Bloating, gurgling, cramping, lack of appetite, constipation or diarrhea. For many people these are but just a few of the unhappy, and unwanted digestive symptoms they experience on a daily basis. But what is the answer? Is it a change in diet? Supplements? Breathing techniques? Exercise? What if I was to tell you that practicing Qigong for digestion just might be the way to calm that upset stomach?
How does the food we eat affect our digestion?
It goes without saying that the conventional food production system is horribly broken. The animals we eat are kept in terrible conditions, being fed food that is filled with toxic chemicals. The fruits and vegetables we eat grow in soil devoid of nutrients on top of being sprayed once again with toxic chemicals.
The fish we eat……… well, there is really no such thing as healthy fish to eat anymore. Due to the condition of the water they swim in, they are all simply…Toxic to some degree or another!
When it comes to the food we buy, the only healthy answer is to connect with those people who are raising the animals or growing the plants we eat, so you actually know what adverse processing has been added on the way to your fridge.
Of course for those that can source it, and afford it, there is the option of certified organic food to ensure you limit your intake of chemical contaminants thus lowering your toxic load.
When it comes to the proper functioning of your body, the notion of, “you are what you eat” couldn’t be a more true statement. However, when it comes to the actual mechanical breakdown, assimilation and processing of the food we eat, there are a lot of steps we can take to aid our body’s food digestion and waste elimination processes.
How does hydration affect digestion?
Proper hydration is essential for healthy digestion. The importance of water plays a number of roles. First off, the fluids of our body are mainly composed of water. This begins with our saliva in our mouth and digestive enzymes in our esophagus. Have you ever tried to swallow a dry piece of chicken breast with a dry throat? Not a pretty picture. Our saliva is what begins the digestive process, and without proper hydration, you're already off to a bad start.
When we get to the stomach, water becomes very important. Your stomach is basically a pot of hydrochloric acid. It is tasked with breaking down the food you eat so it can be absorbed once it makes its way to the small intestine. However, the last thing we want is that hydrochloric acid breaking us down along with the food.
To solve that problem, our stomach is coated with a mucosal lining that protects the walls of the stomach from being burned by the acid. Yep once again, that mucosal lining’s main ingredients…… you guessed it,…. WATER!
Without proper hydration, the mucosal lining will get thinner contributing to the formation of gastric ulcers. Google that sometime. They basically look like cigarette burns on the wall of your stomach….The stuff of nightmares!!!
Once the food makes it to the intestines, the water you drink once again takes on another role in the digestive process. Let's skip the part where I tell you that you should be eating a diet high in plant fibre, (we will save that rant for another article).
So, assuming your plate is composed of one-quarter protein and three-quarters veggies and veggie fats (well done!!) Water is necessary to expand all that plant fibre to create a lovely green cleansing sponge that scours its way through your intestines making sure the walls are clean and free of buildup. Of course, when I say clean, I mean covered with the 38 trillion bacteria needed to digest our food and make many of the micronutrients required for us to survive.
Last but not least when the leftovers make their way into the large intestine some water gets reabsorbed into the body while the rest provides the water to float the boat down the river, so to speak.
How does Breathing affect digestive function?
Nowadays, most people are disconnected from their diaphragms. We tend to spend so much time either sucking in our belly for fear of anyone noticing the slightest wrinkle in our outfit or letting it all hang out because the core has long since given up.
Either way, that lack of abdominal oscillation had created a disconnect to the muscles that drag oxygen down into the lower lobes of the lungs. Most people live on what is called a “shallow tidal breath”. This typically amounts to about one-third of the air needed to properly oxygenate the body.
For us to take in a full breath as well as digest any food that is moving through us, it is necessary for our bellies to move in and out.
How does Qigong heal digestive function?
This is where Qigong exercise can act as a powerful tool to stimulate and strengthen your digestion. Qigong incorporates what is called “beating and drumming the Qi” which effectively is an extended diaphragmatic breath. In essence, the practitioner physically pushes their abdomen out as they breathe in and vacuums it back in and they breathe out.
Internally, through this abdominal breathing focus, the diaphragm muscle pushes the internal organs down. This process mechanically stimulates peristaltic movement (moves food through us) through the digestive tract resulting in more efficient digestion, absorption and elimination. In addition, the liver, spleen and kidneys get a little pressure massage which helps them to release toxins and absorb new fresh blood and nutrients.
Does Qigong really work?
When this type of breathing is combined with specific bodyweight movements that flex, twist and massage the internal organs of the abdominal cavity, Qigong can be a huge help in healing your unhappy tummy.
However, Qigong also heals digestion by calming the central nervous system down. The meditative movements of Qigong exercise switch the body from fight or flight to rest, digest and heal. Once the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, healing has begun and proper digestion is off to the races.
Healthy digestion is where all health starts. It leads to better sleep, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, less depression and of course greater longevity.
Whether you are a qigong beginner or a seasoned practitioner, making a mindful reconnection to the extended diaphragmatic breath is vital to improving both your practice and your health.
Here are Three Qigong Exercises for Digestion
Qigong Exercise for Digestion #1 - Digestive Grounding
This exercise creates a mental connection to the physical direction that food travels through the large intestine. It can be used to increase movement to relieve constipation, or decrease movement to relieve diarrhea, or simply balance the two so everything moves just right. Whatever your focus is during this exercise, creating a mental and physical connection by linking mind, breath and body, can have a powerful effect on how the food you eat makes its way through your body.
Qigong Exercise for Digestion #2 - 5 Yang Organ Exercise
This exercise incorporates a throwing and catching movement with the arms to the extended diaphragmatic breathing pattern. Both the Large and Small Intestine meridians travel the length of the arm, so this exercise provides a great deal of energetic stimulation on top of that of the breath. This exercise is done rather quickly and vigorously and will often leave the practitioner feeling tingly and sometimes slightly light-headed. These effects are temporary, but the positive digestive effects can last for hours.
Qigong Exercise for Digestion #3 - Rotating the North Star
This exercise with its intense torso rotations provides wonderful organ massage on both the Liver and Spleen. Both organs play an important role in the digestive process. Almost like twisting and untwisting a coiled spring, this exercise stimulates all the muscles of the abdominal cavity and back while it activates all the organs responsible for both the hormonal and mechanical components of digestion.
These three Qigong exercises for the digestive system should not be thought of as a replacement for mindfully healthy eating. In contrast, they are to be used as a physical supplement to positive dietary behavioural changes designed to build a new, healthier and much less toxic YOU! They can be performed at any time of the day. What’s most important is their regular practice. Never forget disease is a product of behaviour, but so is health!
…Give it a try!
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