12 Techniques for Strengthening Your Digestive System
for Practitioners and Clients
A majority of people suffer from the effects of a weak digestive system. Poor diet, low quality food, sedentary lifestyle, and environmental factors contribute to a decrease in digestive function and can lead to a whole range of symptoms that many of your clients (and perhaps you) are struggling to alleviate. It is well known that a healthy digestive system is a cornerstone of good health. Strengthening this part of the body is of utmost importance in leading a fulfilled and vigorous life.
The following 12 techniques for healing and strengthening the digestive system are simple, yet effective practices that only require doing small, easy to integrate exercises on a regular basis.* Use them for yourself, and offer them to your clients to support their quest for better health.
From the beginning….
1. Create a relaxing atmosphere for eating
Create a relaxing atmosphere for eating your meals. This will assist your body to relax. The relaxation response in the body is a result of activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also responsible for stimulating the release of digestive enzymes and activating peristalsis, absorption, and elimination.
Eating while doing other activities such as driving, talking on the phone, or engaging in stressful interactions stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which inhibits all of the digestive functions. If you regularly eat while doing other things at the same time, your digestion will be compromised. Support the digestive process by creating a quiet atmosphere while you are having a meal.
* Good quality organic whole foods along with appropriate herbs/teas is an integral part of a strong digestive system. Hara treatment and other bodywork also play a major role in reclaiming digestive health.
2. Breathe before eating
Before starting a meal, pause and take 3-4 deep breaths in the following manner: 1) Breathe in slow, deep and easy.
2) Feel the stream of air go over the back of the nose.
3) Breathe out slow and easy over the back of the nose.
Taking a few breaths in this way will trigger parasympathetic nerve activity, relaxing your body and bringing it into the digestive mode.
3. Chewing & saliva production
The Role of Chewing
Chewing food thoroughly is essential for breaking it down into its more basic components. Chewing mixes food with saliva, activates digestive secretions and prepares the stomach for the next stage of the process.
Chew each mouthful until the food is liquified in your mouth. This can be between 30-50 chews per mouthful. This practice will also prevent overeating, as your body will more accurately gauge how much food you really need as it is ingested more slowly.
The Role of Saliva
Saliva is a potent fluid in the body that contains powerful digestive enzymes. Digestion begins in the mouth with the breaking down of food into its nutritional components via chewing and mixing with the saliva. Saliva also helps to transport nutrition and energy (ki) into the cells.
Exercise for increasing the potency of saliva:
1) Bring saliva into the mouth and use the tongue to push it to the front of the mouth. This will cause the secretion of more saliva. When you build up good amount, swallow and push the liquid down into the body. Repeat 5-10 times.
2) Roll the tongue in circles between the inside of the lips and the front teeth 3-4 times in each direction. You should feel the saliva volume build in the mouth as you do this. Swallow the saliva down hard. Repeat 3-4 times.
4. Human photosynthesis
The ancient Taoists believed that saliva had extraordinary qualities. They practiced mixing sunlight with saliva and then brought this special solution into the organs and cells to energize the life system. I believe that this practice helps to accelerate a developing function of our human body, mind and consciousness: the ability to do direct photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. It is now developing as a self-contained ability of the human organism; we can learn to use our consciousness to direct a process of photosynthesis within our own bodies. By following a series of simple directions, it is possible to bring sunlight into the body, convert it into complex carbohydrates, and then convert it into energy or glycogen for future use.
Exercise for absorbing sunlight into the body:
1) While sitting or standing in the sun, close your eyes and feel the light touch just above the center between the eyebrows.
2) Feel the sensation of the warmth penetrating into the skull and notice the brightness inside the sinuses.
3) Bring as much saliva into the mouth as possible
4) Notice the light and warmth mixing with the saliva as you move it around the
5) Swallow hard. You can even make a gulping sound.
6) Send the sun+saliva mixture down to the solar plexus. Feel it move to that area.
7) Using your mind to direct the process, absorb the mixture into the solar plexus
and liver. When you feel a tingling or numb sensation in the region of the solar plexus and the liver, it indicates that chi from the sun is being absorbed into your physical body.
8) Repeat 3- 10 times.
This exercise is also good for internal purification and stimulating the extraordinary functions of the body.
5. Don’t drink liquids a half hour before, during, or after meals
When we drink before, during or right after meals, we significantly dilute the strength of digestive enzymes. This reduces the power of the digestive system. It will strengthen your digestion considerable to leave at least a half hour gap between drinking and eating, and avoid drinking while you are eating (especially ice cold drinks!).
When you do drink, hold the liquid in your mouth and mix it with saliva before swallowing. This helps to transport the liquid into the cells and effectively hydrate the body. Good quality water and herbal teas are the best daily drinks. Drinking liquids that are room temperature or warmer will also support your digestive organs.
Try not to be rigid with any of these rules unless you have a specific health condition. When you go out on social occasions be flexible and enjoy yourself.
6. Solar Plexus and the middle organs
The solar plexus is the energetic center of the middle organs (liver, gall bladder, stomach, pancreas & spleen) and upper digestion. It energizes the liver, gall bladder, stomach, spleen, duodenum and pancreas. This vital center can become weakened or clogged from numerous influences throughout the lifetime.
Excessive eating of poor quality or stagnating foods can cause a build up of fats, toxins, and hardening materials in the organs in the solar plexus region. Negative emotions and thoughts can jam the energy circuits and nerves, leading to a reduced power flow to the vital digestive function complex.
Here are a few simple ideas for freeing up the solar plexus:
1) Using your finger tips, do a circular massage in the solar plexus area directly below the center of the rib cage. Progressively penetrate deeper as you rotate 10- 12 times.
2) Repeat, rotating the massaging motion in the opposite direction.
3) Do this circular massage upon waking and before and after each meal.
The sound ‘whoooo’ is a taoist healing sound that stimulates and balances the stomach and spleen/ pancreas. You can use it every day as a general tonic for strengthening these organs, or whenever you have indigestion or have over eaten. The normal pronunciation is “who”, but when using it as a healing sound we pronounce it sub-vocally as ‘whhoooooo’ in a soft whispering tone.
1) Sit up straight and place the fingertips from both hands on your solar plexus.
2) Take a deep breath in, and as you slowly breathe out, make the sound
‘whhooooo….’ While making the sound, slowly bend forward and press your
fingertips into your solar plexus.
3) As you sit up, breathe in deeply.
4) Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Directing the Energy – the numb/tingling sensation
This exercise is a great way to develop the ability to direct energy to specific areas and functions of the body. When we bring our attention to a structure or organ in the body, energy or “ki” will follow the mind. The feeling of a numb or tingling sensation is a result of energy arriving in the desired location; it tells you that your attention is affecting the ki (chi).
You will notice that as the numb/tingling sensation appears, there is often a relaxing in the body and a deepening of the breath. These reactions all indicate a heightening of the parasympathetic, regenerative activity. Please note that this is not a visualization exercise, where we conjure up a picture and imagine colors. The numb or tingling sensations indicate a discernible transfer of energy in the body.
1) Sit quietly after doing the first two exercises
2) Bring your full attention to the solar plexus.
3) As the mind energy connects to the solar plexus energy a numb/ tingling
sensation will appear.
4) Hold this feeling as long as possible. As you hold your attention there you will
notice the sensation spread along the lower rib cage, into the liver, gall bladder, stomach, spleen, pancreas and into the back (in the area of the eighth thru twelfth thoracic vertebrae). You can gently encourage the numb/tingling sensation to spread throughout the region.
7. Practice good elimination habits
• Don’t read or use cell phone on the toilet. Reading disperses energy upward to the neck and head, rather than the downward energy we want to stimulate for elimination. Since reading is an intellectual and outward focused activity, it also stimulates the orthosympathetic activity, therefore inhibiting digestion and elimination.
• Focus downward to lower lumbar, sacrum, perineum and anus. Bring attention (and therefore energy) to these areas until you feel a numb or tingling sensation appear. These sensations show that energy has been effectively directed to the elimination channels. This includes the parasympathetic nerve paths, which directly trigger elimination.
• During elimination, move your upper body to experiment and find a position that turns or stretches into a stiff or painful area(s) of your body. Breathe deep, slow, and relaxed to this uncomfortable place in the body. The painful or stiff area often represents a signal from the organs. It shows stagnation or weakness of an organ(s).* So when we stretch and breathe into this area it sends a stimulating signal back to the place of origin.
* In the case of constipation, the stiff/painful area is from the blocked bowel. The stretch into this area activates a signal flow back to the mechanism that moves the bowels. The deep easy breathing over the back of the nostrils directs energy to parasympathetic enervation. Alternate nostril breathing can give further stimulus to the parasympathetic activity.
8. Technique for deep healing and regeneration
There is a unique healing and regeneration opportunity available to us after evacuating the bowels. Since this is a highly active parasympathetic event, it floods the body with a deep feeling of relief and relaxation. To take full advantage of this powerful parasympathetic stimulation, take 3-5 minutes after elimination to experience the relaxation sensations in your body.
1) Lay down or sit in a chair.
2) Bring your attention to the lower bowel, sacral and lumbar area. You should feel
a slightly oscillating feeling of relief, relaxation, and letting go.
3) Connect and enjoy this feeling. As you do, you will feel the sensations begin to
spread in waves through the whole body. Encourage the spread of the
sensations of relaxation.
4) By connecting your awareness to the sensations, they are empowered and
amplified. You may also notice a feeling of serenity, deep relaxing breaths, and an emotional letting go. Keep your attention on this experience.
This sequence is a natural healing and regenerative event produced solely by the functions of the body. The main difference happens when we connect our awareness to the process. This amplifies the healing effects and directs the power of the relaxation response deep into the organs and systems of the body.
The pleasant relaxed feeling will continue as you reenter your normal activities. It can provide you with a more easy and clear perception of what is going on around you. On hindsight, you will also begin to notice how much physical, emotional and mental tension is created when the bowels are stuck. You will feel how much energy is wasted by holding on to this blocked-up state. What a relief!
Please note: You can also do this same process after urination, which is another parasympathetic event. This will direct regenerative benefits to the kidneys, bladder, hormonal and sexual functions.
9. Don’t eat three hours before bedtime
Organize your meals so that your evening meal is finished about three hours before you go to sleep for the night. If you can’t do three hours, then do a minimum of 1 1/2 hours, but 3 hours gives the body an optimal chance to switch from digestive mode to rebuilding mode.
After eating the liver and gall bladder are working to digest food components. Making sure to leave some time between eating and sleep helps give them time to accomplish their digestive functions before they shift gears to begin replenishing the body energy stores while you rest. Being mindful to take this break between eating and bedtime can improve your sleep, including the quality of your dreams.
10. Intermittent fasting
Taking a short eating break once or twice a week can benefit the digestive system in several ways. It really gives the body a rest and a chance to complete its internal metabolic functions, which includes the whole of the digestive process. It also helps the body to get rid of toxins, restore homeostasis, and regenerate the intestinal flora and healthy, symbiotic micro-organisms.
I recommend you go about this idea with an easy-going attitude; please don’t get fanatical about it. We want fasting to enhance our life force, not make us miserable (been there done that). Here are some suggestions for some short fasts to try:
• Start out fasting for a twelve hour time period. You can begin after dinner and then through sleeping time. This way you only have to skip a few more hours after you wake up. If it suits you, you can do this every day.
• After a few weeks, extend your fast to eighteen hours. After eating your evening meal, you will sleep and then not eat until about noon.
Drink some water along the way, as the body tends to dehydrate quickly when not eating.
• When you feel ready, go without food for twenty-four hours. Remember, don’t force! If you feel hungry, have some vegetable juice or eat a small amount of light food (just enough to hold you over).
Pay attention to how you feel during and after a fast. Only you can know what is best for your body. The type of fasting that benefits you will depend on your condition, metabolism and constitution.
11. Walking – a wonderful digestive aid
Walking strengthens the core of the body, or hara. It also stimulates all of the energetic pathways (meridians) involved with phases of digestion. Other benefits include improved circulation, which acts as the delivery system for getting nutrition and oxygen to the cells.
Here are three ideas for walking consciously to stimulate better digestion:
1) Walk slowly and deliberately-
Focus on how the foot contacts the ground on each step. Instep to ball of the foot, and roll off the toes, especially the large first toe. Notice the stretch along the instep as you move. This will give important stimulation to the core of the body (hara) and facilitate better balance. You will notice the people with a weak core wear their shoes, especially the heels, to the outside.
2) Fast walk with eyes to the horizon-
This practice is not only beneficial for the digestive system and core, but is also a great life tonic. Looking to the horizon stimulates the part of the brain that processes the present. It keeps us in the reality of what is available now and what needs to be done to maintain a functional life system. When walking with the eyes to the sky it tends to bring our thoughts to the future. When our eyes are to the ground our memory center is activated and we tend to dwell in memories and regrets.
3) Walk at a nice easy pace with your eyes to the horizon-
As you walk, breathe in deeply and softly through the nose. Breathe out in the same way. Count 6-8 on the in breath; hold for half of that count (3-4); then breathe out to a 6-8 count.
12. Cultivate appreciation and gratitude
The walking exercise for staying in the present leads to the next experience, which is cultivating feelings of appreciation and gratitude. Of course, we don’t need to walk in any particular way to feel this way! But being in the present, which is actually a synthesis of the past and future, opens our awareness and perception to what is available and needed in real time. It keeps us focused on what opportunities and challenges life is giving us and dissolves the veil of the past and the longing for a never arriving future.
As we settle into this experience we can understand that all of what we long for is somehow contained within our current life system, although it may be in forms we can’t recognize or we didn’t expect. When we appreciate what life is challenging us with, it relieves stress and negativity. We begin to cultivate an attitude of appreciation and gratitude for the small gifts we are being given every day.
This simple practice creates more peace in the emotions, mind and spirit. The body relaxes and all systems operate more efficiently. It is a powerful way that you can improve your digestive function and improve your life!