Written by John Immel,
Find Happiness in Healthy DigestionLooking for a sure-fire way to improve your mood? Start by assessing your gut health. In Ayurveda, the digestive system is root of many emotional imbalances. If it's off kilter, your physical, mental and emotional health will be out of balance too.
Of course, in modern life there are many stressors that can leave you feeling despondent such as career pressures, relationship troubles, financial worries or lack of fulfillment. A healthy digestive system is not going to magically take these problems away, but it will boost your physical and emotional strength and put you in a better position to cope with tough times.
Our spiritual well being is the ultimate foundation for happiness. However, without strong digestion, it may feel like you're taking two steps forward and one step back. Improving digestion can play an important role in in reducing the physical causes of unhappiness.
The Brain-Belly ConnectionHave you ever experienced that 'gut feeling' before making a big decision? Or butterflies in your stomach before a job interview? Or what about those terrible tummy twists when you are under stress? These are the sensations you feel first hand that confirm emotional experiences are intimately connected to digestion.
The connection between the brain and the belly is a two way street. In fact, the gut sends more information to the brain than vice versa. Many of these messages travel 'upstream' along the vagus nerve. The microbes in your digestive system have a direct effect on the brain as they produce certain neurotransmitters. Special cells in the gut also produce hormones and neurochemicals that directly affect mood, including serotonin and endorphins. This relatively new area of research is opening up a new perspective on how our gut health affects how we think, feel and behave and also the role it plays in disorders such as anxiety and depression.
But the nerves of the gut are only half the story. Toxicity plays an important role, too.
What is Ama and Why You Should CareWhen your digestion is weak or defective (usually due to improper diet choices over an extended period of time), food sits in your stomach and starts to rot due to fermentation by bacteria. This rotten food is a poison to your whole system because it contains endotoxins produced by the bacteria. Ayurveda calls this poison, "ama".
Ama irritates your gut. And, some of it gets absorbed into the bloodstream, where it irritates your nervous system, and makes you feel emotional. When bacteria digest your food instead of you, they get the nutrients and you don't. This can leave you feeling depleted and fatigued.
Mentally, ama is responsible for brain fog, low mood, negative thinking and some forms of depression. Ama makes it feel like you are living each day in a haze. When ama is high, life is colorless, exhausting and uninspiring. It clogs up bodily channels and emotions can get trapped and repressed in the mind. These toxins also irritate the nervous system which can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety, and even anger. Even though these conditions are disorders of the mind, when you trace their root cause back to digestive toxins, you can start to understand the brain-belly connection from an Ayurvedic perspective.
Balance Your Mood With FoodIn Ayurveda, attributes (guna) are used to classify disorders. When you learn the attributes associated with a condition, you can start to balance it by introducing substances with the opposite attributes. Let's take a look at three of the most common mood disorders and how to to balance them through the digestive system and food.
Depression is a heavy, slow and dull condition. To balance feelings of depression, light and sharp foods should be included in the diet. This heavy dull, type of depression is most commonly associated with an imbalance in Kapha dosha. People with a predominance of Kapha generally experience excess mucous in the upper gastrointestinal tract, particularly the stomach, which can leave them feeling tired, sluggish, lethargic and depressed after eating. To balance this, Kapha people need some stimulation of pungent and bitter tastes to enhance digestion and follow these guidelines to balance slow digestion.
Anger is a hot, sharp and fast condition. To balance an angry disposition, introduce foods with cool and dull attributes. Anger is a typical Pitta disorder, and generally those who are quick to anger often have inflammation, irritation, loose stools and acid reflux in their digestive tract. Sound familiar? Introduce sweet and bitter flavors to cool and cleanse an irritated intestine and follow these steps to balance Pitta digestion.
Anxiety is a dry, light and mobile condition. To calm the mind and stabilize your nervous system, it is important to emphasize comfort foods with oily and heavy attributes. Generally those experiencing anxiety have a predominance of Vata in the digestive system which can often lead to dryness and constipation. IBS is a typically Vata digestive disorder that has been closely linked to anxiety. Because of Vata's dryness, Enzyme output is also generally low in Vata types which means they struggle to digest complex meals. If this sounds like you, enjoy simple, easy to digest meals and start incorporating some of these techniques to balance Vata digestion.
Beat the Blues with Strong DigestionIf you're in doubt about your digestive type, but still want to improve your mood through healthy digestion, there are some basic techniques that are appropriate for all to follow. First and foremost, only eat when you are hungry. Sounds simple! Eating before the previous meal is fully digested (or grazing throughout the day) will burden digestive system and can lead to the formation of digestive toxins. Following a set pattern for regular mealtimes is also key. Skipping meals, erratic mealtimes and eating too close to bed all confuse the body and weaken digestive strength. Your digestive system loves routine and repetition.
If boosting your mood, feeling joyful, and healing the gut is a priority for you, eat a diet of easy to digest food. Complex meal with many different ingredients requires far more energy to digest and will slow the digestive process down. Your belly and brain thrive off these easy to digest foods. Also, don't forget to sip hot water throughout the day. This will keep your body hydrated and mind refreshed, while also stimulating and supporting the digestive system. Make sure to avoid iced drinks at all times, as these shock the body and increases digestive toxins.
Still having trouble? Get our complete tips in Healthy Digestion Made Simple
Eat Well, Feel WellMaintaining and supporting strong digestion through your food choices is vital. The proper functioning of the digestive system is essential to fuel the rest of the body. The relationship between body and mind has always been emphasized in Ayurveda. Agni (digestive strength) not only breaks down the food you ingest at mealtimes, but it is also responsible for how you metabolize daily experiences and information. The strength of your agni is directly related to your ability to understand and comprehend knowledge and process emotions and sensory experience. It is the governing force in your body and source of good health.
Students in the Mastering Ayurvedic Digestion & Nutrition program learn these fundamental methods and many other advanced techniques to pinpoint and recalibrate digestion, so their clients function with optimal vitality.
A strong digestive system leads to a strong and capable mind. Therefore, the foods you eat have a significant impact on mood, how you feel each day and how you handle difficult times. Learn to eat for digestion and you'll find yourself processing emotions more efficiently, feeling lighter, brighter and more enthusiastic about life.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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