The Power Center In Your Body You Might Not Know About & How It Can Affect Your Gut Health
It's no secret that gut health is crucial when it comes to our overall wellness and vitality. The health of our bellies is affected by many things: the food we eat, the thoughts we have, the emotions we feel, and even the environment we live in. But one of the things that can take a major toll on the gut is stress. So finding ways to reduce the stress and tension we hold on to in our bodies is crucial for both the health of our guts and our overall well-being.
It turns out that one area of the body that is intrinsically connected to the way our bodies process and deal with stress is probably somewhere you might not have thought of—the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is the hammock of muscles located at the base of the core that supports the deep core and the organs. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, visualize the muscles you'd use if you were to cut off your pee midstream or do a Kegel. That's the pelvic floor. And in case you're wondering, yes, any men reading this—you have a pelvic floor too!
The pelvic floor and stress connection.
The role the pelvic floor plays—particularly with relation to stress and stuck emotional energy—is a concept that is central to my latest book The Power Source: The Hidden Key To Ignite Your Core, Empower Your Body, Release Stress, and Realign Your Life, and my mindbodygreen class.
There's a neuromuscular and energetic connection between the pelvic floor and stress, which means that the state of our pelvic floor (in other words, whether our pelvic floor is resilient and healthy or tight, clutched, and tense) is directly connected to how our bodies respond to fear and stress. From my experience working with clients for the last 15 years, I discovered that many of us hold on to subconscious stress in the pelvic floor.
This can become a problem over time since our bodies become "wired" to react to stress in a certain way. The pelvic floor tends to be where we bear down and cling to stress, "white knuckling" our way through life through a reactive pattern. It's as if we're getting stuck in "fight or flight" mode, and it keeps happening over and over again. For many people, an angry email or a comment on a social media post can trigger reactive stress and clutching. And once we get into this "clutch," the whole area around the pelvic floor and gut can become locked up and blocked, and those “fight or flight” signals (also known as the sympathetic nervous system) can cause adrenal fatigue. This is not only exhausting, but it can also wreak havoc on the vitality and health of your gut by causing issues like excess belly fat, IBS, bloating, and constipation—not to mention a loss of connection to your sensuality and gut instincts.
This makes sense if you're a student of Eastern medicine. In Eastern traditions, the pelvic floor is known as the root chakra. It’s where we hold our fears; specifically fears around primary instincts, such as our health, our family's safety, and our financial security. It's where we process emotion and house our fight-or-flight reactions.
I like to call the pelvic floor a "power source"—hence the name of my book. These are the five areas of the body that are where energy can get stuck and blocked and where pain, tension, compression, and inflammation builds up. This buildup can inhibit healthy digestion of food and feelings, prevent healthy nutrient absorption, and prevent you from feeling connected, strong, aligned, and resilient. The pelvic floor is a vital power source because it forms the base of the core, affects your ability to expansively breathe, affects your posture and alignment, and is our stress "on/off" button.
What you can do to release stress.
The good news is there's a lot we can do to release stress and improve the health of our pelvic floor, which, in turn, improves both the health of our gut and our overall well-being. First, once we realize that stress is actually a reaction to external stimuli, by cultivating a self-awareness of how we react to stress, we can begin to reduce this reaction. Notice where you tend to get tense, tight, or ache after a stressful situation and try to visualize letting go of this tension.
I recommend incorporating plenty of healthy stress management and self-care techniques like a walk in nature, connecting with a friend, or taking a bath. Proper nourishment is also a key part of reducing the effect of stress and enhancing the health of your gut. To further enhance a happy belly, I recommend getting your hands on a plain kefir that has pre- and probiotics. I'm also a huge fan of the gut and tissue-healing benefits of bone broth—it's like a hug in a cup for your insides! I also highly recommend taking digestive enzymes to help decrease bloating, absorb more of the good, and eliminate the not-so-good from the foods we eat—something I discuss in depth in my book.
How to use movement as stress-relief.
In addition, there are also several target "movement medicine" practices that will cultivate awareness of where you hold stress in your body and help you work on releasing this stress and tension, particularly from the pelvic floor area.
One key reason the Body Sphere works so well is that the vagus nerve actually connects the gut to the brain—so by self-massaging the pelvic floor and belly on the Body Sphere, this sends a message to your brain to shift into the parasympathetic state of the nervous system. This is when your body is able to rest, digest, heal, restore, and actually rejuvenate itself.
Here are a few moves from my book that I love:
Seated Flex and Extend
- Come to a sitting position on the floor or your yoga mat, place the squishy ball under your sitz bones, and cross your legs, allowing your pelvic floor to soften over the ball.
- Place your hands and fingertips on the edge of each knee. Inhale for a count of eight as you extend and arch your spine, lift your heart, and look up.
- Then exhale for a count of 10, as you curl your tail under and bow your nose toward your pubic bone, while the ball rolls slightly forward.
- Repeat this series of movements 8 to 10 times.
Single Leg Split With Side Bend
- Come to a sitting position on your yoga mat.
- Bring the squishy ball under you so that you are sitting on it, bend your left knee out to the side, and bring your left heel up against the ball.
- Extend your right leg out long to the right. Inhale and feel your pelvis drop down into the ball.
- Exhale and allow your tissues to soften. Inhale as you reach your left arm up. Exhale as you side bend over to the right, sliding your right hand along your shin.
Mid-Belly Melt With Twist
Belly rolling is the equivalent of a healing lymphatic massage. It mobilizes the fascia and organs, letting them move in a more fluid, relaxed, and graceful way.
- Lie facedown, resting on your forearms with the squishy ball placed under your belly button.
- Keep the ball in place as you take three deep, full breaths. On each exhale, feel your tissues melt into the ball.
- Continue to keep the ball stable and take an inhale as you twist your upper body to the left. Then exhale as you twist your upper body to the right, massaging your mid-belly and aligning your psoas.
- Repeat this full movement 3 times.
- Lie facedown and place the ball under your pubic bone.
- Put the palms of your hands on the floor with your elbows bent in by your sides.
- Inhale as you roll up the entire front of your core to your diaphragm.
- Next, exhale as you roll back down to your starting position.
- Repeat this movement 8 times.
So, in conclusion, being aware of the role of reactive stress and the importance of the pelvic floor when it comes to the health of your gut is a crucial aspect of living a life of true well-being. To learn more movement medicine, check out my mindbodygreen class and my studio.
Exercise instructions excerpted from the book The Power Source: The Hidden Key To Ignite Your Core, Empower Your Body, Release Stress, and Realign Your Life by Lauren Roxburgh. Copyright © 2019 by Lauren Roxburgh. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.