Many people are familiar with the popular term mind-body connection, such as a "gut feeling" or an intuition, but how much do we know about the brain-gut connection. With this I am referring to experiencing distress in the gut and it linking completely to how you think, act, or react to situations. This is your second brain triggering in your gut. According to the Harvard Medical School, the brain has a direct effect on your stomach and vice versa. Thus, linking much of anxiety or stress to constipation, bloating, gas, etc.. Basically, these issues go hand and hand and to really resolve these chronic symptoms we must challenge ourselves to find peace mentally to find success physically.
When I sat down with one of my favorite yoga teachers Soojin Kim of Citizen Yoga, I wanted to dive in with her on this topic and to get her take on the brain-gut connection. Although she has only been teaching yoga for 4 years, she is wise beyond her years. Her approach to yoga comes from a healing aspect and every posture or movement has a purpose. She focuses on the hips, unwinding digestion and elongating the spine. We discussed the intentions of yoga, health, food and many other topics of healing the body holistically. Her connection with yoga comes from the root of medicine, Ayurveda.
Ayurveda Is India's 5,000-year-old medical system and preaches the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature. It is the key to curing disease by balancing the body's three fundamental energies, or doshas (vata, pitta, kappa) and an equally vital balance among body, mind, and soul or consciousness. The body, if given the opportunity, will always heal itself, so she encourages to look inside for the answers and work with your body, not against it.
What is your dosha?
Soojin taught me one of the most important parts of healing both digestive and anxiety in Ayurveda medicine is through breath, Ujjayi, and a daily yoga practice. Like me, she had suffered chronic digestive issues too and found the daily practice of both coupled with some dietary changes to be the ultimate path to her success. Since meeting with Soojin, I have been practicing the postures and have seen great relief. I feel calmer on a daily basis and my head feels more clear to make creative decisions. I also feel longer, leaner, and less tense in my neck and shoulders. The breath has also taught me patience, which has made me a better listener. Follow her guide below and you will instantly see relief after.
It all start with the breath. Ujjayi - ocean breath.
Find yourself a quiet environment with no distractions. Sit on a blanket or a block so your hips are higher than you knees. Keep your hands light in your lap or on your knees and your shoulders down your back. Keep you eyes, jaw, and tongue relaxed and with that take 3 deep cleansing breaths by inhaling through your nose and a big relieving exhale through your mouth. Close your mouth. On the next inhale through your nose imagine that you are breathing in through a straw and as you exhale through your nose take the breath down the back of the throat. Let the exhale continue down the spine to the low belly until you feel like you cannot exhale anymore. Pause at emptiness. Feel low belly hug, or tone in, without forcing it. Start your next inhale from low belly where you finished the breath and continue in that circular motion. As you build the breath it should start to sound like the ocean. Just like that, soft and easy, continue the breath for about 5-10 minutes.
Posture #1 - Reclined Butterfly - Supta bad konasana
This posture is both restorative and a gentle hip opener. In Ayurveda, we find balance by incorporating the opposite. If you experience symptoms like heartburn, gas, and diarrhea most like pitta dosha does, you will find relief here. If you are an extremely active person or tend to run hot, this pose can counter that by sending signals to the nervous system and prompting it to relax and feel grounded. If you are a vata dosha, then it would be better to fold foward in butterfly to release gas and to warm the body as vatas are often chilled.
Lie on your back with a vertical blanket along your spine, feet are together and knees are wide. Start with blocks under the thighs to support you and if you have more space you can remove them. Keep your heart and 3rd chakra lifted which is where you will find self-worth and confidence. Stay in this posture for 5-10 minutes keeping focus on your Ujjayi breath.
Posture #2 - Supported bridge - Setu bandha sarvangasana
This posture is also soothing to the nervous system. If you are fast reacting or anxious, this pose will help cool the body. Pitta dosha tends to get hot quickly. Back-bends lift the diaphragm while creating length in the abdomen easing digestive discomfort.. When we experience digestive issues, we connect it to the mind as well. Grounding postures like bridge will keep the nervous system calm and release the digestive strain. keeping the chin tucked to the chest in this pose will help stimulate the thyroid and regulate your metabolism.
Lie on your back. Bend knees and place feet flat, hip-width apart. Place a block or blanket under your low back above your glute pack. For the advanced version, skip the support and lock your hands under you body. Tuck your chin to chest, relax your jaw and breath in this posture for 1-3 minutes.
Posture #3 - Seated twist - Ardha matsyendrasan
This posture is helpful for toning the low belly and creating fire. Kapha dosha, who have slow digestion, will find that seated twists help ignite the fire from within and aid in the removal of toxins, constipation, and gas. These symptoms can bring on irritability or a feeling of being energetically heavy. Regular abdominal twists will help keep the fire going and spark the metabolism. It will also help to generate circulation easing chronic digestion and improving lung capacity. .
Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front of you. Bend right leg and place over left leg close to the knee. Place right hand close to your right hip and left elbow over your right knee. Lengthen your torso on the inhale and twist the belly on the exhale. Keep ocean breath going and stay here for 1 minute. For the advanced version you can swing the left foot towards the right hip.
Posture #4 - Revolved triangle - Parivrtta Trikonasana
This posture will lengthen the esophagus helping to relieve heartburn or or gas build-up. Similar to the seated twist, the triangle will also massage the organs as well as create bloodflow and circulation. This standing posture lifts the diaphragm as well as lengthen the esophagus towards the top of the stomach. This is wonderful to alleviate acidity and feelings of anxiousness or worry.
Stand with left foot about 3 feet in front of the right. Left foot will be facing forward and right foot will be on a slight angle, Place right hand on a block or you can use books if needed. (something stable) Start with left hand out to your side. When you feel comfortable there, you can advance to lift the left arm in line with the shoulder and open the chest. Hug towards the spine, yet lengthen the body. Again, stay here for about 1-3 minutes maintaining the breath.
Posture #5 - Suported shoulder stand - Salamba Sarvangasana
Iversions are most beneficial for the heart. Lifting your feet overhead creates a rush of blood back to the heart, relaxing and slowing the heart beat. This is great for a sudden bout of anxiety, If you are experiencing heartburn or running hot, start with some of the other poses first to cool the body and then finish with an inversion. Ending here, for pitta, will help calm irritability. Like the seated twist, this pose is helpful for Kapha dosha, or slow digestion, and will relieve constipation. Also, bringing the chin to the chest again will help stimulate the thyroid. Since inversions also help with a reduced appetite and insomnia, the vata dosha can benefit from this posture as well since they tend to live very busy lives and have inconsistent sleeping and eating habits.
Lie on the floor and place a blanket under the shoulders. Lift feet over head and place hands on your low back creating a strong shelf. Draw chin towards chest and keep your breath moving. If you feel comfortable here and want to challenge yourself more, take your feet slowly behind you head.. You can also do one foot at a time.
If you find yourself having random bouts of digestive issues or are starting to feel anxious, the best thing is to stop what you are doing and take breath. Even just a few minutes in any situation can help calm the nervous system and restore your mind. If you are experiencing chronic issues everyday, I would recommend practicing this flow on a daily basis. If you are new to yoga and want to learn more, check out Soojin's basics class at Citizen yoga in Detroit on Wednesday's at 8pm. (Soojin insert what the class will teach ) If you are slightly more advanced check out her Monday/Friday slow flow at 11:15. You will be floating after it!
As always, along with this practice and the Ayurvedic way, we can use food as medicine. Toxic triggers like sugar, alcohol, and caffeine only play into anxiety, depression, digestive issues, and chronic fatigue. Steer clear from these as much as possible when healing your body and reach for dark leafy greens, raw nuts, and healthy oils like ghee and coconut oil to soothe your condition and find relief fast.
XO Jaclyn Renee