Back to our journey; even though our journey starts in the mind (as we saw in our previous posts Part 1 and Part 2), all the excitement and anticipation we have built up is realized when we get on the subway at the first station. Our journey begins with food entering into the mouth as we embark on the subway called Peristalsis.
Now, imagine yourself eating the first forkful of your favorite dish that you just prepared for yourself. Your tongue is awash in a symphony of beautiful flavors as you chew. At this point in the process of digestion, the teeth chew, and the tongue delightfully mixes the food with a sea of alkaline saliva. Food is ready to leave the ‘mouth station’ when it is a smooth and pasty texture. Allowing large chunks to leave the platform of the mouth will strain the system further down the line. Don’t forget, one of the greatest benefits of mindful eating is enjoying the wonderful tastes of the food before it is swallowed, which plentiful chewing supports.
If you gulp your food down in a few minutes – like millions of people do, you are compromising your digestive transit system. This is unfortunate because not only do you not get to enjoy the wonderful deep taste of the food, you have cut out the first two stages of physical digestion: chewing, and the salivary process where enzymes break down starches. This means you have started your adventurous journey in a difficult and arduous way. As soon as you swallow the food, it is outside of conscious control until it is ready for recycling, when it comes out the other end.
If you swallow your food whole, you can’t expect to digest it fully. This is both a mechanical issue and a chemical issue as the saliva produces alpha-amylase that starts to break down starches. If this doesn’t happen, you can get symptoms of carbohydrate maldigestion and malabsorption in some cases. While chewing, the mouth also produces lingual lipase – secreted by a gland under the tongue. Its job is to start the process of digesting fats.
Back to your journey, unfortunately, we were in such a hurry that we didn’t get off to a good start. When we are not mindful of the foods we ingest and swallow them in such large particles, we can hardly expect them to be broken down by the stomach (our stomach does not have teeth). The food particles will then be deposited in our intestines not fully broken down. Here they will become the breeding ground for bad bacteria and yeast. This can cause a wide range of symptoms, but the most common ones are gas and bloating. If you experience these after a meal, it could be a sign that you are not chewing enough.
It is pretty silly when you think about it. One of the greatest joys of eating is the wonderful taste. But in our modern hectic life, we are in such a hurry that many of us do not even allow ourselves the pleasure of mindful eating and swallow our food before it has been thoroughly chewed. This, of course, causes uncomfortable symptoms later on down the line. What’s up with that? We just need to learn to slow down and be more mindful; by doing so we will enjoy life far more. At first this might be hard, but we can develop this good habit just as much as we developed the habit of gulping our foods in the past. Remember it is not a race and no one is going to steal your food.
After the chewing stage of digestion, when you swallow, it is a pretty short trip (9 ½ inches or 24 cm). This is propelled along by a muscle wave called peristalsis – or a wave like contraction and relaxation of the tubular muscles that make up the digestive tract. This portion of the journey takes about 8 – 9 seconds if all is working well. Sometimes this journey is interrupted, or even reversed, by several factors including: stress, infection, and environmental factors. Other things to influence this are factors further down the line that we will see in the intestinal tract. This can result in food and stomach juices coming up the one-way tract, as we have already seen. This is not usually a good thing, but is experienced by far too many in Western society.
Fortunately, even though you were in too much of a hurry to chew your food thoroughly, you were not stressed or sick when you began the journey. This is why you now remember that your trip down the throat canyon on Peristalsis was quick and quite smooth and uneventful. Once you reached the bottom of the canyon, you find yourself in front of a gateway. As soon as you neared it seemed to sense you and magically opened for you.
What happens when food travels all the way down the esophagus, is it encounters a gateway of the lower esophageal sphincter (aka cardiac sphincter). This sphincter is almost like a valve that opens up for the food to welcome it into the stomach. This is one of the major powerhouses of the digestive process.
We will continue our journey in Stomach for the next Blog . . .
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For over forty years, Terry Willard, Cl.H., Ph.D., has studied the medicinal properties of plants. He is recognized as one of North America’s leading Clinical Herbalists. He appears regularly in the print and electronic media as an exponent of responsible herbal use. He is the past-president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and in the Canadian Health Food Association’s Hall of Fame. Dr. Willard is the author of twelve books on the subject of Herbs including the pivotal Wild Rose Herbal Series – a series of three textbooks written to educate herbalists. Two of his books, Mind-Body Harmony and Dr. Willard Flower Essence: Emotional Alchemy and Spiritual Evolution, have been particularly popular with the general public.
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