Recently, I wrote about personalizing the Beauty Detox way of eating and living for you. The post got tremendous feedback, and also produced some new questions!
One of the central themes of that article was that —when it comes to your body —awareness is essential. Awareness is how you know what is actually happening in your body and whether something is right for you, or not.
Still, everyone comes to this path with different levels of body awareness —perhaps depending on culture, upbringing, previous health, yoga or athletics experiences, and many more factors. So I understand how there may still be some explaining needed in this area.
It’s also why, in this post, we’re going to expand on the concept of body awareness in the context of one of the most important factors in your health —digestion. And we’re going to go through some fun exercises and experiments that you’ll be able to use to understand digestion and body awareness on a much deeper level.
What Does Awareness Mean?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides one definition of awareness as “feeling, experiencing, or noticing something (such as a sound, sensation, or emotion).” This is clearly on the most basic level. For example, if you feel an ache in your back —it’s awareness that allows you to feel that. This is something so basic and fundamental to us, we sometimes take it for granted.
Especially because there are deeper and deeper levels of awareness. One of the most amazing things connecting many seemingly different ancient spiritual traditions is that they promote that we observe ourselves and go inward during the process of prayer or meditation. As we do this, our mind quiets down, our sensitivity heightens and we notice more and more.
After meditation, it’s not uncommon to notice to feel alert, awake and more perceptive about everything around you, and within you. This ability to feel more is incredibly powerful, and one of the master keys to you having the most amazing health of your life —so keep reading! I’m going to explain why in just a moment.
Awareness and Detoxification
Just as meditation allows your thoughts to clear, stresses to go away and creates higher levels of awareness —because your mind is more perceptive when its quiet and free from all the noise. Well, similarly, our bodies are also often “filled”with outside substances —toxins, environmental pollutants, pathogens, etc. All together, these things can create chaos and make it harder for you to feel your body on a deep level.
This shifts as you begin to detoxify, however. Once you embark on the Beauty Detox journey and are no longer putting toxic foods and chemicals into your body on a regular basis, it has a chance to empty out and it naturally becomes more clear. You feel it in your mind but also throughout your body. You feel less “congested”and more open and capable of sensing what’s happening inside and all around you.
You may not always be able to explain it or put this sensation, but you FEEL it. And that feeling is undeniable! This is one reason why so many of my clients incorporate the Beauty Detox principles long-term, rather than diets in the past just focused on losing weight. You feel so good, and undeniably positive, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
This is a really beautiful thing, and it perfectly dovetails into our discussion on digestion. because your awareness of your digestive process and overall quality will play a big role in your long-term success and ability to thrive.
Digestion: The Body’s Most Energy-Intensive Process
Our bodies burn energy all day in so many ways, but all the components of digestion combined easily takes up the most energy. This is especially true of anyone on a Standard American Diet filled with fat, animal protein, wheat, trans fats and more. Every time you put something into your mouth, your body begins to mobilize resources to support the digestion of that food. Blood…enzymes…acids…bile…the list goes on and on.
The challenge is, when we’re “digesting”all the time —our body has less energy for other key functions, such as cellular rejuvenation, energy, focused thinking and more. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of overeating and then not being able to do much but lay on the couch and wait for our food to digest. That’s an extreme example, but something we can all relate to on a visceral level!
So, if you want more energy to be redistributed towards other functions like rejuvenating the collagen in your skin, cleansing out aging toxins, having enough energy to get through the afternoon without another cup of coffee or getting to the gym without a liquid energy shot booster, it’s crucial to make digestion more efficient.
So how do you do this?
You Guessed It…Awareness!
It’s one thing for me to explain that a certain food is heavy, or hard to digest —but it’s another thing for you to actually FEEL that in the light of your own body awareness. That makes all the difference, because then it’s your experience, and your truth. At that point, you don’t need anybody to tell you what’s happening or what’s good or bad —you just know.
So try this. Next time you eat, you may not be able to feel your food digesting in your stomach, but you can feel how light or heavy you feel after you eat. Do you have energy? Is your mental clarity higher, the same, or lower? Do you feel the food weighed you down, or gave you what you need? Close your eyes and put your hands on your belly if you need to to help you tune in and see assess how well your body is digesting what you just ate.
Overtime, this becomes second nature to you. And you can instantly tell whether a food agrees with your body, or if it clashes. But these questions will help you get more in the mindset of paying closer attention to your body, feeling more, and connecting with it on a more intimate level.
While we’re on the subject of digestion, let’s review some things you can be aware of —along with how those activities affect your digestion and the way you feel.
Here they are:
How aware are you of the chewing process? Try this: even if you drink the Glowing Green Smoothie each morning, experiment with “chewing”that liquid so it mixes well with your saliva to aid the digestive process. With solid food, like salads, try chewing a lot more than you are used to. 40-100 times would be ideal…but I know that seems like a whole heck of a lot, and may not always be realistic, so I just ask that you consciously chew a lot more. I always ignored this popular adage but it is amazing how much saliva you really do produce when you practice it.
When you chew like this, you may also notice how full you get on way less food. That’s another thing you can be aware of. On the other hand, pay attention to if you ever swallowing chunks of foods without chewing well. Often, this means your body will have to waste an abundance of energy and additional enzymes to better break down the food that wasn’t “pre-digested”properly in your mouth. If you are a fast eater now, you may also want to be aware of why you’re eating so fast. Is it stress? Pressure? Distraction?
Feel it all, and then don’t judge or beat yourself up. Just thank your body for communicating with you, and continue to pay attention without judgment.
Now, for the next consideration…
Carefully feel your entire body before you begin eating. This will help you calibrate what you eat with your whole body and your brain. So start by being totally relaxed. Take some deep breaths if that helps. Relax your jaw (most of us clench) and even say the vowels first to fully loosen up the muscles in the face. Move your hands to your stomach to prepare it to receive food. This also puts us mentally in touch with our digestive organs and we become more connected to our body. Smell your food first before eating it, and really look at it. Hopefully it will be vibrant and beautiful.
If you do this, it will be easier for you to not only eat with more awareness, but also to feel how foods or meals impact your digestion and overall body afterward. Remember, the key to any accurate experiment is having a baseline. Having a baseline of how you feel and a connection to your body beforehand will make it much easier for you to asses the effects of anything you put into your mouth.
Next, observe the simplicity or complexity of meals. Most people indiscriminately eat whatever foods in whatever combination they feel like, thinking only of calories and carb content rather than maximizing digestion. Often, even when coming over to Beauty Detox, it’s typical to add too many different ingredients to a single dish, which may make the meal more difficult to digest.
Complex food combinations require more “processing power”from your body, because each food is broken down with different specific substrates within your digestive system.The simpler your meals are, you may find the less energy you will have to expend on digestion. Increase your greens and vegetable intake, which are highly nutritious foods possessing a wide variety of nutrients, and you’ll support your energy and health in myriad ways.
So in other words, eat more of a few components rather than increasing the amount. I’m been eating a lot of baked sweet potatoes thrown over simple green salads, or simple avocado wraps for lunch, because I’ve been writing hours every day (nourishing our third Beauty Detox book into fruition!) and I can only throw together fast things. Smoothies are great too- but same thing. Don’t throw the kitchen sink in there; choose the most important ingredients and go with that.
Consider your relationship with water. I used to get thirsty during meals, and found myself drinking quite a bit of water while I ate. Some even recommend drinking ice water during meals because it makes your body “work harder”and burn more calories. But in my experience, this was not positive at all. Drinking ice water during meals seemed to dilute my digestion and make me feel more sluggish. My stomach would gurgle, my tummy would not feel settled, and hours later I felt as though my digestion was taking way too long.
So for me, it became obvious that it was better to avoid drinking too much water during meals. (Sipping water, or hot tea, was perfectly fine though.) In the end, this self-awareness helped me get into the habit of hydrating between meals, rather than during meals. Later I learned that when you drink too many liquids while eating, you dilute the digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid required to efficiently break down foods. Sure, it was nice to know the science —but it was even better that my body told me first!
Which foods feel “dense”or “heavy” to you? Many of us came from diets where we ate meat, cheese, breads and other very dense foods. Switching over to a primarily plant-based diet is a big shift, as plants are primarily water, fiber and nutrition. Thus, it’s common to battle a desire for “dense”or heavy foods like we used to eat. That’s only natural!
This is another important area to pay attention to. In my experience, what helped me shift away from meat was that I found that animal proteins were actually among the slower foods to be broken down and converted into energy. And I realized that I could satisfy that urge for a dense food by eating some nuts, or avocado, or kale salad with nutritional yeast and avocado, or some legumes sometimes. By experimenting with that, I found that my body got what it needed, without feeling heavy or sluggish in any way.
I stopped eating a lot of meat long ago, but I was still eating dairy and eggs at times when I first started practicing some yoga asanas (though not on a regular basis yet). I remember feeling the unbelievable stiffness and achiness during and after my practice, and I also remember craving caffeine to try to boost my energy. After I stopped eating dairy and eggs, my personal experience was that my yoga practice, which eventually did become regular, became radically different. Not only did my body gain flexibility and strength, it was infinitely easier for me to sit in mediation.
It’s up to you to figure out what works best for you. You know–if you really tune in–your body knows best. It may not be what works for me, and again, that’s the beauty of awareness. You get a signal, you adjust and try something new, see how you feel, then adjust again. All the while you are fine-tuning your process and brining your body closer and closer to a balanced state.
Over time, this awareness and the undeniable truth it brings provides with you with confidence that no other person —not me or anyone else —can ever give you. It’s true self-confidence based on deep self-awareness. You have the answers and live accordingly.
Awareness = Intimacy (With Yourself)
As I conclude this post, one helpful way to think about awareness is the way you listen to and communicate with your body. Just as listening and communicating with your partner creates more trust, connection and intimacy in your relationship —practicing awareness does all that and more to the connection you have with your body.
As this practice deepens, you’ll notice you feel less separate from yourself. You feel comfortable–and even look forward to spending more time alone. More in tune with your feelings. More whole and at peace. Aligned. Alive. Joyful!
Ultimately, as your awareness grows, you just begin to make the right decisions for yourself, naturally and intuitively —whether it’s with food, or bigger life choices. Nobody has to tell you what to do. The knowledge is inside you. This is real freedom and the key to unlimited success on this path, or any other journey you undertake in this life.
Remember that awareness is a practice. It’s not here or there, or not you have it or you don’t. It needs to be developed, patiently and continuously. Stay on the path and use these tips and tools we provide here, and your self-awareness practice will grow and grow- as will your balanced weight/body and joy.
With love and gratitude,
This post was originally featured on Kimberly’s blog.