We explore why listening in to and cultivating compassion for your microbiome can affect your whole health, including your immunity and mood…
Written by Charlotte Watts and Leonie Taylor, co-authors of Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health.
When we explore a meditative yoga or somatic practice, we bring attention to the subtle body, our interior landscape, as a means of then expanding clearer compassionate connection to our environment. In scientific terms, this plays out in the relationship between our microbiome and our whole body-mind integration, and out into the world around us.
The importance of the gut environment – the microbiome – on all aspects of our health, including psychological, is being increasingly researched. We are home to trillions of bacteria and, in a healthy digestive tract, 80% friendly, 20% pathogenic. The beneficial or probiotic bacteria help keep harmful bacteria as well as colonisers like yeast in check. Low probiotic bacteria levels are associated with depression and fatigue states, whereas a healthy gut flora can modulate the hypersensitivity that may come from chronic exposure to stress. Our microbiome is now believed to be a large part of the signalling mechanisms up through the gut-brain axis, where its communication plays a vital role in healthy brain function.
Whilst my first book Love Untethered is for readers who are grieving, my second book Supporting Your Grieving Client is for the wellness practitioners who might work with them.
Initially, when I was asked by Singing Dragon, in my capacity as a holistic grief coach and BANT nutritional therapist, if I would be interested in writing a book on grief for wellness practitioners, I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to write about. However, very quickly that changed when I thought about all the times, as a bereaved person, I had found doctors, counsellors and some wellness practitioners to be pretty clueless about what grief was really like. They often seemed completely out of depth when confronted by someone like me, a traumatised grieving mother.
Pranayama, yogic breathing, means ‘extends life force’. This points to the importance of the breath to our whole health; healthy breathing patterns not only support respiratory health but also affect our immune capacity. This in turn affects our digestive and whole body health.
January is a common time for resolution-based diets and lifestyle shifts that may purport to ‘boost our immunity’. As we explore in Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health, ‘boosting’ immunity is, however, a problematic phrase, as immune issues are so often down to poor modulation – inappropriate rather than inadequate immune responses – with some parts stuck on over-reaction, especially inflammation. We can see in Fig 1, below, how the immune system’s balance can become dysregulated in either direction, leading to different issues.
‘Inflammaging’, a term coined by Italian researcher Claudio Franceschi in 2000, refers to the low-grade chronic inflammation that often characterises the ageing process. This may partially explain why some older people suffer more from diseases such as COVID-19. Beyond this pandemic, many refer to the creeping symptoms related to inflammation – such as joint pain, loss of mobility or issues related to immune and respiratory health – as an inevitable sign of ageing1.
On average one out of six European couples experience sub/infertility. Looking at the reasons for unfulfilled parenthood, approximately 50 percent are due to female pathology and 50 percent are due to male issues. However, society as well as medicine (both Western and Eastern approaches) tends to focus on treating the female side of childless couples. Since the percentage of male factor infertility is the same as that for female infertility, treatment of the male partner is underrepresented. The overall sperm quality has dropped by 50% within the last 40 years but additionally, the COVID pandemic has aggravated the problem. On top of this, the male factor plays an important role in early pregnancy loss and should be treated to prevent miscarriage.
Following the success of her previous book Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health comes Charlotte Watts’ timely exploration of our immune and respiratory systems, and how yoga and somatics play an integral part in maintaining whole-system health. We take a look inside the book, available to pre-order now…
When the UK went into its first COVID lockdown in 2020, people were abruptly separated and restricted from social contact. It wasn’t simply the virus itself that had devastating consequences for global health but the ensuing fear and reactivity, the effects of which are still rippling through our nervous systems. It was at this flashpoint of collective and individual trauma, stress and societal breakdown that Charlotte felt compelled to write Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health, knowing how vital the free flow of movement and social engagement are to mental and physical wellbeing. She was struck by the irony of how the focus of so much anxious attention at this time – immune and respiratory health – are most affected by stress and trauma.
Drawing on decades of experience as a nutritional therapist and therapeutically based yoga teacher, Charlotte has artfully brought together an impressive body of scientific research from diverse fields – from neuroscience, epigenetics, psycho-neuro-immunology, polyvagal theory and more.
Meet Sun, an intuitive and curious child whose grandparents are Traditional Chinese Medicine teachers and practitioners. Sun has been studying with their grandparents, Grandparents Terra, over the last two summers when they stayed with the grandparents Terra in the country. The grandparents Terra have now moved back to the city and below is a conversation Sun had with some students at the Chinese Medicine School where the grandparents teach. Sun is giving an example of the information they have learned from their wise tutors. The information in this conversation can be gathered from the two books Sun’s Season of Channels and Sun’s Dance of the Channels (available for pre-order) both of which are published by Singing Dragon.
Water yoga, at its essence, is doing the yoga you already know, in the water.
When you think about it a little harder, you realize there’s more to it than that. You can’t sit or go upside down without getting wet. Your yoga mat and most of the other gear you’re used to using isn’t going to work. And maybe you don’t know how to swim, so you have concerns about being in the water. My book, Water Yoga: A Teacher’s Guide to Improving Movement, Health and Wellbeing, breaks down these misconceptions and gets you practicing and teaching water yoga like a pro.
On land, a yoga practice is made up of eight limbs of yoga. In the water, I call the limbs of yoga waves. The concept of the different aspects of yoga being waves fits into the aquatic environment better. It also reinforces the idea that you don’t have to do the parts of yoga in sequential order. Water yoga is very accessible for beginners, and emphasizing the aspects relevant for each person, instead of a rigid hierarchy, is student-friendly.
The first wave of water yoga, the Yamas. Ahimsa is the first Yama and is traditionally translated as non-harming. I translate it as being kind. Being kind to yourself is even easier in the water because of the water’s buoyancy. Buoyancy offloads your weight and relieves sore joints making a water yoga practice easier for many people than a land-based practice.
The Niyamas are philosophical practices we want to do more of. For example, Tapas is about right-effort. All your yoga practices should be done at the right level for you. In the water, if you want to work harder in a posture, you can use the water’s viscosity (water’s thicker than air and harder to move through) and make your movements big and fast. If that vigorous movement hurts, the pain stops immediately when you stop because the water’s viscosity slows you down immediately. On land, managing your momentum and gravity require continued muscular effort, so you continue to ache as you return the heavy weight to the floor. It’s easier to customize your yoga experience in the water.
The wave of water yoga that most people are used to splashing around with is the poses. One of the most common questions, is how do you do Down Dog pose or other inversions without drowning people? Easy, we modify water yoga poses to make the best use of the aquatic environment. The focus is on using the same physical and energetic properties as the poses on land, and less on making them have the exact same shape.
Pranayama, or breath practices, are even more powerful in the water. Hydrostatic pressure is the force that the increased density of the water applies to a submerged body. It also makes your inspiratory muscles work harder, increasing your breath capacity with water yoga.
The hydrostatic pressure also contributes to a Pratyahara practice. The universally applied increase in pressure calms your nervous system, similar to how a weighted blanket is used for neurodivergent kids. Pratyahara is withdrawing your senses to prepare you for meditation. It’s the natural response to getting in the water. When you say, ‘Ah’ and close your eyes because you’re feeling relaxed in the water, that’s exactly what the fifth wave of water yoga is.
Concentrating on a single point, a Drishti, is a Dharana practice. With all the visual movement of the water’s surface, and the hustle and bustle at a pool, there’s a lot to distract you. Dharana is learning to sharpen your focus so all those other things clamoring for your attention don’t affect you. For example, when you’re in a balance posture and focus on a single point far outside the pool, the distractions right next to you won’t impact you as much.
Floating meditation is a Dhyana practice. You’ve withdrawn your focus from what’s happening around you and are focused on just what’s going on inside your head. Just like it’s easier to be reflective and spend time with yourself at the beach, the pool is a natural environment to get to know yourself better and focus on what really matters.
Just like with land yoga, Samadhi or bliss, is your intent with your practice. It’s integrating all eight waves of water yoga as best you can to be comfortable and secure with the most essential aspects of yourself. However, just like with land yoga, in water yoga, you have no guarantee you’ll get there as an outcome. That’s why it’s more important to pay attention to your time in the pool and appreciate the process more than worry about the results.
As a concept, you can’t beat water Yoga. It allows you to enjoy the comfort of the water. Outdoor pools allow you to get outside and enjoy the sun, all while getting the benefits of yoga. Water Yoga: A Teacher’s Guide to Improving Movement, Health and Wellbeing teaches you how to practice all waves of water yoga for yourself as a first step. Then moves beyond that with the tips to guide others through the practice. Once you know how to apply these concepts for yourself, the book helps you with the communication strategies and teaching tips to help your students succeed.
I live with multiple forms of arthritis. Yoga provides me with excellent self-management tools to stay healthy. Water yoga is even better for people who live with arthritis because of the properties of water. My success in managing my arthritis inspired me to become a water yoga teacher and share the practice with you through the book. Use the book for yourself, share it with family and friends, and learn to teach water yoga, because the bottom line is yoga is awesome, but it’s even better when wet.
Christa Fairbrother, MA, ERYT 200/500, is an internationally recognized water yoga coach and trainer. In addition to being a yoga professional, she is certified both as an Aquatic Therapist through the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute and as an Aquatic Fitness Professional through the Aquatic Exercise Association. She combines her background in education, yoga, and aquatics to provide high-quality training for other pros so more people worldwide can get the benefits of water yoga. She lives in Florida with her husband and two sons. When she’s not in the pool, there’s nothing she loves better than a good book and a huge cup of tea.