Understanding & Working With Your Digestion Intuitively

Digestion in Ayurveda is called Agni or the digestive ‘fire’. Agni is considered of utmost importance. If working well, it gives good health. If digestion malfunctions, it gives rise to ‘ama’ or toxins, which can and do contribute to the cause of ill health, along with unresolved trauma, among other key factors. Critical to good digestion is to know when to eat, how much to eat and how to eat.

The How

How you treat digestion is very important. What you eat is important, but even the best foods are of little value if you cannot digest them. Ayurveda places great emphasis on your awareness of, and attention to, your digestion.

Your Past Conditioning

When you were young you were probably pressurised to eat at a certain time, irrespective of your hunger, and to ‘clean your plate’ and you may have learnt to eat as a reward or eat to be sociable. If so, you may now be out of touch with your body’s needs for food and be eating out of habit, or for emotional reasons.

A New Way ~ learning to tune in to your digestion

The only true reason for eating is physical hunger, though in our modern society we eat a lot for pleasure, enjoyment and social celebrations too.  In order to be more sensitive and aware of your body’s signals however, no matter why you’re eating, the following exercise is very useful, to help avoid unnecessary eating and over-indulgence.

You must first start to feel your stomach. Allow yourself to get hungry by delaying eating. When hungry, put your attention in the area of your stomach and notice what you feel. You may not feel anything or you may be aware of an emptiness, a true hunger in this space. At this point, have a meal. After the meal, place your attention on your stomach again. You should now notice a significant contrast. From these two extreme spaces of contrast, with considered and intuitive practice,  you can learn the difference between an empty stomach (when hungry) and a full stomach (when satiated).

Going Forwards ~ stages of digestion

From now on, make a point of always checking your stomach before and after eating.  As you do this over the coming days and weeks you’ll become aware of your ‘hunger level’.

Your stomach has two functions – to hold food after a meal and to begin digesting. As your stomach digests, it slowly empties. After a meal your stomach should be no more than three-quarters full, leaving room for churning the food and for digestive juices to do their job with optimal function.

Two hours later your stomach may be half full and after another few hours, it will be quarter full. A quarter full is the point at which your stomach has finished digesting the previous meal and is now just emptying. So it’s only now the stomach is truly ready to digest again. It is at this point that it sends us signals of hunger.

Common mistakes

So many of us (myself included at one point) are eating far too much between meals, snacking and grazing, eating little and often, believing it’s a good thing to do.  Whereas in actual fact, it’s just sending confusing signals to the digestive system, because it then doesn’t know what stage it’s at within the whole digestive process. As a result, we then begin to see all kinds of digestive issues showing up in their early stages and if subtle enough and left undetected, they become worse over time, until chronic and more of an issue to undo and heal.

Tuning In ~ fulfilled or filled full…?

However, if you continue to check your stomach, by putting your attention in that area of the body, you become more aware. You begin to recognise when your stomach is full, three-quarters full, half full, quarter full or empty. As you do so you will become more and more tuned in and even be able to predict your hunger. When you feel half full it will be up to two hours before you will feel hungry. When quarter full, you will shortly feel an appetite.

For good digestion, it is most important to eat when hungry. If you eat before true hunger arises you’re expecting your stomach to finish digesting the previous meal and yet, at the same time, to start digesting a new meal. This upsets digestion. The second most important lesson is to stop eating when three-quarters full. Overeating leaves no room for churning and digestive juices and so digestion is compromised. It is like putting too much coal on the fire. A simple question to remember after the meal is: are you fulfilled or are you filled full? ‘Fulfilled’ feels good. ‘Filled full’ is a heavy discomfort in the stomach and a general feeling of dullness and lethargy.

Final Vignettes

If you truly tune in and listen to your stomach you will over time develop better-eating habits. Gradually you will tend to eat at the right time, when hungry, and eat the right amount. At this point, you will learn from listening to your stomach the amount you should eat for breakfast which satisfies but leaves you hungry for lunch, which should be the main meal of the day, eaten around 12pm to 1 pm because this is when digestion is at its strongest. Then you will eat appropriately at lunch to leave you with a hunger for your lighter evening meal, ideally eaten by 7 pm. Only if hungry should you snack between meals.

Another important consideration for digestion is the way you eat. Ayurveda considers it essential to sit and relax. Only when you relax can your body concentrate on digestion. Therefore do not watch TV, read a newspaper, book or magazine or even scroll through a screen while eating. Also do not eat if you’re having an argument or have become emotional. The best scenario is gentle company enjoying a meal together or else eating quietly on your own.

Lastly, make sure you’re also eating appropriately for your constitution, for you as a unique and individual being. Eating foods which do not suit you and your individual make-up, no matter how healthy they may have been labelled, will not support a healthy digestive system and ultimately feed your mind and body fully if they’re not the right foods for you. So make sure you’ve done your research and are not just following the latest celebrity trend.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Having lived most of my life with food sensitivities and intolerances, I’ve been there, done that and done a lot of research and training…e.g. raw foods are not for most people despite what mass media may say, especially if you already have issues like constipation, insomnia, anxiety or dry skin. Similarly, spicy, hot, acidic foods are not much use to someone with reflux, skeletal aches and pains or skin issues like eczema. Or if you struggle with deep depression, lethargy and obesity, foods like mushrooms are not going to help you. I could write a whole other blog post on this…and perhaps I will soon. For now though, just remember, there is not a one-size-fits-all remedy. We all have to do our own research and find what works for us.

If you would like some extra help and guidance, do get in touch, where we can discuss your specific needs and make an individual plan to suit you.

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Face Mapping

Face mapping can be a really interesting way of understanding our skin as well as our body and mind as well. In modern medicine, we’re able to use tools such as blood tests, scans and x-rays to help inform us about what is going on inside of our body. However, thousands of years ago, diagnostic tools such as these didn’t exist and so people had to use other ways of finding out what was going on inside the body.

Ayurveda, the oldest successful healthcare system in the world, as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used to use face mapping widely in their practices because they believed it’s the skin’s job to communicate what is going on inside the body. With this knowledge, they could then be proactive in doing something about any skin symptoms, before anything became too serious.

That said, these practices are in fact still used in eastern medicine and are becoming more widely used in the west as well now. What’s most important to understand is this information is complementary, rather than an alternative. Therefore, it’s always advised that if you have any health concerns or symptoms, to seek medical advice and diagnosis…and use this information to further support a more balanced and healthier lifestyle.

So, looking at different parts of the face, let’s explore how these can relate to specific parts of the body. Let’s begin with the forehead area. If you experience poor skin tone here or perhaps it’s dull, has spots, lines or wrinkles, it’s said this can be linked to the gallbladder and the liver. To improve the look of this facial area, it’s recommended you reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, and better still eliminate it completely.

Further to this, it’s suggested to also consider the fatty foods you’re eating… what I mean by this are what are considered the bad fats, such as sugar, fast and junk foods and cooking less with oils, especially the really refined oils. We don’t need to use nearly as much oil as we do. In fact, I have been cooking without oil for some time now and it doesn’t make any difference to the overall flavour outcome of a meal. It does help to positively rebalance things in your body system though.

The next area is the space between the eyebrows. This is often linked to the stomach and the liver. So if this area is a place you tend to experience poor skin tone, lines, spots, then it’s really important you start to introduce foods, which are more cleansing into your diet. For example, more fresh fruits and vegetables and especially more fresh clean water…this is vitally important here.

Next is the temple area. Does this area get inflamed for you? Or maybe you get a lot of spots here?  If you answered yes, it could be an indication that your kidneys are not working as efficiently as they could. If this is the case, you may also notice that you’re getting back pain. Based on this, the advice is to drink more clean, fresh water, to help clean out your kidneys.

The upper cheeks. If this area is often prone to spots or symptoms like rosacea, eczema, it is most often linked to your heart. Therefore to help support this, integrate more good fats into your diet. Contrary to what you may think, this actually helps to break down bad fats in your body system. Foods to include could be oily fish such as sardines, mackerel or salmon, avocado, seeds and nuts…all of which help your heart health. Remember, it’s all about moderation though. This is not a cue to go and consume a whole bag of salted cashews or chocolate covered brazils or an entire bowl of guacamole in one sitting.

Your mid-cheeks are believed to be linked to your lungs and stomach, according to Ayurveda & TCM. So if this area is inflamed, lined or prone to spots, rebalance your diet by eating more alkalising foods. This includes vegetables, especially greens, fruits and green juices.  There are plenty of good guides to alkaline foods online…here’s one from Dr Axe.

The lower cheek area is linked to the liver and the stomach. So if the skin is poor around this area, it can be an indication that a gentle detoxification could help and support you…gentle being the operative word here. This doesn’t mean cutting out a whole list of things…it simply means reducing toxic foods such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, too much wheat and too much dairy to help support the rebalancing of the skin around your lower cheeks.

Spots around the mouth area can often be an indication that the stomach is sluggish and perhaps even some mild food intolerances could be at play. So you may like to get this checked out, if you have symptoms around here.

For those of you whose jaw-line can often be prone to spots, this suggests there could be hormonal imbalances or a lot of stress going on for you. Anything you can do to reduce this stress and balance your hormones will help and support you. EFT is a great wee tool for these aspects, especially stress. As well as this, taking time to do something relaxing each day, be that meditation, walking in nature, breathing exercises, colouring in, yoga or whatever works for you, will make a big difference.

Lastly, if the skin around your neck is prone to spots or looks stagnant and dull, this is generally an indication that your lymph nodes need detoxing, which can also be linked to stress. So similarly, it’s important to take time out to relax.

This is just a very general introduction to face mapping and there is so much more which can be learnt from our skin and the various organs and tissues it’s connected to. As well as Ayurveda having a lot of guidance on this, META-Health is also a valuable and insightful guide and analysis tool for understanding what is going on with our skin, as well as all our other organs and tissues. Nothing works in isolation in the body system and a META-Health analysis can pinpoint root causes, especially when coupled with Ayurvedic knowledge.

Lastly, if you would like to learn about natural skincare and are looking for hand-blended vegan organic products, then check out UK-based Siskyn Skincare, who are award-winning and ethical, as well as divine on the skin. It feels like a facial every day I use their products. And no…I am not sponsored by them…I simply love their products and what they stand for in their business.

If you would like to know more about your own skin symptoms, do get in touch, where I will be happy to help and guide you on your wellness journey.