Does this pic make you take a nice deep breath and start relaxing? It was taken at Cabo San Lucas last spring where I was attending my granddaughter’s wedding. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues during that trip, and my innate intelligence told me to start my day with some nature therapy. Every morning, I would get up before dawn so that I could start my day experiencing the finest of mother nature, watching the sun rise over the ocean and hear the waves crashing on shore. That hour of solitude and nature was a great way to put me in a place to get the most out of my day.
So, what does that have to do with digestion? What is the relationship between relaxation and digestion? On a very basic level, if you aren’t in a relaxed state, you won’t adequately digest your food, which can rob your body of the nutrients you put in to it with good, nutritious foods. You also greatly risk creating unhealthy environment in your digestive track and thus, your body as a whole. Is this overstating the situation? I don’t believe we can overstate the importance of not only eating nutritious food but digesting it well. Let me explain.
We have both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which direct our organs and tissues. I think we all know that the sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” system which allows us to get out of harm’s way. Our pupils dilate so we can see better, our heart beats faster to pump more blood to muscles that we need to run, and our airways relax to get more oxygen into our muscles. On the other side of that coin, the adrenaline that’s pumped into our system when we are in a sympathetic state inhibits activity in our digestive system-only one of these systems is in control at any one time.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest, digest and repair” system. Only when we are in a relaxed parasympathetic state are the digestive organs stimulated to do their work. We can dump food into our bodies when we are in a stressed state but it won’t digest well and can sit there and rot in our stomachs.
Most of us live in the sympathetic or stressed state most of the time and have to work to allow our parasympathetic system to work to digest our food and heal our bodies. We can talk about everything that these systems do, but let’s just focus on digestion. I know that we MUST have good digestion to gain or maintain good health. And that starts with getting into a relaxed (parasympathetic) state.
Here’s are my basic tips for good digestion – and they’re all FREE and only take a little planning, time and focus.
~Get into a parasympathetic state before eating. Here are a few techniques to help you:
Sit calmly and take a few deep, relaxing breaths
Yawn until you feel relaxed
Cause yourself to gag
~Eat well, here is how:
Eat only when you’re hungry. Often when we begin to have a hunger sensation, it’s actually a call for fluid, so drink a glass of water and wait 30 minutes. This often does the trick and is calorie free!
Snack only if needed to manage blood sugar between meals – snacking is usually done in a sympathetic state and eating frequently doesn’t allow the digestive organs time to rest and repair.
Limit fluids with meals to the amount needed to aid swallowing – it dilutes the chemicals in the stomach needed to effectively digest the food. Don’t drink fluids 30 minutes before or after eating.
Practice Mindful Eating
~Allow the sights and smells of the food wake up your digestive track and get the “juices flowing”
~TURN OFF THE MACHINES, except for some relaxing music
~Set the table in a pleasing manner and sit at the table even if eating alone
~Take a moment to be thankful for the food you are going to eat
~Eat slowly, chewing each bite well, putting down utensils between bites
~Stop eating when satisfied even if it means not cleaning the plate
There are other strategies for improving digestion, but none will help if you don’t start here. And besides, it feels good to de-stress and enjoy a relaxing meal with family/friends/self without outside distractions.