When it comes to dietary health, you are probably familiar with the axiom “You are what you eat.” To a large degree, this is true. It’s important that our diet includes as many healthy foods as possible while limiting the amount of excess sugar, salt, or additives we take in.
We also know that it’s important to consider the quantity of food we eat, and that this changes according to our lifestyle, age, activity, and other factors.
Both the quality and the quantity of your food matters. But when it comes to continually improving your gut health, you also need to consider the quality of your digestive fire.
The Gut as a Crucible
In alchemy, the science of transformation, the crucible is the melting pot into which base metals are poured, after which the heat of the fire reduces them down to their prima materia (first matter).
In the digestive process, our gut is the fire and the food we eat is the fuel. The goal in alchemy is to transform a base metal into something more precious, like gold, or perhaps transform a plant into an essential oil or elixir. In the digestive process, the goal is to transform our food into nutrients, and those nutrients into healthy new tissue. For this to occur in the most complete and efficient manner, the alchemists would tell us that we must tend to the quality of our digestive fire.
How to Digest at Your Best
Proper digestion is driven by a strong, healthy digestive fire. This is the single most important determinant for good gut health, because it’s through the process of digestion and absorption that the body builds and repairs tissues.
Ideally, the food we eat gets broken down completely into its base components. These components are then sorted into the many nutrients the body needs to repair or grow new tissues.
Waste is separated out to be eliminated. When our digestive fire is steady, stable, and strong, it burns food thoroughly and cleanly, with the few toxins remaining (like the smoke from a fire) easily and comfortably eliminated.
The Results of a Weakened Digestive Fire
Like the fire in a forge, if our digestive fire is too hot, too low, or erratic, it can cause problems.
In cases where the fire burns too hot, the digestive fire not only burns the food, but it also eats away at the body’s tissues, causing heartburn, indigestion, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, and other inflammatory digestive issues.
If our digestive fire isn’t burning hot enough, we will experience a sluggish digestive system and suffer from bloating, constipation, or weight gain.
And if our digestive fire is variable and erratic, we may suffer from gas, unhealthy elimination, bloating, or cramping.
The problems don’t just stop at digestive issues, either. When our body doesn’t alchemize food properly, toxins can settle into the tissues of our body and cause other issues such as skin diseases, bone or muscle pain and weakness, emotional distress, weight fluctuations, and sex drive concerns. Yet all disease, and, by consequence, all health, begins in the crucible: our gut. As such, proper functioning and good gut health is central to our wellbeing.
In addition to considering what and how much you eat, here are nine tips that are specifically designed to help you maintain your digestive fire, your crucible, at the highest possible functioning level.
Start each morning with a cup of hot water with lemon. Add a pinch of cayenne if your digestion feels particularly sluggish. You can do this instead of or before your cup of coffee or tea.
Move your largest meal of the day to midday, rather than the evening. The digestive fire is naturally strongest at midday (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), so take advantage of this by eating your largest meal during these hours and keep your evening meal smaller and lighter.
Food should be eaten without distraction and not too quickly. Avoid television, computers, or reading while eating. Spend time tasting, chewing, and enjoying your meal. This gives your digestive fire time to ramp up before getting overwhelmed with too much food at one time.
Food should be chewed until it is an even consistency. The first stage of the digestive process begins in the mouth. Help your digestive fire by taking care of some of the breakdown process before your food even arrives at the stomach.
Food should not have opposite energetic qualities. Generally, do not mix cold food with hot food, spicy with bland, or light with heavy. This gives the body mixed signals and creates problems in the digestive tract.
Only a small amount of liquid should be taken with meals. The majority of your water intake should be between meals. During meals, limit the amount of water you take to avoid extinguishing your digestive fire.
Try to avoid cold drinks at all times. Cold drinks have a dampening effect on the digestive fire. Try to drink room temperature or warm drinks only.
Take some time to rest after meals. As much as possible, try to avoid going immediately back to work following a meal. Rest, breathe, and notice how you feel. Even a few minutes of relaxation can go a long way toward letting your digestive fire do its work before having to switch to other activities.
Allow three hours between meals for food to digest. Try to keep meals to three per day to allow each meal the opportunity to be digested fully and assimilated completely.
In Western thought, successful digestion is all about the food we eat. While this is of course important, alchemy shows us that it also matters that we build a healthy digestive fire that is just right: not too hot, damp, weak, or variable. By incorporating these tips, you can continue to make sure your digestive fire gets what it needs to stay strong, consistent, and efficient.
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