Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
Remember your first crush? You see them at the end of the school hallway, walking towards you.
There is no escape, you must keep walking forward. You look down, your gut is flipping and turning, and you feel like you might even heave. Your mind is telling you to calm down, but your gut is unable to listen. Your body is having a powerful visceral reaction to thought and feelings.
Even now, if you think about any scenario of tension, stress, nervousness, excitement or fear, we often feel it in the gut. New job, meeting new people, dealing with situations or experiences in our life: there is a reaction not only in the mind through our thoughts, but as well in our gut through feelings.
We often talk about a “gut feeling” when we meet someone for the first time. We’re told to “trust our gut instinct” when making a big decision, or that it’s “gut check time” when faced with a situation that tests our nerve and determination.
In yoga, we talk about “chakras.” The ancient Sanskrit word chakra can be translated to “wheel of energy.” Each of us, has these wheels of energy throughout. In fact, it is believed we each have tens of thousands of them. We mostly speak of the seven main chakras, including the manipura or the solar plexes chakra located at centre of the belly at the navel. The name manipura comes from the Sanskrit, “mani” meaning “gem,” and pura or puri meaning “city.” So, it is often translated literally as the “city of jewels,” which helps us to metaphorically think of this chakra as our own personal treasure centre of power and well-being.
Scientific study also collaborates that this area of the body (the gut) is a second brain to us, guiding us and communicating to us, through the enteric nervous system. There are hundreds of million of neurons connecting the brain to the ENS (enteric nervous system), the part of the nervous system that is tasked with controlling the gastrointestinal system. Not only does it regulate the physical, but the ENS is so extensive that it can operate as an independent entity without input from our central nervous system, although they are in regular communication.
While our 'second' brain can’t compose a symphony or paint a masterpiece the way the brain within our skull can, it does perform many important roles including communicating to us, revealing our instinctual feelings and how it processes thoughts and emotions.
Medical professionals have long been aware of the link between anxiety and depression and digestion issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), thinking the former caused the latter. But it can also be vice versa. Bad gut health can lead to issues with mood and emotions.
“The gut and the brain have a bi-directional relationship; they are interconnected primarily via the vagus nerve which is able to transfer chemical messages between the two,” explains Coach’s go-to gut health expert, accredited practicing dietitian and founder of Travelling Dietitian Kara Landau.
So how can we assist our second brain - the gut - to work better for our health and happiness?
1. Eat Healthy. Having a healthy gut ensures maximum nutrient absorption can take place, which supports proper hormone production and regulation (including serotonin our “happy hormone”), which benefits mood regulation.
Ensure you consume a gut supportive diet, high in probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods (onion, garlic, leeks, asparagus, dandelion, and bananas). Also, a diet low in added sugar and artificial ingredients is highly beneficial with less processed boxed food and more whole foods.
2. Fermented foods. Gut integrity is improved with fermented foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Examples of fermented foods are pickles, kefir, kombucha drink, sauerkraut, miso and probiotic yogurt.
3. Trust your gut. Becoming more mindful and aware of how we are feeling in any given moment assists us to listen not only to our mind, but to our physical reaction to life. When dealing with life experiences whether exciting and happy versus fearful and challenging, ask yourself where and how you are feeling it in your body. Honoring the feelings that the energies and signals our gut-brain gives us will assist us to live more authentically from our power centre of well-being.
4. It's all connected. Begin to bring more awareness to the connection of your mood, emotions, happiness and your physical gut health. Studies have shown that patients who tried psychologically based approaches to physical gut health had greater improvement in their symptoms compared with patients who received conventional medical treatment. A new pilot study from Harvard University affiliates Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital found that meditation could have a significant impact for those with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Forty-eight patients with either IBS or IBD took a 9-week session that included meditation training, and the results showed reduced pain, improved symptoms, stress reduction, and the change in expression of genes that contribute to inflammation.
Many scientists are confident that learning more about the gut-brain could solve many health issues like IBS and constipation and shed more light on the link between the gut and mental health. As we learn more about this, I encourage you to honor the experiences and feeling of 'butterflies' in the tummy when we’re nervous or excited and to listen to the feeling of our stomach 'dropping' when we are unsure of something. To feed the brain nutrients through a healthy diet remember that food is either one of our greatest medicines or our one of our most potent poisons.
Understanding and honoring the mind-body connection and communication that our second brain provides us with, can give us opportunity to live happier and healthier lives.
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