Wow. I am still beaming from yesterday's Twist & 'Kraut workshop! This was Kindred Spirits Collective's first local workshop and it was a total success. Maren Bhagat and I led a one hour twisty detoxifying vinyasa yoga flow followed by a 90 minute sauerkraut making workshop over at Acorn Yoga in Brighton, MA. We had an absolute blast teaching everyone the benefits of yoga and how it ties into the benefits of fermented foods! Thanks to everyone who came out. If you missed the workshop and want to make it to our next one, register for our March 25th Yoga and Tea Making event and sign up for our Maine Spring Awakening Retreat. I wanted to share some of the info we taught at the workshop. Check it out:
Ayurveda and digestion
There are 5 elements: earth, air, ether, wind, and fire. According to Ayurveda, fire, or agni, is the most important element in the human body.
"The digestive fire in the intestines (jataragni) is the root of all the digestive fires in the body. As it causes the increase or decrease of the elemental and tissue digestive fires it should be treated with great care."
- Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita
Ayurveda says that if you have a healthy digestive system then you are properly able to assimilate experiences, emotions, and physical matter. Have you ever eaten something that didn't sit well in your belly, making you feel heavy, bloated, and grumpy? It happens all the time, especially in our over-sugared over-fed country. That's why following Ayurvedic teachings about improving digestion can be so beneficial. It takes a little attention but once you discover the benefits of improving your digestive fire you'll be ALL IN.
Agni: Meaning fire, spark, digestive fire. Both "ignite" & "agni" have the same linguistic root.
Qualities: Hot, Light, Dry, Sharp, Penetrating, Pungent, Luminous, Transforming.
Functions: Absorption, assimilation, metabolism, digestion, perception, taste, touch, hearing, vitality, clarity, alertness, regular appetite, combustion.
It includes the digestive function, sense perception, cellular metabolism and mental assimilation, linking mental well being and digestive health.
It gives immunity, a sparkle in the eyes and luster to the skin.
When agni is balanced, it causes emotions that are beneficial to health: courage, cheerfulness, lucid, intelligence. When agni is out of balance it causes emotions that are destructive to health: fear, anger, confusion, idiocy."
Yoga and fermented food both increase agni in the body. In yoga, the squeeze and soak action of the body (especially in twists) are like a sponge for your gut. Each twist squeezes out old blood allowing new blood in wringing out toxins, heavy metals, sadness, depression, and anxiety. Fermented foods re-kindle agni due to the good bacteria in them digesting ama and replenishing enzymes and nutrients. If you’re not digesting well, you’ll develop ama, or gut inflammation and toxic residues from undigested, unabsorbed foods that slow you down.
Benefits of eating sauerkraut
Indian food is traditionally full of fermented foods. Think idli – a fermented lentil and rice cake, chutney, yogurt sauces, dosa. Not only are these fermented foods delicious and nutritionally dense, they are easier to digest as well. This takes a lot of pressure off of you to do all of the work, since the food is partially broken down already. Many other cultures consume fermented foods regularly. Various Asian cultures eat pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots, such as kimchi. Eastern Europeans consume many versions of sauerkraut and fermented dairy products. Even Romans valued sauerkraut!
Sauerkraut is a lacto-fermented food that is full of not only probiotics, but prebiotics as well. The fiber in the cabbage feeds the bacteria, allowing them to thrive. Similar to the physical practice of asana in yoga, eating small amounts of fermented foods throughout your day is quite cleansing. The good bacteria slowly replace the “bad” bacteria, revitalizing you! The wide variety of bacteria found in fermented food is incredible important – a diverse ecosystem is more resilient – and diversity in the Western gut tends to be significantly lower than in other, less-industrialized populations. Eating fermented foods allows your system to be more ready for dealing with illness and resisting it in the first place. Your body contains 100 trillion microbes (making up a pound or two of you!), the majority of which are in your gut where 80% of your immune system is located. For every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 microbes. Quite humbling, isn’t it? The increase in chronic illnesses we are seeing may be due in part to the decrease in beneficial bacteria we are consuming. Let’s ensure that the types of bacteria we are made of are those that are supportive of our health and longevity, rather than inflammatory types!
Not only do fermented foods create health in the body, but they actually play a large role in our emotional well-being. Our gut is literally our second brain, and the bacteria contained in it can alter our thoughts! They control cravings – if you are eating junk food, the bacteria that enjoy it will begin to take over and will actually cause you to crave it in order to keep themselves alive! It sounds far-fetched, but you really are a result of what you are eating. They produce signaling chemicals that control immune cells, appetite, satiety, and digestion. A healthy gut may even help to decrease Alzheimer’s risk! Fermented foods are full of nutrients that are harder to get in the Western diet, and are full of bacteria that produce and help unlock nutrients, such as K2 and vitamin B. The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of eating fermented foods go on and on!!
Other types of fermented foods include kombucha, kefir, miso, kimchi, yogurt, natto… Just make sure you are consuming raw versions! Probiotic supplements are extremely pricey, and contain 100x fewer bacteria than fermented foods that you can make yourself!
Moral of the story: Do yoga and eat fermented foods, even if it's just a bite a day! Your body will thank you.