Yogic Nutrition – We Are What We Eat – Right?
Well actually maybe that’s not quite right. It might be more accurate to say, ‘We are what we digest and absorb’.
The quality of the food we put into our bodies is extremely important, but let’s not underestimate the other factors that contribute to good digestion. The aim is to maximise the nutrients and energy we get from food while putting the least stress on our bodies. This is what keeps us feeling well and comfortable.
Our digestive system is really just one long tube from mouth to anus with different actions occurring at different locations along the way. If any of these locations are blocked or failing to function optimally, then the associated task is hindered and reduced in its efficacy.
Yogi Bhajan had lots to say about diet and yogic eating. Let’s take a look at the science behind some of his wise words:
“Eat only in a pleasant, relaxing environment.”
We don’t always find ourselves in the ideal environment, but taking small steps to create a little peace and relaxation around meal times can go a long way towards ensuring good digestion can take place.
So why is this so important? Bodily functions are controlled by either the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) or the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest). Psychological stress due to busy lives and long to-do lists puts us frequently into ‘flight or flight’ mode causing our digestive systems to suffer. Because we are effectively in survival mode, our gut motility (the propulsion of food through the digestive system) and our gastric secretions are reduced. Conversely, when our parasympathetic nervous system is triggered and we are in ‘rest & digest’ mode, gut motility and secretions are high.
One way of switching us into our ‘rest & digest’ mode is to breath deeply a few times before a meal. Aha! The wisdom of chanting Sat Nam three times before a meal – a pause, a moment of gratitude for the gift of food and then three deep inhalations acting as a trigger. Now we are ready to receive, digest and absorb.
“Prepare your food with love and care.”
The process of digestion begins with our eyes, nose and brain even before we have put food into our mouths.
The sight, smell and anticipation of food triggers salivation and gastric juice secretion produced in readiness for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. A hurried sandwich wrapped in plastic and eaten on the hoof denies us the vital initial cues for the digestive process to begin.
When we give our attention to the food that we are preparing or receiving, we are laying the foundations for optimal gastrointestinal function.
“Chew well, the stomach has no teeth.”
Digestion begins in the mouth. When we chew (a minimum of 6–10 times) we are breaking down food to reduce the burden on stomach digestion.
“If you do not mix saliva in every morsel of your food, you are eating poison.”
Salivary glands produce digestive enzymes that begin the process of breaking down fats and the starch in carbohydrates.
“Eat less and meditate more.”
Eating slowly naturally leads to eating less as it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that you are full.
The action of eating itself can become a meditation if we eat with awareness. When we savour and appreciate the food that we eat, we not only increase its nutritional benefit but also our overall sense of wellbeing.
“Develop a habit to nap after meals.”
Lying down after eating can improve digestion but if this is not possible then at least staying calm and relaxed after eating will go a long way to supporting good digestion.
Sufi grind, rock pose, baby pose and knees to chest – all excellent asanas for aiding digestion.
Developing conscious eating habits can go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of common problems such as bloating, diarrhoea, cramping and constipation.
A happy digestive system is the foundation for all round good health.
YOGIC NUTRITION is a new regular feature written by Anna Ranprem Kaur, a Kundalini Yoga teacher with more than eight years of experience, now also in her second year of a diploma in Nutrition Therapy and Naturopathy. In this monthly blog, Anna will share knowledge and explorations as she moves forward on her journey in nutrition. www.annakundaliniyoga.co.uk