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Rest and Digest

Some time ago I was looking at a booklet one of my colleagues wrote about chronic stress. Reading through the symptoms I had one of those “aha" moments where I recognized how fast I'd been going and how unconscious I'd been of the ramifications of this. One huge consequence was on my digestive capacity.

The truth is that all the best, most wholesome food will not transform into healthy bodily tissue if we don’t slow down while we eat. "Rest and digest" points to the fact that Digestion is a parasympathetic response–it only happens well when we’re relaxed. There’s really no getting around this. Under stress the blood supply to the gut is diminished in favor of enhanced circulation to the big muscles of our arms and legs so we can run away from the threat. In order for humans to properly digest food, we need to slow down, take a few breaths, and connect to the food we're eating. Eating slowly and with awareness allows for easeful digestion.

I spent years trying to heal my digestion. I had chronic gas and bloating and was prone to constipation, even though I ate a diet that was incredibly healthy and healing in terms of what I was eating. I had heard all about the importance of relaxing while eating, but it didn’t really hit home until I was sitting on the edge of the exam table with my Ayurvedic physician, who was reading aloud to me the “how to eat” portion of a pamphlet on healthy digestion.

“Why is she taking the time to read this to me?” I wondered.

“I can read it for myself."

"I already know all this.”

And then, Bingo, in a flash of recognition, I realized what my practitioner already knew, that I was not practicing this. I’ll tell you that moment got my attention. I was paying my doctor to read aloud to me, but it finally sunk in.

If I was really interested in healing my digestion, I had to get real about the ways stress hormones were circulating through my system, literally cutting off my capacity to digest the food I was eating. I had to learn how to intentionally trigger ease while I ate.

I'm happy to report that I was able to make this shift. Now, not just eating, but the act of preparing food is something I do with ease and awareness. I'm not perfect at it, but I have make it a practice, and my digestion is so much better. I have trained myself to eat slowly, calmly and with awareness of my food even while driving. And while I don't recommend eating while driving, sometimes that's what's happening.

When we see where we really are in relation to a habit, versus where we think we are, we empower ourselves to begin living in a new way. Awareness is always the first step. If we aren’t connecting the dots between our behaviors and the results we're getting, we won’t understand how to get different results in the future.

In what area of your life could you benefit from acting on the knowledge you already have?

Sending love on a sunny fall day, Shannon


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