The health of our digestive systems is intimately linked with our overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, many people are dealing with chronic digestive issues. Fortunately, yoga therapy has many tools to help and can play a significant role in improving digestion and overall digestive health by supporting personalized approaches to stress reduction and lifestyle changes, with all the practices that yoga has to offer.
Let’s consider stress first. The mind-body connection is very significant here and our bodies respond to stress in various ways. One of the most well-known is what is commonly called the “fight or flight response”. When we perceive any stressor, our bodies react as if it’s a physical threat even if it’s actually a work or parenting problem. That means energy and blood are moved away from the digestive system and into major muscle groups. If this happens often enough over time without recovery and release, one result is distress in the digestive system. For example, stress can be a significant contributing factor to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
A yoga therapy approach always considers the individual and their personal stress responses. A yoga therapist can work with you to find practices that help to reset and retrain your mind and nervous system over time to have a new baseline of calm. It’s not that stressors ever disappear, but that when there is a new foundation of tranquility to return to, your system will have a chance to settle back into its relaxed state of “rest and digest” more often. Many clients also find that their perception of stressors changes with the practices over time. Yoga therapy can support a broader perspective for those desiring to make that change in their lives.
One approach that Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapists incorporate comes from theory in Ayurvedic medicine. The doshic system is one way that yoga therapists might choose to guide the individualization of practices to help a client change their stress levels and responses.
The three doshas – vata, pitta, and kapha – are found in ratios unique to every person. One aspect or approach of Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy is to find practices from the many available – asana, pranayama, meditation, and spiritual connection – that support the balance and well-being of that client. A therapist will identify the most prominent imbalance, taking into consideration the client’s physical, mental and emotional patterns, and adjust an appropriate yoga practice to try to work directly with that imbalance.
As an example, let’s imagine a client that is vata imbalanced – too much of the air element present leading to irregularity in bowel movements and overall digestive process, and gut health. This might look like digestion that is erratic and dry with extra air. Appetite may be variable and symptoms might include constipation, bloating, gas, or cramping. This person might be prone to anxiety or sleep troubles. Thoughts may be somewhat erratic or scattered, the person may feel restless or ungrounded often. One of the beauties of yoga therapy is that these are viewed as related problems. Why is that good? Because when practices beneficial for that person are found, all of those aspects of imbalance can be improved. While yoga asanas (yoga poses) can offer direct benefits to people who are suffering from digestive health issues by stimulating their digestive fire, balancing the metabolism, and promoting gut motility, meditation and deep breathing practices (pranayama) can help with decreasing stress-related symptoms.
Pitta and kapha imbalances have their own identifiers and a client may be showing a combination of doshic imbalances. Breathing Deeply yoga therapists are trained to view each person and system as unique. There are no prescriptive practices. Sometimes there is a combination of doshic imbalance happening or one leading to another – for example, a client may present as vata imbalanced, (which would be addressed first) but once that imbalance has settled there may be an underlying pitta imbalance that is addressed with different practices and is truly the root issue. A safe and communicative relationship between the therapist and client is a core principle of Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy.
Finally, let’s consider lifestyle changes. BD therapists are trained in basic nutritional guidelines as another tool to offer their clients. They might ask about basic nutritional guidelines, the timing of eating, and hydration, and “method” of eating” i.e. being more present or mindful eating. Therapy sessions could include identifying lifestyle shifts that would be beneficial and co-creating a plan to incorporate them. A benefit of any yoga therapy work is the shift in awareness and presence that occurs. A long term benefit of practicing yoga techniques is often increased plasticity of neural pathways – this is part of the science of how habits are able to be changed. Clients often report an increased ability to be present both in their choices and the act of eating. When one knows oneself, less distraction is needed, and more presence in everyday life is available.
If you are interested in being put in touch with a Breathing Deeply Yoga therapist or becoming one yourself by joining our programs or wish to find more information on the Being at Peace with Food program, please visit our website at www.BreathingDeeply.com.
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