Somebody asked me recently, “If you could only teach one thing, what do you think would be the most helpful for people to know?"
My first thought was: Gut health.
Gut Health Affects Everything
The health of our gut – the home of the enteric nervous system – determines our overall health. It will affect how we absorb nutrients, excrete harmful substances, how we think and how we self-regulate.
Studies have shown trauma harms our gut.
For menstrual healing, one of the first places I look at is the health of the gut. Time and time again I see my clients making significant leaps in healing their menstrual cycle by healing their gut.
The ancient wisdom traditions understood that the lower belly is the power centre of the body.
I often wonder what the world be like if we didn’t:
1. Sit down so much (sedentary lifestyle affects lower belly breathing/digestion).
2. Stopped being sold foods that were not fit for human consumption (each human carries around 20kg of undigested food in their belly).
3. Weren’t overprescribed gut-flora-killing antibiotics.
4. Had less stress (stress keeps the body in the sympathetic nervous system
I think we'd be living in a completely different world where we were healthier, happier and less reactive.
Techniques for gut health
In this video, I’m practising a simplified version of Nauli Kriya – a traditional cleansing technique from hatha yoga.
It helps create space for lower belly breathing, which aids digestion and keeps the lower belly flexible, relaxed and fluid.
10 Steps Towards Optimal Gut Health
Here I outline 10 measures you can take towards a healthier gut.
Eat food your body can digest. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not! A lot of the food we are used to seeing on the shelves of our supermarkets – even a lot of the foods that we’re told are healthy – can create obstructions in the body. Arnold Ehret, the godfather of the mucus-free movement, said that optimal health is created by eating foods that clear waste out of the body rather than create more obstruction. Fruits and leafy greens are the ‘scrubbers’ of the human diet. They leave nothing behind and help to clear out old waste from the intestines. Mucus-forming foods such as dairy, meat and (most) grains are harder for the body to digest and parts of them will likely remain in the intestines where they harden, rot and create food for parasites.
Follow the one-in-one out rule. If our digestion has been compromised by eating food that has never fully left our body, we don’t want to add more to the mix. Every time you eat a meal, you should have a bowel movement sometime after. If you’re constipated this may mean leaving longer gaps between meals so that your body can adjust and digest.
Properly food combine. Certain foods don’t go well together. We have a tendency to eat loads of different food groups at the same time. Because some foods digest more quickly than others, eating too much variety means some parts of your meal are trying to digest faster than others, creating a traffic jam. Fruit digests quickly, so it’s best to eat fruit in the first half of the day. Some fruits, such as melon, should be eaten alone with an hour gap before and after. Learn which foods combine best with others and plan your meals and snacks around this.
Eat slowly, chew thoroughly and don't distract yourself.
When we chew our food, we mix saliva up with it which lets our stomach know what kinds of acids will be needed to break the food down.
It's important to give time for this process to occur and for our food to be small enough that it digests by chewing slowly and breathing deep into the
belly while we chew. Watching TV while we're eating isn't a good idea as it distracts us from what we're doing. Try and be as present as you can while eating.
5. Sit on the floor
Studied have shown that people who eat on the floor have longer lifespans. One of the reasons put forward for this is that sitting cross-legged helps the vagus nerve stay active, signalling to the brain with more ease when we're full. This makes us less likely to overeat. Sitting on the floor usually leads to us eating more slowly and the act of leaning forward and back as we adjust our position or reach to get more food stimulates digestion.
6. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is the name given to eating within a certain reduced timeframe each day. Eating within a reduced timeframe means that the body doesn't need to spend as much time in digestion mode and has time to use the energy for other healing in the body. It's said that at 8 hours of fasting, the body moves into ketosis and starts to burn fat. Giving your digestion a break makes it work more effectively.
7. Parasite Cleanses We all have parasites! If we have too much old waste in our guts, parasites come in to help us clear it up, however, they start to dictate certain cravings and if our gut doesn't get cleaned up at some point, they can take over. Adding
parasite cleansing herbs into a juice fasting protocol is step one in getting rid of them, but to keep them out forever, we have to clear the guts of old waste and stop eating the kinds of mucus-forming foods that attract them in the first place.
8. Regulating the nervous system
If we're constantly in stress mode, our body cannot digest properly and all other physiological processes are hampered. Many of us breathe into the chest, which creates an activation of the sympathetic nervous system, triggering flight or fight responses. When we learn to take deeper breaths into the lower belly, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Other stress reducing practices such as meditation*, forest bathing and Yoga Nidra* are great. Creating a sense of secure attachment with your own body, the land you live on and those closest to you are also essential when it comes to nervous system regulation.
* Meditation and Yoga Nidra are not relaxation techniques, though relaxation can be a byproduct of regular practice.
9. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics can be life-saving, however Western medicine has a tendency towards over-treatment. Antibiotics deplete our gut flora making us more susceptible to illness and damaging our microbiome. If you need to take antibiotics take steps to build your gut flora back up afterwards.
10. Ancestral Work Our lower belly is our connection to the earth and our ancestors in our body. Many of us modern people live in ways that are separate from the land we live on and the memory of our ancestors. Understanding as the ancient people did that our lower belly or gut or root or womb – whatever you wish to call this sacred place – was the seat of our power is a key element of gut health. Connect with the land you live on by making offerings of thanks to the spirits of the land, growing food and herbs, tending your garden and acknowledging the lands' rightful inhabitants. Get curious about your ancestors – those recent and those ancient – what were their lives like and how can you keep their memory alive?
What about you?
What are some of the way you take care of your gut?
Feel free to share with us any suggestions you have in the comment section below.
Would you like to work on your gut health in a private consultation with Miriam?
Find out how you can here.