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yoga for gut health!

Updated: Jan 16

This weekend, I ran a yoga for gut health workshop, including yoga asana and yoga nidra.

Over the last decade, there’s been a huge amount of of ground-breaking research into gut health – with over 1000 species of bacteria identified and linked to every aspect of our health- skin, weight.

Gut health is also crucial to our mental health, because the gut links directly to the brain, via the vagus nerve, and the gut is responsible for producing hormones that affect our mood, in particular, serotonin, (the happy hormone) and GABA (Gaba aminobutyric acid, the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter).

The good news is that there is increasing evidence that we have the power to influence our gut, and thus our physical and mental health directly - through what we eat. In fact, the American Gut Project found that those who ate more than 30 plant foods each week had a more diverse gut microbiome.

This may sound a lot! But remember it includes nuts and seeds, grains, herbs and spices and tofu (made from soybeans) as well. It even includes healthy versions of coffee and dark chocolate (thumbs up from me).

Ideally, we should be aiming to eat a range of probiotic foods (that contain good bacteria) and prebiotic foods (act as fertiliser for the gut bacteria).

Prebiotic foods include: Apples, Asparagus, Bananas, Barley, Dried Figs and Mangoes, Fennel, Flaxseeds, Garlic, Jerusalem Artichoke ,Leeks Nuts, Oats, Onions and Rye.

Probiotic foods include- Kombucha, Kimchi, Kefir, Miso, Pickles, Sauerkraut. I must admit I don't love kimchi, but I have started taking a little a day as I genuinely believe it's good for you! I didn't make it either, I bought this 'Vadasz' one from Sainsburys!

You can also take a supplement (although there’s evidence that diet is better) – and if you do take a probiotic, it’s suggested that you change your probiotic regularly to help avoid an overgrowth of bacteria.

The gut microbiome helps to strengthen the immune system- your body’s protection against disease. This is partly because the gut bacteria can have an effect on immune cells, in particular, gut bacteria can influence ‘cytokines’- proteins essential to your inflammatory response.

So where does yoga come in ? Yoga can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, to reduce stress levels. For example, diaphragmatic breathing helps to activate the ‘parasympathetic nervous system’ which is responsible for CALMING the body, slowing heartbeat, blood pressure and digestion and stimulating saliva.

Yoga can also help you improve your posture, helping to lengthen the spine and allow space for your organs to work effectively and digestion to take place.

In addition, poses such as twists, can help to massage the organs of digestion. So, you firstly twist to the right, to massage the ascending colon, then to the left, to stimulate the descending colon. Thus you are working in synch with your body’s digestive system.

Finally, some lunges can help activate the psoas- which flexes the hip, but also aids digestion and acts as a mini ‘pump’ for the lymphatic system.

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