Eat your veggies, stay hydrated, and don’t forget the dietary fiber, probiotics, and exercise! When it comes to gut health, the prevailing wisdom often involves physical measures—which makes complete sense. But what if something more abstract, like meditation, could support your overall digestive health as well? In this article, we’ll explore how stress impacts your digestion and gut health, and how Transcendental Meditation can help you ease tension naturally.
How stress impacts your digestion and gut health
Have you ever noticed that you get butterflies in your stomach or feel a bit queasy when you’re stressed? You’re not alone! By now it’s well documented: stress has a negative impact on everything from your digestion and immunity to your sleep patterns, cognitive functioning, and emotional wellbeing . Stress can also trigger and worsen digestive issues like occasional indigestion, constipation, and bloating.
The stress-digestion connection works the opposite way, too. In recent years, researchers have found that a person’s overall gut health greatly influences their emotional wellbeing . That’s because your gut and brain are in constant communication throughout the day.
The gut-brain axis and your enteric nervous system
Hidden within the walls of your intestines lies something called the enteric nervous system (ENS), a collection of 100 million nerve cells that communicates back and forth with your brain . Using neurotransmitters like serotonin, your ENS communicates and interacts with your central nervous system, influencing your mood and emotions. For this reason, scientists think of the ENS as kind of a “second brain.”
The ENS and the brain in your skull are just two parts of a complex network called “the gut-brain axis,” which also includes the central nervous system (CNS), the endocrine system, the enteric endocrine system, the immune system, and—last but certainly not least—your gut bacteria. (Fun fact: a 2013 study published in Gastroenterology found that women who consumed probiotic-rich yogurt daily were calmer than test participants who continued their regular diet without yogurt.)
During times of stress, the different systems in your gut-brain axis are disrupted and can clash, throwing your mind, mood, and digestion off balance. Given the intricate connection between stress, gut health, and emotional wellbeing, it’s important to find ways to keep stress at bay.
Does meditation help digestion?
For thousands of years, people from traditions around the world have used meditation to bring greater clarity of mind, calmer emotions, and to help manage stress. And when you’re managing your stress better, you’re supporting your whole body—including your digestion.
There are many different types of meditation, but the Transcendental Meditation® technique is by far the most studied, particularly in terms of stress. Numerous published studies have found that TM helps to calm the mind and helps reduce levels or cortisol (the stress hormone). Practicing the TM technique can also support cardiovascular health, research shows. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that regular practice of Transcendental Meditation reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke by 48 percent among obese African Americans . To date, the National Institutes of Health has given $25 million in grant funding to support research on the beneficial effects of TM practice on cardiovascular disease.
Beyond simple stress management, practicing Transcendental Meditation can also enhance your creativity and help you feel more energetic, dynamic, and optimistic throughout the day. Because it helps you manage stress, which can interfere with your clarity of mind, TM also helps with focus, problem-solving skills, and overall quality of life. Learn more about the benefits of transcending.
What is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural technique that promotes inner peace and wellness. It’s done 20 minutes twice a day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. TM is a mantra-based technique, which allows your mind to settle easily from more active levels of thought until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of awareness—pure consciousness. It may sound complex, but it’s very easy to do, even for children. And you can do it just about anytime and anywhere.
How do I learn Transcendental Meditation?
The correct way to learn TM is through a certified TM teacher, who will instruct you in a one-on-one session. Your teacher will give you a mantra—in this case, a sound with no meaning associated with it—and will teach you how to use it. Learn more about finding a Transcendental Meditation teacher.
Building your meditation practice
While many people notice a sense of calm from their very first time doing Transcendental Meditation, the effects of this practice are cumulative. When you make TM a part of your regular routine, you’ll notice greater and greater benefits.
In Ayurveda, meditation is a very important part of the daily dinacharya, or daily routine. The ideal Ayurvedic morning routine includes gentle Yoga Asana stretches to tone the mind and body, followed by meditation. (Yoga is another well-known tool for curbing stress and promoting inner peace. Some yoga poses are especially beneficial for digestion)
Your daily dinacharya and digestive/gut health
Because digestive health is so key to overall well being, many practices in Ayurveda’s daily dinacharya are centered around priming your digestion and gut health. For instance, drinking a glass of room-temperature water with fresh lemon juice first thing in the morning helps to stimulate elimination and digestion. The practice of tongue scraping—gently cleaning the tongue—helps to remove the sticky coating on your tongue (a.k.a. “morning mouth”), leaving your breath fresh and your tastebuds primed for digestion. Learn how to do the daily dinacharya.
Ayurveda has long known that gut health and mental wellbeing go hand in hand. For more helpful tips on supporting both naturally, visit our Digestion Wellness Hub.
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