Owner of Life In Balance
Ayurvedic Rejuvenation Center
Do you experience occasional or chronic digestive complaints? These may include gas, bloating, belching, diarrhea, constipation, heaviness & lethargy after meals. A common approach to handling digestive problems is to discover and eliminate the foods causing the issue. This may temporarily handle the immediate symptoms, but you have not addressed the underlying issue causing the allergy or intolerance in the first place. In Ayurveda, more important than what you eat is how you eat and when you eat in order to keep your digestive fire stoked.
The most important key to strong digestion is our ‘digestive fire’ known in Ayurveda as Agni. Agni governs the digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation of food and thought into energy. In Ayurveda, we say that a person’s health is determined by the strength of their Agni. When this fire gets turned down due to over-eating, eating late at night, eating processed foods, stress etc. we become unable to digest and breakdown our food and emotions. Signs of low digestive fire are cravings for sugar and carbs, low or fluctuating appetite, heaviness, dullness of mind, depression and weight gain to name a few.
I am going to share some uncommon and powerful tips to turn up your digestive fire, aid elimination and leave you feeling lighter, happier and more energetic.
Fire Up Your Passion! When one’s digestive fire becomes slow, one’s health and energy begins to deteriorate. When your fire is robust, you experience vitality, health and passion. Likewise, when you are feeling passionate in your life, relationships and work, your fire is naturally increased. Our passion for life impacts our ability to digest food, experiences and emotions. I learned this first hand. Upon returning home from South America I was experiencing many digestive issues and had to strictly follow my Ayurvedic diet, watching food combining and eating easily digested foods or I would pay the price with severe stomach pain and constipation. During this time I went on a Women’s Retreat to Mexico and felt so relaxed, playful and happy, I found I could eat anything, including pineapple salsa and chips with margaritas on the beach with absolutely no repercussions! Do what you love, love what you do and watch you digestion and health soar!
Just Breathe. When we take nice deep breaths with long exhalations, it activates our parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response) allowing our digestion to work properly. When we are in a state of fight or flight, our breath becomes rapid and shallow and our digestion all but shuts down. Digestion is not needed when running away from a tiger. We often take our breath for granted, but through Ayurvedic and yogic breath practices we can increase our lung capacity, vitality, calm our mind and aid digestion and elimination. To help constipation, lie down with your knees bent, place your hands on your abdomen and breathe into your belly, holding it a few seconds before exhaling. Repeat this for 5-10 min/day. Practice taking a moment before meals until your breath and mind have slowed down and your digestion can function.
Keep a Routine. One of the most important things we can do to maintain a steady and strong digestive fire is to eat our meals at the same time each day and avoid endless grazing and snacking. Leaving space between meals allows our previous meal to digest and our appetite to return so that our digestion is fired up for the next meal. The time from 10am-2pm is governed by the energy of pitta or fire and is the time when the sun is highest in the sky and our internal heat or fire is strongest. Ayurveda recommends eating your largest meal during the mid-day and having a light early dinner when heavy, slow energy of Kapha (earth) is causing our metabolism and digestion to slow down and head towards sleep. Eating a late heavy meal causes bloating, weight gain and sleep disturbances. Try eating at the same time each day for one week, having a lighter dinner and notice the difference in your energy and digestion!
Release emotions and stress. Ayurvedic Sages identified nearly 6 millenia ago, what is called the Field of Pure Consciousness, which connects every thought, wave pattern and particle of our being. At this quantum level, the boundary between the mind and body completely disappears. No doubt you have noticed that your emotions influence your digestion. You may get heartburn or diarrhea when under stress, lose your appetite when sad, or become nauseated or even throw up before a presentation or exam.
Although we don’t need a scientific study to tell us that this connection exists, a growing body of research is finding that the stress associated with unprocessed emotions can inhibit our natural digestive process and lead to chronic digestive issues. There is an independent nervous system called the enteric N.S. (ENT) lining the GI tract, which has been dubbed “the second brain” by Dr. Michael Gershon of Columbia Medical Center. The ENS contains many of the major neurotransmitters that are found in the brain, including 95 percent of the serotonin (which makes us feel good) contained in the body!
How do we process emotions and eliminate stress? My teacher, Dr. Lad recommends a moment to moment meditation practice of resting in the gap between breaths and witnessing awareness. Watch a wonderful interview with Dr. Vasant Lad sharing this practice [God Is In the Gap.] Another practice that I have found incredibly useful is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which is a tapping technique used to release emotions and limiting beliefs effecting our sense or joy, freedom and health. I have used this very successfully with clients. Recently, a client was dealing with chronic constipation. We tapped on this issue for about 5 min and when she noticed some gurgling, I suggested we stop and she go sit on the toilet. I got a very happy email back later that day. I have also worked with clients with acid reflux and IBS using this technique. We have unlimited capacity to heal our bodies! Ask me about this technique. Easy to learn and use for yourself.
Gratitude. Gratitude is not just reserved for Thanksgiving. There was a study done at the Harvard Business School on the effects of ritual, namely saying a blessing, expressing gratitude and appreciation before a meal. What they found is that when people take a moment to share gratitude before a meal, they experience more satisfaction and enjoyment and tend to eat less. Also, the healthy bacteria in the gut actually proliferate and aid digestion.
Gratitude is absolutely free and can have such health fortifying effects on every aspect of our lives. I was listening to an interview today about a practice of journaling our daily gratitude. They did a study showing that our feelings of happiness are magnified when we not only list an area we are grateful for, but add 5 specific reasons. At my table we hold hands and give thanks and then I often ask my kids what they are grateful for. Just this week my son was upset and whining about going to reading. Then on the way into school he stopped and said, “Mom, instead of being upset about what I don’t want I am going to be grateful for what I have.” That pretty much sums up the key to having a life you love. I’m sure he digested his lunch a lot better also.