by Lauren Messervey
Digestion. We take it for granted. We frequently look at the process as simplistic as food goes in, stomach churns it out. Very rarely do we take the time to think about the process itself (but really, isn't that just the truest for everything in life?).
My table manners are very British Noble circa the year 6. I shovel food into my face like it's my last meal. No utensils? Awesome. Utensils are for amateurs. There have been people in both my past and present that have accused my eating style of being “neolithic” or “un lady-like”, but hey, I'm not here to impress you. Despite my stubbornness, I didn't know that the process of eating like someone was trying to steal my food was actually harming my body, not just the delicate sensibilities of the people joining me at the table.
This week, Gillian set me straight. Digestion is a process that is EVERYTHING to our health. Digestion breaks down food so that nutrients can be properly absorbed and used by the body. Poor digestion can lead to a real pain in the gut (literally). Feeling overly full, heart burn, bloating, and leaky gut (that's where food particles split through the intestines, for those of you who are interested in super gross imagery) are all symptomatic of poor digestion.
In the same vein, Harry Houdini-ing your food can also contribute to poor digestion. The body is meant to be relaxed and stationary while eating, and ensuring small bites and slow intake are included essential to the process. It turns out that everyone who has been insulted by my table manners all my life should actually be more fearful of a bigger problem: my health. It's also better not to eat on the run, and practice mindful eating (read: actually paying attention to your food and your body's natural cues).
From here, we spoke about one of the greatest culprits of indigestion – stress. I think we all know that stress is a killer (it's why I practically live at a yoga studio). Chronic stress leads to disruption of essential hormones and causes inflammation in the body, not to mention a bunch of annoying/awful illnesses. Stress also greatly impacts digestion, which can make it especially difficult to eat. In a related and equally un-surprising newsflash, you NEED to eat often. The recommendation is usually every two to four hours, so even when you're stressed, you need to eat. Gillian recommends that these times call for smaller meals and snacks, a thing that will be music to the ears of actors and performers alike.
Sleep and exercise are also essential components to stress management, and ergo, important counterparts of proper digestion. I am blessed with being a champion sleeper and a lover of physical activity, but I do remember times when I have entered sloth-mode and neglected my body's need for speed. Likewise, a sleepless night will often result in me not feeling so great eating the day after. Piece by piece, it all makes sense. Everything in our body is immediately impacted by stress.
Our homework for the week was to practice mindful eating (as in, not eating like a caveman). This was admittedly hard for me. I have a habit of waiting a bit too long to crush a meal, so when the food is put in front of me, I already feel like I'm starving. I tried to intersperse the snacks, and it did help. It's a lot easier to eat more slowly when you don't feel like your survival is at stake.
It's good to know more about stress' impact on the body. I'm sure that stress will make another appearance in our final class this coming week.
Lauren Messervey is a writer, blogger and yoga instructor in Toronto, Canada. Her articles have been featured in Huffington Post and The Beaverton. She is also a regular guest host on Taggart and Torrens podcast. Twitter @LaurenMesservey