Let’s look at the holiday where food is in the forefront—Thanksgiving. When we think about the Thanksgiving holiday there are a few aspects to be investigated: physical digestion, gratitude, and Native American culture. This excerpt from Splash Into Calm sheds some light on the subject.
We already looked at mindful eating last week, so let’s broaden our scope and include another cause of digestion issues. The Wall Street Journal’s March, 2009 article in New Health Journal addressed the effects of stress on our digestion.
L. Edwards, director of the Behavioral Chronic Pain Management program at Duke University Medical Center, said: “Now, we recognize that what happens in the brain affects the body and what happens in the body affects the brain.” The article goes on to say:
The digestive tract has its own extensive system of nerve cells lining the esophagus, stomach and intestines—known as the gut brain—that are extremely sensitive to thoughts and emotions. That's what creates the feeling of butterflies in the stomach. When anxiety persists, it can set off heartburn, indigestion and irritable-bowel syndrome, in which the normal movement of the colon gets out of rhythm, traps painful gas and alternates between diarrhea and constipation.
This is not a pretty picture, but it is the truth. I realize that most of us acknowledge that stress has an effect, but it is greater than we imagine. Stress produces tension in our internal organs, decreasing their oxygen supply. This directly influences our ability to take in nutrients from food. The more oxygen that is absorbed in our internal organs, the healthier they are. We definitely want to keep our internal organs happy!
All of the techniques and perspectives explored throughout Splash Into Calm help temper stress. Slow, deep breathing creates movement in your diaphragm that massages your stomach and other organs, increasing oxygen flow and nutrient absorption as well as expediting the elimination of waste.
In addition, yoga practices are beneficial. Specific yoga poses help with digestion, because they give internal organs a massage, which brings in more blood and oxygen.
There is a simple yoga pose that helps relieve bloating and gas. It is fondly known as the Wind Relieving Pose. I would recommend waiting at least a half hour after a big meal before practicing this or any form of exercise. It can be done in bed or on the floor.
I will give simple instructions but if you are confused or uncomfortable, wait until you work with a skilled instructor.
- Lie on your back with your legs together and your lower legs over a blanket or chair; or simply keep your knees bent with your feet side by side.
- Bring both knees to your chest and bring hands over to the left knee, and replace your right leg back over the blanket or back to the floor. Keep it close to the midline of your body.
- Leave your right leg where it is and support your left knee with your hands either near your kneecap, or behind the knee crease.
- Do not pull it in, but relax as you hold it. Keep it pointed toward your left ear. Stay here for a minute or two. Repeat on the other side.
Thanksgiving is essentially about giving thanks (hence the name) but it seems to become a food-a-thon and stress inducer, and the icing on the cake (no pun intended) is the inevitable indigestion. Some families have a tradition of asking each person around the table to share what they are grateful for, which is a nice beginning, but does not go far enough. Saying what you are thankful for and behaving with gratitude are two different things. This phrase applies: “Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.” You have the freedom to choose how you view everything in everyone in your life. Gratitude will foster a happier, healthier state of mind.
Native American Culture
In today’s world there is great concern for our environment and the neglect and disregard it receives. We can learn a lot from the deep respect for Mother Earth and for all of creation embodied in Native American culture. The Native American term Wankan tanka means “the sacred” or "the divine" and when we ponder the message of Thanksgiving, it is one of gratitude for all that is, all that has been, and all that will be. This is a way of life, the heart and soul, and the spiritual essence of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Let me know in the comments below how the practices and perspectives affected your holiday experience. What is your focus during the holiday?