It’s world digestive health day on 29 May 2021. So, what does yoga have to do with gut health and why should we care? Read on to discover how digestive health and mental wellbeing are more closely linked then you might realise.
What do we mean when we refer to the gut?
Well simply put, the gut includes your stomach, large and small intestines, but it also includes 100 trillion micro-organisms that digest our food, regulate our hormones, detoxify our system and produce key nutrients. All together these make up the gut microbiome. So in your gut, there are more microorganisms than people that have ever been alive on the planet. And did you know that around 70% of your immune system is found in your gut? So, when this system goes wrong, it’s bad news! All sorts of things can affect your gut health – diet, movement, rest. So whilst it seems unlikely, yoga definitely has a role to play on gut health.
Your gut and mental health
New evidence suggests that the health of our digestive system can affect our mental health and wellbeing and following a healthy diet appears to reduce depressive symptoms. In a recent study, in which half the participants followed a healthy diet whilst the other half relied on their regular treatment (therapy, medication etc.), there was an improvement amongst the dietary intervention group. The researchers believe that this might be down to the improving health of the gut microbiome.
The gut is also home to 80% of the body’s serotonin which regulates mood, sleep and appetite. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression and exercise and movement have been shown to increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
How yoga can help your digestive health
The digestive system is sensitive to stress and anxiety. This is reflected in our language: we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or ‘find things hard to swallow.’ Managing stress and getting enough sleep are linked to good digestive health and these are two areas that yoga has been proven to help with.
In addition to this, physical activity stimulates the gut and increases intestinal activity working to prevent digestive issues by increasing blood flow and movement within the digestive system. New research suggests that physical exercise can also affect the balance of bacteria in the gut protecting our immune system.
Yoga is regarded as one of the most beneficial ways to move for the gut. Yoga poses such as twists and forward bends can help with constipation. A study, published by Psychology, Health & Medicine, found that yoga significantly reduced the severity of IBS symptoms.
A Subtle Body Perspective
Yoga teacher Charlotte Watts suggests that the gut houses more than the physical functions for digestion. In many systems the gut is where we find our vital force for example the Lower Dan Tian in Taoism which is also known as the Hara. Charlotte Watts uses the Chakra system to explore how the mind-body development functions from the perspective of the gut. You can read more in this article: