Yoga, Gut Health & What the Ancients Knew…
The best – and perhaps the worst – thing about being a human being is our brain and sense of consciousness. We can think, we have ideas, we imagine, discover, create and evolve. The downside is that human consciousness is at the source of ego. And it’s our ego combined with our imagination that often totally gets the better of us. We have the power to create sometimes outrageous scenarios in our mind; things that are simply not true or just not relevant. It’s a huge problem in our society, not least because the technological-age means we have loads more extraneous stuff for our mind to analyse and decipher every second of every day.
Gotta Gut Feeling?
So where and how do we tend to “experience” the feelings associated with all this irrelevant “stuff”? Generally speaking, the majority of us will end up processing some kind of emotional response in our gut. It’s where the main aspect of our enteric nervous system resides, along with our digestive and many other important organs. It’s also why the Chinese word for “brain” is the same as the word meaning “belly” – tantien. In yoga and ayurvedic physiology, this area is described as the kunda (- as in kundalini), while in Japan, the word used is hara, which has a similar meaning to “horizon” – or the place between heaven and Earth.
Who hasn’t, at one stage or another, experienced butterflies or nausea due to nervousness or fear, or simply a funny tummy when we feel stressed or tense due to something that’s going on in our live? It’s also fair to say that we may experience these sensations when we are watching something horrific, frightening or emotionally draining on television or on the internet. Even reading about such things evokes an emotional response in most people; it’s what makes us human. And regardless of whether we consider it a “stress” or not (we may be detached from an actual situation after all, indeed, what we are watching may not even be real) our nervous system may still interpret it as such unless we happen to be reasonably practised at shelving these things. For some people though, it could set off the same chain reaction and deeper feelings of fear or anxiety. In yoga and ayurvedic science, being able to digest one’s life experiences is just as important as being able to digest food.
Simply put, if you are a sensitive soul and prone to anxiety, best to be mindful about what you choose to watch and read – particularly in the evening when humans have lower cortisol in their system. It means we tend to be more emotional and less able to cope rationally with any type of stress.
Dis-“Ease” Has its Origins in the Belly (And Yogis Always Knew..)
Thousands of years before modern-day, Western science finally concluded that, yes, the brain was an organ like any other and was (of course) connected to many of our physical ailments, yogis and vaidyas (Ayurvedic physicians) knew that all dis-ease began in the gut; usually with a thought that lead to a feeling, that created tension, that resulted in a blockage. Somewhere.
Make no mistake that as a lifestyle practice, everything yoga – whether it’s a pose, a breathing exercise or part of a “dincharya” (daily health ritual) – comes back to this. For millennia, it always has. Yes, diet plays a vital role in health outcomes, but the most important aspect is what and how we feel about “being” ourselves, which, these days, sadly often comes back to media, marketing and ego-driven self-consciousness. What is self-consciousness after all other than an idea that everyone else is consumed with us? What is at the essence of marketing/advertising other than to make us feel inadequate, insecure or needy about something we do not have and until this point did not realise we wanted?
So How Do We Improve Our Health at Gut Level?
On a personal level, if we want to find fulfilment, it means we have be accepting. Perhaps it means letting go of a past that cannot be changed while ceasing to worry about a future that cannot be predicted. Being Okay with who we are while always doing our best. Ultimately, it is this kind of stuff – thoughts and steadiness of mind – that will end up being the difference between bumbling along waiting and hoping for something to change as opposed to feeling content each day to Just Be; happy in our own skin.
I love explaining and demonstrating how, why and what you can do to increase your sense of wellbeing and health outcomes just by rethinking tendencies when it comes to your belly and your spine as you move and practise. In the end, yoga is not something that you “do” once or twice a week. It’s a lifestyle system that is all about improving – rather than impinging – the flow of blood and energy around the whole body. This creates physical, spiritual and emotional wellness, but it can only happen, if we allow ourselves to relax and let go….
(This short video demonstrates abdominal self massage which should be done every day to improve blood flow, digestion and gut health generally. If it hurts, do it more. If your belly is rock hard, do it more. If you cannot soften your tummy because your abdominal muscles are in spasm from being so tense for so long then DO IT MORE! Get under your ribs. Ask an experienced yoga teacher to teach you the ancient yogic physiological practises of nauli, lauliki and uddiyana bandha which strengthen and nourish all around the core area, improving digestive health as well as strengthening the pelvic floor and helping to prevent prolapse)