Would you believe me if I told you that the way in which we breathe has a direct impact on our gut? Well, it’s true. How we breathe can completely transform how our bodies feel, digest, and eliminate.
When we’re stressed, we experience both emotional responses and physical reactions, which shift our nervous system, affecting the functioning of our bodily systems, the digestive tract being one of them. Fortunately, we have a readily available tool that can help us navigate through stress, and it is our breath.
By understanding the link between our breath and our digestive system, as well as how to properly breathe for optimal levels of stress, we can improve our gut health.
The Effect of Stress on the Gut
Stress causes our bodies to shift into the sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight mode, which is a response necessary to protect us from a threatening situation. However, when we’re in this response, our breathing shallows and quickens to funnel more oxygen to the muscles to prepare for action against danger. While this is essential for survival, it causes the blood to travel from the gut to the larger muscles in the body, compromising blood flow to the digestive system; this impedes digestion, increases inflammation, and weakens immune system functioning.
Additionally, stress can influence what nutrients the intestines absorb, leading to bloating; cripple the intestinal barrier, allowing gut bacteria to enter the body; and alter the rate at which food moves through the body, impacting elimination. Keeping stress at a minimum serves to support our digestion and the bacteria and fungi that live in the gut.
The Power of Breath
The quick, shallow breathing that is exacerbated by stress is not conducive to our digestive system. When we breathe in this way, we move out of rest and digest, the parasympathetic nervous system, the state of calm and relaxation, and into fight or flight, the mode that negatively affects our gut.
However, when we breathe deeply from the belly, known as diaphragmatic breathing, we shift into the parasympathetic nervous system, turning off the automatic stress response. The parasympathetic nervous system induces a relaxation response that soothes the mind and body; reduces muscle tension, including those responsible for digestion and elimination; and optimizes digestion and overall gut health by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the digestive tract.
Abdominal breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve, a nerve that connects the brain with all other organs of the body, controlling the rest and digest component of the nervous system. The vagus nerve plays an important role in digestion, as it activates the enteric nervous system, which causes the intestinal muscles to churn the food that we consume. If the vagus nerve is not functioning properly, due to a lack of brainstem stimulation, then we can experience poor digestion and elimination.
Thus, if you are looking to improve your gut health, make deep belly breathing your friend.
I invite you to explore Frequency’s on-demand content, daily live-streamed sessions, and in-person breathwork classes so that you can take a dive into different breathing techniques to ignite digestion and overall healthy gut functioning.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing
Find a comfortable seated or lying down position
Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest
Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, allowing the abdomen to rise as you breathe in. Try and keep your chest as still as possible
Exhale through your mouth and gently blow out, letting the abdomen fall back to its natural position as you breathe out
Continue to bring your awareness to your breath, repeating this pattern until you feel a sense of calm
Give this potent breathing technique a try, and feel the profound effects that this magical practice has to offer!