Anxiety & Digestion
Almost everyone has heard that meditation is a fabulous way to de-stress and calm anxieties. Currently, the world seems anxious and busier than ever so skipping a daily mediation practice is commonplace. However, sticking to that little meditative ritual, even for five minutes, aids in the break-down and processing of your last meal. As humans, we are actually built to sit back, relax, and enjoy our lunches!
Each person’s body has a nervous system that regulates our unconscious responses. The autonomic nervous system has two divisions. The first is called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and is at the helm of our fight-or-flight responses. If we see or experience something that triggers a stress response, our SNS doesn’t know if we are being chased by a bear or if we missed a deadline. Despite the vast difference, our bodies still react the same way – they release adrenaline, cortisol, and other response hormones. When adrenaline is present in our bloodstream, it acts like a light switch – switching on abilities that help us out run that bear but not necessarily make our deadlines.
Bears & Deadlines
When these bear-fighting abilities are turned on our peaceful processes, such as digestion, turn off. If we make it across the river and the bear leaves us alone, around our bodies can flip the peaceful switch back on and digestion can resume. But if we miss our deadline, then we remember the next deadline …and the bus is running late …and we miss our flight …and have to re-book a plane ticket and on and on, the peaceful switch never gets the chance to turn back on.
This is when meditation and deep breathing can become our best friend. Meditative practices turn on our para-sympathetic nervous system (PNS). All of our day-to-day processes can then take place thanks to our PNS. Have you ever been to an uncomfortable family dinner and noticed that you weren’t hungry or that afterwards you were strangely bloated or had stomach cramps? Or when looking back on some of your best and most relaxing moments you can only remember just that… those moments? No recollection of digestion whatsoever? That is because the para-sympathetic nervous system was engaged and you were simply living your best life!
Remember that one of the best ways we can give ourselves love is by settling into a little personal grace. If you miss the gym today, take a deep breath in and out (engaging the PNS) and try again tomorrow. If you meditated everyday for a week and then miss a day over the weekend, that is okay. Each day is a new day and you will still need to digest then too! Keep on trying.
Tips for Engaging the Parasympathetic Nervous System:
- Meditate – try out the Calm App or Headspace
- 3 Deep Breaths, in & out
- Belly-breathing while commuting
- Practice gratitude before a meal
- Write tomorrow’s to-do list before bed
- Take a walk in nature (barefoot when possible)
- Take a rest while putting your legs up the wall
- Notice how thoroughly you chew your food
All of these practices will engage that PNS and give your body a chance to catch up on daily chores. Proper digestion is necessary for you to feel your best. Proper digestion also allows essential vitamin and minerals to be absorbed, to truly notice hunger/satiety, and much more.
Share your experience with this topic in the comments below. I would love to know what works for you and the grounding practices in your routine – past or present. We are all different so some practices may not work for all. You may enjoy meditating on a pillow in your living room while someone else likes to people watch on a park bench. Both are meditative and both are okay.
Keep showing up and doing the work. Your body will thank you for years to come!