Digestion is the process of breaking down large food molecules so that the body can make proper use of the nutrients contained in the food. You may have heard before that the gut is often called the second brain because the gut makes more neurotransmitter than the brain does. Also, the gastrointestinal (GI) system is actually connected to our nervous system.
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Digestion Problems Connected to Stress
Most people have some type of digestion problem. For example, the diagnoses of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are growing rapidly, and it’s affecting between 30 million and 50 million people in the U.S. alone. Half of the patients that are diagnosed with IBS have coexisting psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Medical treatment of IBS often includes dietary adjustment, stress management, and behavioral therapies.
Stress increases intestinal permeability and susceptibility to colonic inflammation. When we are stressed, our brain sends a message to the gut bacteria that may cause low-grade inflammation and GI distress. Meditation, on the other hand, has the opposite effect — relaxing muscles within the GI tract. When we are relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) signals gut secretions and peristalsis, and our digestion work better.
The Effects of Meditation
Putting the body in a meditative or relaxed state eases tension and stimulates the release of brain chemicals such as endorphins, that can improve our mood. Especially early morning or late evening meditation, even just 10 minutes, will help the body shift into a peaceful state in which it can digest and repair. Why especially in the morning? Because of the body’s natural clock, or circadian rhythm, makes the parasympathetic nervous system more dominant in the mornings, so you are most likely then to be able to calm down your mind.
In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson’s studies of the relaxation response observed that people who meditate regularly have lower stress levels, and increased well-being, and an overall better life quality.
It doesn’t have to be sitting meditation. You may also like to try visualization, prayers, or a gratitude journal. A positive side effect is that when you relax, you are most likely not to choose junk foods or sugary foods, you will naturally want to look for more healthy alternatives.
Pay attention to your body — it is necessary on your journey!