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Image / Food & Drink

The puzzle piece that can help your gut health


By IMAGE
20th Jun 2023
The puzzle piece that can help your gut health

Nutritionist Sarah Hawkins, founder of F.I.G (Food Is Good) Nutrition, shares how to build a toolkit to support out gut health and explains why yoga is a great place to start.

If you are someone who struggles with digestive issues of any kind, I am sure you are well versed in what foods to avoid. But, did you know that food is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut?

In recent years, we have become aware of the role of the gut-brain axis in supporting a healthy gut. I like to think of the gut-brain axis like a telephone line, where the gut and the brain communicate with each other. For example, the brain may pick up the phone to tell the gut that food is coming and to get ready. Similarly, the gut may then call the brain back to let it know we are full and to stop eating. This is a very simplified explanation of how these two major organs communicate, which is going on all the time in the background.

In addition to messages about hunger and eating, our brain can also communicate danger or threat to our gut through this telephone line. From a primal perspective, we needed to be able to identify and respond to a threat to life back in our cave (wo)man days. Cue the fight or flight response which is a rapid response to a perceived threat – such as being faced by a bear. This biological response preserves all energy for either fighting or fleeing the bear. This involves directing blood flow to the extremities, increasing heart and breath rate and more. Non-essential functions (in that moment) such as digestion are ‘switched off’ to save energy for the getaway. Similarly, our bowels may even open to make us lighter. Once we are back to safety, this response is halted and normal service resumes.

Our modern world involves many stressors in different forms (work, relationships, financials, etc) sometimes all at once. These may not be life threatening but our body responds in the same way, to all these bears. These days we are more at risk of getting stuck in a chronic state of fight or flight, which can result in chronic digestive issues.

The good news is we can build a toolkit to support ourselves and yoga is a great addition. Here are 3 ways yoga can keep your gut healthy and happy.

1 Movement

Peristalsis is the term used to describe the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle in the gut.  This contraction and relaxation is what propels food along the digestive tract, keeping food and waste moving along as normal, supporting normal stool bulk and eased bloating. One key tool for peristalsis is movement. For anyone reading this who suffers with bloating or constipation, movement, particularly twist based movements, supports normal peristalsis as well as the release of trapped wind, easing bloating and gut discomfort.

2 Mindfulness

Yoga is a form of mindful movement. Mindfulness has been associated with decreased stress, anxiety and pain scores. We know that stress and anxiety are two factors which can exacerbate digestive issues (ever get butterflies before a big meeting?), so this is a great way to target the source for improved digestion. If you identify as a stressy or anxious person, yoga will transform your gut health and how you feel, without a doubt.

3 Breathing

In addition to movement, we also focus on mindful breathing in yoga. One of the most powerful tools for gut health and overall wellbeing and one that is also free, is the breath. The pace of our breath can determine the state of our nervous system. Short, sharp breath may indicate danger, triggering that fight or flight response. Long, slow breathing signals safety and calm, which halts the fight or flight response, taking us back to that rest and digest state. The breath is a tool you can use anytime, anywhere and can have such a positive impact on both your gut and how you feel.

If you haven’t tried yoga for gut health yet, here is your sign. A short flow twice a week can have profound effects. Most importantly, the research is in agreement and has shown that gut directed yoga may be as effective as the low FODMAP diet in reducing gastrointestinal symptoms (Schumann et al. 2018) – wow.

How to start

Unsure where to start? Youtube is an amazing resource. Or if you would like to learn exactly how to harness the power of movement and the breath for improved digestion along with taking some well deserved time out for yourself, why not join my next ‘Make up with your Gut’ workshop on Sunday 12th March, which will teach you all the skills you need for optimal gut health. We would love to have you!

Sarah Hawkins is the founder of F.I.G (Food Is Good) Nutrition and is a nutritionist and yoga teacher specialising in gut health and disordered eating. Combining nutrition and yoga, Sarah helps people to beat the bloat without the food restrictions, helping you to develop a healthy and happy relationship to food. 

Instagram: @f.i.g_nutrition_ 

Email: [email protected]

This article was originally published in March 2020