For those of us that have attended group Yoga classes, we are fully aware of the physical and mental benefits we walk away with. We know there are a ton of great things it can do for our body. But today I would like to talk a little bit about Yoga for the gut.
According to Yoga and ancient Chinese medicine, disease starts in the gut. So it makes perfect sense that health starts in the gut as well.
The Root of the Problem
Many digestive system issues that are plaguing our society at large are also running rampant throughout the world. These issues are the underlying cause behind a plethora of other health issues. Many of us wouldn’t even think these issues could possibly be related; such as headaches, back pain, even anxiety and skin problems.
If something doesn’t feel right deep inside your gut, that means that there is probably something that isn’t right in the rest of your life as well.
If you are suffering from one of the many different forms of digestion issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, or more severe ones, like colitis or Crohn’s, then you are fully aware that this means more than just occasional discomfort. It is usually a chronic experience of abdominal pain and digestive inconsistencies.
These unfortunate effects link to more than just the physical body. It is a mind and body relationship as well.
But There is Hope!
Yoga can make a huge difference! Not only in just reducing the stress that can cause a lot of these symptoms, but also help you apply mindfulness to your life, This will also increase your ability to listen to your body.
Digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, affect a huge portion of the world. In fact, over 45 million people in the United States. And that is only what we know of it. There are many that have been suffering in silence because they are too embarrassed to talk about it.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) usually includes bloating, gas and a rotation between constipation and diarrhea. Obviously, nobody wants to talk about that. The thing is, it is something of a mystery in the medical world because the symptoms point to an obvious problem in the digestive tract, but frequently when the digest tract is examined, there are no visible signs of damage.
The problem indicates a lack of communication between the nervous system and the digestive tract. The gut is highly responsive to changes in the body and mind on all levels. There are hundreds of millions of nerve cells constantly taking in information and sometimes they can go into overload.
When the communication between the gut and the brain (or nervous system) is somehow interrupted, it can cause one of two problems: either an over-sensitivity of the digestive tract and the nerves within it, or a complete lack of sensitivity, meaning the nerves themselves have stopped working and become unable to process the food that passes through the digestive tract.
Less Stress = Happy Gut
Another interesting tidbit of information is that people with digestive problems also tend to deal with severe anxiety. It is unknown whether the digestive problems are created by the anxiety or whether the anxiety is created by the constant worrying about the digestive problems. But alas, it is a vicious cycle.
So by decreasing the amount of stress in our lives, as well as our ability to handle stress, we can begin to heal and overcome digestive problems for good.
This is where Yoga comes in. Daily practice of the Yoga postures, alongside mindful breathing and overall mindful practices throughout the rest of life, can reduce and completely remove emotional and physical symptoms of digestive issues.
But there are certain postures and special sequences that are especially known to help. There are even sequences or kriyas that are designed to relieve abdominal and digestive discomfort specifically.
Remember to Breathe
If you can calm down your nervous system (which Yoga is famous for doing), this will, in turn, calm down the irritated digestive tract.
If you struggle in Yoga classes, then be sure not to choose postures that are too difficult, because if you can’t relax and breathe into them, you will not get the results you want.
Also, be sure to breathe steadily throughout the entire practice. Holding the breath can actually be a bad idea in some cases because it triggers your stress responses and can increase negative symptoms. It is important to get your body into relaxation mode.
So either start your Yoga practice with a relaxation or several minutes of relaxing breathing exercises. This tells your body it is time to slow down and relax.
Yoga can also help us by learning to relax in difficult positions. If a posture is particularly tiring for you, but you can learn to breathe into it and relax your body, breath, and mind, then this creates a trip wire in the brain that can eventually help you to trigger this relaxation response naturally in difficult times throughout the rest of your life as well.
This is particularly helpful in situations with chronic pain. If you can change your body’s stress triggers, you can tell your brain that your painful episode isn’t actually that bad. This can help you keep a bad situation from getting worse.
Yoga can also repair the muscles and nerves in the gut. Many people do not think about the fact that the digestive tract consists of muscles the same way the rest of our body does.
If we work the muscles they get stronger and healthier. This goes for your gut as well. If the muscles or nerve endings in your intestines are causing painful and overly sensitive contractions or spasms, this can result in excess of diarrhea.
In contrast, if the muscles slow down to the point where the contractions aren’t what they need to be, this causes constipation. This is why the exercise in physical Yoga practices can help.
By applying a certain pressure to the abdomen as well as overall working out the muscles, you can condition and strengthen these muscles to function optimally.
So Where Do We Start?
This repetitive resting technique (which I introduce in my book, Yoga for YOU) can balance the contractions of the intestines and smooth everything out. Whether the body tends toward constipation or diarrhea or alternating between the two.
Needless to say, there are a ton of contributing factors to gut health. And Yoga can be applied on multiple levels. Reading into some of the best poses and sequences for digestive health is the best place to start.
Just remember, the body cannot fully heal until all of its systems are performing their best, so start from the inside and work your way out!
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