How Our Mood, Digestion, and Immune Strength Are Connected
Similar to the functioning of a car, the human body relies on multiple systems working together to create a whole running system. Just as the engine, transmission, and fuel put into a car all affect how well the vehicle drives, the proper function and optimal well-being of the body is reliant upon various parts.
Ayurveda has always viewed the human body and the natural world as mirror-like images, with various elements combining in numerous ways to make an inherently intelligent, self-organizing system.
One of the interesting intersections in the human body is the way mood, digestion, and immunity all work to support one another. Ayurveda would say this process is governed by agni, our digestive fire. Like our own engine, agni plays a vital role in our health and well-being.
Mood and Digestion
Gastroenterology is a field of study that looks at the gut-brain connection and specifically the two-way communication between the digestive system and the brain.1 The findings of this field of work show that what we eat affects how we feel, and how we feel affects how we digest.
This idea is very much in line with Ayurveda, reminding us that what we eat becomes who we are and affects all layers of our being, including our brain, our thoughts, and our mood! With the increasing rate of mental health disorders in the world today, giving our digestive systems some tender loving care is an important key to helping us feel better in many ways.
Mood and the Immune System
Taking it one step further, a new field of research called affective immunology studies how the emotions and immune system are connected.2 Studies have shown that positive moods increase the function of the immune system and negative moods have a negative effect on the immune system.3 Therefore, chronic stress, depression, and feeling isolated can take a major toll on our immune system when left unchecked.
A large portion of the immune system actually resides in the digestive tract4 and interacts with bacteria outside of your body to help keep you healthy. When your agni is happy and functioning well, you have increased immunity and positive moods. On the other hand, when your agni is unhappy with the fuel it’s being given, it can lead to decreased immunity and undesirable moods.
Because immunity and mood are so greatly impacted by the function of agni, it makes sense why Ayurveda has always spoken about the importance of keeping our digestive systems healthy!
How to Support Your Digestion and Immunity
So now that we see the importance of digestion when it comes to increasing our immunity and moods, how do we actually go about supporting our digestive health? Ayurveda always begins with strengthening agni while also tending to the doshas.
If you are unsure about your dosha, taking the dosha quiz will help you better understand where to start.
You can also support your digestive health by eating for the season that you are in. Each dosha governs a season, with kapha ruling the wet, cold winter, pitta ruling the hot summer, and vata ruling the dry and windy fall. Following the principle that like increases like and opposites balance, Ayurveda teaches us to eat foods that will balance and pacify the dominant qualities of the current season.
For example, it is helpful to eat vata-pacifying foods in the fall, kapha-pacifying foods in the winter, and pitta-pacifying foods in the heat of summer. The transition between seasons, particularly around the equinoxes and solstices, is a great time to make changes in your diet for the next season.
Eating fresh foods that are grown locally increases your digestion and immunity because your body becomes accustomed to the microbes that are around you. Getting to know local farms is a great way to connect to your community and support small businesses in your local economy during times of hardship.
Having regular mealtimes, putting down the phone, and really paying attention to the food you are eating strengthens your ability to digest. Mindful eating exercises, such as taking three deep breaths before your meal or intentionally noticing each flavor on your tongue as you chew, help bring you into the present moment with the food in front of you. By doing so, you can be sure that all of your senses are present and engaged in the digestive process.
Share Your Meals
Social interaction is so important to our immune and mental health. Sharing home cooked meals with friends and family you love and care about can greatly increase your mood and positivity, which in turn increases the quality of fuel going into your body. If you are unable to eat with loved ones in person, try cooking a recipe together over a video date to connect and share in a new way.
Herbal teas like CCF, Detox Digest, or ginger tea are really simple and effective ways to support the function of agni. Try having a cup of herbal digestive tea after dinner for one week and see what effect it has on your mood and digestion!
Living with change and uncertainty in our environment, which is the current reality for many of us, can cause us to experience feelings of fear, grief, and depression. During these times, it is particularly important to find relaxation practices that bring a sense of calm to the body and mind.
Seated meditation and breathing practices like Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, are age-old, time-tested methods of relieving stress and bringing the body into greater harmony.
Similarly, a simple body-scan meditation can be deeply grounding and supportive for mood. Sitting still while imagining bringing deep breaths to different areas of the body is one of the simplest and most effective tools I have seen and used in my practice.
You can do this practice at any time of day, whenever you have a few moments of quiet. Wherever you are, find a comfortable seat, close your eyes if you wish, and take five deep breaths, imagining the breaths rising and falling at any place of tension in your body. You may notice sensations changing in your body or your mind might wander during the breaths. These are normal reactions and will change and deepen with practice.
Navigating Life with Ayurveda
Our body’s intelligent and intricate systems are supportive of one another in ways that we are just beginning to understand, with each and every part of the mind and physiology affecting the health and well-being of the whole system. It is the precious vehicle that carries us through life, although unlike a car, we can’t go out and buy a new one when things begin to break down.
Luckily, Ayurveda also offers a simple and practical perspective. Supporting your agni through diet and lifestyle practices can help boost your mood and increase your immunity during uncertain and complex times, leaving you more equipped to gracefully navigate through life, even during the most uncertain and complex of times.