My 5-minute gut healing meditation
Wait….what??!! How can a meditation be gut healing? Am I serious? The answer is a resounding YES!
Stress reduction is a cornerstone to obtaining gut healing, for people of all ages. Stress, even at an early age, can change the composition of the trillions of bacteria and microorganisms in our digestive tracts referred to as the gut microbiome. Infant monkeys (monkeys are quite similar to humans) who were separated from their mothers were shown to have reduced amounts of the key helpful bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Instead, they had increased amounts of the Prevotella species; this is the species of bacteria that has been well established to be linked to imbalance in the gut microbiome and psychiatric disorders (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28976454). There is evidence in the scientific literature that different kinds of psychological stress can affect the composition of the gut microbiome and these organisms are pertinent to controlling overall stress, anxiety, and cognitive function (http://www.jneurosci.org/content/34/46/15490).
Meditation is one of the most powerful medicines that I prescribe in my office. I consider meditation to be the forgotten magic potion to gut healing. There is an ever growing body of literature to support the health benefits of meditation. For example, meditation has been shown to improve cellular health, regulate stress response, improve immune function, reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), reduce CRP (a marker of inflammation in the body), reduce blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce tumor necrosis factor alpha (another inflammatory marker that can play a role in a variety of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease), among many others (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28863392).
In my medical practice, I often see patients with chronic unaddressed stress who have abdominal pain, heartburn (acid reflux), bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and a number of other symptoms. They keep getting passed around from doctor to doctor and have normal work ups. Yet, the problems remain. Much of the time I find that stress plays a big role in how refractory these symptoms can be. The brain and the gut are connected to each other. Chronic stress can change pain circuits and alter motility in the gastrointestinal tract in addition to causing intestinal permeability (leaky gut) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26662472).
One of the main obstacles to meditating is time. People often say that they don’t have the time. Largely this is not true because there is always time. We often spend countless minutes flipping away on social media and other activities during our days and we don’t think twice about it. While there are tons of different meditative practices that you can use, I’ve created a quick 5-minute gut healing meditation for you to get you started and hopefully this will tune body in to the health benefits of meditation. I must say that it is most ideal to meditate for 20 minutes or more at a time. However, I always tell people that we have to get you there before we can keep you there; this means that we have to get you started before we can focus on the long term practice. Also, this is not a religious practice; it can be if you would like it to be but it absolutely does not have to be. This is often another misconception that I hear about. Meditation is a great way to give yourself a little break, focus your attention, and ground yourself.
If you are not meditating at this time, just the mere fact that you are reading this article and thinking about it is progress! Congratulations! Now, try this 5-minute meditation practice and start healing your gut!
Dr. Marv’s 5-minute gut healing meditation:
- First, find a nice quite place. Sit however you like (on the floor, on a chair, on a bed, it doesn’t matter although the bed is probably not the most ideal place since you may be more likely to fall asleep).
- Close your eyes. Rest your hands on your lap.
- I like to start my meditative practice by saying a positive affirmation in my head such as “May this be of benefit.”
- Start by taking a few deep breaths and just observe yourself breathing. Breath in through your nose and breath out through your mouth. If you notice your mind already wandering, it’s ok; just gently redirect your mind to the breath without any judgement.
- Once you have gotten into a rhythm, do 4 cycles of the 4-7-8 breath. Dr. Andrew Weil taught me this breathing exercise (https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-4-7-8-breath-health-benefits-demonstration/) and it has changed my life personally! Make sure you are inflating your belly when you take these deep breaths. Take a breath in through your nose to a count of 4. Hold it in your belly to a count of 7. Breath it out through your mouth to a count of 8. Do this at least 4 times and no more than 8 times.
- After you have done the 4-7-8 breaths, then go back to taking nice gentle breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth at a comfortable pace.
- Next, imagine yourself inhaling the positive energy from the earth and your environment. On the inhalation, you are taking in all that positive energy and strength. On the exhalation, you are blowing out all of that positive energy and strength to everyone and everything in your immediate surroundings.
- After one minute of doing this, your inhalations will be for the same purpose (taking in all the positive energy). However, on the exhalation you will be blowing out all of that positive energy to the entire planet. Really truly imagine with every inhalation and exhalation that you are using yourself as a beacon of energy and that you are delivering that positive energy to the rest of the planet. Remember, that we are all human beings at the end of the day. We all want to be happy and healthy. Everybody needs kindness and compassion. That’s how we are built.
- Once you have reached the approximate 5-minute mark you can stop or feel free to continue as long as you want. When you are ready to finish, take a nice deep breath in and raise your arms over your head in the shape of a circle. Then slowly lower your hands as you slowly open your eyes. Sit there for a moment and note how you feel. When you are ready, you can quietly and slowly get up and enjoy the rest of your day!
I find that this is a nice way to start your day and a nice way to end your day. It will be guaranteed to be awkward and difficult when you first start. Some of you may even fall asleep. That’s no big deal! Don’t criticize yourself over it. Enjoy the rest and keep doing it! Keep trying. Once you get into a good rhythm with this, you can graduate to trying some of the other meditative practices. You can even make up your own meditations! If you find that you cannot remember the steps in this guided meditation, then read the steps out loud into a recording device (you can use your smartphone or tablet, for example) in a quiet gentle voice and play it when you are ready to sit down and do it.
There is a wealth of healing in mindfulness, meditation, kindness and compassion. Definitely do not forget this important medicine when putting together your gut healing protocol!