Keeping the digestion happy isn’t rocket science but it’s something we can easily become disconnected from. But if the digestion isn’t happy, nothing else in the body will be happy. It’s where the body begins the process of digestion, transformation and assimilation. If it can’t do that effectively, it means less nutrients get to the rest of the body.
Over time, less nutrients means less energy, weaker tissues and lower immunity. There’s no ‘magic pill’ or ‘quick fix’ that will give you the long-term effects of being kind to your digestive system. Ayurveda sees the GI tract as starting point of all disease in the body. It’s where things go wrong first. If we don’t right those imbalances, they’ll spread through the body and it get’s trickier to correct.
Some of these initial symptoms of an unhappy digestive system can be so commonplace in our society that we don’t even see them as symptoms anymore. We just resign ourselves to the discomfort; ‘that’s just how my body is’. They can show up as bloating, gas, indigestion, heartburn or cramping, to name just a few.
How many times have you had one or more of these symptoms in the last month? More often than not we don’t even remember because we’ve normalised the experiences.
But there are so many small shifts we can make to help the digestive system work as it’s designed. And the body is designed to function so brilliantly. So here’s three super simple but incredibly effective tips to gently guide your system back to balance. Look too good to be true? Too simple? Give yourself four weeks with them, keep a journal of your experiences and see just how much can change in a month.
1. STAY HYDRATED … NO REALLY!
I know, I know you take your three litres a day but BEAR WITH ME. This applies to you.
Here’s the thing, if we’re drinking water out of a tap or bottle most of the beneficial solutes will have been ‘cleansed’ from it. That’s our electrolytes; our sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium. Gone or almost gone. So, effectively, we’re just rinsing out the body. We’re adding little to nothing to it because it’s the solutes that help the body absorb the water and get it to the tissues who need it.
TIP: take your water warm and re-mineralised. Warm water gets into the tissues more easily and keeps core temperature up. All in all, it’s just easier for the body to deal with. Add a pinch of Himalayan pink salt et voila – electrolytes are back in play! Yes … that simple. Trust me.
2. PRIORITISE LUNCH
No Ayurvedic approach to wellness would be complete without talking about the digestive fire, or agni. It’s the internal flame that takes everything that we take in through our senses and transforms it into useable energies in the body.
We want a nice, steady agni to keep things moving along to avoid food fermenting in the body (gas, toxic buildup). But not so fast that we miss out on nutrients and water. Too high and we’ll burn through what we ingest before we have a chance to absorb any goodness. Too low and we’re looking at stagnation, with little of the good stuff being put to work.
Think of the burning of the digestive fire like the cycle of the day. In the morning it’s dimmer, kept low overnight. At noon it’s fast and fiery. And in the evening it’s dropping quickly, preparing for rest and cleansing.
With that being said, it makes little sense that we tend to take our biggest meal in the evening. Why don’t we take advantage of that fire when it’s high at lunchtime. Make lunch the biggest meal of your day and, if you’re going to have complicated combinations, do it at lunchtime. The body is best ready to process it at this time.
Keep breakfast light and warming – spices like cinnamon and ginger are brilliant to reignite the fire before taking anything more substantial in.
And in the evening? Something light and easily processed is best. It’s a myth that sleeping on a full stomach somehow equals more calories but, think about it, the body uses sleep to renew, refresh and detox. If it’s using 30% of that renewal energy to process food … how do you think you’ll feel when you wake?
3. FIND YOUR GROOVE
You’re not going to like me saying this. You’re going to feel like I’m coming for your fabulous, spontaneous lifestyle. But, honey, the digestion adores routine. In fact, the body as a whole does. It likes to know what’s coming and when it’s coming so that it can be best prepared. The kindest thing you can do your your system, especially in times of stress, is to eat at the same times and sleep at the same times. Think of these as pillars in your day that everything stacks around.
Here’s the logic: the body needs a couple of litres of digestive enzymes to process a meal. Yes, you read that right, ‘litres’. When we’re on a schedule, the body learns to prep these secretions at the correct times so that when we eat is can get to work right away. Otherwise it’s like throwing cake batter into a cold oven and wondering why it’s taking so long to rise!
TIP: take a glass of warm water about half an hour before you eat to give the body a hand with all the digestive fluid. Ginger tea is also great if you have a sluggish digestion – things feeling like they’re sitting in the stomach.
And if you really want to help things along, let me let you in on the Ayurvedic secret weapon, ginger slices. Not for the feint hearted but your agni will be eternally grateful for these pungent, tridoshic digestive slices. Take five or six slices of ginger, about the size of a coin, squeeze some lime juice and drizzle a little honey. Enjoy about 30 minutes before your meal, especially if you find your digestion to be sluggish.
As always with Ayurveda, the needs of each body will vary. We are not one-approach-fits-all. But these three tips apply across the board and can go a long way in helping your body work efficiently and happily.