Digest your Food {and experiences} like a Boss! The Five Elements of Healthy Digestion

You have to digest every single experience you have. All the food you eat, all of your sensory input, and every social interaction must go through a process of transformation. If this doesn’t happen, the result is undigested food and experiences floating around in your physical and subtle body… wreaking havoc on your internal organs, hormones, adrenals, and emotional state {to name a few!} 

Every single thing that enters through your eyes, mouth, skin, nose, ears and mind, from the moment of entry into your organism, must go through a digestion process whereby you assimilate is useful and release the waste.

From the Ayurvedic perspective, all transformational processes in your body and mind are attributed to fire. Fire is a single element, but is actually dependent on all the elements of creation for balance. 

Imagine a campfire ~ it is is hot and sharp, dependent on a stable structure, dynamic and full of movement, protected by the keeper of the fire, and requires space.

​So with this metaphor, let’s look at the main ingredients {space, movement, sharpness, protection and stability} of a healthy inner fire, in the hopes that you become a great digester ~ of food and experiences. 

 Space {the duh, space element}

If the logs of wood are too close together, a camp fire won’t burn. Space is a primary requirement for fire and thus, necessary for transformation and digestion of your food and experiences. To digest food, you require space in the belly. To digest your mental experiences, you require mental space. Each cell in your body only functions because of space.  Here’s how to cultivate space for optimal digestion. 

Tip #1 ~ Space between meals.
Don’t snack between meals + close the kitchen by 8pm.
Space between meals allows you to digest the previous meal, and prepare for the next one. Don’t pick, graze, snack, taste. Give your belly space. Then at meal time, be aware of your hunger-belly ratio! Don’t overfill. Your stomach is full when it has 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid and 1/3 space. 

Tip #2 ~ Give yourself solitude, even just a few minutes.
This can be in the form of a Shavasana + Relaxation, Meditation, Yoga practice, or walk in nature. Space in your body through relaxation of tension and space around you in the form of natural surroundings. This allows time to digest the excess of stimulation, conversation, and thinking that can happen over holidays. Give your mind time and space to digest it all, and prepare for the next interaction or stimulation.

Movement {the air element}

Digestion is a dynamic process. Stagnation blocks digestion, while excessive or erratic movement can also throw it off. Here’s how to work with the principle of movement. 

​Tip #1 ~ Move your Body!
Physical movement or exercise helps keep the movement principle flowing through the digestive tract and organs and prevents stagnation. I recommend daily walking or hiking in nature, cycling, swimming and of course yoga. Do natural, smooth movement on kind surfaces.  Jumping rope or running on pavement can dry out your lymph, assault your nervous system and damage your joints. 

Tip #2 ~ Pranayama {breath work}
A gentle 
Ujjayi Pranayama or Alternate Nostril breathing practice can a direct effect on the mind and nervous system and help clear stagnation in the subtle body from unprocessed emotions and thoughts. 

Sharpness {the fire element}

The quality of heat or “sharpness”. Sharpness is primary to fire + digestion! But how to sharpen the fire in your belly and mind? 

Tip #1 ~ Ginger + other digestive herbs and spices! Sip ginger tea between meals, or even chew on a slice of fresh ginger right before a meal! After meals, try chewing on some fennel seeds or drinking fennel tea {unless pregnant}. Ginger is the absolute best medicine for your belly fire. It warms without overheating. Other great digestive spices are black pepper, cinnamon, cumin and basil. 

Tip #2 ~ Wake up {early!} and breathe!
Waking up early and practicing gentle pranayama is a great means to keeping your mind sharp, alert, and calm enough to digest what comes. 

Protection {the water element}

Both the belly and mind require a deep sense of security, safety, support and protection in order to digest. If you are feeling insecure, unsupported, or threatened you’ll never be able to assimilate the good and release the yuck successfully. Even worse, the good can turn into toxic yuck in a system that lacks a sense of deep security. Simply put, when we are cultivating protection we are working on the nervous system.

Tip #1 ~ GOOD SLEEP!
Go to bed by 10pm, and wake up refreshed by 7am. Deep sleep is the time when your body and mind feel totally safe and secure.  
Tip #2 ~ BREATHE LOW Breathe down into the lower lobes of the lungs. When you do this, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, and thus a sense of deep inner security, protection and safety that is your nature.
This response is actually called “rest + digest”. Your normal tendency, may be to breathe into the upper lobes, or up toward the clavicles {top ribs}. This stimulates the sympathetic nervous system {the flight, fight, freeze response}, which does not allow for proper digestion. Spend a dedicated few minutes in the morning, to breathing into your low ribs. Then, throughout the day, try to remember to shift your breath down low. Eventually, it will become your new normal! 

Stability {the earth element}

A fire requires a structure to burn. Think of the structures of your life as concentric circles from the inside out… inside are the structures of your body – your muscles, bones and joints, the shape and structure of internal organs such as your brain and stomach, the shape and structure of your digestive tract, nerves, and other important channels.
Outside, there is the structure of your daily schedule or routines, the rituals you practice and the structure and stability {or lack there of} in your relationships. An overly rigid structure that lacks flexibility results in a dull or low fire. Likewise, a lack of stability and structure in your body, mind and life will result in an out of control or erratic ability to digest your food and experiences. Here are two tips to stabilize the structures of your body, mind and life. 

Tip #1 ~ Routine, Routine, Routine
A reliable, stable routine in your life regulates your fire. Without being excessively rigid, understand that it is in your nature as a part of nature to live according to the ebbs and flows of the sun and moon. To sleep at night, be wakeful during the day, eat and regular times and so on. Routine is probably the most important thing you can do for healthy inner fire.
Tip #2 ~ Reliable Relationships
Even just a few reliable peeps in your life help keep your fire ignited and regulated. They keep you laughing, they keep you in check, they keep you from turning into a crazy person! Keep these relationships precious and lean into them.

That’s it!

​​Keeping your digestive fire {body + mind} stoked and steady is really about lifestyle. It’s all the stuff you probably know you would benefit from. When holidays come around and you know you will have MORE to digest {more food, more people, more stress, more interaction, more stimulation}… these things are even more important.

If you love learning about how the 5 elements of nature effect you and your yoga practice, body and mind, check out THIS article on how the elements relate to Mind Types, and THIS article on how the elements relate to yoga poses.

Oh, and if you want to see all the things we EAT as long as our digestive fire is good… check our plates out here

I’d love to hear how the elements effect your belly, mind and life! Keep me posted on Facebook or in the comments below or shoot me an email.


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