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Relieve Abdominal Tension with the Forrest Roll

For centuries, philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have questioned the human decision-making process with rhetoric to support an argument for either the head or the heart. The greatest love stories in literature capture this dilemma; consider the film Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann. 

You must have faced a similar dilemma when assessing your relationships, work, and health. Do you follow your gut instinct, or do you weigh your options and go with the most logical approach? 

When you are healthy (your gut health is strong) and aware of how you feel (you process your emotions), you make decisions based on embodied cognition—meaning, you decide based on a blend of rational thought, intuition, and emotional association. 

Angst, discomfort, excitement; there’s a reason people say they get butterflies in their stomach when nervous. The neurons in the belly-brain are firing and sending messages via the vagus nerve to the brain. To relieve physical and emotional tension, you need to treat the body as you would the mind with mindful practices.

From Forrest Yoga, the Forrest Roll releases tension at the lower abdomen. This process works to lessen the physical and emotional strain on the body for you to feel more relaxed and connected to your belly-brain where intuition resides.

How the Forrest Roll Works 

The Forrest Roll creates constriction at the lower abdomen to restrict the flow of blood, massage the internal organs, and release the fascia that wraps around the muscles located at the belly.
This practice creates more space around the gut to breathe deeper and provides access to the hip flexors. 

A symptom of our society today is very tight hip flexors from sitting at a desk or in a car. Tight hip flexors cause pain in the low back and compression at the lower spine. To relieve low back pain, releasing the hip flexors is one way to create space around the tailbone. The Forrest Roll may also assist in relieving knots in the belly from fear, anxiety, and other emotional stressors. 

The benefit of such mindful movement practices is that you become more aware of how your body processes and receives information through the brain, heart, and belly to develop embodied cognition and act with greater clarity and integrity. 

The Three Brains: Mind, Heart, Belly

Neurological research supports how there are three brains for humans to exercise in the decision-making processes. The mind for analytical function, the heart for emotional processing, and the belly for intuition. This data supports and illustrates that combining the three brains is the best way to assess situations, avoid danger, and process information. 

Two systems in the body process and receive information. Instead of using polarizing language to create conflict and separation, these unique systems may be seen as complementary when deciding how and when to act. The mind-brain is slower to process information, rational, and deliberate, whereas the heart-brain and belly-brain are faster to process, intuitive-based and rely on emotional associations. 

Your belly-brain is where you connect to your emotional body. How you feel is intrinsically connected to what’s going on in your abdomen, thanks to the network of neurons that line the stomach. Extensive research has been done on the relationship between the brain and the stomach to illustrate the interconnectedness between mental clarity and digestive health. Whether a piece of food or an intangible idea, what you put into your body affects how you feel, think, perceive, and interact with others. 

According to scientific analysis, there’s a vast network of neurons that line the stomach that provides immense amounts of information to the rest of the body regarding how you feel and how disease is processed. Hundreds of millions of neurons in the stomach help you feel your inner world and connect to sensations in your body as you process the world within and around you. The stomach has more neurons than the spinal column and the peripheral nervous system, second only to the brain. 

The physical digestion of food helps you process nutrients to provide energy to the body and its systems. The abdomen is also the place where you digest and process your experiences. The mind-brain is where you attain consciousness and make decisions in your day-to-day. The belly-brain is where you connect to your emotions and the physical sensations that give context to your day-to-day experiences. 

Release Abdominal Tension with the Forrest Roll

If you have digestive issues (IBS), are pregnant or are on your moon, please be very careful as you come onto the roll or take the lesser variation with fists in a child’s pose. 

Watch the short tutorial on how to set up your roll on YouTube.

Contradictions

If the Forrest Roll is too intense:

Make two fists and tuck your fists into the lower abdomen and then take a child’s pose. The fists create stimulating knots on the lower abdomen; it’s less pressure than the roll. 

How to make the Forrest Roll:

  1. Create a little snail roll by rolling up your mat. 
  2. Fold the edges of the mat inwards. 
  3. Roll the mat up from one end until you have a small roll.
  4. Place the roll at the center of the navel and recline on your belly.
  5. Stay up on your forearms and extend your legs behind you.
  6. Hold and breathe into your abdomen for several minutes.
  7. Come off of your roll and lay your mat down on the ground. Take Balasana (child’s pose) or recline on your belly and breathe into your lower belly. 

Considerations

  • You may feel a pulsation around the lower abdomen and the navel; this is normal. 
  • You may feel a stretch around the groins and lower spine as the psoas release. 
  • You might use a rolled-up towel or blanket in place of a yoga mat. 
  • The more you bend your knees and prop yourself up onto your forearms, the less intense this will feel in your abdomen. 
  • Start slow and ease your way into the pose.
  • Try to hold this shape for 3-5 minutes. 

Benefits of the Forrest Roll:

  • The roll softens the muscles around the lower abdomen to give the organs an internal massage. 
  • Relaxing the abdomen around the roll provides more access to the psoas muscles, aka the hip flexors. A soft abdomen provides the psoas with a deeper release. The psoas becomes tight and stained from sitting and sit behind our guts, so when we soften the belly, we have more access to the psoas muscles in front of the spine. 
  • As the psoas release, you may feel a rush of energy down the legs (tingling or heat). 
  • The roll releases the psoas muscles at the front of the pelvis, which aids in decreasing low back pain—a good pose to perform before or after a backbend class. 

The Forrest Roll is a way to activate the digestive system through compression to the abdomen. Constricting the blood flow to the organs creates tension, so oxygen-rich blood flows through the body when you come off of the roll. When you restrict the blood flow, the release will create more space in the body and a surge in fresh blood to the restricted area— in this case; it’s the abdomen. This practice may encourage better digestion and healthier organs. 

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Classes to take with the Forrest Roll:

Where the mind-brain is rational and clear-cut, the belly-brain is abstract and non-linear. You may not know why you feel what you feel. Issues that arise in the gut may cause mental turmoil or physical angst from something ingested or an unprocessed emotion or unconscious idea. There’s evidence that supports how gut health can positively affect mood and anxiety via the vagus nerve. 

A vinyasa class featuring arm balancing as you move towards mayurasana, peacock pose. Twists, back strengthening, hip opening, wrist stretches, and neck release are featured in this class. 

Kapalabhati breath stimulates the digestive fires and creates heat in the body. This class works with the idea of inner alchemy as you’ll be invited to consider the challenges you’re experiencing on an individual or a collective level. What lessons keep showing up? 

A watery class inspired by Ana Forrest Yoga, you’ll move toward Dhanurasana (bow pose) as the peak pose. This class uses a bolster to support core strengthening and resistance; this action brings awareness to the abdominal muscles by pressing into the bolster.

Back and gluteal strengthening is balanced with side body and quadricep lengthening. Move through a fluid and dynamic flow to create heat and space across the chest’s front and back. 

The Role of the Vagus Nerve in Your Body’s Health

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, carries information back and forth between the mind-brain and the belly-brain. The vagus nerve originates at the base of the head, where it connects to the brain and traverses down through the stomach. The vagus nerve connects to and transports information to the body’s major organs, including the brain, lungs, liver, stomach, kidneys, spleen, colon, and small intestine. 

The vagus nerve performs regulation of heart rate, respiration, and digestion. The vagus nerve balances the nervous system and triggers a response of the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest mode. In rest and digest, you feel calmer and connected to creativity. Deep, slow breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, as does yoga and meditation, and is a feature of the vagus nerve. 

Here’s how anatomy teacher, Erin Moon, shares the importance of the vagus nerve in managing stress:

“Anytime we deregulate, we work with polyvagal theory. Stephen Porges is the author of the Polyvagal Theory, whose research revolutionized our understanding of the polyvagal nerve. The polyvagal nerve is the tenth cranial nerve that starts at the brain and speaks to all body parts. 

The polyvagal theory essentially puts a brake on the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight mode, where we feel distressed or anxious. It can be a momentary stress event or ongoing stress event that tells your body to go into a fight or flight. You can strengthen your vagal brake the same way you strengthen a muscle. Working with polyvagal break asks the vagus nerve to do its fundamental job; to put on the brake and stop fight or flight to shift the body into the parasympathetic nervous system, aka rest and digest.

One of the greatest interventions that we have as yoga instructors is breathing techniques/pranayamas. Breathwork can be both excitatory and calming, like Kapalabhati breath or Nadi Shodhana. During pranayama, you’re going through a whole stress cycle; you’re asking the vagus nerve to take the brake off to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, and then you’re asking it to put the brake back on to shift into the parasympathetic nervous system. With every breath, we’re practicing taking the brake on and off. Every time you take a breath in, it’s excitatory. Every time you take a breath out, it’s down-regulating.”  listen to the interview on the Practice with Clara podcast.

Why You Care About Digestive Health

Your emotions live in your abdomen; the belly-brain is where you identify unprocessed emotions and connect to your feelings. Fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger; all live in your gut. The roll may help relieve emotional tension and help you connect to how you feel by bringing awareness to the lower abdomen. 

When it comes to supporting the immune system and the overall health of the mind and body, stimulating the digestive system, known as Agni in Sanskrit, helps keep the body strong, safe, and healthy. The roll is one of the ways we stimulate good Agni in the physical body to reduce toxins and remove waste materials. 

Toxins are presented in many forms, such as food, intense emotions, or unnecessary violence. Healthy digestion offers an opportunity to prevent toxins from amassing and causing illness and imbalances.  

Ayurvedic Counsellor Maria Garre advised on how to purge the toxins that accumulate in the body: 

“There’s mental ama and physical ama. If we take care of our Agni and take care of our gut health and digestion, we don’t have to worry about ama. We focus on the positive, on creating strong Agni.” 

For more information on the energy and emotions surrounding the abdomen and gut health, please listen to the interview with Maria Garre on the Practice with Clara Podcast, or read the blog post.  

10 Tips for Creating Strong Agni:

  1. Do heat-building pranayamas, such as Kapalabhati breath.
  2. Do core strengthening exercises. 
  3. Release facial tension with the Forrest Roll. [ link ] 
  4. Eat foods that align with the seasons. 
  5. Drink herbal teas and lots of water. 
  6. Practice meditation and other techniques that soothe the nervous system. 
  7. Get enough sleep.
  8. Stick to a routine—cultivate a daily ritual around mindfulness.
  9. Consume less sugar and alcohol.
  10. Learn about Ayurvedic practices to support your immune system during fall.

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