You’ve probably heard of the mind-body and gut-brain connection, but have you had moments where you have really seen how this influences your health or symptoms?
Those moments where you’ve “listened to your gut” when you have had to make a decision, or you felt nauseated when nervous about something. I like to think of it as, how we are digesting (taking in) our external environment is reflected in how we are digesting within our internal environment. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has recognised the intimate connection between emotions and physical health and utilised a beautifully integrated mind-body approach to health and healing for thousands of years. Modern day research is also now revolutionising medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, health, mood and even the way we think.
Science refers to this brain within the gut, as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is made up of more than 100 million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract from oesophagus to rectum. Of course, the main role is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes, to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination. However, research is now highlighting that irritation in the GI system may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) triggering emotional shifts and overall mood changes.
The communication that is happening between our enteric and central nervous systems every day, gives greater confirmation to the connection that something like our bowel movement habits might tell us about our mood and our energy overall. When it comes to our health, to really treat the whole body and bring it back to balance, we are always looking to connect the dots.
We might have noticed we’ve been experiencing more stress recently. With that, we realise we haven’t been as regular with bowel movements and our digestion just feels off. We tune in and realise we’ve been feeling irritable, or sad or just in this general state of apathy and our energy has gone out the window. All of these symptoms are connected and often start out as the subtle signs our body is giving us to take greater care of it.
When emotions, bowel movements, energy or our physical body in general aren’t moving freely, we can feel stagnant. And before you wonder, if there is an actual term for this feeling, TCM refers to a long-established diagnostic entity known as Stagnation syndrome.
Conceptualised as a tightly connected mind-body health condition, it is characterised by a cluster of somatic symptoms, such as feeling clogged at the throat or chest, sleep disturbances, fatigue and bowel dysfunctions. Previous studies have also shown that this syndrome has significant correlation with anxiety and depression from a Western medicine diagnostic perspective. Stagnation syndrome is often a chronic condition as the physical, behavioural, and emotional symptoms reinforce each other.
An imbalanced mind-body connection might look like:
- Frequently suffer from colds, coughs, or general infections – lowered immunity
- Experiences somatic symptoms (such as digestive problems) with no apparent physical cause
- Experience chronic illness or frequent pain
- Often feeling fatigued, even after a full night’s sleep
- Noticing sadness, apathy or general malaise
- Lowered libido
- Inability to cope with daily stressors
Simple ways to support a healthy mind-body connection:
- Introduce a daily deep breathing practice
- Mindfulness-based meditation
- Guided imagery
- Focus on your body’s posture and expressions – not just reflections of our mind, they directly influence our mood.
- Spend more time in nature
- Laugh – watch something hilarious, call/see a friend and you’ll see that laughter brings you right into the present moment
- Watch a sunrise or sunset – unplugged from your phone
- Explore and tend to your spiritual wellness – your meaning, purpose, connection to self and others
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