Yoga - Go for your Gut
by Shameem Akthar
Yoga had long ago recognized the importance of the guts, now endorsed by modern science, by giving it preeminence.
No other regimen favors your gut as yoga does. All other exercises either stifle or thrash it insensate. Only yoga appreciates that your gut is not some inanimate muscle, whose only function is to gobble up food and nutrients, but an emotional center for your entire being. Often, what you feel at gut level can overwhelm your rational brain. It can be a real dictator - which explains binge eating, clinical depression and irrational suicides.
Not surprisingly then, most of its problems for such clinical psychological ailments include asanas that work this region thoroughly. Here are some facts about the gut that only recently have been medically established, but which seems to have been intuited by our yogis, eons ago.
o The human brain and the human gut evolve from the same cluster of cells.
o What you eat affects the way you think. For instance, Vitamin B deficiency (a problem with most vegetarians) could be the cause for your irritation, anxiety and stress. And vice versa: what you think can affect what you eat. For example, if you are the sort who gets stressed out fast, you are depleting your vitamin C fast and may need to replenish it often.
o About half the nerve cells in the entire body are located in the gut. Which explains why we feel our emotions in our stomach.
o Today, medicine openly acknowledges the second brain in our gut. In fact, it is the primitive and reactive type. Whenever your emotions become overwhelming, your gut brain can override the commands from your rational brain (which is only a late entrant in evolution). This explains why we can become unreasonable when we are emotionally high-strung, doing things that we ourselves disapprove of.
Yoga has several detox programs to clear the gut of its debris. Shankhaprakshalana (intestine wash) and kunjal (stomach wash). These must, however, not be done casually but by observing all precautions suggested by ancient texts. Shankhaprakshalana clears the colon of fecal debris. It is said, a normal human being carries eight pounds of fecal detritus in the gut, accumulated over one's lifetime. A regular and well-monitored detox program is a good way to clear the gut of this messy load that not only causes inexplicable and difficult-to-trace ailments, but also body odor and bad breath.
Agnisara kriya, a cleansing ritual, is another practice that powers the gut. A regular practitioner will never age, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika promises. This is because this practice works out the entire gut, which, from mouth to anus, is an amazing 32 feet in humans. The nutrient-absorbing small intestine alone is 26 feet, and when it becomes slack due to age, gravity, misuse and abuse, we age, despite our planned diet charts and fancy food, because its absorbing capacity is hit. Agnisara rejuvenates this stretch, so we really profit from what we eat.
Most of the classic poses too work on the gut - including head asana (in which you can experience the abdomen cleave in, back to youthful tone), houlder-stand (which challenges the gut by its anti-gravity push), forward-bends (both standing and sitting, by the pressure on the navel center or manipura chakra), twists (which involve the liver too), and prone poses like cobra, locust and bow, which uses a combination of resistance, stretch and pressure to work out the entire gut. No wonder that the person who has a solid yoga practice has great control over what he or she consumes. And no wonder too that a practitioner exhibits a sense of well-being that clearly occurs when your second brain, in the gut, is kept happy.
Shashankasana (Hare Pose)
Sit on your heels, hips rested on back of feet. Inhale, raise hands above head. Exhale, lower hands and head, so the latter is rested on floor. Hold for as long as is comfortable, breathing evenly. Raise back to starting position, inhaling.
Benefits: It is therapeutic in gut-related ailments, such as indigestion, over-eating, emotional eating, wind, acidity. Helps deal with anxiety, anger and stress.