Feel better after your holiday (or any) meal!
Here in the U.S. this week, many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving.
As it seems to be a culturally-accepted practice to overindulge, I'm taking this opportunity to offer some suggestions for lessening the impact (unless you're into that sort of thing) ;), to go a little easier on the digestive system, and maybe even enjoy the holidays (or any meal) a little more, without the aftermath of abdominal discomfort.
If you happen to be celebrating in the company of supportive friends and family, invite them along in these practices! It could be the start of a whole new holiday tradition!
Preparing the space (internally and externally).
There is probably not more traditional background sound than "the game" blaring on the t.v. while grandpa snoozes on the sofa.
Far be it from me to break from tradition.
~ But, if you're not of the sports-watching ilk, consider setting an intentionally peaceful mood to dine by.
Healthy digestion requires the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system to be activated (as opposed to the orthosympathetic, or 'fight-or-flight' branch, activated by noise, lights and other stimulus. Turn off the screens and phone (at least during the meal), bring in soft music and natural lighting, and suggest conversational topics that avoid emotional triggers to allow for less-stressed digesting.
~ Try to refrain from drinking fluids a half hour before and after (and during) your meal.
Having a little something handy to sip if needed is fine, but the practice of 'washing down' your food with a beverage has the effect of diluting the saliva and stomach acids necessary for digestive efficiency. Also, avoid icy cold beverages any time if you can, particularly if you have a tendency toward feeling cold, or often experience dull stomach pains or heartburn after eating.
~ Conversely, try sipping something warm before a meal, like broth or miso soup. Miso soup, properly prepared, contains live enzymes which support healthy gut bacteria.
Embrace a moment of grace.
~ This needn't be a religious practice, but sharing in a few moments of silence before lifting the utensils can help you and your companions transition peacefully from the bustle of preparation and settling in to the table, signaling to your nervous system that it's time to center down and enjoy.
Chinese Medicine would say that digestion really begins with the eyes and nose, so allowing your senses to take in the sights and smells placed before you can trigger the appetite and get the juices flowing in preparation for what's to come.
Even just taking a few cleansing breaths will allow your body to settle down and your organs to relax.
Savor the meal.
~ Chew. Your. Food. If you do nothing else (yet) to support your digestion, this is an excellent habit to cultivate.
And, I get it. I am notorious for wolfing down my meals - I don't know why. But, digestion begins in the mouth. In fact, a good deal of carb breakdown happens with the saliva, which means less stress on the tummy.
Different foods require different breaking-down components, so prolonging the chewing stage allows for the whole digestive system to better prepare for what's coming down the pike. The recommended amount of chewing (like 20-30 times minimum) should leave your food basically liquefied, which can take some patience to work up to, fer sure.
Other benefits of chewing well:
~ You've probably already heard, the slower you eat, the sooner you'll get the satiation signal not to overdo it. Whether you heed that signal, of course, is another matter.
~ Higher quality food tastes better longer. If you've ever tried to savor a fast food burger beyond three bites, you'll know what I mean. Foods high is starch, fat and preservatives don't stand up well to breaking down, flavor-wise. Likewise, properly prepared whole foods taste better the longer you chew them.
~ Chewing well helps your brain! This research study explores how the mechanical process of mastication has a positive effect on cognitive memory function. Lots of jargon here, but just a glance will illustrate how many other systems are affected by the simple act of processing food.
Nourish the hara.
The hara (abdomen, in Japanese) benefits greatly from massage, either from a bodyworker or yourself, or other movements and activities, such as walking.
While we've somehow turning walking after a meal into a means of absolution for our sins or overeating, this is when our bodies need to focus resources internally on digesting. Try a short walk before the meal, even if it's a little chilly, to stimulate the appetite.
When you consider that until recently, humans used to have to do a bit of physical activity to even acquire food, you'll see this makes a little more sense biologically.
Oops, I did it again...
Okay, so that third helping of mom's stuffing was just too much to resist.
We all do it. Here's a Qigong healing sound practice (from Saul Goodman's article, "12 Techniques for Strengthening the Digestive System") that can help nourish the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas in case of indigestion.
(In Qigong, certain sounds are used, in addition to breathing and movements, to help nourish and heal the internal organs.)
"The sound, "whooooo', is a Taoist healing sound that stimulates and balances the stomach, spleen and pancreas.
You can use it every day as a general tonic for strengthening these organs, or whenever you have indigestion, or have overeaten. The normal pronunciation is 'who', but when using it as a healing sound, we pronounce it sub-vocally (as though you're blowing out a candle.)
1) Sit up straight, and place the fingertips from both hands on your solar plexus (the area between your rib cage and navel).
2) Take a deep breath in, and, as you slowly breathe our, make the whispering sound, 'whhhoooooo'. While making this sound, slowly bend forward and press your fingertips into your solar plexus.
3) As you sit up, breathe in deeply.
4) Repeat 4-5 times."
Again, these are practices you can incorporate any time, for any meal (unless you're eating in the car, which is a whole 'nuther issue!)
(And, apparently, I wrote something on this topic a while ago, which includes bringing a bit of the sacred back to the table...)
With the increasing prevalence of digestive disorders, bringing mindfulness to HOW we eat can be an easy place to start taking care of ourselves.
Need hara massage support? Or, a good miso soup recipe? You know where to find me!
May you food nourish your body, and may you find great enjoyment in the process!