Ayurveda advises a 10- to 15-minute rest on your left side after meals. Here’s how and why it works to beat post-eating exhaustion.
Beating After-Lunch Exhaustion
During my Ayurvedic training in India, I remember eating a very large lunch with my instructor. We were at a conference and I knew if I went back into the hall I would fall asleep in my chair. I told my instructor I was going to lie down for a bit in my room and I would come back to the hall later. He quickly rebutted,
“No, lie on your left side and I will come in 10 minutes and we will go to the hall together.”
I told him that I ate too much and I was sure to be asleep in 10 minutes, and if I did not answer the door to go on to the hall without me. I went to my room and did as he told me. Strangely, when he came to my door I was awake, and we went to the hall together. Even more strange, I was wide awake the entire afternoon listening to lectures in Hindi, which I cannot even speak!
After the meeting, I asked my instructor how that happened. I was so tired after such a big meal that I was nearly falling asleep at the table. He told me that we did overeat, but the food was well prepared and we ate it in a relaxed way. He said resting on my left side after the meal helped me digest the food.
Why Resting on Your Left Side Works
Relaxing while eating and then resting on the left side after a large meal is an age-old Ayurvedic technique to improve digestion that has been documented by modern science.
For example, in one study, they measured alertness and task performance after groups took no nap, a 15 minute nap or a 45 minute nap after a large meal. The results agreed with the Ayurvedic principles: a short nap, not a long nap, is ideal. The group that took a 15 minute nap after the meal demonstrated better alertness 30 minutes and up to 3 hours after the meal. Task performance was also significantly better in the 15 minute nap group compared to the 45 minute and no nap group. (1)
The instruction to lie on my left side has also been supported in a handful of studies. When you lie on your left side after a meal, the stomach is cradled to allow the food to more gracefully exit the stomach and enter the small intestine. When standing or lying on the right side, there is undue pressure on the pyloric sphincter which may allow the food to exit the stomach prematurely, causing issues of indigestion, gas and bloating. In one study, babies fed while lying on their left side had better digestion and less colic, while other studies showed that lying on the left side helped ease occasional heartburn. (2,3)
If you tend to get sleepy after a big meal, consider the following:
- Relax while eating the meal.
- Don’t watch TV or be distracted while eating.
- Dine and enjoy light (not stressful) conversation.
- Rest on your left side for 10-15 minutes after the meal whenever possible.