You know that feeling you get when something doesn’t feel quite right? Like something’s off? Maybe you’re noticing the difference in your body’s state when you eat a nourishing meal vs when you eat a quick, less satisfying, and less wholesome meal. OR…maybe…it’s that the pain you’re experiencing seems so intense and just isn’t going away and it intuitively doesn’t feel right to you.
The notion of a ‘gut feelings’ can all too frequently be written off. We’re told to ‘stop being so emotional, that’s just your hormones talking.’ Or sometimes we’re looked at with raised eyebrows because we didn’t go through this long, exhaustive, analytical thought process in order come to the conclusion that we did (but seriously, when does paralysis by analysis ever work out for people?).
As women, we’ve always known that there’s a connection between the gut and the brain. Something in our gut talks to something in the back of the brain and we just can’t let it go. That intuitive get-sense we feel has got to be worth something, right?! Well, it’s worth more than a million bucks in my humble opinion. Best news of the day ( or decade): there IS emerging, scientifically-backed evidence for gut-brain communication. (Aha! We knew it…)
In short, our gut = our digestive system… but also our nervous systems, immune system, and endocrine system (hormones) too. Many systems are integrated as one when it comes to our gut and our gut health. Our gut is thought of as the second brain (click here for a fun, sciency article if you’re up for it). Our gut encompasses a 6th sense called interoception, which means we have the ability to sense what’s going on our body (including the perception of physical sensations related to internal organ functions, heart rate, respiration, satiety, emotions, and more). When we’re dealing with things unseen (like sensations in our body…including pain!), we have to rely upon other senses that aren’t sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. This means that those gut feelings you get…they mean something. And that pain you have…it’s real.
As mentioned, our immune system lives in our gut and the nerve networks in our gut (called the ‘enteric nervous system’) directly connect with our brain and how we perceive our world, our sensations, our emotions, and our pain. The main nerve acting as the primary highway through which these messages are delivered to/from the gut and the brain is called the vagus nerve (review tid bits from my prior blog post on our amazing abdominal diaphragm, which helps support the vagus nerve). The enteric nervous system of our gut is an extension of our brain. And we know that we have centers in our brain that run our emotions. This means we have an emotional regulation system of our gut too. SO – parts of the gut live in the brain and parts of the brain live in the gut (ponder that for a minute…). The gut and brain are like BFFs, and they never lose the ability to communicate with each other. However, there are times when the messages get disrupted, such as with chronic high stress, during high pain experiences, times of illness, times of significant lack of sleep, and so on.
Going even a little deeper, our gut microbiome (literally, trillions of little bugs that live in our gut that help us stay healthy and help all body systems function well) is so super important. There’s evidence showing that it helps even shape our personalities, how we engage with the world around us, our emotions, and our pain perception. Our gut and gut microbiome can even impact how our tissues heal. So, if want our muscles to strengthen, our body tissues to remain pliable, and our minds to be sound, we best best taking care of our gut and the awesome little bugs within the gut.
For you amazing postpartum gal pals out there >> think about the massive transformation your body, brain, GUT!, gut microbiome, hormones, and everything else that’s a part of you has been through since conception (it’s honestly mind-blowing – hence, why we want to take good care of you and nourish you to your full self with resiliency).
SO – that’s a lot of information that just barely scratches the surface on our body’s inner workings that affect our healing, mood, emotions, immune system, digestive system and the list goes on. What do we do with this info?! Who cares?!
Here are 3 practical things you can consider in order to promote improved gut (gastrointestinal) function, reduced pain, improved mood, and improved hormone regulation:
1. Slow your breathing down, and breath with your abdominal diaphragm (not your neck and shoulders). Abdominal diaphragmatic breathing activates the rest/digest response in our body. It calms our nervous system. And it’s the only one-size fits-all exercise I can think of.
• Sit in a comfortable position with back straight and shoulders relaxed.
• Eyes closed or gently gaze low at a focus point.
• Place one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest.
• Take 3 breaths here, just noticing your breath.
• Feel your natural breath and movement of your belly connected with it.
• As you inhale, feel the air inﬂate the belly, then the center of the lungs, feeling your ribcage expand, and ﬁnally, your chest, feeling the chest lift slightly.
• Allow a natural pause while your lungs are completely full. Exhale the air out with ease.
2. Chew your food! Yes, really, that’s it. When you eat, simply slow down and chew your food more. Your stomach and intestines have to work a lot harder to digest unchewed food. Not to mention, your body won’t absorb nutrients as well and inflammatory responses can occur in our digestive system. Try chewing an almond 40x. Can you do it? (research shows that’s how we best absorb the nutrients within the almond). Sit down. Slow down. Eat under less stressful conditions. Enjoy your good. And chew. 🙂
3. Move more. The saying goes ‘motion is lotion’, whether we’re talking about muscles, nerves, emotions, or even digestion. More frequent, even if gentle, movement is key. Never underestimate the power of a walk through your neighborhood or even 10-12 minutes spent doing yoga/Pilates/physical therapy stretches.