De-stress to Digest
You could say that stress changes the weather in the gut. Our gut habitat, or microbiome, is affected by how we respond to stimuli in the world.
Stress is a condition of the nervous system, and can be likened to a taut bowstring - primed for action, in a state of high alert, and sensitive to outside influences. When we’re in this state, the brain sends messages via the sympathetic nerve fibres to inform the gut of an emergency situation. The gut obeys, by stopping digestion, reducing blood supply and releasing energy to the brain to deal with the threat.
We all feel better when are digestion is working well. When our microbiome has the right bacteria, this impacts our mood. Conversely, certain digestive problems have been linked via the gut brain axis to a part of the brain that processes negative feelings.
The gut is an organ, and accounts for two-thirds of our immune system. Isn’t that incredible? Unfortunately that means that we compromise our immunity if we lead a stressful life.
How does stress affect your digestion? If you have been suffering from stress over a long period of time, your gut may become less willing to drop everything and run to the aid of the brain; this is where problems arise. Fatigue, loss of appetite, general malaise or diarrhoea are all reactions to an overuse of the sympathetic activation. This system is designed for emergency situations not minor upsets; gut health and subsequently moods inevitably suffer.
Yoga can help to alleviate issues related to stress, and to digestion. Through conscious attention to the breath and mindful movement, a yoga practice will switch on your parasympathetic nervous system so that you can rest and digest. There is so much for the body to do in this state, in order to keep our minds and bodies functionally optimally.
Evidence from the Big Yoga Survey in 2018 showed that people who practice yoga at least once a week showed a lower baseline of stress at the beginning of the practice.
A yoga practice designed to aid digestion, will massage the internal organs of digestion, increase blood flow and improve interoception - the internal awareness of the body. Expect twists, compression and release. There are also specific breathing techniques to energise and balance the digestive system.
If your gut feeling is telling you to give yoga a try, or wondering if the reason for a mysterious health ailment is related to the gut, follow your intuition. I’ll see you on the mat.
Nicky guides Strala Yoga, which combines the natural movement of yoga, tai chi and qigong. She also offers TCM Health & Wellness Consultations to alleviate common issues such as stress and insomnia.