Ah, summer. Long days, late sunsets and often, some delicious food and drinks that we might not normally partake in. As yogis, we understand how food affects our bodies, as once we step on the mat the morning after a fun night out, we sometimes find ourselves regretting that extra glass of wine or scoop of ice cream. In addition to not feeling well after we eat something that doesn’t agree with us, our gut microbiome is also responsible for a much bigger conversation of sending signals up the brain – and because of this, it’s often referred to as the “second brain”.
We can relate to this when we think about how much information we get from our belly – as witnessed by having a natural response or “gut feeling” about things that occur in our lives. When we evaluate the chakra system, we see that this response comes from the third chakra, also known as the solar plexus, located just behind our navel. The solar plexus chakra is all about owning our personal power and cultivating willpower, with the idea that when we harness the ability to listen to the inner voice coming from our belly or third chakra, we are tapped into our truth.
Science agrees with this – in fact, scientists have identified a whole enteric nervous system (ENS) in the gut, which is comprised of more than 100 million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum, with the majority of our body’s emotional response happening in the ENS and in turn, those response signals are sent to our brain via neurotransmitters.
As we can see, what happens in our gut is no small potatoes, and it’s important to take care of our gut both inside and out. We can start by listening to our gut signals about things that are going on in our lives and use that information to help us get closer to what’s true to us. We can also support our gut by choosing food and drink that agrees with our constitution – keeping a diet of healthy and natural foods and probiotics that build gut flora, along with lots of clear fluids to keep our system chugging along with ease.
From an external perspective, we can incorporate yoga poses that both stimulate and relax the third chakra, giving a healthy ebb and flow to the belly muscles. Here are some great poses for a healthy gut, that will be especially helpful if your system is feeling out of sorts.
Benefits: This easy and classic warm-up pose brings the attention to the third chakra (navel center) and stretches and wakes up the whole digestive area.
Step by Step: Begin on hands and knees with your hands lined up under your shoulder and your hips over your knees. From all fours, inhale and drop your belly and gaze upwards as you broaden your collarbones to find cow pose. On an exhalation, round your spine to come into cat pose and shift your gaze towards your navel to stretch your back. Repeat cow pose and cat pose five times each, breathing as you make each movement. Inhale on the cow, exhale on the cat. Return to all fours.
Benefits: This gentle twist stimulates digestion and stretches the sides of the body.
Step by Step: From all fours, sweep your right arm up in the air. Stretch it high and then thread it underneath your chest towards the far left side of your mat, landing the arm down on the mat. Turn your head to the left and look towards the left, resting your head or right ear down on the mat. Your left arm can bend and you can push your palm into the mat or take your left arm up and wrap it behind your back and let it rest there.
Twist from the navel to intensify this shape, and stay for five inhales and exhales. After finishing the right side, return to your hands and knees and repeat on the left side by lifting the left arm up in the air. After completing the left side, return to hands and knees.
Benefits: This deeper twist activates the third chakra and encourages balance and strength.
Step by Step: From hands and knees, step your right foot forward in between your hands. Stack your right knee over your right ankle for a 90 degree angle. Your left knee is still down on the mat, also set up at a 90 degree angle. Lift your chest up so that you are facing straight ahead and bring your hands to prayer at heart center.
Twist from your belly to the right side, hooking your left elbow over your right thigh. Inhale and press your hands together firmly, exhale and twist more deeply over the right thigh, maybe sliding your left elbow lower down on the right outer thigh.
If you want to intensify this pose, tuck the left toes under and elevate the left knee off the mat. Stay for five breaths, inhaling and exhaling through the nose – use each inhale to lengthen the spine and each exhale to twist more deeply to the right. When you’re complete with five breaths, return to hands and knees and repeat on the left side.
Benefits: This spinal twist calms the body, stretches the hips and glutes, and releases the lower back, as well as grounding everything back into the third chakra.
Step by Step: Lie on your back with both legs extended. Draw your right knee into your chest and, using your left hand, slowly draw the right knee across your body over to the left side of your mat. Extend your right arm out to the right, let it rest on the mat and shift your gaze to the right. Use your left hand to push your right knee down towards the mat to intensify this stretch. Inhale and exhale, staying here for ten breaths, slowly return to center and switch sides.