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Digestion and emotions: Which brain do you use?


Galavasana (Image © Robin Ellen Lucas)Digestion and emotions are connected. The belly holds a lot of power. The power center is accessed by activating mula bandha and uddiyana bandha.

The vagus nerve connects digestive system / enteric nervous system in the gut to the central nervous system. Read more here about the digestive system and its anatomy. It's important to have optimal digestion to practice Ashtanga yoga, but also in life as its dysfunction can cause a ricochet effort on other anatomical systems and optimal subtle body health.

what you cannot see

Having said that, in this pose, Galavasana, I'm not just holding myself up with my abdominal muscles. First, of course, the bones are stacked correctly and arm and leg muscles activated. Most importantly here, however, is what you cannot see in the photo. I'm activating the bandhas (internal locks in pelvic region), my mind is clear, my body is well rested (I go to sleep by 9:00 p.m. each night), my diet is clean, I am an essential oils junkie advocate which is a lifestyle, et al.

It's what's inside me. There is a personal power activated within my mind having performed this pose each morning as part of my Ashtanga practice.

"mind is going"

One point that comes to mind is that I am often exhausted at this stage in my Ashtanga practice, yet the pose happens. It's a great example of my mind-body working from the subtle body to find energy, strength and memory. My teacher, Tim Miller, says to me "mind is going" in a humorous tone when I forget where I am a couple hours into my practice—guided from a spiritual place. Even so, my practice happens. It's on auto-pilot.

"Do your practice and all is coming," by Pattahbi Jois, is a phrase that sets Ashtanga yoga aside from other yoga styles. The body goes on auto-pilot and teaches its lessons from there. After the initial lesson(s) from the teacher, there is often no one to instruct or explain what to do, when, or how—only helpful adjustments in silence—which allows the dedicated practice to be the teacher.

your inner voice teaches

Ashtanga yoga is about listening to your inner voice. Over time, your practice is your teacher. I resonate with this on a subtle body level, having done led Iyengar and mixed-style/level Vinyasa classes for 18 years prior to trying Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga. My inner voice is the reason I have completely switched over. It gives me the chance to hear, to heal, to go to the next level (physically, emotionally, spiritually).

It reminds me to use my bandhas and take full breaths continuously because I know in my heart that my core/lower abdomen/pelvic region (from the inside to the outside) is my power source! This holds true for my entire life, not just yoga poses.

From my experience, teachers of led yoga classes often guide by requesting skeletal alignment and muscular engagement because that is what they can see in their students. They may cue the importance of using your bandhas and trusting in yourself, but in a sense, it's truly only part of their verbiage—despite their intellect and experience, not necessarily what you, the student, are going through in that very moment.

Ashtanga yoga reveals

I have some of the hidden answers in my body. They reveal themselves when I do the poses over and over and over, with patience and perseverance (and no attachment to the end results since each day can be different). For me, the blocks—physical, emotional, spiritual—are released in the subtle body. No teacher is telling me about that; I am.

It is my thought that restrictions by a teacher create rigidity in the students' minds and bodies, which is the opposite of the freedom we wish to create in our yoga practice.

That's a vague statement if you delve into it both intellectually or experientially within your own yoga practice. Sometimes, these notions can be referred to as coming from different parts of ourselves, as if we have more than one brain in our bodies. I understand this concept directly through my study of essential oils.

essential oils and different "brains"

There is, of course, a brain in your head and central nervous system. Frankincense essential oil activates the spiritual, supporting your ultimate brain functioning. It's known to oxygenate the Pituitary gland, which is the master gland that controls the release of hormones from other glands. It’s vital to our well-being and also connects to the Hypothalamus (nervous system), harmonizing them together. Yoga also accentuates this balance.

Along these lines, there is another "brain" in your gut and enteric nervous system / digestive system. Circling back to the initial point in this article—digestion and emotions—as I discussed in my Healing Series, there is a lot more going on in your belly than abdominal muscles. Our guts (literally) are in the area that has been medically proven to be a second brain, the enteric nervous system. Including neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones, your gut is able to learn, remember and produce emotion-based feelings. The two nervous systems are connected through the vagus nerve. (Source: from my Healing Series)

Fennel essential oil helps digestive functions act on their own, in particular ridding the body of the toxins that hold you back. It is also said to restore strength and courage, going back to ancient Egypt.

Finally, I can identify with another "brain" in the feet and sense of self. This is essentially in the first chakra in the subtle body but also the emotional body. Myrrh essential oil is an earthy essential oil which grounds the nervous system. The bottoms of the feet are an ideal place for the oil—like walking in the dirt or grass. 

Tend to your digestion and emotions... For more of my writing on essential oils, go over to that blog.


~ Robin Ellen Lucas, M.A.

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