Written by John Immel,
But what if you were aware of how your body reacts to food? You would be able to select foods that make you feel good. One of Ayurveda's greatest gifts is body awareness. It's simple to learn.
Ayurveda focuses on your body's experience and reactions to foods rather than biochemical reactions, which is Western medicine's approach. Ayurveda shows you how your body naturally relates to food, disease, and the environment.
Think about the last time your family went out for Mexican food and you ate too many jalapenos. You may have felt "hot under the collar." What you were feeling was the medicinal effect of the jalapeno. An Ayurveda practitioner knows how to use this effect to help someone heal. Every food you eat has an effect on your body, your emotions, and your thoughts. By developing the art of noticing these feelings, you are able to intuitively discern the effect foods have on you without memorizing charts. As a result, you are able to personalize Ayurveda.
What to Notice"Felt sensing" is the art of feeling what is happening in your body. At first it is difficult to feel what is happening; you may have a vague sense of how a food affects you, or whether or not you like it. Even if you are able to feel what is going on, translating those feelings into words may be a challenge. The feeling may be difficult to describe.
Fortunately, Ayurveda has a technique to build this awareness and to help you figure out the impact of food on your body. Start by noticing where you have physical sensations. If you don't feel anything, check your head, heart, gut, and skin. Then, notice the type of sensation. Physical sensations generally include the following:
Once you figure out which gunas are involved, you'll find the impact of food is easier to perceive. It will be much simpler to understand what you're feeling and talk about it. And, it will be much simpler to restore balance. Once you have translated your experiences into these gunas, Ayurveda also shows you the gunas and foods that can help you feel better. Translating feelings into gunas is the fundamental skill Ayurveda practitioners use to heal their clients. Now, you can use it too, and can easily pinpoint how each food impacts your dosha (constitution).
To figure out a new ingredient, eat it every day for a week, in various cooking preparations. Systematically go through the guidelines of analysis laid out above. Take note of your physical and emotional experiences throughout the day and as you eat the ingredient. By consistently developing this level of awareness, you will gradually gain an intuitive understanding of the ingredient. Over time, the art of felt sensing will become automatic. This level of connection with your body's experience of food will empower you to make healthy eating choices with ease.
When to NoticeFood impacts your body at each stage of digestion. Take note of what is experienced at each step so you can understand the complete impact and pharmacology of the food. This process begins before you eat. Figure out how you are feeling and take a moment to examine what you are craving even before you choose what to eat. Then, you can compare how your experience changes as you eat.
The contact of the food with your tongue, lips, mouth, throat, and even the smell of the food give you immediate knowledge about the medicinal effects. The medicinal effect of food starts in the mouth. As you chew and taste your food, your body immediately identifies and prepares for what you are about to ingest. You'll notice sensations throughout your body, even in this stage.
As you digest your food, you'll start to notice how it feels in your stomach and small intestine. You'll notice the places food gets stuck, the presence of inflammation, or gas and bloating.
As you absorb and assimilate what you've eaten into your body, you'll notice how the food affects your entire metabolism. You'll notice how it changes you emotionally, and you'll even feel the effect on certain organs and muscles. You'll especially notice how it affects your heart, liver, and kidneys because these organs manage the blood, which is the ultimate byproduct of digestion.
Finally, as you eliminate the refuse and indigestible components of the food, you'll notice how the food makes you feel as it passes over the sensitive tissues of the rectum. Does it have any lasting effect after you've eliminated it?
Checking Your FactsAfter you've completed these steps, it's time to check your facts. Look at references like the Joyful Belly website or other Ayurvedic texts to see if there's something you've missed. Ultimately, trust your body over the textbooks. Only you know your relationship to cilantro or apples.
The art of felt sensing is easy to learn, but it takes practice. Repetition and mindfulness are essential to developing this skill. Each time you practice it, you'll have little "aha!" moments that are not only exciting, but insightful and meaningful. Through this method, you'll be learning how to take care of your unique body. Journal your discoveries as you go.
Your relationship to food is not a static thing, but an ever-changing dynamic requiring moment to moment awareness. For example, sometimes the impact of food changes seasonally. I've found that beans taste astringent and unappetizing in the fall when they would likely aggravate Vata, but sweet and delicious in the spring when they will likely pacify Kapha. Let Ayurveda guide you in developing that level of awareness until it becomes second nature. When it comes to well-being, there is no better investment of time and attention than getting to know the subtleties of your body.
Table of Bodily Changes and EffectsHere are some sensations you might notice as you explore the impact of a particular food on your body:
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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. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. 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.
Questions, Comments & Impressions of 'improving your body awareness of food'?Is there something you'd like to know about 'improving your body awareness of food'?
I loved reading about this, and would like to put this into practice. Is there other information I can read about sensing the impact of food on my body. Not sure by reading your article that I would get it. Mind you yesterday I bought a new tea which was the Yerba mate, while I was drinking it, it tasted sour and bitter, and as I am pitta/vata, I got the message, maybe this tea is not for you. Today I woke up very itchy all over and feeling hot all day. So maybe I really need to listen to my body more. Thanks Mel H.
We do teach more about this in our 500hr certification program, and through some of the articles on our website. Thanks for asking and I'm glad you "experienced" the article via Yerba Mate...