Yoga Improves Your Gut Health
In this article we cover:
- Stress Reduction
- Increase Microbiome Diversity
- Aid Digestion
- Yoga Poses to Heal and Promote Gut Health
Published April 28, 2022
Yoga has been proven to positively influence every system in the body (muscular system, endocrine system, skeletal system, etc.) The digestive system is no different and more and more research is pouring in to prove it. Such groundbreaking research has even zoomed so close in on gut health and its ties to physical activity.
“Yoga is not a trendy starlet that flickers briefly in the fitness sky. Yoga is a sound science that goes back thousands of years.”—Eva Maria Hoffmann-Gombotz, PhD microbiologist and yoga teacher
Yoga is a multifaceted practice that people tap into for various reasons. For many, its incorporating physical activity into their daily life to claim benefits like toning, flexibility, and strength. For others, it’s a modality for getting their mind right, sharpening focus, and cultivating a relaxed state of being. Even so, yoga’s effects on the body occur internally as well, whether or not individuals are conscious of it.
Yoga, an incredible ally to an individual’s gut health, reduces stress levels, increases microbiome diversity, and aids digestion.
Gut Health No. 1- Stress Reduction
Think of the gut as another mind in the body. Microbiome in the gut is extremely sensitive to the signals it receives from the body, be it mental or physical. Thus, its ability to respond appropriately is based on the condition of its health. Because of this, gut health directly influences the quality of our lives.
Because the gut lends a hand in the production of neurotransmitters such as GABA and dopamine, and effects hormone regulation, its health is vital to our physical experience. Playing a critical role in regulating our response to stress and how we interact with the world, a healthier gut is better armed to reduce stress rather than elevate or create it.
One way a persistent yoga practice can influence our gut health is through conscious yogic breathing, known as pranayama. Stress levels are best observed by tuning into the breath. High stress is detectable in shallow and rapid breath. Conversely, lower stress is linked to deeper, slower breaths.
When mindful breathing is woven into one’s yoga practice, the parasympathetic nervous system is at the helm. The more activated the parasympathetic nervous system is during practice, the easier it is to tap into off of the mat. A healthy, utilized parasympathetic nervous system can then restore our health and bring balance to the ecosystem in the gut.
Gut Health No. 2- Increase Microbiome Diversity
Trillions of good bacteria and bad bacteria varieties exist within the gut microbiota. Good bacteria impacts our immune and central nervous system and breaks down food by converting it into physical energy. If the balance isn’t right or there’s reduced microbial diversity, then an individual may experience digestive issues, poor mood, lethargy, or reduced immunity.
That said, the more good and diverse we make our gut bacteria, the better our health will be. Research has shown that an effective way to increase microbiome diversity is through consistent, daily exercise. Thus, yoga supports a flourishing and diverse microbiome while still being gentle enough that anyone can access it. In fact, yoga can be practiced at any age, activity level, pre or post-injury, pre or post-natal, etc.
Gut Health No. 3- Aid Digestion
There are specific poses in yoga that promote what is known in Hindu philosophy as “agni”; or digestive fire. These poses aid digestion, detoxification, and the oxidation of blood flow to the organs.
Studies have also shown that a regular yoga practice reduces inflammation and improves our sleep quality. Both elements are major players in our digestive system’s functionality and our body’s ability to heal itself. A common saying tied to the parasympathetic nervous system is “rest and digest.” Because yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system so naturally, a routine practice allows the body to operate more effectively.
Although most yoga poses engage the abdominal muscles, poses that emphasize the abdominal region are most influential on digestion. Additionally, poses that involve spinal twists help wring out the organs and allow detoxification to occur. There’s even poses that, through stretching and opening, reshape the intestines where kinks or blockages may have existed before.
Yoga Poses to Heal and Promote Gut Health
Ujjayi Breathing, aka “Ocean Breath”
Yogic Ujjayi breathing, which requires a restriction of the back of the throat, can be incorporated in every pose. It’s actually encouraged that ujjayi breath is used going into, holding, and coming out of every pose.
Also known as “Darth Vader” or “Ocean Breath,” Ujjayi breathing sends a vibration to the vagus nerve, which serves as a connection point between the intestines and our brain. When the vagus nerve is activated by this vibration, it then sets the parasympathetic nervous system into action.
Sun Salutations are a series of vinyasa poses that build up energetic fire throughout the entire body. Although sun salutation sequencing can vary from yogi to yogi, it typically consists of Downward Facing Dog, Chaturanga, Upward Facing Dog or Cobra, Halfway Lift, Upward Salute, and Standing Forward Fold.
Moving through sun salutations requires the correct utilization of inhalations and exhalations. Additionally, these sequenced poses produce heat in the abdominal region, which positively influences digestive health and detoxification.
Although Peacock Pose is a more advanced, hand-balancing pose, dedicated yogic practitioners attest that this pose is an excellent detox pose and increases digestive fire. Initially, Peacock Pose cuts off the blood flow to the liver, stomach intestines, kidneys, and spleen.
However, when an individual sequentially comes out of the pose, freshly oxygenated blood flows back into the organs, reducing toxin production, which improves the function of the intestine.
Requiring a great amount of core work, Boat Pose is a digestive stimulant as it massages the internal organs. Holding Boat Pose also increases blood flow, which has a revitalizing effect on the entire digestive system.
Typically the final pose in every asana practice, Savasana is the greatest yogic pose for parasympathetic nervous system activation. Because it is such a deeply relaxing and restorative pose, it’s incredibly effective at introducing balance back into the body. This balance has a lasting effect on the state of our gut and the vagus nerve.
Good Gut Health Is a Sign of a Healthy Life
Although eating well and proper sleep are just as important to a gut’s health, more and more people are drawn to yoga for its effects on their gut health. Known in ancient yogic texts as svadhyaya, studying the self internally and externally, and implementing changes to improve one’s quality of life, is a sacred path anyone can take.
A healthy gut is a sign of a healthy life. Incorporate yoga into your daily routine and give your gut the love it so greatly deserves!