Breathing and Meditation: Essential Self-Care Strategies for Gut Healing


Stress is inevitable. We live in a world of constant pressure, demands, and busyness. Stress can be associated with excitement and anticipation, as well as overwhelm and frustration. Therefore, it’s important to understand how stress–both good and bad–can impact your body, your gut, and your overall wellness.  High levels of stress have a greater impact on your body than you think.  

How does stress impact gut health?

Stress affects the whole body and can have a significant impact on the gut!  The gut and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve, which communicates back and forth between these two organs. You may notice this connection when your brain feels stressed or anxious and you experience the feeling of “butterflies” or untimely diarrhea. Conversely, if the gut is stressed and unhealthy, it may increase symptoms of anxiety, depression, and brain fog.

Delayed Stomach Emptying

Digestion occurs in a state of relaxation.  When your body is under chronic stress, your gut motility is going to naturally slow down and the energy needed for digestion will be diverted to other areas of your body in order to accommodate the heightened stress response.  What does this mean for your gut?  It means that food is going to move through your digestive tract much slower- contributing to nausea, vomiting, bloating, or lack of appetite.  

Abdominal Pain

Stress can cause increased hypersensitivity in the gut, which means an increase in the feeling of discomfort and pain.

Decrease in Stomach Acid 

An adequate amount of stomach acid is essential to keep out harmful bacteria and pathogens. When the body is chronically stressed, it doesn’t produce enough stomach acid and the gut becomes a breeding ground for unwanted guests (which leads to unwanted symptoms).

Surprisingly, low stomach acid is also a common cause of acid reflux.  Many of us have been led to believe that stomach acid is something we want to suppress, but it actually plays a very important role in digestion!  

Intestinal Permeability AKA “Leaky Gut”

As you digest, food is broken down, and nutrients are absorbed through the semi-permeable lining of the intestines.  Your intestines do their job to keep larger particles and waste products in the intestines and carry them through to excretion.  When you are chronically stressed, higher levels of cortisol damage the gut lining,  making it more permeable.  The loosens the tight junctions within the intestines and waste makes its way into the bloodstream.  Symptoms of “leaky gut” include: digestive symptoms, food sensitivities and intolerances, brain-fog, fatigue, joint pain, acne, and hormone imbalances.  

Dysbiosis (Imbalance of Good vs. Bad Bacteria)

Everything about stress increases the likelihood of dysbiosis.  And when you have an imbalance of good vs. bad bacteria you will likely experience: nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, brain-fog, anxiety, or depression.  

Neglecting Self-care and Stress Management

Stress can’t be eliminated, but it can be managed.  Letting stress build without  appropriate intervention is going to wreak havoc on your body and your mind.  Not only will stress leave you feeling mentally unsettled, but it will also fuel your unwanted digestive symptoms without an end in sight.  

The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Mind-Body Connection

Deep breathing isn’t a willy-nilly band-aid that therapists throw at their clients without much thought. When practiced regularly, deep-diaphragmatic (breathing that comes from deep within the belly, using the full expansion of the lungs, and contraction of the diaphragm) truly has a powerful effect on the mind and the body.  Incorporating a regular practice will help increase focus and attention, lower heart rate and cortisol levels, decrease blood pressure, improve sleep quality, and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.  Here is a simple deep breathing exercise you can try at home.

Exercise: 4-7-8 Breathing

  1. Get comfortable sitting in a chair with both feet firmly grounded or finding space and lying on your back

  2. Place your hands on your belly and begin to take deep, rhythmic breaths- in and out.  Feel the rise and fall of your belly.  

  3. Try placing your hands around your rib cage, take deep, rhythmic breaths- in and out.  Feel your ribs expand and contract.  

  4. 4-7-8 Breathing-  

    • Begin with a deep exhale 

    • Breath in for 4 counts

    • Hold for counts

    • Exhale for 8 counts

    • Repeat     

  5. Add a spiritual truth or positive affirmation and wallah- you’re meditating!


What is Meditation?

According to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, Meditation is: a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.

Meditation helps quiet the outer world- leaving behind distractions and stressors- and it trains the mind to focus on the inner world through quietness, stillness, and breath.  Meditation increases mental tenacity similarly to how physical exercise increases muscle tone; and just as physical strength transcends into normal day life through the ability to lift children, carry groceries, and balance laundry down flights of stairs; the regular practice of meditations builds mental strength and resilience to chronic stress.

How Meditation Improves Gut Health

Meditation has a remarkable impact on digestion and gut health.  As we discussed, digestion occurs in the state of relaxation- therefore, meditation not only helps produce a natural state of relaxation, but as a result it also promotes healthy and adequate digestion.  

Should Christians Meditate?

With meditation originating from India and having Hindu roots, some Christians may feel that meditation goes against their spiritual views or that it doesn’t fit with their religious practices.  On a superficial level this may make sense; however, meditation in simplest terms is the practice of slowing down, discarding distractions, and being present in the moment- the rest is up for personal interpretation.  

In Fact several times throughout scripture the bible mentions meditation-

Joshua 1:8

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Psalm 19:14

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

While these are just two examples- the idea of Biblical meditation is one that encompasses discipline and a steadfast pursuit of holiness, a practice that includes rejecting the ways of the world (and the lies that easily entice), having no other idols before the Lord, and quieting one’s mind to fully open their heart to God’s Word- His truth, His character, and His promises.

Traditionally there are several types of meditation, some of these include:

  • Mindfulness- being aware and curious of your thoughts

  • Progressive Relaxation- systematically bringing attention to your body (head to toe) and breathing into discomfort, pain, or sensations as a way to relax

  • Positive Affirmation- focusing your attention on personal positive attributes and gratitude 

  • Mantra- focusing your mind on a repetitive word or phrase 

Christian Meditation Practices

If you consider yourself a Christian, there are several ways to incorporate your faith into your meditation practice-

  • Be aware of God’s presence in your life as you enhance your mindfulness 

  • Thank God for your health or asking Him to heal your body during progressive relaxation

  • Meditate on God’s attributes as well as giving thanks for who He created you to be as you focus on gratitude, positive affirmations, and truth

  • Choose a Bible verse or simply the name of Jesus and repeat it as you breath and and practice mantra meditation

  • Listen to worship music as you practice deep breathing

  • Try a Christian meditation app such as Abide or Soultime

Key Takeaways

Gut health is important.  The integrity of the gut will impact-

  • Your ability to tolerate food

  • Your ability to have regular and consistent bowel movements

  • Energy and mental clarity

  • The quality of your sleep

  • The complexion of your skin

  • The regulation of your hormones

And as we’ve learned, stress is a catalyst creating a vicious cycle of poor gut health with compounding mental and physical symptoms.

Deep breathing and meditation are tools available to everyone.  They are a great place to start when working on healing your gut and managing chronic stress.  

Adding Christian principles to meditation can enhance the experience for those who are looking for an option that aligns with their faith.


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