You only have to look around the streets of London and you can see that the onset of the festive season is gathering momentum. Parties, social gatherings and work colleague Christmas lunches and dinners are being touted for by hotels, pubs and restaurants up and down the country. While the potentially beneficial and lovely qualities of togetherness and gratitude, love and joy are hopefully the main focus of all these social gatherings there is a down side and people can still experience an increase in their overall levels of stress and emotional and physical fatigue at this time of year.
This can in turn have an adverse affect on out sense of well-being and in particular our digestion. On a holistic level, when we are in physical and emotional balance our digestive systems should theoretically reflect that balance. Our gut has its own enteric nervous system or ‘digestive brain’ which influences the movement and absorption of nutrients from our food as it passes through our digestive systems from the stomach and into the large intestine without any directives coming to it directly from our brains.
Nevertheless there is a relationship between the conscious parts of our brain ie the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and our digestive systems as well. When our bodies and minds are in balance, the parasympathetic portion (PNS) of the autonomic nervous system, supports good digestion. However, when we find ourselves to be under stress at any time of the year but so common during the hectic build up to Christmas, the other half of our ANS, the sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the ‘fight, flight or freeze system’, exerts dominance over our digestive brain. It is this that can cause a negative effect on the movement of food through our stomach and intestines. There is a reduction in the level of blood sent into the gut for digestion and this in turn reduces the absorption of nutrients often causing the build up of acidity in the stomach and increasing the risk of suffering from indigestion and heartburn.
Some people find that when they are under stress, they will begin to crave complex carbohydrates as they can trigger the release of calming substances in the brain. Since these kind of foods form such a large part of our festive season staples what we often experience is the less desirable side effect of this change in our eating habits and we start to put on extra weight.
Yoga can help by soothing the ‘fight, flight and freeze’ part of our ANS and activating the ‘rest and digest’ part. Yoga poses and breathing techniques to help us to relax and unwind can bring us back into better balance and thus help to improve our digestion and see a reduction in those unwanted symptoms like heartburn, indigestion and bloating.
So slow down from time to time during the build up to Christmas this year, do some restorative yoga, take care of what you eat and drink and enjoy your digestion during the festive season ahead.
Elisa Williams is a London based yoga teacher and mum with over 25 years of practice in both. She teaches private and public yoga classes, yoga holidays and retreats. Her interests include family, people , sunshine, sailing and holidays. http://www.elisawilliamsyoga.com