Is your stomach tied up in knots more often than not?
Whether the cause is anxiety, digestive difficulties or any other reason, tension in the stomach is a problem many of us face regularly. Stress is typically the underlying culprit behind stomach tightness and tension. Modern fast-paced life and busy work schedules keep us feeling rushed and often go hand in hand with depression and anxiety.
Thankfully, there are many ways to achieve balance in the body and tranquility in the abdominal region.
Here are five natural methods to relax and soothe an unhappy belly:
1. Change your eating habits
Not only what but how we eat is essential to our health.
Intermittent fasting is a diet fad these days. It simply means fasting for 12 to 24 hours on a regular basis. To start, choose one day a week-ideally a day on which you can rest and lay low at home – to not eat. Simply drink water and natural juices or herbal teas that day. Refraining from consuming any solid food gives your belly a chance to rest and rejuvenate.
In general, eating smaller portions more frequently, as opposed to three large meals a day, enables the stomach and other digestive organs to work more effectively and efficiently.
2. Drink herbal teas
Slow down your day and take a moment of meditation over a hot mug of herbal tea. There are seven marvelous, readily-available herbs known to help relax the body and soothe a sore belly.
- Peppermint contains menthol in its leaves, which is a natural pain reliever. A study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology showed that peppermint oil can help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Another study published in the American Family Physician journal found that peppermint oil can help alleviate symptoms of indigestion and dyspepsia.
- Ginger acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for digestive issues. A study published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences found that ginger can help reduce nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that ginger can help relieve symptoms of motion sickness.
- Although acidic when consumed, lemon turns alkaline once it is absorbed by the body, which makes it soothing for the stomach and intestines. Lemons are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the stomach and intestines.
- Chamomile tea can help reduce muscle spasms, reduce inflammation and relax the muscles of the stomach and uterus, which in turn calms cramping. Chamomile is best known for its calming properties and has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for digestive issues. A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that chamomile can help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and relieve symptoms of IBS.
- Fennel tea is often used to aid digestion and can help relieve bloating and gas. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate stomach pain. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that fennel can help relieve symptoms of IBS, including bloating, gas, and abdominal pain.
- Licorice root tea, which has a naturally sweet taste and is known to help soothe the digestive system. It can help to reduce inflammation and is often used to treat conditions like acid reflux and gastritis.
- Slippery elm bark tea may be beneficial for those with more serious digestive issues. This herb is known to form a protective coating over the stomach lining, which can help to reduce irritation and inflammation. It has also been shown to have a mild laxative effect, which can help to alleviate constipation and other digestive issues.
- Peppermint for pain relief: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103722/
- Ginger for anti-inflammatory effects: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
- Lemon for soothing the stomach and intestines: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/
- Chamomile for reducing muscle spasms and inflammation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401676/
- Fennel for aiding digestion and relieving bloating and gas: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137549/
- Licorice root for soothing the digestive system and reducing inflammation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5390932/
- Slippery elm bark for protecting the stomach lining and relieving constipation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6143715/
3. Deep belly breathing
Most of the time, people take shallow breaths, just into the chest and topmost portion of their lungs. Deep, diaphragmatic or belly breathing has tons of benefits, including releasing stress-reducing hormones such as serotonin in the brain, as well as relaxing the stomach and lower abdomen.
With sustained practice, the habit of deeper breathing will become second nature, and you’ll start doing it more and more throughout the day. To get the hang of it, try lying down on your back, placing one hand in the belly and one at the heart center in the center of your chest. Let the belly relax as you inhale long and deep, filling the lungs, expanding the rib cage. Feel the chest rise and belly balloon out on the inhale. Feel the chest fall and the belly naturally contract on the exhale.
Begin by practicing for just three or four minutes, two or three times throughout the day and you’ll notice a world of difference!
4. Gentle yoga stretches
Yoga is a wonderful way to relax the stomach and entire body. In tandem with the deep breathing described above, move your body slowly and mindfully. The following poses are great for releasing tension from the stomach area.
From the hands and knees, round the back, tucking the tailbone and gazing downward as you exhale into cat pose. On the inhale, starting from the base of the spine, lift the tailbone, lower the abdomen and lift the gaze upward into cow pose. Move back and forth slowly with each breath.
From the all-fours position, separate the knees and sink the hips back toward or onto the feet. Rest your head, arms, shoulder and torso as much as possible, sinking your heart into the ground and placing your forehead on the ground.
Lying down on the back, pull your right knee in toward the chest. With an exhale, cross it over to the left side of your body, twisting the spine. If desired, turn the neck in the opposite direction as well, looking away from the right knee. Spend several breaths here, then gently release and switch to the opposite side.
5. Abdominal massage
Last but not least, massaging the abdominal region alleviates tightness and tension., Gently stroke your belly in a clockwise motion, visualizing yourself feeling healthy, strong and vibrant. Use essential oils for aromatherapy and to rub into the skin — ginger, chamomile, mint and citrus fruits like lemon, grapefruit and orange are all excellent for relaxing the muscles of the stomach.
Treat yourself to a full body and/or abdominal massage from a trained professional. Seek out a practitioner who has learned abdominal massage techniques from the Mayan, Thai or Egyptian traditions.
More things to try
- Develop a daily meditation practice. As was touched upon in the introduction of this article, stress is often a big culprit to when it comes to an uneasy and tense stomach. Meditation in the long term can treat the “root” issue of stress which is why we recommend it highly!
- Listen to guided meditations or meditative music that induce relaxation. There are plenty of great choices on YouTube.
- Try some visualization techniques that specifically focus on the stomach. For example you can imagine a healing orb of light spreading from the center of your tummy to the rest of your body. Don’t underestimate the power of placebo, imagination and belief.
- Do not limit yourself to abdominal massage only, try doing self-massage for the whole body. A full-body self-massage will relieve and ease tension, knots and stress present in parts of the body that you weren’t aware of. This in turn lowers the overall stress levels in your body and mind.
Reducing stress in our day-to-day lives is easier said than done but with intention and persistence, it can be done. Give some much needed self-care and love to your belly by incorporating more mindful eating habits, herbal teas, deep breathing, yoga and/or massage into your routine.
Daniel Seeker is a lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realization. Daniel has meditated & done yogic exercises daily for more than 10 years and is studying history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet. He is currently finishing writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist, Yogic and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.