there you can center your attention. 

Being happy and positive isn’t about avoiding or masking emotion, or thinking you should be happy all the time. It is observing and feeling emotion as it comes up, letting the emotion be there until it is time for it to leave. Continual negative thoughts can escalate and prolong the suffering, notice if your thoughts are feeding your emotions. 

It is only through suffering that we can truly know happiness. There is no life we can live without suffering, we have to transform the suffering through positivity to find happiness. 

Fulfilment is being at peace with your life – accepting your past, where you are on your life path, your health, surroundings, career, friends and relationships. 

The Art of Discomfort

The topic of discomfort has recently been resonating with me. I spent the last few years for the most part feeling calm and content so I have a real benchmark for how my mind feels when it’s peaceful. Discomfort will always arise, it could be from any one or more aspects of our lives; financial stress, work, family, relationships, social pressure, our expectations or holding on to past experiences. Some of our biggest vices are born from the mind trying to deter discomfort in our lives and finding ways to mask or push that feeling away. 

When I was settled in London discomfort was intrinsic to my everyday life; I didn’t fully acknowledge it or know it was an option or choice, it was just always there.

At the time I found a release to take myself away from being in this reality; drinking. My eating disorder already had me living under a punishing regime each week and when the opportunity came to escape from myself it was always in a big way. I wasn’t aware why I liked to drink so much but just that when I had a drink I didn’t want to stop until I couldn’t feel anything else. I wanted to be numb, to let go of this regimental life and lose control.

I was always the girl at the party who couldn’t stand up by the end of the night. I thought I was just having fun, until it wasn’t fun anymore. The older I became the more obvious it was as everyone else learnt to handle their drink. The level of discomfort in my life was a never ending snowball as I had to face people and their judgements about me and my behaviour.

The cracks were showing enough that my manager at work suggested I take a week away and go back home to my family to clear my head. This started a new routine of detoxing sometimes for months at a time. I wanted to take control but as soon as I picked up another drink it didn’t make any difference, my old habits weren’t going anywhere. I felt as though I was in a constant battle and I was losing.

I was seeing a counsellor at one point who repeatedly questioned me about whether I had a problem with alcohol, to which I said I didn’t, I mean I wasn’t an alcoholic so of course I didn’t, so I stopped seeing her. I found myself choosing to be around people who encouraged that behaviour in me so I could hide the depth of the problem from myself.

The London life ended when I got to the tipping point where my level of pain and discomfort outweighed my ability to cope with it any longer.

If I’m honest I never really had the desire to travel but I just couldn’t stay at home, I needed a fresh start and it was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Yoga gave me the direction I needed. Living in a yoga retreat forces you to face your thoughts, memories and emotions; you cannot escape from yourself there. Even difficult memories deeply stored away creep up to the surface.

Many people are drawn to yoga retreats to heal, reflect and relax but then realise it’s hard work to live a yogic lifestyle, it’s quiet and there are no distractions so you have to learn to spend time with yourself. Boredom is just the mind trying to grasp on to something; it’s reacting to discomfort in the way it knows how. Notice what you want to do when you feel bored or sad. Where do you find distraction and comfort?

Simplicity is a fundamental aspect of the yoga life, at the basic level we must learn to detach ourselves from our possessions. A yoga retreat should be simple not luxurious, it’s a small lesson in learning to live in what might be discomfort at the beginning but over time it becomes comfortable; you already have everything you will ever need.

Consumer society conditions us to get used to having everything we want when we want it, it’s not often we’re faced with a disciplined routine that we haven’t chosen. A yoga retreat life involves early nights, getting up at the crack of dawn to practice yoga and meditate, and set meal times with simple vegetarian only food. It doesn’t sound difficult but I’ve seen people so challenged by this alone.

Yoga and meditation themselves create physical and mental discomfort, it is only by regularly creating and practicing being in discomfort that we can learn how to notice and manage this feeling. We can train ourselves to accept, be calm and coexist in its presence. Self-obversation can lead us to the source of the discomfort, many times we react without understanding why we’ve acted in a certain way.

Self-discipline is the key that will eventually allow you to live a free life where you aren’t tied to the habits that don’t serve you. If you go back to your old vices, which will happen, it’s a sign you need to keep going deeper into the practice. Your mind has been creating these diversion tactics for a long time so have compassion for yourself, working through them takes time and dedication but it is possible.

If a part of your life is having a significant negative impact on you then do your best to change it but it is not an option to never feel any pain or discomfort. It is unavoidable so we must learn how to control our reaction to it, and not to fear or run away every time it surfaces.

An important part of my healing process was to spend time back at home in between my travels and to face that part of my life. You cannot run from what has happened or ignore the inevitable fact that at some point you will have to confront it or it will confront you.

When discomfort surfaces for me now I turn to yoga, it’s often when I let my practice slide that it finds a way in. I’m working on channeling these lessons on the mat in the most positive way I know how.