The health of our digestive systems is critical to a happy, healthy life. The organs which comprise the digestive system break down the foods and beverages we consume into nutrients and vitamins more easily absorbed by the bloodstream. These nutrients give the body energy and facilitate cell growth and repair. The digestive system also eliminates toxins and waste. How well this crucial system functions depends, in large part, on the choices we make each day.
Lifestyle Impacts Digestive Health
Many factors contribute to optimal digestive health, including a healthy diet, regular activity and staying hydrated. When the digestive system runs optimally, our bodies are well-nourished and our systems are cleansed. Feeling lighter and happier, we’re better equipped to take on the unique challenges each day brings.
We might not attribute our good health to the oft-overlooked digestive system. However, when the digestive system isn’t functioning properly, its key role becomes clear. The agony of constipation, stomach pains, excess gas and bloating are the most obvious signs of a sluggish digestive system. However, less obvious symptoms like acne, rashes, migraines, irritability, low energy and low back pain can also indicate that the digestive system isn’t functioning properly.
Improper diet, minimal physical activity, stress and unhealthy daily habits shackle the digestive system. Poor eating habits and inactivity weaken the digestive fire. When the elimination process is hampered, harmful toxins are stored in the body and contribute to disease. The constant pain and discomfort caused by a stalled digestive system can cause our quality of life to plummet.
There is no shortage of products designed to jumpstart a stalled digestive system: daily fiber products, laxatives, antacids and toilet stools designed to replicate a more beneficial squatting position during elimination. All of these products can be helpful when one is experiencing digestive health issues. However, it is far better to take proactive steps to eliminate digestive issues before they occur. A regular yoga practice and good eating habits can help you do just that.
Yoga—a Proactive Approach to Maintaining a Healthy Digestive System
When it comes to the health of our bodies, everything is connected. Breathing, posture and state of mind are a few of the factors that can have a huge impact on our overall health. Yoga recognizes the importance of the mind-body-breath connection. The holistic approach of the original hot yoga is one of the reasons the practice is so therapeutic, delivering noticeable benefits for the whole body, mind and spirit.
Bikram yoga is a therapeutic sequence of postures that brings healing and vitality to your entire being: inside out, bones to skin, fingertips to toes. Maybe you’ve heard those words in your Bikram class so many times that they just sound like poetry or a children’s rhyme.
That holistic treatment of the body includes your digestive system. In addition to the organs that digest your food, this also includes the organs of filtration and elimination. Even the muscles that hold you upright affect the health of your digestive system. When those muscles are toned, you sit and stand taller, creating more room in your abdominal cavity for your organs to do their jobs.
Every posture lengthens and strengthens the spine and the muscles that surround it. This allows your nervous system to function more optimally. The better your nervous system functions, the better the organs of digestion communicate.
Yoga teaches you to focus on the breath as you move. Conscious, deep breathing massages the digestive system. The more skilled you are at breathing, the more fresh oxygen you supply to the organs of digestion, fueling the digestive fire.
The intelligent design of the Bikram sequence of poses ensures that you will get whole body vitality. Let’s examine three postures which focus on the organs of digestion and elimination.
Wind Removing Pose:
This posture comes right before the spine-strengthening poses where we lie on our bellies. It gives the digestive system a gentle massage right before you lie down on it, so it doesn’t prevent you from performing the spine-strengthening poses. Wind removing pose aids digestion by fighting constipation. It compresses and massages the colon, alleviating constipation and encouraging elimination. It normalizes stomach acids to alleviate hyperacidity. The posture also increases peristalsis—the series of wave-like muscle contractions that move food from one processing station in the digestive tract to the next.
This pose strengthens the abdominal muscles and improves the function of the kidney, liver and spleen.
Camel pose stretches the abdominal muscles and organs, specifically the pancreas and the spleen. It also compresses the kidneys.
Frequently, we notice a difference in new students a few weeks into their practice. They feel lighter and happier. Their clothing is looser. Their skin and eyes are clearer. Most of these changes are prompted by the cleansing of the digestive system, courtesy of the 26 postures. A healthy, active routine primes and cleanses the digestive system. To keep the system running optimally, a careful look at what we are putting into our bodies is required.
Understanding Macronutrients – the Key to Maintaining a Healthy Digestive System
Macronutrients give us a simple way to ensure we are eating enough of the right foods. The three major groups of macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. These nutrients sustain the metabolism, cell growth and essential body functions. A balanced diet means eating these three groups in the right ratio.
Proteins build and maintain healthy muscle while staving off hunger. We get protein from meat, fish, eggs, dairy and vegetable sources.
Fats, which often get a bad rap, are essential to brain function and vitamin absorption. Oils, nut butters, fatty fish, meat and other sources supply us with fat, but some fats are healthier than others. Maintaining good digestive health requires a careful balance of macronutrients that provide nutrition and are good for our systems.
Everything else, from fruit and vegetables to sourdough bread, is carbohydrates. This includes processed food and sugary drinks.
How much of each macronutrient should you include in your diet? A good macronutrient calculator can help you determine what your ratio of the three micronutrients should be based on your daily activity level, age and specific dietary goals. Once you’ve determined your macronutrient ratio, life gets easier. No more counting calories. Just maintain the right ratios of each macronutrient and be mindful of portion sizes.
Make Maintaining Digestive Health Part of Your Daily Routine
How can you incorporate good digestive health habits into your daily routine? Begin by making healthier food choices. Incorporate essential protein into each meal. Carry a boiled egg or another quick source of healthy protein for snacks during the day or after yoga class. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables the entire family can snack on. Be mindful of how many carbs you’re eating throughout the day. Keep your body and colon hydrated by drinking eight or more glasses of water each day.
Stimulate the digestive system with a vigorous exercise, like Bikram yoga. In addition to keeping the body moving, several poses help to stretch the abdominal organs, stoke the digestive fire, reduce digestive issues and encourage regular, healthy elimination.
Incorporate good health habits into your family’s daily routine to maintain excellent digestive health. For a quick and easy reference on how to measure macronutrients in your daily diet, refer to this excellent infographic from Precision Nutrition on How to Master Meal Prep. Then don’t miss our Nutrition and Belly Fat Workshop led by Precision Nutrition-certified personal trainers Markus Rosenberg and Becki Cosford at 1:30 PM on March 19th at our North York studio.