Meditation has been credited with many benefits including stress reduction, boosting energy levels, promoting restful sleep, weight loss maintenance and creating a positive outlook. But could meditation help heal your gut issues? You know what I am talking about! The physical effects of constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas and abdominal pain are awful. Plus, the psychological fear of having to deal with this in a public restroom is just as bad.
What is the link between meditation and stopping the embaressing physical effects of an unhealthy gut? It is out brain! Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach before giving a big presentation or felt so nervous you couldn't eat? That is the brain working with the gut.
Everyday our gut receives signals from the brain. When we have a very strong emotion our brain communicates it to the gut. Good, bad or indifferent. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress, happiness, nervousness or depression influences how our gut feels and reacts. The signals result in gut reactions such as being hungry, feeling full, having diarrhea, stomachache, abdominal pain, loss of appetite or loose stools. The communication between the brain and the gut goes both ways. The gut sends signals to the brain which is an important red flag if we eat something that causes immediate pain or sudden bowel movements.
More research is being done about the importance of the link between the brain and the gut. Especially when it comes to stress and how it effects the gut. Stress is not just the physical stress we feel from work or life in general. Stress is also defined as lack of sleep, environmental pollution, exposure to toxins, what we eat and physical activity, to name a few.
A few recent studies showing the impact of stress on the gut are below:
PSYCHOLOGICAL STRESS: Gao et al (2018) reported that chronic psychological stress (such as what we experience in life or at work) increased the severity of induced Colitis in mice and altered the good bacteria in the gut by increasing pro-inflammatory (bad) bacteria and reducing the abundance of anti-inflammatory (good) bacteria.
BREAK IN CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS: Circadian rhythms are primarily controlled by our inner clock and they helps us move through our daily routine of waking and sleeping. Disruption of this rhythm, results in multiple anti-inflammatory associated diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (Hoogerwerf, 2009; Voight el al. 2016a; James et al., 2017)
LACK OF SLEEP: In two studies, sleep deprived animals consumed more food than those who received enough sleep (Everson and Toth 2000; Poroyko et al., 2016). Increased food consumption may be the way with which sleep restriction impacts the gut microbiota and may explain why the digestion of undigested nutrients were increased following sleep improvement. (Poroyko et al., 2016)
The results of this research shows how our day to day activities affect our gut health which also impacts our overall health. Meditation helps heal the gut because it can help reduce and/or stop some of the stressors that cause an unhealthy gut. How does it do this? By stimulating the vagus nerve. This may be the first time you are reading about the vagus nerve, so let me explain.
The vagus nerve oversees a lot of crucial bodily functions, including control of our mood, immune response, digestion and heart rate. It establishes a connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. Then it sends information about the state of our inner organs to the brain. When the vagus nerve is treated, it increases the vagal tone.
Vagal tone is the degree of activity occurring within our parasympathetic nervous system, which is part of the "fight-or-flight" system in our bodies. This system is critical for our bodies to respond to stressors quickly. When the vagal tone is increased, it results in a physical symptom such as a faster heart rate or diarrhea.
Unfortunately, our bodies are in "fight-or-flight" syndrome frequently. This constant stress results in inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Colitis, constipation and diarrehea. The good news is the vagal tone can be influenced by breathing, through meditation and yoga, which increases its resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms. (Source: NIH)
By practicing meditation, the vagal tone is taught to respond to stressors more quickly. Meditation also helps improve sleep quality and digestion. The best part is you don't need to spend hours every day practicing it. Try to start your day with a 10 to 15-minute meditation. By starting the day with a slow breathing practice, you are preparing yourself for the day ahead. You can focus on just breathing versus thinking about everything you have to do that day.
Here are a few of my favorite, free YouTube guided meditations:
While starting your day with breathing may help with focus, stress levels during the day can skyrocket! To apply a breathing routine during the day, try the 3 steps below. You can do this in a meeting, at your desk, in the bathroom or in a hallway.
#1: Take a deep breath, in through your nose while expanding your abdomen. Exhale slowly out of your nose, letting the abdomen reduce.
#2: Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, while expanded the abdomen. Hold the breath for a count of 2, then release the breath while letting the abdomen reduce.
#3: Repeat the second step 3 times.
Meditation is a powerful tool that can help relieve stress, reduce unwanted gut health symptoms and help you sleep regularly. It really doesn't take a lot of time every day. When trying to start any new activity, taking it slow is the best way. Try one to two days per week. When you get comfortable with that, then add a third day. Before you know it, it will just be part of your normal routine.
Is meditation something you are willing to try? Let me know your thoughts by leaving me a comment below.
Do you feel like you need help managing the horrible feeling of being bloated, having excess gas, abdominal pain, diarrehea or constipation? I can help! I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist helping women to heal their gut symptoms and enjoy life again.
Book your call with me right here. It’s very simple. No jumping through hoops and NO PRESSURE. If we determine it’s not a fit, we’ll go our separate ways for now. If it is a fit, we can take the next step and get you started on the path to healing your gut.
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