Digestion – the foundation of our immune systems
Both native Tibetans and Estonians possessed knowledge about the basic material of all substantial phenomena – the classical elements, the primeval substances such as earth, water, fire and air/wind. In addition, they both valued digestion as the most important foundation of health. One can’t base a strong body on poor digestion. A weak stomach is unable to get important nutrients from the food so the materials that should build up all the body parts become poor. In weak storage, the materials will rot and end up as troublemakers. Digestion will be strong enough only if there’s fire engaged – the same happens when the fire in the stove transforms the wood to the warmth that will make your home nice and cozy. A house that has a weak and depreciated hearth will soon become a stale and rotten shack.
So what is Tibetans’ seasonal advice for taking care of the hearth? And how the old Estonians nourished themselves?
The wisdom of Himalayan people states that summer is the ideal time for recharging our batteries to go through the cold winter – in summer we gather enough energy from the sun and from the horticultural produce bursting with solar energy. Our reserves or digestive fire will maximize in late autumn and early winter. It’s quite clear: we need to keep the house warm enough to survive between the heaps of cold snow. In the wintertime, the reserves run low and the humidity and dampness get into the house. In the human body, it emerges as cold, illness, and weariness. The storages and woodpiles of dry wood are emptiest in spring and in the first part of the summer. At the same period, our digestive power is in the weakest state. That’s why Tibetan medicine advises us to have heavy food in autumn and winter: when the digestive fire is strong enough it can manage the food also produce warmth for the body. In spring and summer when the resources are emptied our eating habits should be modest – otherwise, we will break the heart.
If we compare Tibetans’ advice to ancient Estonians’ diet, some direct similarities emerge. In winter, when the digestion was strong and storage full of food, the Estonians’ diet was heavy and rich. It helped to keep the body warm and maintain the body fat. By the Shrove Tuesday the pieces of salt-cured meat had disappeared from the salt container, the tripe, tails, and even hooves were consumed, and fasting time was at hand. As fasting followed the rhythm of nature it actually benefitted the body: the body needed a rest and the digestive fire needed to be spared. During early summer only light meals were consumed such as gruel (liquid porridge), sour milk products, the coastal folk also fed on fish. During haymaking, people drank the fermented birch sap. One couldn’t even dream about meat as the pigs were too small.
In Tibetan medicine and in other Occident medicine systems, too, the raw food is considered difficult to digest. That’s why it should be avoided in spring: basically, it’s similar to throwing moist wood into the stove that results in pitching the hearth and chimney. Similarly, the raw food puts out the digestive fire too rapidly and so the bodily “pitches” – cholesterol, cysts, and edema in the cells – appear. Weak fire equals flatulence, indigestion, exhausted kidneys, cold hands and feet, and, at once, a weakened libido. That’s why Estonians have an old proverb “armastus käib kõhu kaudu” (The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but in the Estonian version “love goes through” the stomach) – it literally does.
Old Estonians didn’t spend their springs making countless smoothies from gout wort and dandelions. The gifts of nature first passed through the cauldron and then, only as a warm soup, ended up in the stomach.
In the light of the wisdom of Tibetans and also in comparison with the experiences of wise women from Estonia, the contemporary food culture is a slightly retrograde one. How many of us really spare our bodies in the springtime when the digestive fire is weak? What do we usually do when the summer is here and all the resources from last year have completely ended? There are not many people fasting – most of us will begin the barbeque season by feeding on grilled meat, raw salad, and cold beer. The sages both from Tibet and Estonia would recommend us to barbeque only at the beginning of winter to make the digestive fire stronger. This way the love that goes through the stomach can be preserved.
Tibetan medicine suggestions for increasing the digestive fire that is the basis of the immune system:
Drink water before having a meal – it should be boiled and warm
Avoid constant snacking – it kills the digestive fire. Keep the meal times separated
Avoid having too many meals of raw and cold food
Eat pomegranate – it’s an effective way to warm up your digestive system
In winter you can prefer heavy meals with meat, in the spring and summertime eat lighter and fix up with days for reduced load for the body, or for fasting
Prefer local food and food you are used to
Move – motion supports the digestive fire
Author: Silva Soobik
Sowa Rigpa Therapist in Men Ling Center