CLINICAL YOGA THERAPY~ Digestive system, Stomach, Small intestine, Nausea, Heart burn, Hyperacidity, Ulcers, Health of skin related to digestion
Nutrient absorption from Small Intestine
Nutrient absorption happens in the small intestine amongst other places, but is most efficient here because of the huge area of villi and microvilli covering the inner surface of the small intestine’s walls. This structure actually has the largest surface area over which the nutrients can pass – and yet occupies the smallest volume! If we unfolded and opened the small intestine up – it would have a surface area large enough to cover three tennis courts.
In yogic science the stomach and small intestine are cared for by Samana vayu, one of the 5 pranas (or vayus, or vatas) of the body. Samana Vayu takes care of the stomach, small intestine and absorption of nutrients. If someone is not absorbing nutrients well, then Samana Vayu is effected poorly and we can see this by looking at the impressions or indentations in the sides of the tongue as per the below images. We can look at more ways to read what is going in in the digestive system via Ayurvedic tongue diagnosis.
For healing, the first thing we would look at is digestion, what they are eating, when they are eating and how! After this, we look to yoga postures for effecting Samana vayu such as reclining and standing twists, belly down backbends, and triangle pose, and rotating lunges. Poses that increase blood flow to these organs will also be helpful – again spinal twists and seated forward bends. Pranayama can employ uddiyana bhanda and bastrika or bellow’s breath may be beneficial. Depending on the presenting case, pranayama should be chosen carefully so as to suit the individual and the primary imbalance.
Acidity, Heartburn and Ulcers
Acid or sour taste in the mouth is a sign of a pitta disorder, indicating high pitta in the small intestine. Often one may also experience heartburn, nausea, belching of sour fluids. Pitta or heating foods may be the primary cause. Such foods may include spicy, greasy, oily foods, sour foods. Alcohol and overeating will also be unhelpful. Sugar and carbohydrates can also cause excessive acid production in the stomach, and particularly when combined poorly with wrong food combinations. Hyperacidity can also be caused by weak digestion – food stuffs will sit in the stomach and ferment, producing a burning sensation. This is more common in Kapha and Vata types, so it is important to remedy the root of the disease, rather than just presuming it is primarily a pitta type condition, which isn’t always the case.
Many ulcers can be traced back to a bacterial infection (helicobacter pylori) of the stomach, which is then able to promote high acidity and so it is possible that ulcers are not as commonly related to stress as we once thought. It must be noted however that in Ayurveda the psychological processes behind them are still considered to be stress, worry and overwork. Ulcers are an inflammation of the mucus lining of the stomach and are usually considered to be a pitta aggravation. They may involve pain, burning sensation and result in bleeding. Some ulcers however are vata based and arise from a disrupted irregular digestive and nervous system which leads to a deficiency in the mucosal lining, or kapha of the stomach. Both pitta and vata imbalances in the GI tract will reduce kapha, allowing even a small amount of excess pitta to inflame the lining.
When the body is under stress the sympathetic nervous system sends a message to the digestive tract and reduces blood flow to the small intestine as it shunts blood to the larger muscles of the body. Digestion and peristasis slow right down and aborption of nutrients cease. Simultaneously, in the upper digestive tract acidity increases, leading to indigestion and heartburn. Under chronic stress, the body craves complex carbs – bread, pasta, sugar – which trigger the release of serotonin which can be addictive. This addiction may then cause us to put on undesirable weight. In this particular case, yoga postures that take care of the nervous system with parasympathetic rebalancing assist most such as savasana and supported forward bends.
HOT TIP for reducing acidity during practice: try not to practice yoga whilst digesting food. Avoid consuming large amounts of food 1-4 hours before practice. It requires a great deal of energy to drive acid production in the digestive process and we also need this energy for asana practice. Do not be around food preparation areas either – the smell and thought of food can immeditaely increase acid production with the kick start of the digestive process. Simarlarly, do not drink water during asana practice as this will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and increase resting muscle tone.
Pranayama and Breath work for hot pitta type digestive conditions such as ulcers and hyperacidity should be cooling and calming. Choose sitali, sitkari and soft gentle breathing.
FOODS & HERBS: The amount of hydrochloric acid required for the digestion is based upon what one eats. Those who eat and large amount of meat and its fat will require larger amounts of hydrochloric acid, pepsin, oxygen and energy to digest a meal in comparison to the same person eating a meat-free, carbohydrate loaded meal.
In Ayurveda, an anti-pitta diet in prescribed. Avoid meat, heavy carbs, sour fruits, vinegar, pickles, yoghurt, alcohol, smoking, coffee, fried foods, bread, tomatoes, chillies, bananas, night shades, cheese and chocolate. Milk, ghee and basmati rice are acceptable healing foods. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet in general. Choose aloe vera and liquorice as herbs for calming pitta and to stimulate digestion in vata and kapha types, use black pepper and ginger.
A 4 day milk fast for ulcers may assist.
When chewing foods aim for 60 seconds of chewing time before swallowing for best digestion.
Nausea and vomiting is more common in kapha types. Kapha accumulates as phlegm in the stomach, where it clocks peristalsis and causes udana (the upward moving prana) to rise. Any vomiting that occurs is generally used to clear this kapha out of the system. Excess eating of kapha type foods can cause nausea and vomiting – sweets, oils, dairy, meats, overeating in general.
Read more on how our digestion affects the skin here.
Wishing you optimal health,