Food, Mood and Digestion: The Mind-Body Connection

Vaidya Manohar Palakurthi is a highly respected Ayurvedic expert in the western world and India. He has been practicing Ayurveda for 33 years. Here, he talks about the relationship between food, mood, and digestion.

Q: How does food affect our moods?

Vaidya Manohar: The food we eat has a significant influence on our minds and hearts. You could even say that the nature of our mind and feelings depends on the food we have eaten.

And conversely, the state of our mind, emotions, intellect and senses — and our overall state of contentment — all these, in turn, affect the digestion, absorption and elimination of the food we have eaten.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the digestive enzymes and metabolic processes are likened to a fire, called kaya agni in Sanskrit. How well we digest the food depends on the strength of our agni. And because kaya agni also influences the agni (metabolism) in the tissues and cells of the body, any disruption in digestion affects our entire physiology.

We can say that the entire health and happiness of each individual depends on the strength and functioning of our kaya agni, our digestion. In fact, one of the major limbs of ayurveda is called kaya chikitsa, which is concerned with balancing kaya agni to bring health and happiness to the entire mind-body system. So both food and our moods have an effect on our digestion, and conversely the strength of our digestion has an effect on our moods.

Q: What is the connection between food, mood and the brain?

Vaidya Manohar: The brain is one of the three maha marmas — three major junction points between consciousness and physiology. These three major junction points are located in the head (shiras marma), the heart (hridaya marma) and the bladder (basti marma). And the three maha marma points, in turn, each have their own agni, or process of metabolism, which have their own functions. For instance, the agni for the head is called medo agni and governs the intellect.

The agni for the heart marma is smriti agni and governs memory. This is not the kind of memory involved in recalling your shopping list. This is the memory of your essential nature — as absolute, pure consciousness. This agni is located in the heart, because the heart is considered the seat of consciousness.

The agni in the lower pelvic area, which includes the bladder and reproductive organs, is concerned with regeneration and is called prajanana agni. When our food goes through a balanced process of digestion and transformation, then kaya agni nourishes the whole physiology — including these three maha marmas and their agnis, creating balance in the mind and intellect, the heart and emotions, and the regenerative functions of the body. Also, when these three agnis are in balance, they nourish the process of digestion.

When these three agnis are out of balance, they influence the digestion by creating imbalance. If the mind is not in a state of happiness, digestion can be disturbed by the medo agni, and the prajanana agni can also cause disturbances. But the main cause of digestive imbalance is when the heart (smriti agni) is unhappy or disturbed.

Another way to say it: Agni, in its state of balance, has a great influence on these three maha marmas of the brain, heart and regenerative systems. And these three maha marmas have a great influence on agni. In their balanced state, our body and mind are integrated in such a manner that we experience happiness, clear thinking, refined awareness and even emotions.

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