Mindful Mondays: 4-2-6 Breathing for Gut Health


F! Feeling Bad, let’s practice 4-2-6 Breathing for Gut Health!

Agency over Anxiety! Did you know it improves gut health, too? That it can actually reduce symptoms of gut-related, stress-affiliated medical syndromes like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Fibromyalgia, and Lupus? Because you can change the chemistry of your body by being mindful! If you want to nerd out about how, please check out my website where I break some of it down and provide you with links to do your own exploration of the science.


How

Remember that your mindfulness practice is self-care that deserves its own time and space in your schedule without interruptions, so ditch the phone, lock the door, and protect that time in your schedule. If your mind wanders, just refocus on the breathing.

  1. Find a relaxed posture, sitting, standing, or lying down.
  2. Take some cleansing breaths, melt into your posture, shake out any stiff areas.
  3. Close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so—if not find a space to stare at across the room that isn’t another person…don’t be creepy.
  4. Start breathing…
  1. Breath in for four seconds, fill your belly
  2. Hold for two seconds
  3. Breath out for 6 seconds
  4. Repeat

Why

According to Griffin (2014) there are ten stress-related health problems, including gastrointestinal problems like heartburn, GERD, and IBS that can be fixed by engaging in stress management tactics like mindful breathing. Mindfulness has shown to improve symptoms of stress-exacerbated medical diagnoses, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Fibromyalgia, and Lupus. Specifically related to gut health, mindful breathing reduces hormone levels and behaviors associated with gastrointestinal functions.

Cortisol

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released in your gut when your body is stressed, which can be a result of anxiety or a catalyst to anxiety. When cortisol is released, it changes the environment in your gastrointestinal system by changing the rate of digestion, the permeability of the intestines, and the absorption of micronutrients. The purpose for these changes in functional when experienced intermittently and temporarily; however, we live in a society that has become increasingly anxiety provoking, so many of us are suffering the effects of chronic cortisol overload.

When cortisol production increases it signals a need to prepare for conflict, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system by activating the fight, flight, or freeze response. Muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, headaches, changes in appetite, and digestive issues are indications you might be in fight, flight, or freeze mode. These signs are functional to body’s need to address the threat—your brain doesn’t know the difference between encountering a bear in the woods versus emotional and psychological stressors, such as divorce, moving, losing a job, etc. You may also notice difficulty remembering things, arriving late to appointments and activities, less  control over your emotions, and detachment from your daily activities (as if you watched what yourself do stuff, but weren’t really there). When in danger, these symptoms are functional, we are prepared to handle a survival situation and who needs to regulate emotions or remember a due date when you’re trying to survive, am I right? However, you do not have to be in an overwhelming emotionally stressful situation to trigger higher levels of cortisol; any uncomfortable emotional reaction can stimulate the hormone, including those related to being judgmental. Mindful breathing, along with other mindfulness techniques rooted in nonjudgmental thinking, reduces levels of cortisol and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to restore a more balanced physical state. It also increases blood oxygen levels, which benefits all organ functions.

Mindful Eating

Being mindful also results in better eating behaviors. When you are connected to your body, you are better at detecting signals for hunger and satiation that coincide with hormones that aid in digestion. If you miss a cue to eat, you are not only likely to binge on foods that are less nutritious, but your body will also not be prepared to digest the food as efficiently. Mindful eating, where you take time to appreciate the taste, texture, look, and smell of your food without distraction, is a great way to reconnect to eating more purposefully so your body can refuel efficiently, thereby improving gut health. Mindful eating is also a mindful observation technique, so by practicing mindful eating you are reversing the effects of gaslighting by increasing confidence in your ability to detect the world around you.

Neural Pathways

As with all mindfulness practices, you are furthering your ability to regulate your emotions and tackle your day with purpose. Every time you practice mindfulness, you are reinforcing the neural pathways for the behavior, focus, and self-awareness. Neural pathways are also strengthened for breathing in ways that are beneficial to your muscles and organs, which increases the possibility of naturally doing so when not focusing on it. Further, by practicing nonjudgmental thinking in mindfulness, you are shifting away from negative thought traps that increase stress at the neuron level. You are also building agency, an important step to reducing anxiety, living with intent, and overcoming the painful long-term effects of gaslighting.


References and Further Reading

The Effect of a Brief Mindfulness Intervention on Perception of Bodily Signals of Satiation and Hunger

Fibromyalgia, Depression and Anxiety

Gut Health: How Deep Meditation Can Improve It

Meditation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Mind Your Gut: Mindfulness for Gastrointestinal Diseases

Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of an Adapted Protocol

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improves Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms Via Specific Aspects of Mindfulness

Mindfulness-Based Therapies in the Treatment of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Meta-Analysis

Mindfulness for People with EDS

Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations

Pilot Study of an Online-Delivered Mindfulness Meditation in Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS): Effect on Quality-of-Life and Participant Lived Experience

Psychological Controversies in Gastroparesis: A Systematic Review

Psychological Impact of Fibromyalgia: Current Perspectives

Researchers Found the Relaxation Response Showed Improvements in the Two Gastrointestinal Disorders

Stress That You Can Fix

Three Ways Meditation Helps the Digestive System


If you are interested in increasing your ability to regulate your emotions, move through the world more purposefully, and manage overwhelming anger and anxiety, consider registering for updates on upcoming programs, check out other videos and podcasts, stay up to date on groups and events, and sign up for your free consultation.


Disclaimer: This content is intended for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for mental health treatment. It is important for survivors of abuse to find mental health professionals who understand trauma and abusive relationships. Please seek support from trusted and trained practitioners. This content is not meant to be used by anyone as diagnostic criteria. Permissions have not been granted for anyone to utilize this material as a source to make allegations about specific individuals. Any online content produced by Michelle Minette and F! All That Wellness Coaching is an educational discussion about narcissism which is a descriptive term for tendencies and behavioral patterns. Individuals with narcissistic features or tendencies do not necessarily meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. The terms narcissistic and narcissism are used as descriptions of tendencies and behaviors and are not meant as clinical terms.