If you improve your gut health, you improve your overall health. Did you know that scientists are linking the gut back to about 90% of disease? The state of the gut microbiome can affect your skin, bloating, mental health, digestive distress, inflammation levels, and more. It’s critical that we nourish the gut microbiome so that we can step into the healthiest, energized, happiest versions of ourselves. One of the biggest factors that plays a role in improving gut health is proper nutrition. Coming in right behind a supportive diet are movement and stress reduction, two things that yoga has to offer.
Yoga is a massage for your internal organs and deeply detoxifying. Detoxification is a key factor in improving digestion. Twisting postures can help encourage your liver and kidneys to flush out toxins, therefore enhancing your digestion.
Yoga can also help with bloating, increasing the amount of oxygen to the area. Gentle yoga poses and deep breathing are a great way to relax the gut, which can become stressed from a long day or packed schedule.
Daily movement, like a morning yoga practice, is good for your heart, for building lean muscle, for improving metabolism and for balancing your mood and stress. New science is showing that exercise may also benefit your gut microbiome – that diverse ecosystem, like an internal garden, living inside of you comprised of symbiotic bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive system.
Yoga can aid digestion, constipation and bloating by increasing the circulation and energy to the areas of the digestive system. It works on a physical level by stimulating the internal organs via various asanas. Yoga also works on a deeper energetic level, stimulating the energy systems or meridians of the body. By choosing asanas that stimulate the stomach, small intestine, large intestine and liver meridians, we can give our gut a little TLC.
MENTAL + EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Not only does yoga have physical health benefits, but it also boasts huge mental health benefits. A very commonly overlooked factor in gut health is stress.
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone expresses stress from time to time due to anything from responsibilities like work and family to serious life events such as a new diagnosis, or the death of a loved one. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations.
Yet if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. Symptoms of chronic stress include: irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and digestive issues.
Stress negatively affects our gut health. The gut is especially vulnerable to the presence of chronic, and even acute, stress, demonstrating stress-induced changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability and barrier function, visceral sensitivity and mucosal blood flow.
The biochemical changes that occur in times of stress have significant and immediate impact on gut function. A family of peptides called corticotropin releasing factors (CRF) are responsible for coordinating the body’s response to stress, and CRFs have potent effects on the gut through modulation of inflammation, increase of gut permeability, contribution to visceral hypersensitivity, increased perception to pain, and modulation of gut motility. This hormone affects the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) to eventually stimulate the secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands.
Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, but it has also been shown to actually cause changes in the composition of the microbiota. Research in mice has found that exposure to stress led to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria while simultaneously reducing microbial diversity in the large intestine of the stressed mice. Furthermore, this disruption of the microbiota increased susceptibility to enteric pathogens.
Chronic exposure to stress may lead to the development of a variety of gastrointestinal diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, IBD, IBS, heartburn, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and associated lower abdominal pain, and even food allergies. Experimental studies have shown that psychological stress slows normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and even compromises the intestinal barrier.
So where does yoga come in? Well, it’s one of the best tools that we have in modern day to help combat stress. Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation or relaxation. Yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower heart rate. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that may help you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. This can help you relax and manage stress and anxiety.
In addition, yoga equips us with tools to better manage what life sends our way with grace. This can result in more conscious decision-making in the moment, including choosing healthier food and drinks, which will positively affect gut health. Health is holistic and our frame of mind plays an intricate part in the actions that we take on a daily basis.
Through yoga we also learn to regulate our breathing, which in turn helps to promote the body’s natural relaxation system and quiet our holding patterns of stress (known as our “fight-or-flight” response).
When the body is in a state of fight-or-flight, or when they sympathetic nervous system is turned on, blood flow is redirected to the extremities and away from digestion. Simply put, digestion shuts off. This leads to food sitting in the intestines too long and potentially fermenting, growing unwanted bacteria and leading to bloating. Yoga also helps to soothe the sympathetic nervous system, decreasing stress levels and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us rest and digest.
TOP YOGA POSES FOR GUT HEALTH
Certain asanas can bring immediate relief from bloating and constipation. Others can benefit proper gut health, including detoxification, elimination, and motility in the long run. Here are some of our favorite yoga poses for a healthier gut today.
- Crescent lunge twist (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana)
- Supine twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Puppy pose (Uttana Shishosana)
- Cat cow (Marjaiasana)
- Knees-to-chest pose (Apanasana)
- Child’s pose (Balasana)
- Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)
- Camel Pose (Ushtrasana)