Tune Up Fitness® Tune Up Fitness Blog » The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscles Imbalances in Abdomen Affect Digestion – Part Three: Digestion and Absorption

The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscles Imbalances in Abdomen Affect Digestion – Part Three: Digestion and Absorption

By: | Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 | Comments 23
Category: Anatomy, Breathing, Core | Tags: , ,

Can you stomach a deeper dive into the digestion system? We have chewed through the process of mastication and gulped down the movements of swallowing.  At this point in digestion, food has been broken down enough for enzymes to chemically transform it into smaller, usable nutrients. We’re headed downstream in the alimentary canal to the stomach and intestines. These areas, though out of conscious control, are still subject to issues arising from habitual muscular tension.

The stomach is a smooth muscle sac located on the left side of the upper abdomen. The diaphragm caps the stomach and the spleen and pancreas are tucked underneath. Gastric compressions churn food with acid and enzymes. The stomach is roughly the size of a fist when empty and has the ability to contract and expand. To make room for expansion, the stomach exterior pushes up on the diaphragm and nudges the intestines down. Have you ever eaten too much and felt short of breath and bloated?

The abdominal organs and their proximity to the diaphragm–your innermost postural muscle.

The small and large intestines are smooth muscle tubes folded many times over to pack their enormous length into a compact area. Wave-like contractions in the small intestine move food through the canal to brush up against villi, which sweep through food to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. The large intestine recaptures salt and water and condenses remaining, indigestible food particles into stool.

The abdominal organs are encapsulated by the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques. Their role in digestion is to compress abdominal contents. These muscles activate intermittently to help the digestive system regurgitate and defecate. They are meant to relax after they help move stuff out. But they don’t, not fully.

The abdominals remain active to maintain postural alignment. That is a normal function. We get into trouble when stress “ties our stomach into knots” all of the time. Continuous, low grade stress or our perception of it creates chronic abdominal tension.

In a fight or flight response, danger signals the hypothalamus of distress. The command center for the autonomic nervous system pumps the breaks on rest and digest functions by triggering the adrenal glands to release epinephrine. The adrenaline shuttles blood from the organs to muscles, which tense in preparation to flee. Once we’re in the clear, the response recedes and we resume rest and digest functions. The problem is that most of us live in a mild, never-ending state of fight or flight with tension throughout our bodies including the abdominal muscles.

Stress is but one origin of chronic abdominal tension. The muscles also become rigid from gym-style abdominal exercises done with poor form, sucking the belly in for vanity or fear of judgement, and our slumped sitting or standing posture. Additionally, wearing tight, compressive clothing, like skinny jeans or shapewear, corset the same muscles that constrict the abdominal cavity. Snug clothing restricts relaxation and narrows all of the tubes of our digestive system.

Next week we’ll tie our anatomy to our practice with some moves to help you with the abdominal portion of digestion.

Liked this article? Read Recalibrate Your State

About This Author

Yoga and mindful-eating helps Jessie reconnect to and appreciate her body and what it can do. Her goal is to bring her students the very best of what she is living and learning and to keep her classes real and honest. Jessie is known for her hands on approach and as an articulate teacher, so students can listen and go inward if they choose. Her personal style of teacher blends alignment and magical movements – techniques to unwind habitual body tension and pose add-ons to make shapes strong and comfortable. Together, with Jessie’s mindful-eating classes, students learn why, when, what, how, and how much to eat and where they invest their energy back into their lives. Jessie is a Yoga Alliance 200 HR E-RYT. She has completed both the Forrest Yoga Foundational and Advanced teacher training programs and is a Certified Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Jessie holds undergraduate degrees in nutrition and exercise physiology and a graduate degree in nutrition. She is also a licensed Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating facilitator. Jessie created Wild Wisdom Yoga to blend yoga and mindful-eating so students can fully realize their instinctive wisdom when moving and eating. She leads teacher-training programs featuring her signature program From Um to Om®: Public Speaking for Yoga Teachers.

The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscles Imbalances in Abdomen Affect Digestion – Part Three: Digestion and Absorption

  1. Catherine RL says:

    Another fantastic blog explaining a significant aspect of digestion and how stress affects digestion.
    Thank you

  2. sue okuda says:

    Thanks for tackling a subject most people don’t want to even think about — our amazing gut, what it does, and how it works. And now we know it has its own “brain,” the enteric nervous system. Lots to study and explore.

  3. Thank your for this simple, yet well- explained article on how everything from our clothing, to posture, to eating habits impacts digestion.
    One thing I have always been confused about is how much abdominal tension is good? After having been in physical therapy for a lower back issue and becoming more aware of the importance of engaging my transverse abdominis I am not clear if it is a good idea to always have a little core engagement when walking?

  4. Luz Garcia says:

    Great post. The digestive system is one of my favorites because I’ve struggled with digestive issues since childhood. This forced me to develop extra awareness and opened my curiosity to learn more about foods that were best for my digestion. My grandfather taught me to chew my food 40 or more times lol! I’m a very slow eater and always the last at the dinner table. I’ve found with yoga and self abdominal massage a great way to calm my simpathetic nervous system, relaxing my abdominal muscles improving my digestion and wellbeing in general.

  5. Ella says:

    I have noticed in myself and talked to friends about trouble with digestion in times of ongoing stress.
    Down regulating out of the fight of flight response will be my strategy next time the stress kicks in.
    Thanks Jessie.

  6. Jasmine Ellemo says:

    Easy well thought out information on the digestive organs. I will share this with my students so we can all become more aware of our insides!

  7. Kim says:

    What a wonderous organism we are! This has been a most fascinating and educational ride through our digestive tract! There’s a whole sequence of pre-dinner ball rolling in these articles that I’m going to start doing!

  8. KAREN says:

    thank you! I sometimes over-activate my abdominals and I can see if in my breathing after this article.

  9. Mary says:

    Thank you, Jessie, for another fascinating article – I love to learn about the inner workings of our digestive system and how our actions can help or hinder digestion. I am working on finding the balance between keeping my core engaged for good posture while also keeping my abdominal muscles slack enough to enable good digestion. After reading your articles, I am more aware of the effects my “vanity” clothing (hello, high-waisted jeans, I’m talking to you) might have on this process and making a conscious decision about whether is it “worth it” to wear them regularly.

    I am also becoming more conscious of how sneaky stress can be in our society, and how most of us are in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. I work with my breath to soothe this system and can see the results in my digestion and elimination.

  10. Pascale hazledine says:

    I never realized how filling your stomach too much impacts the diaphragm.the Japanese tradition of sitting in the floor in hero pose while eating is a great way to keep space for your breath.this does not mean that you can fill your stomach more.i also did not consider that the obliques and transverse abdominal muscles are involved in digestion.great article.restrictive clothing has always bothered my stomach now I know why.

  11. Alex Salomons says:

    I have recently over the past 4 or 5 months been introduced to the coregeous ball and taken the “science of rolling” and “sequencing and innovation”. I was never aware that we hold so much stress and tension through our abdomens, along with this area being the epicenter of our body and minds emotional load and stress. I still continue to be blown away with the effects I get from abdominal work. It has given me such a great outlet to access my physical and emotional stress and trauma.

  12. Janelle Schiavi says:

    Thank you for this article! It is so fascinating how quicken my stomach can go from completely relaxed to very tense with stress. I’ve always had a sensitive stomach so reading about the intricacies of how it works has really opened my eyes to how the system works. I never thought about restrictive clothing having such an impact of the organs. Never thought about it honestly. Thank for sharing this.

  13. Torie says:

    I find it fascinating how much the body and mind are linked, and how constant stress can reinforce abdominal muscle contraction, thus disrupting a smooth digestive process. The Courgeous ball has also been an amazing tool for helping with unclodigestive blockages

  14. Janice McFarland says:

    Your deeper dive into our digestive system was very clear and informative. Thank you. I now have a much clearer understanding of the role that our abdominal and digestive areas play in the health of our body as a whole. Stress, tight-fitting clothing, improper posture, fight or flight response – lots to think about.

  15. Mari says:

    I find it interesting how the state of flight or fight with tension throughout the body includes abdominal muscles and how stress is one of the original origin of chronic stress. Also how some tight clothing choices can constrict abdominal activity, restrict relaxation and narrows tubes of digestive system. Something important for all of us to be aware of. Looking forward to your next post. Thank you

  16. Kelly says:

    A great reminder of how the dominant culture creates norms and people follow to fit a certain mould (appearance) – SPANX and other restrictive clothing! Thanks for the specifics in describing how everything is connected.

  17. bee pallomina says:

    I had never thought of the role of the abdominals muscles as being involved in digestion totally makes sense. I find it really interesting what you say about compressive clothing. I wonder if there is a degrees of compression which are ok. For example most of the clothes women wear to practice yoga are somewhat compressive. Is this having an effect on our practice?

  18. Regina says:

    This is food for thought information. Thank you now I am looking forward to the next post. I love how these blogs make me stop and think.

  19. AJ Olszewski says:

    I agree with Kamilla, had zero idea the obliques tied in with digestion!

  20. Mairin McCracken says:

    So interesting that wearing tight-fitting clothing such as spanks can actually put stress on our internal organs and negatively impact our digestion process!

  21. I didn’t know external obliques play a role in digestive function. Thank you foe ducating me!

  22. Andi says:

    Yoga makes you focus on your body and allow you to release the tension from daily stress. Gastrointestinal problems can cause pain and poor health throughout the whole body but having self awareness can be the key to knowing the cause and effectively reducing the problems.

  23. Bree says:

    Thanks so much for this! I just finished day 1 of the level 1 YTU today. Having had an abdominal surgery when I was about 10, I can feel not only the tissues on that side changing in response to the scar tissue from all these years, but I also feel it’s starting to affect my digestion-everything just sort of getting stuck on the left side, the side my surgery was on. I’m stoked to keep investigating this throughout the rest of the training!

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