Living in a world that encourages mental stress and physical inactivity causes many of us to experience issues like bloating, sluggishness, and even constipation on a regular basis. If this sounds like you, consider giving yoga a try!
Practicing yoga helps the digestive system on a number of different levels. The poses themselves help to massage and stretch out the muscles and organs involved in the digestive process, and deep breathing techniques can provide a gentle massage to the abdominal muscles and organs. Plus, yoga soothes the stress and anxiety that can exacerbate or trigger digestive issues. This is all just another way to say that digestive health requires both physical and mental health and relaxation — and yoga helps both!
Here are the five moves you need to know to get things moving again.
These two poses stimulate digestion by allowing the abdominal organs to repeatedly stretch and contract.
How to do this pose: Starting on your hands and knees, align your body so that your wrists are directly under your shoulders, and your knees are directly under your hips. Spread your fingers and rest the tops of your feet on the floor. As you take a deep inhale, arch your back and look up, so that your belly button moves toward the floor, and your tailbone lifts. When you exhale, slowly round your spine, lift your belly button toward the ceiling, and curl your head down so that you’re looking toward your knees. Repeat seven times, remembering to breathe deeply.
A large percentage of the world’s population actually gets into this “pose,” when they go to the bathroom, so clearly it’s a good one for digestion.
How to do this pose: From a standing position, bring your feet a little wider than hips distance apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards. Bring your hands together in front of the center of your chest, bend your knees, and then slowly lower your hips toward the floor, going as far as you can while keeping a straight spine. Once you’re as far down as you can go, press your elbows into your inner thighs, and take seven deep, slow breaths in this position.
Wind Relieving Pose (Pavanmuktasana)
I think the name says it all! This is a great one for when you’re feeling bloated and gassy — especially after a big meal.
How to do this pose: Lie on your back. Bend your right knee, and then take hold of your upper right shin with both of your hands. Draw your right knee as close to your chest as you can, leaving your left leg extended on the floor. Take seven deep breaths through the nose in this posture, trying to move your knee closer to your chest on every exhalation. Switch sides, and then repeat one more time bringing both of your knees toward your chest.
Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Twists help to massage and stimulate the abdominal muscles and organs. This is a gentle posture that can be done anytime, except immediately after a big meal — wait an hour or two.
How to do this pose: Lie on your back and extend both of your arms away from your chest onto the ground, so there’s a 90-degree angle where your arms meet your torso. Let your palms rest on the floor. Bring both of your knees in toward your chest, and then allow them to drop toward the floor on your right side, again, trying to create a 90-degree angle where your thighs meet your hips. Turn your gaze toward your left palm, and take seven deep breaths through the nose. Don’t forget to switch sides!
Deep Belly Breathing
This breathing technique stretches and tones your abdominal muscles, and also reduces stress and anxiety.
How to do it: Lie on your back, and place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose, feeling your belly, and then your chest, rise with your inhalations. Then exhale slowly, feeling your chest and belly sink back down. As you breathe, remember not to force the movements in your belly and chest, as this creates tension. They will rise and fall naturally — simply observe as they do. Once you become comfortable with the practice, try to match the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations — or even make your exhalations a tad longer if you’re able, again, without forcing it. Repeat at least 10 times, and then practice as long as you like!
Be sure to drink a lot of water after doing these poses to encourage detoxification and elimination. Other things you can do to encourage healthy digestion include incorporating probiotic foods into your diet, and starting the day with a glass of warm or hot water.
Teresa is a freelance writer and yoga instructor currently studying in Sri Lanka. She has over 600 hours of yoga teacher training in Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, and Yoga Therapy. She believes sleep, self-love, and the breath are the keys to health and joy.