Yoga & Gut Health
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know gut health impacts the whole body. It’s now widely accepted that good gut health contributes to a robust immune system, cardiovascular health, brain health, endocrine stabilisation and functioning, improved mood, healthy sleep, effective digestion and has a hand in the prevention of some cancers.
So, we need to treat the gut with respect and care it deserves.
Taking Gut Performance™ to supplement a good diet will help, but there is more to gut health than taking supplements.
We need to support our gut through a diverse range of measures. So we can benefit from an optimal functioning gut – enhancing overall health and peak performance.
A regular and consistent yoga practice can help relieve pain and discomfort produced by a poorly functioning gut. But its more vital role is in keeping the gut in vigorous health. And it’s not all about the OM. Even though it does help.
Yoga has a multi-pronged, synergistic effect on gut health. The benefits come from an interplay of an exercise effect, asana and restorative practice.
Microbial diversity is vital to keep your gut functioning at its best. Research has found moderate amounts of exercise can increase the variety of bacteria in your gut (Clarke et al., 2014). It is also linked to reduced risk of ongoing inflammation.
Now for the yoga poses! Consider the practice of yoga to be like a massage for your internal organs.
Static poses strengthen and stretch the abdominal area. They help tone the muscles that house and support the majority of the organs involved in digestion. This ensures the digestive system is protected in the torso.
Dynamic poses, where you fold, twist and stretch the abdominal area improves blood and lymph circulation. These movements create a squeeze and release effect, supporting improved functioning and stimulating elimination and movement of waste through the small and large intestine. It’s also believed to contribute to the body’s detoxification process. For centuries it has been considered the twisting and strengthening yoga poses encourage the liver and kidneys to flush out toxins.
One of the critical roles of healthy gut bacteria is to signal the proper response to the brain to cope with stress. However, prolonged or excessive amounts of stress negatively impact gut flora, changing the messages sent to the brain. This, in turn, affects the way your body deals with stress – physically and mentally.
Through consistent practice, yoga calms the nervous system. By learning to regulate breathing, and focus on the present moment, it promotes the body’s natural relaxation. Turning off the ‘fight and flight’ response and switching to the ‘rest and digest’ response.
When practising yoga for healthier digestion, you should keep a few things in mind. You don’t want to stress your gut. If you are having issues such as pain, bloating etc., it is already working overtime.
- Gentle yoga is excellent for digestion, particularly if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort.
- It is always best to practice at your own speed and not exert yourself.
- For severe forms of digestive disorders and pain, it is probably best to utilise other yoga tools such as meditation and restorative practices.
Try the poses/sequences below to restore balance and promote gut health. Let us know through the Gut Performance Instagram page or tag your gut restoring yoga pics #gutperformanceyoga to show us how you promote your gut health through yoga.
“There are many Yoga Asanas that target the digestive system, helping us detoxify, physically move unwanted stool along and out, and restore balance to our digestive fire (Agni). Asanas and the practice of Yoga benefit our being as a whole. Whether it’s targeting the Endocrine system, the reproductive system, the nervous system, the respiratory system, the mind and the soul, its all ultimately links back to our guts anyways. We now know our brain and the gut – brain is linked directly through the vegas nerve, and Yoga is a practice that frees us from anxiety, fear, one mindedness, and of course the ever damaging ego that create chaos on our microbiome and mitochondria. We are a being made up of billions of other smaller beings working as one, everything is connected and when we turn inward to bring our mind and body into harmony with the external worlds around us, the ever-complex, rebuilding, recycling, intelligent community of life that makes us works and lives in harmony… creating our ultimate wellbeing. Yoga, amoungst many other ancient practices, helps us achieve this.” Henry Jefferson
1. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Gomukhasana is primarily a hip opening posture. According to many ancient medical holistic practices such as Ayurveda, Vedic, Yoga, Chinese Medicine, Tibetan Medicine etc, our anxiety, traumas, and suppressed fear based emotions all get stored in the hips. Stretching and opening the hips release these stagnated energies and tension, allowing us to feel lighter, more grounded, relaxed and stress free thus improving the function and health of our microbiome. It also allows more energy to flow through the physical body. Gomukhasana tilts the top of the hips forward which elongates and straightens the spine, especially in the lower Lumbar spine which is crucial for upper and lower intestinal alignment. Because this Asana bring about such posture to the spine, it also helps the flow of energy through the spine, opening of the heart and diaphragm, allowing us bring ourselves out of low vibrating emotions such as anxiety. It also helps treat Sciatica. Gomukhasana is also very beneficial for the kidneys as it physically stimulates the organ. If we decide to connect the hands behind the back, we open and clear the rotary cuff on the shoulder.
Entering the posture:
- Sit in an ‘L’ shape (seated Dandasana), legs together directly in front, bring your sitting bones back, beginning to tilt the hips forward.
- Bring the right heel in line with the left knee cap. Then bring the right foot over the other side of the left leg and up toward the outside of the left hip. You should start feeling a slight twist and opening in the right hip.
- For support, bring your hands to the ground on either side of you. Sweep the left foot to the right side toward the right hip, bringing the feet into one line either side of you.
- Ground your hands in front of you and lean forward to lift off your sitting bone and allow your knees to come closer together, stacked in line with each other. Then slowly lower back onto your sitting bones.
- Keep the feet activated in a right angle to protect the ankles. If there is any pain in the knee, step back, the twist should be in the hips not the knee. Allow the hips to open slowly and naturally.
- Raise your right arm in the air, fold behind the back trying to bring the elbow in line with the crown of the head. Sweep the left arm under and being the back to grab the right hand. If you can’t reach at this time, you can use a belt or a yoga strap. Lift the chin to further open through the chest, and the shoulder.
- Closing the eyes when you find your positioning, allow the breath to come to a natural flow, filing into the chest and the diaphragm. Always allowing the breath to further open us into our Asanas. Observing the sensations through our physical body, emptying the mind, and finding the stillness.
- When we want to release from this position, we first release the arm stretching out to the sides to neutralise through the chest, shoulders and scapula. We then let out bodies know we are about to unravel. Using your hands, slowly and gently release the legs and come back to the seated ‘L’. Give yourself time to close the eyes and observe the subtle changes, openings and release of tensions throughout the body.
2. Square Pose
This is another hip opening Asana (posture). It allows flow of energy through the meridians (energy highways) of the body. Tilting the hips forward straightens and lengthens through the Lumbar Spine, helping align the intestines. Square posture targets the Gall Bladder Meridian which runs down the outer leg. The Gall Bladder stores Bile, a combination of fluids, fats and cholesterol. The Gall Bladder helps us to break down fats from the food in your intestines. When you proceed into the forward fold, the posture also targets the Urinary Bladder line, releasing energy and stretching through the Thoraco Lumbar Fascia (TLF). The TLF is a very complex area of muscles of which primarily allow us to stand up straight! Releasing strain from the TLF is much needed. This Asana is also a stimulating Asana, energising the body and mind.
Entering the Posture
1. Bring legs straight out forward while sitting bones are back allowing the Lumbar lower spine to become as straight as possible. (seated Dandasana)
2. Bring your right shin bone played out parallel to the front of your mat, the right foot will be more over the left side. You will most likely already feel a slight opening in your right Tensor Facia Latae (outer hip).
3. Bring the left leg on top of the right leg, stacking the shins. The left foot will fit comfortably in the crease of your knee. CAUTION! If there is any pain in the knee immediately, carefully, bring your left leg from stacking on the right. If the sensation, the stretch is too fierce, we can come to another option. We place the left leg in front of the right on the mat. so that both are parallel to the front of the mat, but are not stacked. Whatever option you have taken, allow yourself to take some time here. We can remain in this position for as long as desired, finding stillness of the mind, coming into mediation, observing the openings of the body. Allow your hips to open naturally, releasing any resistance there may be. (Unless introducing Bandha, or energy locks to your Asana, there is no need to raise arms or contract and suck in diaphragm like Image 1. Brining the hands to the lap or knees and surrendering any tensions through out the body is necessary).
4. Forward Fold! Bring the hands out the front grounded, shoulder width apart. As you inhale create structure through the spine, opening the chest, gaze forward shoulders slightly back. Then walk you hand forward, folding from the hips. Coming to your physical level, we can then release on to the elbows, head come forward on to the mat. If there is any discomfort, we can use a Yoga Block to rest our forehead onto, brining the Cervical Vertebrae at the back of the neck to a neutral position. Again once, when finding your positioning, become present with your body finding any tensions you may be able to release surrendering and allowing gravity to hold you to the earth. Hold for 3 – 5 Minutes.
5. When unravelling from your position, walk your self up back to centre position using your hands. allow yourself a moment here.
6. Notify your body that you are about to release, hips can become tight. Then using your hands, assist with release the left leg, then the right.
7. To neutralise the hips, we can bring the feet a little wide then hip width apart about a foot from your body, hands grounded behind supporting your upper body. Allow the knees to drop to one side keeping the torso and head centred. Then come onto your other side with care. Repeat as desired.
Benefits: Targets the Lower Lumbar Spine, deep compression. Gently opens chest and diaphragm with the help of breath. Energetically targets and stimulates the Urinary Bladder – Kidney meridians (energy highways), and the Stomach – Spleen Meridians.
CAUTION to anyone who has any back injuries. Woman with pregnancies must also be cautious of pressure on the belly. This is a gentle Asana, but caution is key.
Entering the posture
1. Begin by laying belly down with the back legs spread apart wider then your hips. Bring your hands grounded below the shoulders and slowly push off the ground.
2. MAKE SURE the hips, pelvis are grounded, so that the lumbar spine is being compressed. Allow the legs to be limp. Keep the gaze forward, chin parallel to the earth.
We can allow the shoulders to relax and come up by the ears. The more you push away the more compression on the lower spine.
3. Hold for 2-3 mins, breathing into the belly. Empty the mind, relax the parts of your body you don’t need to be activated. Close the eyes if you feel necessary.
4. To release, just release the torso to the ground. Neutralise the spine by coming into Cat – Cow (MarjariAsana), or coming into Child Pose (Balasana).
Janu Sirs (Head to Knee)
Creates a stretch through the whole spine, shoulders, hamstrings, Latissimus Dorsi, and Abdominals. Especially in the lower Lumbar spine and lower back, which is much needed for a youthful strong back. Have your ever heard the saying “you are as young as your spine?”. Janu Sirs asana also helps relieve anxiety and mild depression when the long and steady breathing takes place. Most forward folds do. Once slow breathing in this position is mastered, fresh blood can then flow to the Sciatica Nerve which runs from either side of the base of the spine to each foot. Which helps relieve lower back pains and discomforts. Digestion is improved through stimulation of the abdomen. The Liver, Pancreas and Kidneys are also stimulated. We can massage the soles of our feet stimulating Acupressure points that are connected to other organs such as the Uterus, Stomach and Spleen.
Entering the Posture
1. Sitting with the sitting bones back, feet forward and feet at 90 degrees (seated Dandasana), we bring the right feel into the groin. Then allow then knee to fall to the right side opening the hip. If there are any knee issues, like a torn meniscus, we can bring the foot to knee level. Our hips are square forward, and the back of the left knee is grounded.
2. On our inhale, we raise the arm opening through our side body and elongating through the spine.
3. On our exhale we begin to fall forward folding from the hips, as if someone is pulling up forward from the wrists. As we feel our hamstrings come to its obvious limit, we land the hands whoever they comfortably land. The knees, shins, ankles or feet. Give your self some time to allow the hamstrings to gently open here. Close the eyes, expand your breath. Prepare your body and your mind to go deeper.
4. On your next inhale create structure through the spine, opening the chest raising the gaze and consciously tilting the hips more forward, sitting bone further back. And as we exhale, falling forward. We can continue this until we come as deep as we intend to go.
5. Once you have reached your desired depth in your Asana, we begin to find the stillness. Bring your awareness to the breath, allow it to flow back to its natural rhythm. Observe the sensation of the body, as we observe we detach allowing us to free the mind of labelling the sensation as discomfort, bad, or hard. We can then begin to drop into our concentration. Observing the mind, detaching from thought, arriving into our mediation. Hold for 2-5 minutes.
6. When exiting this Asana, we can slowly bring our selves back to a centre position by walking the hand back. Giving the body a minute to release any tension. Then release the right leg back to meet the left in the front. Giving you legs a little shake here can be a nice way to release some energy.