Here’s to Flushing the Plumbing!

The Indian Ayurvedic Medical System considers the digestive tract the seat of all illness.

Ayurveda promotes many water practices to see that this 28’ long pipeline, which makes up our plumbing system, gets flushed regularly. When we are fully hydrated, hormones regulate the opening and closing of the tract’s valves.

 Here’s a quick review of the system, which begins in the bowl of the mouth. There,  salivary glands flood our food with enzymes to begin breaking down starches and the chewing itself stimulates our bodies to continue to manufacture more enzymes further on down the line.

 Chewed food moves down the pliable tube of the esophagus and through the first valve (lower esophageal sphincter) to the stomach. In the stomach, hydrochloric acid squirts the food to break up the tough stuff before it exits the stomach through the second valve (pyloric sphincter) to the small intestine. There, the gall bladder squirts the bolus of food with detergent (bile) to break up fats, and the pancreas squirts bicarbonate of soda to neutralize the acid, plus more enzymes to work on proteins and carbs. The goal is to break down food to particles that are tiny enough to pass through the wall of the intestines.

 Next, this slurry of food moves through the rest of the small intestine, where more enzymes do their best to finalize the breakdown and absorption if they are supplied with enough water.

 The intestines look like a jumble of tubes but are structured more like a big umbrella. If you took them out, you could stretch them in a rough circle like the rim of an umbrella. A thick membrane (mesentery) forms the dome. It contains several veins (like spokes) that lead  to a big vein, represented by the umbrella handle.

 To get the full benefit of our food, we need to chew it well and add plenty of water so the fine slurry can slip right through the intestinal wall to the smaller veins in the mesentery and right on through the center to the big portal vein that goes to the liver. The liver then decides what nutrients to send where and our circulation takes care of that delivery system.

 What remains of the slurry moves on to the large intestine, where water is absorbed for other tasks, and final wastes exit the last valve (anal sphincter.)

 Now for some of the water practices: Indians commonly start the day with a slow cup of hot lemon water. This effectively opens the valve to the intestines, clears the stomach of any leftovers, and stimulates the bowels to move.

 Many who practice yoga rise early enough to down 2 cups of water. They then spend a half hour or more doing bending and stretching exercises before breakfast and heading for  work. This practice effectively flushes the entire digestive tract. In retirement, the practice becomes even more important.

 So, what’s the big deal with all that bending and stretching? Unlike household plumbing, which follows pretty straight, direct routes, human plumbing has all sorts of nooks and crannies and other systems to contend with. Remember that when the umbrella is closed up, the intestines curl around, up, and over each other. Forward, back, and side stretches massage the intestines and other organs. Other forms of exercise, like swimming, running or walking, to the point of working up a sweat, have a similar flushing effect.

 Few of us are disciplined enough to drink 6-8 glasses of tap water, much less intentionally work up a sweat or exercise every day. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give our bodies a treat regularly and enjoy the benefits that a good flushing with water can bring. Noticing the effect helps us to develop the habit.

 Caution: When we actively increase water intake away from meals, we need to add ¼ tsp of mineral rich sea salt per quart of water so that our body won’t leach minerals. Water taken with meals that already contain salt can be taken ‘straight’.

 Sometimes it helps to call a friend, take a hike, or join a swimming or exercise program. Other times, it helps to keep a journal of after-effects. Perhaps breathing is better, joints move more easily, aches and pains subside, or better yet, we feel fully charged and ready to meet the day!



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