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In Traditional East Asian Medicine we consider a healthy digestive system to be a key part of overall health.

I would like to offer two simple steps that you can integrate into your daily life to improve and optimize digestion.

Eat in a relaxed setting in an un-rushed manner.

You may not be able to do this for every meal, but try to eat in a relaxed manner as much as possible. Our digestive system optimally functions when our nervous system is relaxed. In this relaxed mode, our mouth produces saliva to help break down the starches while chewing our food (that’s why chewing is super important for digestion). When relaxed, our body produces the proper amount of stomach acid and digestive enzymes to break down the food and assimilate the nutrients in the food. The food itself moves through the intestines at the right pace so that nutrients are absorbed. Then, waste products move through the body in a regular manner. That’s how everything is supposed to function and the result is a healthy digestive system.

Here are some ideas to promote a relaxed eating environment: 

  • Set aside a proper amount of time to eat your meals.
  • Eat sitting down.
  • As much as possible avoid work and stress while eating (for example, don’t watch or listen to the news).
  • Turn on soothing music or experience the quiet or engage in good conversation.
  • Create a lovely eating environment. Set the table with beautiful plates. Light a candle. Put flowers on the table.
  • Breathe. Slow down and savor the flavors of the foods on your plate.

Relax your belly (and really, your whole body)

In the holistic approach to health, we believe that the mind and body are connected. Many people hold stress, tension and anxiety in their belly. These emotions activate the sympathetic nervous system (also known as “fight or flight” mode) which impairs healthy digestive function. In addition, many people also physically tighten the muscles in their abdomen which can prevent the natural movements of the digestive system.

Abdominal breathing is a powerful way to relax your belly: 

Deep abdominal breathing is a wonderful way to relax the nervous system to activate the ideal state for proper digestion. Abdominal breathing also releases the physical tension in the abdomen by letting the muscles relax. You can practice this at anytime and almost anywhere.

If you are someone who has a tendency to hold your belly in, allow your belly to relax. Gently place both hands on your lower abdomen (just below your belly button). Take slow comfortable breaths into your lower belly. You will feel your abdomen subtly rise and fall beneath your hands with the in-breath and out-breath. This should all be gentle, comfortable and easy. Close your eyes if that helps connect to your breath. Feel your whole body relax. Practice this throughout the day.

With daily practice, you may start noticing improvements in your digestive system (and maybe even in other areas of your health too). When you relax the nervous system, the whole body functions optimally.

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