The ancient teachings of Ayurveda tell us that our emotional state has a dramatic impact on our physical health; they reflect an understanding that human beings are emotional creatures and that there is an intricate connection between our emotions and what is happening in our physical body. There's a particularly deep relationship between our emotions and thoughts—both conscious and unconscious—and our digestion.
Ayurvedic teacher Dr. Vasant Lad has observed, “Emotions are like mangos. We have to learn to ripen them and then juice them. When emotions are juiced, they are deeply nourishing. Even sweet.” His words give us permission to feel and digest our life experiences.
In Ayurveda, there is a particular type of energy called Samana Vayu—which is the integrating/digestive capacity of the human mind-body system. The energy of Samana Vayu is what enables us to digest and absorb the nutrition from the food we eat. It's also the force responsible for digesting our life experiences. In other words, the same force that enables you to extract nourishment from food, allows you to extract sustenance from life. When this force is dampened due to emotional upheaval, or just the modern stressors of daily life, it can have a direct effect on our capacity to digest food, as well as our feelings.
Scientific research supports the Ayurvedic understanding of the belly-brain emotional connection. Clinical psychologists at the University of California in Los Angeles, as well as other scientists in the field of the food-mood connection have carried out studies supporting the connection between physiology and emotions, such as anxiety and depression.
Research shows that inflammation—a typical immune response to obesity, high-sugar diets, high quantities of trans fats, and unhealthy diets—may be the precursor to mood disorders such as depression. When people clean up their diet, inflammation is reduced, and mood states improve. There's also evidence that shows anti-inflammatory mainstays of the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia and kitchen such as turmeric (curcumin) and omega-3 rich oils, may help treat emotional issues, such as depression, PMS, and anxiety.
The good news is that we can treat imbalances in the emotional body with diet and lifestyle. We can also treat digestive issues with emotional processing techniques. Both will have the effect of boosting our capacity to metabolize food and our life experiences.
The word emotion itself comes from the Latin word emovere—to be moved. Emotions move us. They are a call to action and attention. Emotions are energy in motion. Our feelings only become a problem when we short circuit their natural tendency to move by “not feeling” or by overreacting.
According to Ayurveda, our emotions can be powerful gateways into grace, revelation, and even ease. When the emotions are repressed or misused, they lead to more pain and suffering. When systematically channeled, they are portals into empowerment and self-understanding. A deeply experienced emotion can help us dissolve blocks in our energy, as well as embedded psychological patterns from the past. When we are lovingly present to feelings, this can assist us to dissolve unwanted patterns or beliefs that may have been otherwise difficult to move beyond.
According to Ayurveda, the emotional body can be cleansed the same way we purify the physical body. This process, Strotomukha vishodhanam, is the act of allowing the passages through which our emotions flow to be purified by surrendering to them, and allowing them to circulate.
Many of us are afraid to feel our emotions. If we lovingly hold space and presence for our emotions to flow through us, they can find a natural digestive process and end point. Just like eating a banana, we don't have to tell it what to do in our digestive system. We eat the banana and our body naturally digests it. The same thing holds true with the emotions. If we simply observe and feel the emotion, it will rise, fall, and come to a natural state of completion. We can let go of what isn't needed (elimination) and keep what is useful (nutritional wisdom). Ayurveda says that if we “juice” our emotions in the moment—when they're ripe—we become calmer, more stable people. We seem, ironically, less emotional.
The digestive process of food is similar. If the fire of digestion is stalled, due to an unhealthy diet or lifestyle, we short circuit the natural process of metabolism. What we are left with is a dampened fire that leads to issues such as constipation, loose stools, IBS, or other digestive complaints. When we work to restore the natural digestive flow—just as we do with emotions—the fire of transformation can do its work.
Sometimes emotions must be provoked before they can be surrendered. Watching a sad movie, working with a trained therapist, or letting tears flow while recounting a life event are good methods for getting the emotions moving. Here are three other methods to try:
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