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Yoga and Digestive Health: The Mindfulness Connection

“Unless you love the body, and unless you understand the body, you cannot grow spiritually…The body is the temple of your soul.”
— Osho

Diets and nutrition are often used interchangeably, with yoga not perceived as directly related to either. Yet through the lense of mindful eating, which can be cultivated through yoga, one can become more aware, and as a result empowered, to follow healthy and nutritious food choices. Here are a few steps to start you on the journey or incorporating yoga in your eating. 

First and foremost, consider starting a food diary for a few days, distinguishing between diet and nutrition. This will help encourage self-reflection and an exploration of the deeper motivation behind your eating choices, which for many often goes beyond physical hunger.

Modern use of the word diet is often associated with calorie restriction and weight loss, and in general disregards the fundamentals of good nutrition. This is particularly true of some of the fad diets (including juicing, protein-focused diets etc.) that are restricted to some types of food. Such diets are often not sustainable on the long run and create unnecessary stress on one’s life. 

On the other hand, nutrition, or a well-balanced diet not related to a specific weight-loss plan, can provide weight loss if that is desired but in a more gradual sustainable and safer way. A good diet, based on nutrient-dense foods, would include a balance of several food groups, as no single group can provide everything we need for good health. 

After using a food diary to help explore one’s relationship with food, try creating a habit of eating mindfully. Simple steps like slowing down the chewing and focusing on the sensations while eating can lead to a better understanding of cravings and compulsions. This in turn can lead to better decisions to avoid over-eating or under- nourishing the body.

Another aspect of how yoga relates to nutritious eating is the gut brain connection. Scientific research confirms that the gut that does not feel good will subtly affect mood while a healthy gut can improve sense of well-being. Similarly, what affects the brain may also impact digestion. Stress directly affects digestion by putting the body in fight-or-flight mode, instead of allowing it to rest and digest. During periods of stress, blood and energy are diverted away from the digestive system and the digestive tract is no longer working efficiently. 

That is why stress management techniques including meditation, belly breathing, and relaxation practices like yoga nidra have all been shown to improve symptoms in people with various digestive related problems, including IBS. They help improve not only moods and emotions but also can improve digestive symptoms. Managing stress levels is especially important while eating. Not paying attention to hunger and fullness cues and eating when anxious can negatively impact digestion. On the other hand, taking time to relax and pay attention to the body’s cues may help reduce digestive symptoms after a meal.

As you begin to refine your eating habits and weave in yoga principals to improve your digestive health and general well being, remember you are not alone. Everyone has experienced digestive problems at one time or another. Some digestive issues are harder than others to identify and fix, but making informed and practical choices about food and lifestyle in both health and disease is a good start towards restoring balance and well-being. 

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