During this season of gratitude, we express appreciation for our loved ones and various aspects of our lives. If there’s one thing to be the most thankful for in life, it’s…drum roll, please… your digestive system!
Why your digestive system?
– Harnesses prana (nutrients from food) to keep you alive.
– Affects every other system in your body.
– Is the seat of your immunity. Your immune system, in turn, protects every other system in your body.
To celebrate the harvest, cultures worldwide center around food. Many of the ubiquitous fall foods are dense, carb-heavy comfort foods; these calm the airy, dry vata dosha that predominates these months of the year. Because of the tendency toward an increase in vata this season (and in our fast-paced modern urban society), we can easily feel depleted–increasing our cravings for comfort foods. An imbalance in the vata dosha can leave us feeling empty or restless; this, compared with a decrease in impulse control, leaves us vulnerable to emotional eating. Taking care of our digestion helps us alleviate imbalance and maintain balance.
Here are my top five recommendations to support (or show appreciation to) your digestive system during Thanksgiving:
1. Triphala. I usually don’t suggest herbs as the first recommendation, but this is a worthy exception. I believe everyone should take triphala (unless you are pregnant, on blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder). You can learn more about the benefits of triphala on my website (svasthahealth.com), but the short version is that triphala helps to keep everything flowing in the digestive system, reduces the effects of stress on digestion, and is a powerful tool for balancing vata.
2. Choose warm instead of cold food and drinks. Most of us have felt esophageal spasms if we eat something cold quickly; cold slows our digestion. Hot water and herbal teas are good to support digestion, as are warm foods.
3. Portion control. Cup your two hands together and form a bowl with them. This “bowl” is your maximal individual portion at one sitting (level bowl, not heaping). You can eat more frequently and tolerate it well if you are maintaining good portion control. As soon as you feel full physically, stop! Take a break, put the leftovers in a glass or stainless steel container, and save it for later (ideally, two hours later, at least). My pushy relatives are okay with me saying I’ll consume their food offering in two hours because I really want to savor and enjoy it, and likely yours will be, too.
4. Favor Hot and Bitter Tastes. The comfort foods of this season are inherently heavy and can be hard to digest. We can help to balance these qualities, and support our digestion, by spicing it up. Spices for the season are all heating (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger) and improve our digestive capacity (agni). Include spices in everything (e.g. cinnamon in your coffee, rosemary in your eggs, black pepper on your veggies, paprika on mashed potatoes). While pungent, or heating, spices help support digestion of seasonal foods, bitter taste helps to reduce accumulation and stagnation in the digestive system. The easiest way to get bitter taste in is with fresh leafy greens, and the best way to do so this season is to cook and spice those greens.
5. Support your emotional body. The digestive system is the portal through which the energetic patterns in your mind/emotions enter the body. It’s almost impossible to have optimal digestion if you have a lot of intense or rapidly changing emotions. During this season in which we try to squeeze in family and travel and holidays with our work load, it’s easy to find yourself in a stressful place. Check in now, and consider your greatest tools for self-care and emotional balance and plan ahead. Book massages now, schedule the day spa, plan yoga classes, identify your therapists’ holiday hours….you get the idea.
Of course, anything you do to balance vata and maintain agni (digestive capacity) will help support digestion. Start with these five tips to avoid being overwhelmed, which is another facet of vata imbalance.
Dr. Siva Mohan integrates Ayurveda with modern medicine in her Ayurvedic wellness practice and educational programs to define and achieve whole-being wellness. Dr. Mohan specializes in addressing the psychospiritual basis of healing. svasthahealth.com.