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Breathing Your Way to a Healthier Gut with Alison Canavan

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Looking to transform your life and take control of your health and wellbeing? Look no further than Alison Canavan, the renowned transformational coach named one of the top 8 in the US by USA Today. With a focus on managing stress, burnout, and overwhelm, Alison is a trained Mindfulness Facilitator, NLP Practitioner, and expert in nutrition. Her 360 approach to wellbeing includes a focus on mental health and mindfulness, helping individuals transform their daily struggles and become more aware of what drives their habits. 

In this interview, we dive into the impact of the nervous system on gut health, and Alison shares her insights and expertise with practical guidance on how to optimize your overall health and well-being.

Q: You previously had a very successful career in the international modeling industry. What made you pivot into the area of life coaching and meditation, and how has your life and well-being changed since embarking on this new journey?

Having witnessed the very unhealthy and destructive relationship a lot of people in my industry had with their health I started to become very interested in personal development and happiness. I was also deeply unhappy and frustrated with life myself. I was partying, very self-critical and had anxiety and depression. I felt very lost and lonely and knew that real change had to come about. I began studying nutrition in about 2008 and have been a meditator since my twenties. I was going on silent retreats but never joining the dots with my daily life and my habits and mindset. 

My shifts were gradual through the years and I know that my daily meditation practice was what really moved the needle. One of my major shifts came after my son was born in 2010. I suffered from postpartum depression and I had an amazing lady help me. She encouraged me to write a gratitude list daily and it changed my life. 12 years later I still write a gratitude list every day. It transformed my mindset, mental, physical and spiritual health. Now my lifestyle is all about peace and happiness created from within each day. Through meditation, breathwork, movement, great food, community and spending time in nature to heal, learn and grow.

Q: How would you describe your work and what happens when a client starts working with you as a coach?

I work intuitively with each client. I teach the art and science of transformation and take them on a 90 day journey of deep inner change which helps them to live the life they deserve. I teach people how to shift their mindset, habits and become the best version of themselves. 

Q: You have an incredibly helpful and engaging Instagram channel that provides excellent information for anyone interested in getting to the root cause of issues ranging from gut health to anxiety/low mood and just general everyday stress. And of course, the importance of addressing the connection that exists between all of these problems! What would you say is the main issue that people contact you about daily online?

Thank you so much. I appreciate that. Most people I work with feel stuck in their lives, looping in the same patterns. I also have people who come to me who are simply sick and tired or feeling sick and tired. I help people gain clarity around their goals and dreams and take inspired action so that they can feel better in every area of their lives. We work on their health and well-being, nervous system, career path and abundance in all areas. I work with a lot of people who are chronically stressed and overwhelmed to help bring some sense of stability back into their day.

Q: You’ve spoken about how breathwork is the next big thing in terms of managing nervous system dysregulation and its impact on gut health. How would you explain breathwork to someone who doesn’t know anything about it? 

The sanskrit word for breath is spirit. Your breath is a spirit moving through you, your life force energy. Sure we all breathe but breathing consciously is something few of us do.

The most important part of breathwork for me and my clients has been in training the central nervous system into regulation. As most people are stressed daily and have some form of trauma, our central nervous system has been trained to be constantly on and on high alert. This is very damaging to our health over time and so it’s necessary when we begin our health journey to look at the health of our nervous system. If we don’t we could eat the best food, meditate, exercise and stress and dysregulation is life bringing in a bulldozer and wiping all your hard work out. Managing stress will help you to manage all other areas of your life.

Q: People are much more aware of the gut-brain connection now, how does breathwork impact both of these in terms of mood and gut disorders? Could you share a little more about this connection and what can be done to reset the nervous system?

Everything is interconnected. If you are stressed one of the first things that happens is that the digestive system shuts down. This means we don’t get the signaling to break down food correctly and digest and absorb the nutrients. Breathwork reduces stress which in turn helps to heal digestion, reduce stress and from there you can begin to build your life on a strong foundation. If the foundation is shaky, health is hard to attain and sustain.

Q: Wim Hof brought breathwork to the forefront a few years ago. What are your thoughts on his method? Do you think less extreme methods of regulating your nervous system can be as effective (for those who just can’t tolerate the ice baths!)

I love it. Wim Hof was my first teacher and I still do his videos. There are two types of breath work up-regulation and down-regulation. Wim Hof would be considered up=regulation, it stresses the system which causes blood supply to limit to the prefrontal cortex in the brain which is called transient hypofrontality, this temporarily shuts off the inner critic (home of the monkey mind). Longer deeper journeys can help to release trauma from our cellular memory, increase immunity, help with addictions, stress, anxiety and so much more. 

Down-regulation helps to train your system out of fight, flight or freeze (sympathetic) and into rest and digest (parasympathetic mode). The general rule here is twice the length of exhalation to inhalation so 2 in 4 out, 3 in 6 out, 4 in 8 out and so on. This helps to bring peace and calm.

Q: Whilst researching this topic I’ve come across a lot of studies showing proven positive outcomes in treating GERD and IBS patients with breath work. On average, how many of your breath work clients tend to have gut health issues starting out?

If people are stressed and overwhelmed they tend to have gut issues. I don’t go for the gut and isolate it I treat the whole person. We work on mindset, habits, daily practices and belief systems as they all affect our actions and our perception of the world. Remember dis-ease is not being at ease with yourself in body, mind, spirit or all three. 

Q: Getting started with this kind of thing is often the hardest part. If someone reading this wants to just “do something” to build the habit of breathwork, is there a daily routine you could suggest that they could do for less than 30 minutes a day?

Yes, win the morning to win the day. You can start with downloading my 5 minute journal on my website and doing a heart opening practice in the morning. The key is to start small and build from there. Small steps create sustainable change. Then in the evening you can do my 5 minute journal and my heart practice for the evening. Remember that your next day begins the night before so your energy and intention going to bed is important too

Q: I came across a post where you mentioned your move to a slower pace of lifestyle and the drastic improvement it’s had on your mental and physical well-being. In addition to breathwork, what else do you do to help manage stress and regulate your nervous system? 

We live in a fast paced world, never present and always busy and stressed. Because of this we tend to miss our life so slowing down actually helps us to speed up and get more done. When we take a step back and ground our energy we become more focused, more creative, more present and in flow. That’s why there’s a great saying, if you don’t have time to meditate for 10 minutes you should meditate for an hour. My old meditation teacher had me meditate for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening for 3 weeks. The results were incredible. He was showing me how stressed I really was and the power of slowing down. Those 3 weeks changed my life. I got more done, and felt more at ease. I didn’t feel like time was my enemy anymore and I slept like a baby.

Q: Do you use any natural health supplements to support your gut health? 

I used to years ago but now I have a healthy diet and less stress. If I find I am stressed I will take some magnesium or some B vitamins but in general now I try to get all my nutrients from food. 

Q: Before we wrap things up, you now have an online course available online right now called “The Aly Code” that addresses how to reset your nervous system. Could you tell us a bit more about that, what it involves, and how our readers can get on board?

I have just launched a women’s only online membership called The ALY Code – Activate Loving Yourself through mindset, meditation and breathwork. Inside the membership you get live meditation classes, breathwork, live coaching sessions, a women’s circle, courses to improve mindset, guest teachers and so much more. There are 2 apps, one for your courses and a community app like a Facebook feed where you can connect with other members and get support and encouragement on your journey. There are monthly challenges to keep you inspired and motivated too. 

Community is key for healing, learning and personal growth and I work with a lot of women so this was the obvious next step for me. Also if you join for the year you get a free 1:1 coaching session with me and 2 month’s membership for free.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we go?

Remember that you are 100% up to you and it’s never too late to get healthy, improve your mindset or get yourself out of a rut. You can always heal., turn your life around and become the best version of yourself. When I was in active addiction and on a lot of meds people constantly told me that it was not possible to be medication free and sober yet here I am today stronger, fitter and healthier than ever. Oh yeah and meditation free and sober!! You can change your life but you must be willing to do the work! 

If you’re looking for daily doses of inspiration and practical tips on how to reset and unwind, connecting with Alison on Instagram is a must. Her account is a treasure trove of valuable information, and you’re sure to find something that resonates with you. We hope you found this interview insightful, and we’d like to thank Alison for taking the time to share her knowledge with us!

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