In today's fast-paced overwhelming and often stressful world, it's no secret that our overall well-being is closely linked to our gut health. Digestive issues and inflammation in the gut have become increasingly common, impacting millions of people worldwide, and this is largely due to the impact stress and overwhelm have on our gut microbiome.
While various lifestyle changes can support digestive health; nutrition being the first thing I recommend refining to impact gut health, it is not the only thing to address and one of these powerful and often overlooked tools to impact gut health is breathwork. In today's blog, I am sharing information to highlight the fascinating connection between breathwork and its ability to calm digestion and reduce inflammation in the gut.
The Gut-Brain Connection:
Before delving into the role of breathwork, it is essential to understand the gut-brain connection. Our digestive system and brain are in constant communication through a complex network of nerves, chemicals, and hormones. Scientist have actually coined the phrase "our second brain" as how you feel and the loop of overwhelm you feel daily can change and grossly impact how your gut functions. Let me give you an example: Have you ever experienced a stressful situation in your day? An argument with your significant other, your boss or your child in the morning that had your stomach in knots and within an hour you found yourself in the bathroom experiencing spontaneous diarrhea? This is a stress response in the body. Stress, anxiety, and other emotional states can disrupt and change the connection between the gut and brain and could be leading to digestive disturbances and inflammation in the gut. If you compound daily stressors or link stressful events together you can see how IBS comes to fruition or why your nutritional changes may help some days and not others...
How can Breathwork positively impact gut function:
Breathwork, a practice that involves conscious control and regulation of breathing patterns, has been used for centuries to promote relaxation, enhance mental clarity, and reduce stress. If you follow me on IG you see me share breathwork practices often. This is because the benefits of having a breathwork practice extend far beyond mental and emotional well-being. Here's how breathwork can calm digestion and inflammation in the gut:
Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System: Breathwork techniques, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and prolonged exhalation or "breath holds", activate the parasympathetic nervous system—otherwise known as our body's "rest and digest" response. When we breath like this it induces a state of relaxation, slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and promoting optimal digestion. By counteracting the effects of stress and activating the parasympathetic response, breathwork helps to alleviate digestive distress and can even reduce inflammation in the gut. The next time you go to eat a meal or snack try taking 5 deep slow breaths first and see how you feel after eating your meal.
Enhances Oxygenation and Blood Flow: Proper oxygenation is vital for optimal gut health. Shallow breathing, which is often associated with stress, can lead to decreased oxygen levels in the body. Through deep, conscious breathing, breathwork helps improve oxygenation and blood flow to the digestive organs. Increased oxygen supply promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, aids in nutrient absorption, and supports the healing of inflamed gut tissues.
Reduces Stress and Inflammation: Chronic stress has been linked to increased inflammation in the body, (has a recent bloodwork review showed an increase in CRP? Please consider including how stress can increase inflammation in all of our organs which includes our gut. Breathwork acts as a potent stress-reduction tool by activating our relaxation response, modulating or slowly the release of stress hormones (like cortisol) and when we lower levels we reduce inflammation in our organ systems (heart, brain, gut, stomach, liver, kidneys, etc. By reducing stress and inflammation, breathwork contributes to a healthier gut environment, alleviating symptoms associated with digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastritis and GERD.
Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System: Breathwork helps restore balance to the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary bodily functions. When the autonomic nervous system is imbalanced, it can disrupt digestion and contribute to gut inflammation (including constipation and diarrhea). By practicing breathwork regularly, individuals can promote a balanced state between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system (fight, flight, free, fawn vs. rest and digest), thus optimizing digestive function and reducing inflammation in the gut.
A couple of exercises to try:
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, focuses on engaging the diaphragm to promote deep and rhythmic breaths. Start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, allowing your belly to rise as you fill your lungs with air. Exhale slowly through your mouth, gently contracting your abdominal muscles to empty your lungs completely. This exercise helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and enhancing digestion.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: Alternate nostril breathing is a technique that balances the flow of energy and oxygen between the left and right sides of the body. Sit comfortably and place your right thumb on your right nostril, closing it off. Inhale deeply through your left nostril, then use your ring finger or pinky finger to close off your left nostril. Exhale slowly through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril, then close it off and exhale through your left nostril. Repeat this cycle for several minutes. This practice helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which can positively impact gut function.
Sitali or Cooling Breath: Sitali breath is a cooling and calming breath that involves inhaling through a rolled tongue or pursed lips. Begin by sitting in a comfortable position and relax your body. Curl your tongue into a "U" shape or slightly part your lips. Inhale slowly through your mouth, feeling the cool air passing over your tongue or lips. Close your mouth and exhale through your nose. Repeat this cycle for several rounds. Sitali breath has a soothing effect on the digestive system, reduces heat and inflammation, and can aid in improving gut function.
Breathwork is a simple yet powerful tool that can have a profound impact on our overall health. By activating the relaxation response, improving oxygenation, reducing stress, and balancing the autonomic nervous system, breathwork promotes a calm and healthy digestive system. Incorporating breathwork techniques into our daily routine can support overall well-being, alleviate digestive discomfort, and reduce inflammation in the gut. So take a deep breath, connect with your body, and let the healing power of breathwork nurture your gut and mind.
If you found this article helpful today please like and share it. I would love it if you try some of my techniques (as shared above and on my Instagram: @marissasylvesterwellness) and then share a quick testimonial.
Yours in Health and Wellness,
Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Culinary Nutritionist - Hons
Fitness Professional and SoulBody Fitness Ambassador
Coach, Mom, Woman and energy being.