Can Yoga Support Gut Health? Part 1

Can Yoga Support Gut Health? Part 1

Nurturing Gut Health Through Yoga - By Imogen North

Reading time: 3 minutes

I am someone who has suffered with digestive issues since I was a kid but it is something that, until relatively recently, I didn’t really understand.  Gut-health has been a hot topic in recent years especially since Michael Gershon coined the term ‘the second brain’ and more recently Emeran Mayer helped us unpack more deeply how the microbes in the gut control just about everything!

Yoga has, since I started practicing, helped me not only befriend my body (the body that I used to judge and criticise for not being this way or that) but also help me maintain mobility in my gut, allowing it to function properly.

With modern life the way it is both posture and stress influence our guts. They have a significant part to play for many of us in our gut health and why our guts aren’t functioning the way it should.

Of course we can work with diet and nutrition to help to support the gut microbes - but as a dynamic system we also need to support both movement and stillness in the body.  And this is where yoga can help.  Let’s look first a posture.

Many of us spend a large amount of time very sedentary, either sitting at desks in front of screens, sitting in cars travelling from A to B, or sitting in front of the TV in the evenings.  When you look at the bodies placement at these times, it is most likely slouched or slumped, the head is forced forward of shoulders, the shoulders are hunched over, closing off the chest so the rib cage can’t move easily.

If the ribcage can’t move easily, nor can the diaphragm and what often happens then is the scalene muscles in the neck take the work of the diaphragm.  These hunched tendencies put pressure on the digestive organs preventing them from having much opportunity for twisting or stretching.

As animals that are built to stand vertically, our digestive system follows a similar vertical path.  Starting at the mouth and ending at the rectum it relies on this vertical length in our posture, gravity, space and movement to function properly.

It we are not moving and spend too much time curled up in these slumped shapes everything is going to be restricted.

So from a yoga perspective one of the key things we can do to support the function of our gut is to open up this central column; our vertical path where our oesophagus runs down to the stomach and then on to the intestines.  If we open up from center and create movement in that body line, we are going to provide an ideal environment for the food substances we injest to glide easily through the digestive pathway.

All our digestive organs are held within fascial bags and the fascial chain that meets all the digestive organs and the muscles that impact our digestion is known as the DFL (the Deep Front Line).  The DFL is our deepest facial line and is really key to our body wide internal stabilisation it elongates us from the center and lifestyle i.e. creates space for the digestive organs to function.

It runs from the inner lower legs, pelvic floor, abdomen, back of the diaphragm, inner chest, scalenes in the neck and the side of the jaw.

If this fascial chain is fluid in nature then everything that needs to slide and glide down the digestive tract can.  Tightness or stress in the viscera and its surrounding fascial support can not only contribute to limited joint mobility but also breathing difficulties and circulatory issues.  (More about that in article 2 of this series).

5 great yoga techniques we can do to support the DFL

1. MFR on the feet 

As the DFL starts at on the posterior tibialis (at the lower inner leg) and moves up wards it influences the inner arch of the foot. So working with a myofascial release ball on the sole of the foot can help to rehydrate that chain of tissues.

I like to take a ball (you can always use a tennis ball if you don’t have an MFR ball to hand) and roll the ball up and down the length of the foot from toes to heel.  You can work through the centre of the foot and then the outside edge and inner edge too.

2. Rolls from Supine Star to Foetus Shape 

Opening and closing that central abdominal area (creating compression and then releasing) can also really help.  I like to lie on my back in a supine star shape, inhale and then as I exhale curl up onto one side in a foetus shape.  Repeating this over slowly with the breath for a few minutes.

3. Spine chest opener with abdominal breaths

Taking a spare yoga mat* or a towel* or rolled blanket in a sausage shape and lying it down the center of your mat.  The placing the body over the rolled prop along the length of your spine.  Bottom should be on the floor, tailbone up to the edge of the roll. Head also supported by the props.

Legs can be bent into constructive rest or long in Savasana and the arms draped in a cactus shape off the sides of the roll.  Once you are there focus your attention on the breath and take some deep abdominal breaths. Inflating the belly like a ballon and then contracting.  See if you can stay for about 5 minutes here.

4. MFR Traps and Anterior Scalene

First take your fingers onto top the traps push in and pin the skin down breath in, and then move the head to the opposite shoulder. As you breathe out release and return to where you began.  Repeat for at least 30 seconds on each side.

Then take the fingers to the lateral front side of the neck - you are looking for the transverse processes of your cervical spine, see if you can palpate them.  Then push gently in and down at the same time lift chin up and inhale and down as you exhale and release.  Again repeat for at least 30 seconds on each side.

5. MFR on jaw

Take a yoga brick and a ball and lie on your side.  The brick will sit under the side of your head and then you place the ball in the joint of the jaw targeting the masseter, resting the head on the ball and brick.

From there you can either be still and breathe, or you can gently open and close the jaw with the breath.  Make sure you work with both sides.

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Imogen North

Imogen is a UK based Yoga Teacher teaching dynamic vinyasa flow, yin, restorative, meditation.