How to Put Your Stomach on a Regular Schedule
Millions of people suffer from digestive problems in the U.S. We spend millions of dollars annually on digestive supplements, which has become a huge industry. Some people even grew to believe that digestive uneasiness is a normal state of being. While Eastern medicine strongly believes that digestion is a cornerstone of health and daily bowel movements are one of the indicators of good health, modern doctors consider two a week to be acceptable. Basically, most doctors are not concerned that you carry around a bag of toxic waste that gets re-absorbed into your blood stream five days out of seven.
In Chinese medicine and ayurveda, fewer than one bowel movement a day is considered constipation and requires serious attention. Unsupervised and untreated, it can lead to fatigue, unhealthy skin color, bad breath and headaches, in addition to general uneasiness in the stomach area.
Two years ago, before I dived into studying ayurveda and natural healing methods, my stomach was not exactly cooperating with me. Partially because of polycystic ovary syndrome and in a huge part because of my diet, I felt perpetually bloated (bye-bye sexy going out dresses!), often irregular and gassy. My stomach often looked like I was five months pregnant, even if ate very light. Sometimes it made me so angry and depressed that I wanted to cry. “How is it possible that I can’t control my own body?” I asked myself.
Two years and many books, workshops and kitchen experiments later, my stomach and I are in a very happy place. We made friends and our relationship soared to a new level of intimacy. Yes, being regular and bloat-free takes intimacy because you can’t do it without truly getting to know your body.
As I already mentioned, getting to know your body is a key to discovering digestive health. No matter where you are right now and how unhappy you might be with your digestion/elimination, you can make it 100 percent better with mindfulness and compassionate listening. It takes time to observe and to learn from your body. For now, I will share what worked for me in the hope that some of it might work for you as well.
Add it to your routine. Yes, I know it sounds funny, but it is one of the most profound things you can try. It should be a part of your morning cleansing routine. You brush your teeth, wash your eyes, shower. So why not cleanse your bowels first thing in the morning as well? In our crazy busy life, a lot of things have to be scheduled in advance to get done. Meetings? check. Laundry? check. Lunch with friends? check. Emails, classes, groceries and doctor checkups all need to be planned in advance. Going to the bathroom is no exception! Making it a habit is similar to training a puppy to go out at the same times each day. It takes some practice, but then it works like magic. We are creatures of habit and our body thrives in a familiar routine. Start by waking up 15 minutes earlier and slowly sip a cup of warm water with lemon or some herbal tea. I usually drink lemon/ginger Tulsi tea with a slice of lemon. While you drink this cleansing nectar, don’t play with your phone or check emails. This is your time to breathe and check in with your stomach. If your knees allow it, sit in Virasana and do several rounds of deep abdominal breathing. I find it to be a panacea for my digestive troubles. It increases blood flow to the digestive system, while breathing calms your nervous system and warm water stimulates peristaltic movement. Even if you don’t feel an urge to go to the bathroom right away, sit on the toilet and focus on breathing again (still no BlackBerry or iPhone in the hands, though!). Over time, your body will connect the dots, appreciate your non-hurried effort and start cooperating.
Give your belly some love. We take care of our nails, pamper our face and fuss over our hair, but our internal organs rarely get as much attention. If you’ve ever been in a managing role, you know that one of the easiest ways to get productive cooperation is to provide rewards and be nice. Our belly appreciates warmth, love and attention, as well. Abhyanga or a general whole body massage improves regularity due to its calming effects on the nervous system. Nervous stomach and irritable bowels need some calm and peace. If a whole body oil massage is an unreachable luxury, try gently rubbing your belly with your palm. Lie on your back, bring your feet into a butterfly (soles of the feet together and knees out to the sides) and gently massage the stomach clockwise.
Slow down. This one was huge for me, especially because I used to eat a lot while walking or in the back of a cab rushing somewhere. Now, I would rather skip a meal than eat in a rush. The stomach is closely connected to the nervous system. If you are in an overdrive rushed mental state, digestion can’t function properly. Good digestion and stress are on different ends of the spectrum. You need to slow down both your thoughts and your breath when food enters your body and when it leaves it. Both processes need to be mindful. If there is one thing you are ready to change today, don’t eat on the run. Don’t eat while moving, talking or rushing. When you eat, just eat. When you poop, just poop.
Have you noticed that your mood and mental state are affected by your regularity or irregularity? What makes your belly happy?
Nadya Andreeva is a yoga instructor and ayurveda enthusiast who grew up in Russia. She teaches yoga at Strala Yoga in New York City and leads workshops on Healthy Grocery Shopping at Lifethyme Natural Market in NYC.
Photo credit: cheekycrows3