Allow me to introduce you to your gut. You may have met your gut before; this formality usually takes place when something’s not quite right physically or emotionally. I have a dear friend back home in Colorado who always encouraged me to listen to my gut, telling me that’s where God was. When I’m in my head I find myself intellectualizing, rationalizing and justifying. With over 100 million neurons located in the lining of the GI tract, it’s not surprising that that’s where I’ll feel it first if I’m jacked up or upset. On the other hand, if I simmer down long enough, the gut’s where I’ll hear that still, small voice. And when I go with my gut, I’m usually right on target.
Let’s take a look at the small intestine. Approximately 22 feet long(!), the small intestine is where the majority of our digestion takes place. Take a minute and visualize that; 22 feet of narrow tubing switch-backing, winding and coiling its’ way through in your belly! That’s a lot of tubing.
Twisting postures are incredibly beneficial to our digestive system. These asanas stimulate our small and large (think colon) intestines, increase blood flow to the gut, massage the abdominal organs, and bring nutrients into the area by producing a soaking and squeezing effect.
As we twist and rotate our spine, we will feel the increased vitality that’s generated from the action almost immediately. This feels great!! Take heed of these simple instructions to help you get the most bang for your twisting buck:
- Every twisting posture whether lying on your back, sitting in a chair, or standing should remain active – breathing in for length, breathing out to rotate – throughout the duration of the pose
- Take a deep breath in before you turn, and twist on the out breath (always creating length through the spine before going for depth in the pose)
- Concentrate on twisting from the spine rather than from the pelvis or trying to torque your shoulder around
- Once in the asana, draw the sternum upwards away from the belly
- Coming out of a pose is just as important, if not more so, as going into it. So always exit a twist on an inhalation, which supports the lift of the spine
Going back to the small intestine, it’s quite common to have food particles lodged in those switchbacks, wrinkles and folds. Especially if you are on the SAD (Standard American Diet) nutritional plan; even more so if you’re not consuming enough water and fiber to flush the gunk on through. Think of your gut like the drain underneath your sink. When your sink gets clogged up with funk – hair, food, numerous other kinds of nastiness – it backs up and what do you have? Foul-smelling, toxic backwater! If there’s the slightest possibility that your gut is holding on to that Value Meal – and believe me, there is – or backed up (do you poop three times a day?), your proverbial sink is clogging up and that toxic funk… well, if it ain’t goin’ out, it’s stayin’ in!
Twists are the Draino of yoga asanas, the Roto-Rooter of postures, the Liquid Plumber that will help to dislodge what we’re holding on to (whether it be food or emotions) and get things rolling in the gut. A little movement in the external, physical body can create a larger movement, if you will, in the internal physical body. In the words of the peace activist Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy, “We aren’t what we eat. We are what we don’t shit.”
Lisa Bracken teaches yoga at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake as well as at NSU in Tahlequah. Keep it clean, keep it clear, and listen for that still, small voice within.