Today I wanted to talk about how energy, stress, and “the rest of life” can influence our capacity to digest our foods.
By the way, you might notice that I talk about digestion a lot. It’s because in Ayurveda, digestion is foundational for our whole body and mind wellness. What we eat *literally* becomes who we are, so what we consume and our ability to process and absorb it has a direct relationship to the health of our body tissues.
I’ve heard from so many people that their digestion or weight has been messed up in the year since COVID began. For some, it was just an increase in symptoms they were already experiencing, but for many these problems really felt out of the blue. It might have been even more surprising because many of us started eating from home more and have had less access to the company candy jar.
But as we talked about last week, how you eat matters. The stress and uncertainty of this last year has an energetic imprint, and ultimately could have had major negative effects on your digestion that are manifesting as constipation, gas, diarrhea, acid reflux, skin issues, anxiety, weight gain or loss, fatigue, and more.
The Five Vayus
In Ayurveda, energy moves through the body in specific patterns. These 5 patterns are known as the vayus (winds). There’s prana, the vayu of inspiration and inhalation, udana, the vayu of thinking and upward moving energy, samana, the vayu of digestion and peristalsis, vyana, the vayu of circulation, and apana, the vayu of exhalation and elimination. These winds are particularly related to vata dosha (as you may have guessed). We know that vata dosha, because it’s so light and airy, gets out of balance most easily. Imbalances within these winds are at the root of many digestive problems.
Vayu Imbalance: Too Much Udana
Imbalances in udana and apana vayu are an unfortunately common way that the vayus can disturb digestion. Sufficient apana vayu, which is a down and out movement, is necessary for regular elimination of both urine and feces. Udana vayu, on the other hand, moves up through the body towards the brain. Overthinking or overplanning draws the energy and wind of the body upwards to help support all of this brain activity. Stress and anxiety about the future also act to increase brain activity and thus increase udana vayu.
Too much udana vayu can manifest as acid reflux as the winds move up the body as well as constipation because there’s insufficient downward movement. Ruminating on the same issues and overthinking means there’s an inability to release, which is important for apana vayu.
If you’re someone that went into “must control everything” mode when the pandemic hit, you could experience an overactive udana vayu.
Vayu Imbalance: Insufficient Samana
Samana vayu is the great equalizer. It’s what allows our body to separate good and bad nutrients to decide what the body needs to digest. It also separates good and bad thoughts to direct what we focus on.
If you’ve been feeling like you’re holding on to unhelpful thinking or rumination, this might also slow down your samana vayu and cause a slower digestion. You might feel heaviness, a sense of being overly full after eating, bloating, or constipation.
Vayu Imbalance: Too Much Apana
We want everything in balance, so too much apana isn’t good for us either. Perhaps in the pandemic you lost all sense of a schedule or a routine. Maybe you let a lot of healthy habits go and the structure and discipline of your life has dissipated.
If so, it might be the case that apana vayu is a little too active. This increased downward moving wind can manifest as diarrhea as well as fatigue and sluggishness.
Did any of those vayu imbalances sound familiar? Tune into the energy of your body. What is your experience (and your digestion) telling you about the flow of the vayus through the body?
One way to help regulate the flow of udana and apana vayu is to do pelvic floor balancing exercises. Here’s how:
- Take a seat on a chair, exercise ball, or yoga blocks. Make sure you can feel contact between your pelvic floor and whatever you’re sitting on.
- On your inhale, relax the belly and drop the pelvic floor into whatever you’re sitting on. Think about softening and opening up the low belly and pelvic floor.
- On your exhale, do a Kegal-type exercise. Draw the pelvic floor up and in. If you have a penis this can feel like pulling the testicles into the body. If you have a vagina, imagine picking up a blueberry with the vaginal opening and drawing it into the vaginal canal.
- Repeat these breaths 10 times- softening on the inhale, and engaging on the exhale. You’ll want to feel the low belly begin to engage as well. Note: a lot of folks will start to scrunch their face, shoulders, or butts when they do this. Try to isolate the movement directly into the pelvic floor. And if you can’t feel that connection – imagine that you’re doing it. Over time you’ll get better at it!
You can help support samana vayu by drinking a warm glass of water first thing in the morning. It will wake up that wind in the body. You can also do a practice of circling the hand on the belly.
- Place the right palm on the belly and draw it up the right side of the belly, across the torso right below the ribs, and down the left side of the belly, creating circles. Create 10-20 circles, slow and steady.
- You can do this movement first thing in the morning when you’re laying in bed, or anytime you’re feeling that sense of heaviness or fullness.
Support the balance of the vayus by doing deep, mindful breathing.
- You can have the eyes opened or closed. Draw a breath in through the nose, slow and steady, and then exhale through the nose.
- Aim to make your exhale twice as long as your inhale, so if you count in to 4, exhale for 8.
Create rest and stillness. Many of these imbalances have their root in excess movement, which is excess vata. Create pause points in your day, whether you sit down with a cup of tea, do some reading, or just look out at the trees. Take some time in your day when you’re not listening to headphones or listening to music. Allow the senses to get a break.
These strategies can help support balancing in both the body and the mind. And if you want to dive in more on strategies to support a healthy digestion and a vibrant life, consider an Ayurvedic consultation with me. We always start with a free consultation to learn if it’s right for you. Learn more here.
Lastly, if you’re looking for simple rituals and routines that you can use to refresh and restore your energy this Spring, join me at my virtual Spring Refresh masterclass on April 17th! Learn more and register here.