Got ama?

How ya feeling? Bloated or constipated? Depressed or irritable? Chronically inflamed or tired, lazy, drowsy or weak? Yes to any of these? These are all signs of the accumulation of ama according to Ayurveda.

What the heck is ama?

Ama actually translates to mean “uncooked” or “undigested”. It accumulates when we are unable to fully digest what we consume. While food may be the most obvious thing that we consume, we also consume information in the form of outer or inner conversations, technology input, work input and emotions, and of course the stress that may be a by-product of any of these. All these things need to be metabolized and digested or they hang around in our bodies as ama. Ayurveda makes no distinction between foodborne ama and emotional ama. They all present with physical symptoms which are equally important to pay attention to. Anything that is not metabolized and absorbed creates toxicity and toxicity equals ama.

Where does ama come from?

Ama is thought of as a bi-product of poor digestion. Most of us know what poor digestion of food feels like - bloating or gas if you are primarily vata, heartburn or acid reflux if you are mainly pitta, and snotty, phlegmy and slow digestion if you are mostly kapha. These are the most obvious ways your body tells you it didn’t like what you put in it.

How do we check for ama?

An easy way to check in with whether or not body is fully digesting what you consume (including food, information and emotions) is to do a morning tongue check. The tongue is at the gateway of the digestive system and is basically a map to all that is happening inside. Do you have a white, yellow or greyish coating on your tongue? Does your tongue have indentations on the outside or lines down the middle or bifurcating down the sides? Does it have mild tremors/shakes? Anything other than a nice pink tongue and you have an accumulation of ama in your system.

According to Ayurveda, our overall health comes from the strength of the digestive system. First, food is broken down into very small particles which are absorbed into your bloodstream by the small intestine. Then, anything that isn’t needed to meet the body’s nutritional needs (the waste) is excreted via the bladder and large intestine. When you have strong digestion, you will feel light and energized after you eat. There is no bloating, gas, heartburn, heavy feeling or excessive burping. There is nothing “left over”. No ama. This is how we want to feel. :)

Sometimes this doesn’t happen. When digestion is weak or imbalanced, not all the food is absorbed or eliminated. There is something left over. Perhaps food doesn’t break into small enough pieces, or maybe it sits, stagnating and fermenting in a slow digestive tract. At any rate, something is left over after the absorption and elimination phases of digestion. This is ama. Ama is the portion of undigested waste that stays in the body. It can’t be used by the body and, as said, can’t be eliminated, so it hangs out, often in our fatty tissues and joints.

What are other symptoms of ama?

According to Ayurveda, our body speaks to us in the form of (subtle and not subtle) symptoms far before it is a full-blown diagnosable sickness or disease. These symptoms are a sign that you have accumulate ama in at least one of your systems. For instance, you may suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, frequent stomach aches or diarrhea or chronic skin irritation or rashes. While these are all different ways your body is telling you that something is out of balance, they have one thing in common: ama. A longer list of symptoms that suggest you have accumulated ama is:

  • Depression/Irritability

  • Foggy brain or difficulty thinking/remembering things

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Headaches or migraines, or general pain

  • Excess weight

  • Joint pain or stiffness upon rising

  • Gas or bloating

  • Excessive burping

  • Feeling tired, lazy, or drowsy

  • Heaviness or fatigue after eating

  • Constipation

  • Great susceptibility to illness

  • Bad breath or body odor

  • Oily or sticky skin with sweat

  • Body odor or bad breath

I find that the more aware you are of your body and when it is in balance (NOT speaking to you with any of the above symptoms), the easier it is to know when something is slightly off. This of course requires following a healthy diet and lifestyle that includes eating lots of plants and whole foods, making time for daily movement, sitting still, making sure you get the necessary 7-8 hours of rest and listening as much to your bodies need to relax and go inward as to work, play and go outward. (this is also incidentally the content of my 10 week coaching course Align to Thrive). The better your daily habits are, the quicker you may notice the first hint of a stomach-ache, stuffy nose or mild headache (and take steps to clear the ama) before it leads to full blown sickness.

How to avoid creating ama in first place:

Eat whole foods, mostly plants - I stole this from Michael Pollan.. Simple advice is often the most dismissed. The more processed food is, the harder it is for your body to digest, and the easier it is for the body to hang onto it (most likely in your fatty tissues). An unprocessed food pretty much goes from the ground to your mouth. Any extra steps (drying, grinding, boiling, extracting, and certainly adding anything to preserve it) is processing. That means bread or pasta, even the organic kinds, are processed. So is cheese, animal products, pre-made sauces, and certainly snack food, etc. The more whole foods you make from scratch, the less foodbourne ama you will have. The more processing, the more ama.

Don’t eat too much, especially at night. It takes some time (about 20 minutes) to feel the full effect of your food. So eat mindfully. Your body will tell you when it is no longer hungry when the food stops tasting as good as the first, second, and third bite. Mindful eating is a form of self care, and will greatly reduce your stress if you follow it. Equally importantly is to eat a small, light dinner. This is one of the first habits in Align to Thrive and the keystone habit that makes so many other healthy habits easier to follow for many of my clients. Try eating soups, salads, stews and grilled veggies, ideally by 6pm, even for a week and notice how much less you have to scrape off your tongue in the morning. Not to mention the absence of depression, cloudy head or heavy feeling upon waking. It’s a game changer,

Feel what you feel and feed what is asking to be fed. It’s easy to accumulate food and emotional related ama by checking out from our lives and trying to avoid what we are thinking or feeling by eating something, drinking something, or consuming some sort of information via our phones, mobile devices and the like. This creates a huge build-up of ama. Feeling overwhelmed, sad or stressed? Sit down (or stand with your eyes closed if you prefer) and feel what overwhelm feels like. Short breath exercises (I find 7 ujayyi breaths does the trick), a short walk in nature, or throwing my legs up the wall and just being can allow you to process, assimilate and digest what is happening for you right now rather than avoiding it and storing it in your body as lots of unprocessed, undigested crap that causes problems later.

Toxins are unavoidable, no matter how careful you are with your diet and lifestyle, but developing daily self care practices around eating, rest and reflection, movement and sleep hygiene can help you to develop a cooperative relationship with your body. If you want to learn more, contact me about my next course starting in October.

Kari Zabel