How can yoga support gut health?
Gut health has gathered a great amount of attention in recent years as increasing scientific evidence reveals the gut’s significance in our overall health and wellbeing. So why is this part of our physiology such a hot topic for mind, body and even lifestyle? And how can practicing yoga help to keep it in tip top shape?
Digestion and beyond
Not only is the health of the gut important for digestive function and nutrient absorption, diabetes and autoimmune diseases have been linked to poor gut health. The gut is also a vital part of the immune system – 70% of the body’s immune cells are in the gut! As the coronavirus pandemic propels the importance of supporting the immune system into the public eye more than ever, taking care of the gut is a great place for us to start.
Brain function and mood can also be affected by gut health. Good levels of serotonin – one of our “feel-good” chemicals – are produced in a healthy digestive tract. The gut microbiome – a mini ecosystem in the intestines made up of trillions of bacteria, now recognised as crucial in digestion and immunity – can also contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression when out of balance. Plant-based diets and fermented foods containing pre and probiotics have become a popular way to keep the good bacteria in the tum topped up, people are even throwing fermented food parties and workshops!
But it’s not just about what you eat when it comes to keeping the gut, and you, happy. Factors such as stress levels, exercise and the environment can all impact the delicate bacteria balancing act. Furthermore, through the gut-brain axis – the nervous system’s link between our brains and our bellies – stress and anxiety can affect gut motility i.e. the movement of the gut, and contribute to symptoms of indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.
Yoga for gut health
The gut-brain axis along with the microbiome are now salient subjects of scientific research, yet the ancient practice of yoga has always held many techniques and technologies to prevent disease, maintain, and even enhance good gut health with the understanding that this generates a holistic sense of wellbeing: mind, body and life.
In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medical system often intertwined with yogic practice and philosophy, the gut is considered the “second brain” due to the close relationship it has with our psycho-emotional states.
Recent scientific studies have finally found out that there are a highly significant number of neurones (brain-cells) in the gut. Fun fact, there are more neurones in the human gut than in a cat’s head!
Yoga has now become a widely recognised beacon of health for general fitness and flexibility, as well as stress and anxiety relief, but there are also many specific practices within yoga that keep the gut healthy and relieve digestive issues. The Yoga for Gut Health workshop series combines ancient practices and philosophies with cutting edge scientific medicine to support your gut health.
How it works
The vagus nerve – also known as the pneumogastric nerve which regulates gut as well as lung and heart activity – is activated during yoga practice. Combining breath-work with yogic postures and movement stimulates the vagus nerve thus activating the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” state. Think of
the calm that comes with deep slow breaths, this is accentuated manifold after an hour of yoga. This state is opposed to the “fight and flight” stress response of the sympathetic nervous system. It is quite clear which one we need to be in for our gut to function well in!
With modern life generating increasingly stressful situations for us to deal with, we can often get stuck in our stressful state and our gut health can suffer for it. Paradoxically, we are concurrently living a more sedentary lifestyle leading to an under-stimulation of the gut. Certain yoga asanas (postures), mindful movement, and specific pranayama (breathing techniques) can stimulate the gut to alleviate bloating and constipation. Others help to calm the body, reducing inflammation, diarrhoea and heartburn.
Beyond the body
It is not only the physical aspects of gut health that yoga can help with, delving into the psyche with meditations and philosophical self-inquiry also play a major part in learning to listen and connect with your gut, as well as to digest life with ease. After all, the word “Yoga” means “Union” – the union between the mind and the body to create a positive connection with the world around you.
In the Yoga for Gut Health 4-part workshop series we focus on the union between the gut and the brain, which, as previously discussed, enhances the health of the entire body, mind and even how you interact with your environment.
This course is for beginners and established yogis alike. It begins with foundational principles that help everyone learn to relax and listen to their bodies. From here we build on our practice together trying new techniques, developing physical strength and flexibility, training the mind to work with the body, working with the body’s yogic energy centres as they align in the digestive system, and of course, learning to love our bellies.
Written by Flo Ryder
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