So many events are happening this time of year. We are transitioning from Fall into winter, Daylight Savings Time, holidays within various transitions, and we are headed into the darkest time of the year with less sunlight. There’s a lot to stay on top of and digest here. Digestion is the key to maintaining balance through these numerous changes and, in Ayurveda, it is understood that digestion is the key to health, disease prevention, and returning back into better health.
Digestion has to aspects to it. The first and primary source of digestion involves the actual digestive tract that consists of the mouth to the rectum and everything in between. The second component to digestion is the mind and what information it has to transform. Current science, has been validating the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda as it supports the understanding that the mind and digestion/gut/stomach are connected. We know that there are 80% of the serotonin receptors present in the gut and that this has an overall influence upon the mind.
In Ayurveda, it is taught that the state of mind influences whatever we are putting in our mouth. For instance, if I am eating while I am anxious, my digestion will respond to this mindset and influence the quality of digestion by causing it to be disturbed. Similarly, if I am depressed or angry or eating on the go (which is a nervous/unstable type of eating pattern), then my digestion will be influenced as such. Malabsorption will be one symptom, along with various others such as gas, bloating, mild constipation, indigestion, sluggish digestion, hyperacidity, and heaviness.
With all the different experiences happening this time of year, the mind is surely going to be affected by this. One way is skipping meals, or eating on the go, or eating quick foods that provide quick fixes such as foods containing high carbs and sweet tastes. Anxiety increases this time of year. Depression tends to be present for some. This can be due to many reasons such as being nostalgic and revisiting past memories or simply low levels of Vitamin D. Stress overall increases as holidays are demanding, the temperature has been variable and therefore affecting what we eat and how we dress, along with when and how much we even sleep. Stress can also influence our hydration. We may have more cocktails, increase smoking tendencies ranging from cigarettes to even marijuana. Drug use tends to increase this time of year as well.
According to the disease pathology in Ayurveda, we look at digestion first to see what is out of balance or what became out of balance in order to figure out how to regain balance. With all diseases, Ayurvedic management involves assessing digestion as this is the first foundation to correct. Digestive symptoms as mentioned above are indicators of what is going on and how to help resolve the situation as best as possible.
HERE ARE SOME SIMPLE CONSIDERATIONS FOR STAYING IN BALANCE:
1) Eat consistently and around the same time of day. Ideally, 2-3 meals. It’s okay to skip or have a very light breakfast if you’re feeling heavy in the morning. (Read more about the details in the article below on Digestion and Disease Prevention.) Here’s a fun image involving the general Ayurveda Clock (photo credit HERE)
2) Food should definitely be warm and cooked this time of year.
3) Staying adequately hydrated is important. Drink teas, warm water, generally throughout the day.
4) When eating, sip a warm beverage with the meal. Don’t guzzle the liquids after eating as this will suppress digestion and increase indigestion.
5) Wait at least an hour to hour and a half after meals to put anything in your mouth, including food and beverages. Let digestion have time to do its thing.
6) Determine whether you have more acidity or more mucus in your digestive system. A test that Dr. John Douillard has shared in the past to assess this involved apple cider vinegar and then baking soda. It goes like this: If there is too much acid, mix 1/4 tsp of baking soda in a cup of water and drink before a meal. If you feel relief from the baking soda – which is extremely alkaline – you have too much acid. If you feel too little acid, mix 1 tbsp of lemon juice with 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar and drink before a meal. If you feel relief, you have too little acid. Here’s his article for more on this.
7) Don’t fall asleep after eating. A light rest is ok, and not for too long since this suppresses digestion as well.
8) Vigorous activities right after eating should be eating. This negatively affects digestion too! So no work outs or yoga class for a couple hours.
9) Late night meals should be avoided but in the cases that it can not be avoided then Ayurveda suggests the later the time you’re eating, the lighter the meal should be. Remember, digestive enzymes are strongest and peaking around noon time. These enzymes are least available in the morning, and around half as much as they are from lunch around dinner time. Don’t stress digestion.
10) Eat when you’re hungry versus skipping the meal or supplementing with something quick and unsustainable. In Ayurveda, we know that skipping meals or eating foods that aren’t sustainable affect the overall digestion and this also affects all the other systems such as immune system and nervous system. Additionally, the endocrine system, which involves the hormones, are affected.
11) Be mindful of emotional eating, especially with the holidays around us.
12) Get adequate rest and at the right time. Ideally, optimal sleep happens between 10 and 6. I generally tell my patients that 11 is ok and up by 7. This is pushing it slightly. The later we stay up, the more inflammation can increase. The later we sleep in, the heavier we feel and this will begin to show up not only in digestion but also the lymphatic system (which is dependent upon digestion and exercise.) Vata predominant individuals, should have around 8 hours sleep. Pitta’s around 7, and Kapha’s around 6, according to Ayurveda. It’s usually the case that Vata’s can’t or don’t sleep as easily, but Kaphas sleep a lot and want to sleep more. This will only increase the pre-existing qualities of the constitutional make up of the individual.
13) Continue to exercise if you already are and, if you aren’t, then this is a great time of year to make sure you are raising your heart rate by exercising and other cardiovascular activities.
14) Sleeping too long during the day, if you’re not a night worker, can also affect digestion.
15) Make sure you’re pooping daily. From 1-2 bowel movements throughout the day, with the first one being within the first hour of waking.
16) Getting oiled up, inside and out is important to keep things from drying out. Kapha’s benefit from less or light oil. Pitta’s from moderate oil, and Vata’s from more oil but not too much depending on how prevalent Vata is. Then there is always the type of oil, along with the fact that all oils applied topically should be warm, never cold! Internal application involves administering oil to the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and even rectum in some cases. Additionally, internal use of massage includes cooking with certain oils like ghee and coconut.
17) Massage is important as it helps to manage the stress of the mind and body. Get one as soon as you can and regularly.
18) Avoiding as much as possible anything cold, frozen, and icy. This is just not good for the digestive system and body overall for so many reasons. Read THIS article on the harm of bringing anything cold into the body.
19) Meditation is a great tool to help manage the mind stuff. There are many types of meditative practices and meditation can work for everyone when you find the right technique that can keep your attention. Research and try different techniques and you’ll eventually find the one that works for you in the present moment and is your tool to manage the mind and its thoughts. Some examples of such tool are art, drawing, nature hikes, focusing on a candle, yoga nidra (a technique you can find on YouTube), sitting in a quiet space, dancing, observing the space between objects, and self-help or philosophical books (to engage and disengage the mind.) I remember my first meditation teacher saying that meditation was defined as “an interrupted flow of awareness on one object of consciousness.”
Digestion and Disease Prevention- CLICK HERE
Feeling Anxious- CLICK HERE
Seasonal Depression- CLICK HERE
Story of Disease- CLICK HERE
Importance of Massage- CLICK HERE
Oiling Up- CLICK HERE
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed with a qualified practitioner and primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.