Here’s some food for thought:
Digestion is more than the food that we eat!
Working with pregnant women, this fact rings true even more than with the general population. With the great responsibility of stewarding a life from one cell to millions, mothers are often very aware of everything they put in and on their bodies. This is just one aspect that underscores that as a sentient being, we are affected and influenced by many external factors. The simple fact is that once we understand how different external things can affect us, we can choose which things we invite inside. Within our control, we can make good choices to positively affect our body and mind and the mind and body of our growing baby.
The main form of digestion that we are all aware of is related to the food that we eat. In most dictionaries, digestion describes the breaking down of food that is then used by the body to function. You may have read in your biology books about how digestion begins mechanically and enzymatically in the mouth and then travels through the alimentary canal. Many organs contribute to the digestion of our food: Our stomach, the pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine and the large intestine. With help, our gut processes the food that we eat and these organs help our body break down and assimilate the byproducts of digestion.
According to Ayurveda, our gut is one of the most critical contributing factors to our health.
Gut health is considered to be the root of all diseases. When an Ayurvedic Practitioner interacts with their client, they will always look at the digestive health of the individual. All my labor clients begin with an Ayurvedic analysis. Many moms say, “oh…that gas, that’s nothing, I’m used to that. It doesn’t bother me much.” While this is their initial response and yet still others don’t even notice any digestive disturbances, this is the first thing we work on because I know this will influence both their pregnancy, body and their birth! The end product of digestion is used to form the various tissues and structures of the body – including our mental make up. Therefore, digestion relating to our gut is critical. The quality of the food that we eat affects the health and nature of our body.
While food is important, we know through our daily experiences that we “digest” or “process” more than just food.
A more accurate description is that we digest everything that our sensory organs experience. We have 5 sensory organs that intake data from the outside world and process them. This means that there are at least 5 types of digestion that take place in our bodies. It is more accurate to say that we are what we digest, rather than what we eat. Therefore, it is extremely important that we are aware of what enters our body through our sense organs and understand how our body processes them.
The qualities of what we intake and digest are the qualities the body absorbs and assimilates.
Ayurveda understands that everything around us can be characterized by qualities. These qualities describe the nature of the substance and also describes the nature of the action these substances have on the body. The qualities of what we intake and digest are the qualities the body absorbs and assimilates.
If you stand underneath a fan blowing cold air, after enough time, you will start to notice that the qualities of cold and air have caused some dryness on your skin. You can get the same dryness if I blew hot air onto you, but you might see some redness as well. Heat and air can not only cause dryness, but if aggravated long enough can also cause potential inflammation. Likewise, it is not a surprise that someone who suffers from indigestion may not be able to easily eat some pasta with spicy tomato sauce. The acidity and heat of the tomato sauce will aggravate the already sensitive digestive tract because they share the same qualities. Like increases like. So, when you start to understand what qualities the things around you posses then you will be able to understand how these things affect your body. Depending on what is going on with your own health, you will be able to know what things will positively influence your health and what things will negatively influence it.
A real life example…
Let’s see how this plays out in your body through each of our sense organs.
I had a client who suffered from gas, heartburn and a history of liver related troubles. She had anxiety over birth, having had a c-section to give birth to her first child. After doing a full Ayurvedic analysis and identifying the contributing factors to her current and previous health issues, we started to address these disturbances from various perspectives – more specifically through all the sense organs. As mentioned before, digestion is important and digestion occurs at all levels. By addressing not only the foods that she ate, but by utilizing touch, smell, breathing and mental exercises, processing of external stimuli and their subsequent invoked thought processes, she was able to turn around and heal every condition that she had! She had a very quick and easy birth as well. You see, digestion – in the most larger sense – is far more important than we think or realize!
Through the sense organ of taste, our mouth, we utilized foods that have qualities which reduced the element of fire in her body. This was contributing to gas. We incorporated various types of bodywork utilizing oils specifically to address the qualities of heat in her body that caused both dryness and inflammation. Self massage introduced a critical aspect of self love. But, all of these addressed her health through touch and by using the specific qualities introduced in that touch. She was given specific exercises for mindfulness and relaxation, connecting the mind and the breath and providing her a deep sense of calm. She also incorporated specific exercises to work through feelings of anger, resentment and buried feelings of guilt.
You might think that I just asked her to change her diet, but I didn’t!