You’ve a plate full of colourful vegetables, a tasty protein, maybe a bed of hearty grains, all chosen and cooked with care. You add a sprinkle of fresh herbs and some grey sea salt. Lovely.
But you worked late and the kids have hockey, and so you forget the one ingredient that ensures this meal is as healthy as it can be.
You forget to breathe.
Not just at mealtime.
Every time you rush around clearing the list, shuttling the kids, meeting the deadlines, your breath takes a back seat.
Every time you let your worries get the better of you, and you get lost in your head, in a tailspin of overwhelm and fear, your breath is an afterthought.
You know from yoga, from Pilates, from running, from working out, from meditation, that the breath is how you stay connected to your body. It’s how you manage your pace. It keeps you energized through the tough bits. It’s how you stay anchored in the present moment.
Those same perks of breathing apply when you get home from the gym or the studio. They apply when you sit down to eat. Yes, taking the time to breathe between bites will slow you down, letting your digestive system get in on the game. It’ll give you a chance to notice when you’ve had enough.
There are also physiological benefits to conscious breathing before and during your meals.
Breath keeps you apace and holds you in the present moment
Taking a long, slow, deep breath reduces stress.
The stress response, aka fight or flight, isn’t conducive to digestion – you would never stop for a snack while being chased by a predator or battling a foe. Though there may not be enemy tribes pillaging your village, your body reacts the same way in the face of an angry customer, your son falling out of a tree or being cut off in traffic.
During a day when you’re always “on”, you’ve got to turn “off” for your digestion to function efficiently. Eating under stress contributes to heartburn, bloating, gas, dysbiosis, constipation, IBS, diverticulitis, colon cancer,…
Regardless of the quality of the food on your plate, your body can’t break down, absorb and assimilate the components effectively if it’s not relaxed. Taking a long, slow, deep breath engages the relaxation response, aka rest & digest.
You might even settle down enough for some pleasant conversation!
Breathing keeps you energized
Your breath – oxygen specifically – plays a major role in how efficiently you use your food.
Other than the nutrients that go into the maintenance & function of your body, most of what you derive from food is energy (calories). The carbohydrates get dismantled into glucose; under certain conditions, fat and protein get converted into glucose. Inside your cells, that glucose is burned by oxygen (in a process known as cellular respiration) to release the energy stored in its bonds.
Breathing consciously before and during a meal oxygenates your blood for maximum energy production.
Incidentally, if you’ll forgive me a little geek-out here, that energy is the sun’s heat and light that have been bound with carbon dioxide and water by plants eating and breathing. It’s perfect symbiosis: the plants had exhaled the O2 you need, now you exhale the CO2 they need, and you shine the sun’s light right back out to the Universe.
Breathing connects you to your body (and soul)
Your digestive tract contains a large part of your nervous system. As such, it works according how you approach, experience and react to life. Think of the times – like when you’re on holiday – and you can eat whatever you feel like without repercussion. Then you get home and you sneeze with the first piece of cheese or bloat from the first piece of bread.
Your digestion is also where you take in products from the outside world – plant or animal – dismantle them, and rebuild them according to your current needs. It’s how you literally create your (human) body. So, you could say that digestion is an expression of your humanity, of your uniqueness, of who you are.
Now the breath brings you into deep connection with your body; with its feelings and emotions. While you may think of those as secondary to your health, they are, in fact, vital to your survival.
Fear tells you when to move back. Joy & love compel you to move forward. Anger is how you protect yourself and your loved ones from harm.
The feelings (or your felt senses) are clues to what works for you and what doesn’t. When you sit through a job interview feeling tight in your chest, shoulders curled forward, it’s an indication this place may not be the best working environment for you. As opposed to an office that leaves you feeling open, with head held high.
Knowing how you feel in a situation, or after having eaten a certain food, is exactly what listening to your body is all about. It’s one way to get to know yourself at a deep level.
Noticed with this in mind, your feelings and emotions act as beacons to where you need to go – be it with food, other health-related decisions, relationships, work, where you live, how you play, etc.
Taking the time to breathe – to get in touch more fully with your body, to get to know yourself and express who that individual is – your body will in turn manifest who you are from the inside out. That manifestation happens through your digestion.
Breathe – fully and deeply – through your day, before your meals, in times of joy, in times of strife.**
You’ll have less bloating, better energy and feel more satisfied after your meals.
You’ll be connected to your body, be fully energized and stay anchored in the present moment. All essential ingredients for enjoying and assimilating your meals, your life, and moving more fully into vibrant health.
** When you sit down to a meal, before you make a difficult call, before you step into the big meeting or onto the stage: breathe in for a count of 7, hold for 7, exhale for 7. Do this 3 times. One minute to feeling more relaxed and grounded.
Take a deep breath and go ahead and tell us how it makes you feel right now. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.
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