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Ayurvedic approaches to

digestive health and wellbeing

Dr. Shaun Matthews

Ayus = life
Veda = science, knowledge

Ayurveda is the science of life and longevity

the art of living
The Five Element Theory
 Earth
 Water
 Fire
 Air
 Space
The Three Doshas
 Earth + Water – Kapha dosha

 Fire + Water – Pitta dosha

 Air + Space – Vata dosha

Ayurvedic Physiology
Bodymind interactions are understood
through the concept of the three doshas.

Dosha = a motivating principle in living

= a bioenergetic force
How the three doshas function

 Vata – controls movement, elimination,

home in the body is the colon
 Pitta – controls transformation, digestion,
home in the body is the small intestine
 Kapha – controls cohesion, lubrication,
home in the body is the chest
Vata body-types
 Light build
 Cold extremities

 Prone to dry skin, constipation

 Sensitive, more highly strung

 Naturally creative, spontaneous

 Prone to worry, anxiety, insecurity

Challenge - Depletion
Factors that aggravate Vata
 Irregular eating and fasting
 Excessive stimulation, esp. computer,TV
 Eating cold, light and dry food
 Cold and iced drinks
 Late nights and lack of sleep
 Violence and trauma
 Inadequate water intake
Pitta body-types
 Medium build, more muscular
 Prone to overheating, hyperacidity

 Fiery, insightful and ambitious

 Dynamic, love being productive, natural

 Prone to anger, frustration and aggressive
Challenge – over-heating
Factors that aggravate Pitta

 Eating hot, spicy and oily food

 Excessive competition
 Excessive exposure to hot sun
 Excessive alcohol and most drugs
 Strong, bright lights
 Too much conflict in childhood
Kapha body-types
 Heavy build
 Oily skin and olive complexion

 Prone to mucus and excess weight

 Naturally calm and easy going

 Slow and thorough in performing tasks

 Prone to lethargy and getting stuck in a rut

Challenge - Stagnation
Factors that aggravate Kapha
 Over-eating and comfort eating
 Eating heavy, stodgy and oily food
 Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise
 Too much routine in one’s life
 Excessive sleep
 Lack of exercise
Ayurveda encourages
 Vata body types – prone to becoming
spacey, scattered and depleted – They
need warmth, nourishment, grounding.
 Pitta body types – prone to overheat –
They need to stay calm and cool.
 Kapha body types – prone to stagnation –
They need stimulation.
Agni – the digestive fire
 Represents your capacity to draw
nourishment from the food you are eating.
 Closely linked to immune system
 A naturalistic metaphor which explains the
complex physiological processes of the
digestive system
Eat right for your body type

Dr. Shaun Matthews

Agni and the body/mind
 Understands how our thoughts and
emotions affect our gut
 Different ways in which we experience
stress through our gut – nervous
diarrhoea, heart burn, nausea, loss of
appetite, IBS, peptic ulcers.
 Effect of stress on various aspects of
digestion including:
Agni and the mind/body
 Acid production
 Enzyme production – pancreas, small intestine,
 Bile production and secretion
 Mixing of food in stomach
 Movement of food along the gut – psycho-
 Absorption of water/minerals in large intestine
Agni – the digestive fire

 Improperly “cooked” food produces ama or

 A metaphor for how you are digesting your life
 “Ama is the root of disease” – Ayurvedic texts
 Managing the agni is a holistic process – four
quadrants of healing
Holistic Support
 Physical quadrant
- Diet
- Exercise
- Sleep
- Rest
- Supplements

Swasthavrtta - “establishing oneself in healthy

Holistic Support
 Emotional quadrant

- pro-active psychotherapy, counseling

- mentorship
- letting go of “negative” people
- support groups
Holistic Support
 Mental quadrant

- Satsang (keeping company with the wise)

- Sangha in a modern context
- 12 step programs (eg. CODA)
- Personal development seminars
- Colleges of natural therapies
- Yoga schools, Buddhist sanghas, Christian
Holistic Support
 Spiritual quadrant

- Who am I?
- An ongoing enquiry
- Developing practices to support the enquiry
(personal sadhana)
- A home practice of
- How should I live my life?
Parasympathetic Vs
 Sympathetic nervous system – flight or
fight, blood gets shunted to muscles away
from digestive tract
 Parasympathetic nervous system – “rest
and digest” phase, blood is shunted to
gastrointestinal tract
 In modern lifestyles, especially urban,
stimulation of sympathetic nervous system
Ayurvedic tips to improve
 Avoid eating a heavy evening meal.
 Eat only when hungry
 Avoid cold drinks and food
 Sip fluids during meal as dictated by your
 Eat around the same time ach day
 Don’t eat heavily if feeling very emotional
 “ Chew your drink and drink your food”
Ayurvedic tips to improve
 Be present with your food and the people
you are sharing it with
 Sit down when eating
 Say a grace or statement of gratitude
 Use pickles or chutneys to support
 Hare haichi bu – eat to 80% of capacity
 Take a short walk after your meal
Body-type and agni
 Vata – erratic. Needs smaller and more
frequent meals. 4 to 5 per day.
 Pitta – strong. Needs 3 square meals per
 Kapha – low. Light evening meal.
Important not to over-eat.
Case Study
 34 year old male, film-maker, impending
 Hyper-acidity of stomach, inflammation,
previous failed trial of histamine
antagonists, referred to surgeon for
 Diet – chilli and coffee (short black) lover,
high in processed foods, erratic exercise.
 Personality – highly strung, anxious about
becoming a parent
Case Study
 Management – removal of causative factors,
stop all chilli, reduce coffee to 1 latte a day,
supplement with liquorice and fennel tea, simple
bland diet. Less processed foods. Small and
more frequent meals, increase cooked food.
 Regular swims at beach, taught gentle yoga and
lying down awareness meditation practice
 Excellent response, able to manage his
condition using diet and lifestyle changes alone.
Qualities of food
 How is it grown?
 How is it stored?
 How is it processed?
 How is it prepared?
 How is it cooked?
 How is it served?
 How is it eaten?
Qualities of Food
 Is it appropriate for the season?
 Is it appropriate for your body-type?
 Is it appropriate for your health imbalance?
 Does it feel intuitively right?
Food cravings
 Biological – driven by your innate
intelligence or intuition
 Emotional – driven by anger, worry,
anxiety, sadness.
 Habitual – patterns of eating we get into
without questioning
Ethical Eating
 Principle of ahimsa (non-violence) is
central to the yogic diet
 Takes into account the welfare of animals,
the environment, the producers of the food
 Carbon footprint of the food produced
 Encourages fair-trading in developing
The six tastes
 Sweet – pumpkin, milk, rice, sweet fish
 Sour – citrus, yoghurt, vinegar
 Salty – soya sauce, olives, tamari
 Pungent – ginger, onion, most spices
 Bitter – bitter melon, dandelion, bitter
greens, turmeric, fenugreek
 Astringent – black tea, cranberry,
pomegranate, unripe banana
Vata pacifying foods
 Favour sweet, sour and salty tastes
 Warm, moist, cooked food
 Adequately salted with natural salts
 Mildy spiced, avoiding chilli
 Fruits – ripe, stewed. Avoid dried fruit
 Vegetables – most, well cooked, care with
 Legumes – red lentils, mung dahl
Vata pacifying foods
 Most nuts OK in moderation
 All dairy products in moderation
 Free range chicken, eggs, seafood, beef
 Oils – ghee, olive, coconut, sesame
 Grains – rice, wheat, oats
 Spices – most, best to avoid chilli
Pitta pacifying foods
 Room temperature
 Favour sweet, bitter and astringent tastes
 raw foods, “bland” in nature, salads
 No hot spices, especially chilli, clove, too
much black pepper
 Most fruits, care with too much citrus
 Most vegetables, care with raw onion,
Pitta pacifying foods
 Legumes – yellow mung dahl, tofu, aduki beans
 Nuts – soaked almonds, coconut
 Unsalted butter, cottage cheese, cow’s milk
 Free range chicken, egg white, freshwater fish
 Oils – ghee, olive, coconut, sunflower
 Grains – basmati rice, wheat, oats, barley
 Spices – coriander, fennel, mint, cardamom,
turmeric, small amounts of cumin & ginger
Kapha pacifying foods

 Warm, light and spicy

 Favour pungent, bitter and astringent
 Avoid heavy, stodgy food
 Steamed foods, dry curries
 Fruits – apples, figs, pomegranate,
cranberry, dried fruits
 Vegetables – leafy greens, cabbage,
cauliflower, capsicum, eggplant
Kapha pacifying foods
 Legumes – most well tolerated, care with
too much tofu
 Avoids too many nuts, which are oily
 Low dairy – buttermilk, goat’s milk
 Free range chicken, eggs, fish,
 Oils – safflower, mustard, light olive
 Grains – barley, buckwheat, corn, millet
 Spices – can luxuriate in them
Bi-doshic body-types and families

 Seasonally adjust
 Tune into intuition – How do I feel?
 Simple selection of foods on offer
 Use of condiments, chutneys, pickles
 Spice skillets
 Children need supervision
Kitchen herbs to strengthen
the agni
Ancient herbs and spices
 Turmeric (haridra) – digestive, anti-
inflammatory, skin, liver
 Ginger (ardrak) – digestive, circulation,
reduces mucus
 Fennel (sampf) – reduces gas, stabilises
blood sugar, promotes lactation
 Fenugreek (methi) – digestive, detoxifying,
reduces gut inflammation
Bush Tucker
 ‘The art of balanced living – the right diet and
lifestyle for your body type’, Dr. Shaun
Matthews, Finch Publishing, 2016.
 10 week course in Ayurveda at Nature Care
College – www.naturecare.com.au
 Body type self-assessment form –
 Dr. Shaun Matthews’ Ayurvedic clinic – 27 Bondi
Rd, Bondi Junction, tel. 9389 5811.