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An overabundance of stress has the ability to wreak havoc on your stomach, bringing about unwelcome feelings of pain or general discomfort. A potential strategy to beat the bloat and ease tummy torment lies in a series of yoga poses, which could help to reduce stress and alleviate digestive discomfort.
When the body is stressed, a “flight or fight” response is activated, shutting down blood flow to the central nervous system. This, in turn, slows the contraction of digestive muscles and decreases secretions needed for digestion.
“It's true that people can experience discomfort in their guts that is stress-related,” says John Denninger, MD, PhD, Director of Research, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Any kind of technique, whether it's yoga or meditation, that can buffer stress has the potential to be beneficial,” he says.
Denninger points to recent research conducted by his team as a prime example of the mind-body connection. In a soon-to-be-published study, they examined how stress-reduction techniques could benefit a group of people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Participants were taught both meditation and yoga as a way to elicit the relaxation response; they then used whatever combination felt right to them. The results showed positive benefits associated with both practices. Subjects reported feeling less worried about their symptoms and more relaxed, which contributed to an overall sense of well-being.
I paid a visit to Roots Yoga in Burlington, Mass. where Ginger Boermeester demonstrated the following five poses she incorporates into her classes to decrease stress as well as stimulate, relax, and increase blood flow to the digestive system.
Forward Fold: massages the internal organs of the digestive tract in order to increase blood flow. It also relaxes the abdomen and creates space internally, helping to release entrapped gas.
Twist: massages the intestinal tract to help keep things moving.
Wide-legged squat: works to relax the abdominal muscles and create space, relieving intestinal discomfort.
Boat pose: engages the core, working to lengthen and create space in the intestines, stimulating the digestive organs. It also lifts and opens the rib cage providing more room for the digestive system to do its job.
Butterfly pose: also helps to stimulate the digestive system and relieve digestive pains by increasing blood flow to the digestive organs.