Optimizing Digestion Through Awareness

3 Easy Steps for Optimizing Digestion (that you can work with at your next meal)

  1. Calm mind and body when eating — Ensuring the body is relaxed is a big deal when it comes to enhancing and supporting the digestive process. An easy way to calm the body and mind before you eat is to take 10 long and deep breaths, letting the exhale be a little longer to completely empty out the old air.
  2. Only eat when you’re hungry; only food you find appetizing — It’s important to take care as you’re preparing food and sitting down to eat it, so that you’re infusing it with good vibes and helping to stimulate the release of gastric juices and enzymes that will aid in proper digestion. When I say “good vibes”, I’m talking about the energy you’re putting into the food, and also what you’re feeling your mind with. Eating food that’s appetizing and that you WANT to eat, has the power to shape and direct a really enriching and healing eating experience. Food should be pleasurable to the senses, and an experience of celebration rather than an obligation.
  3. BE AWARE — Minimize the other activities you’re doing while eating. Try to devote as much attention to your food and the experience of eating as you can. When you’re present with this process, you’ll chew properly, eat to a point that you feel satisfied at, understand physical cues that indicate if you’re actually enjoying the food, and you’ll maintain a calm and focused awareness to support the process of digestion.

Connect with your food! Make as much of your food as you can. Grow your foods, or seek out ingredients from local farmers when possible. Avoid processed foods and incorporate real, whole foods into your diet in abundance. Understanding what your meal is made of, along with knowledge of diet and nutrition, enables a scientific and objective approach to food consumption and thus living in general.

Yoga and Digestion

A lot of the work yoga achieves through physical movement, intentional breathing, and meditation helps to optimize the digestive system. It does this by balancing the hormones (in particular, helping to reduce cortisol levels and thus the impact on the gut), supporting the nervous system, and enhancing the organs associated with digestion and detoxification.

Yogic philosophy as well as other traditions like Traditional Chinese Medicine believe that the flow of prana through various parts of the body is optimized at different parts of the day. This means that at a certain time, your liver may be functioning better than your spleen. The body is most receptive to food consumption early in the day as a result of this movement of energy. The underlying reason for this is the shift between two of the main energy channels in the body, ida and pingala, which respectively relate to the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Understanding the cycle of these two pathways can help you to enhance your digestion. Every 90 minutes the dominance of these channels switches, thus activating the corresponding part of the ANS. If food preparation and consumption is done when the SNS is active, the PaNS becomes dominant in time for the release of enzymes necessary in digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food.

In the structure of the chakras, or energy centres, the third (Manipura) governs digestion. The nabhi, or navel centre, is physically associated with the organs of the digestive system as well as the solar plexus, and closely relates to the enteric nervous system. In the role of digestion, there are two of the five subdivisions of prana (energy) which are of primary importance – samana and apana. Samana moves in a churning motion and governs the area from the diaphragm to the navel, including the stomach, liver, pancreas, and small intestine. Apana moves downward and is an eliminative force.

Regular performance of yoga postures and practices helps to maintain and elevate prana in the body, contributing not only to digestive wellness, but vitality throughout the whole system. Yoga encourages the entire system to make use of energy in an efficient and balanced way, so that the systems responsible and directly related to our vitality and wellness are enlivened and supported. It may help us to address current issues as well as prevent further problems from ocurring, thus making it hugely beneficial in a holistic approach to wellness. Yoga helps a practitioner develop the awareness to address the roots of physical illness in both body and mind, to increase confidence and remove fear surrounding what and how we eat.

“The digestive system is a very sensitive mirror of the mind because it is almost wholly under control of the autonomic nervous system, which in turn is thought to be governed by the limbic area of the brain.” – Shankardevananda

Pranayama — Regulates metabolic processes and moved stuck energy/prana

  • Bhramari, ujjayi, nadi shodhana

Asana —Enhance blood flow and stimulate blocked nervous system connections by massaging organs and muscles

  • Suryanamaskar, danurasana, pawanmuktasana, bhujangasana, ardha matsyendrasana

It’s vital to note that health is in part derived from happiness, so you HAVE to be enjoying the experience of eating for it to be really beneficial and meaningful. I don’t advocate for forcing yourself to eat a certain way, and believe the obsession our culture has with diet fads and the “right” ways to eat can be highly detrimental and counterintuitive to good health — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Connect with your food, and better yet with people you love to create more ritual and celebration around eating.

Your food choices are a powerful commentary on your inner and outer experience. Choose wisely!

Looking to develop a deeply intuitive and instinctive relationship with food, your body, and your mind? Check out my Healing Your Relationship With Food program.

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