Discover how specific yoga poses can enhance digestion and alleviate common issues like indigestion, constipation, and bloating, while also offering therapeutic benefits for chronic conditions like IBS and IBD.
Many people deal with stomach issues at some point or another. When you’re feeling even mildly uncomfortable or even in considerable pain, it’s challenging to carry on with your day, let alone maintain your exercise routine.
That’s where yoga comes in! Did you know there are specific yoga poses for digestion that can relieve some of the most common digestive issues? Even if you don’t regularly deal with tummy troubles, regularly practicing yoga can keep your digestive system working smoothly and efficiently.
You’ll learn that yoga improves digestion and gut health in several ways, and it’s more than just twisting poses that supposedly “detoxify your system”—a soundbite I remember hearing when I first started taking yoga classes nearly two decades ago that was never explained or elaborated upon.
So, let’s investigate this topic together! Find out not just how yoga can help you with digestive issues but also why it works — on a physiological and even neurological level. Plus, I’ll give you some of my tried-and-true yoga postures to keep your belly feeling its best.
Watch our recommended steps for entering, holding, and exiting the pose.
- 1 Relief From Common Digestive Issues
- 2 Physiological Effects of Yoga on Digestion
- 3 Managing Chronic Conditions with Yoga
- 4 Best Yoga Poses for a Healthy Gut
- 5 Embracing Yoga for Enhanced Digestive Health
Relief From Common Digestive Issues
First, let’s start with a few general digestion issues we’ve all likely experienced at some point. If the cause of your stomach pain stems from one of these common problems, roll out your mat and find some relief through yoga.
Alleviating Indigestion Symptoms
Indigestion can be a real pain in the belly — literally! Slow, deep breaths can help stimulate your relaxation response and let your digestive system function more smoothly.
Gentle inversions are also soothing when your stomach is upset. Inversions include any pose where the head is below the heart, like Seated Forward Fold, Downward Facing Dog, or Bridge Pose.
Peristalsis is a fancy word for our body’s internal ‘wave’ that helps move food through our digestive tract. And guess what? Specific yoga postures can support this process!
Forward-bending asanas like Half Forward Fold or a pose that stretches the abdominal muscles like Cobra massage the abdomen – promoting peristalsis and helping to move things along smoothly. Spinal twists are also great for stimulating peristalsis.
Even gentle yoga makes a difference. One study showed that elderly patients who practiced yoga three times per week for three months experienced improvement in digestive issues, namely reduced instances of constipation.
Gas and Bloating Relief
Yoga is also a natural remedy for those annoying bouts of gas. Specific yoga postures work by applying gentle pressure to your abdomen, helping to release trapped gas.
Did you know there’s a specific asana for this exact purpose? It’s called Wind-Relieving Pose (for a good reason!). Try it yourself:
- Lie on your back and bring your right knee towards your chest, keeping the left leg straight.
- Squeeze your right leg in, then open it to the side so your knee points towards your shoulder.
- Take several deep breaths as you hold the pose for a minute or two. Then, slowly release your right leg down and switch sides, bringing your left knee in.
Gas and bloating, unfortunately, go hand-in-hand. If you often feel like an inflated balloon after meals, some simple yoga stretches could help deflate you. A small study of teenagers with IBS symptoms experienced relief from gas and bloating with a short 10-minute yoga routine.
Even if you don’t suffer from IBS, your general digestion will benefit from a short and sweet yoga session if you feel gas building up.
Relaxation With Yogic Breathing
Finally, we can’t discuss yoga without mentioning pranayama or yogic breathing techniques. These breath practices can help promote relaxation and reduce stress levels that often contribute to bloating, gas, and indigestion.
One popular technique is “Belly Breathing,” or diaphragmatic breaths. As you breathe deeply, your diaphragm moves downward, gently compressing and massaging your abdominal organs.
Try it now: focus on drawing your inhale all the way down into your belly (rather than shallow breathing into your chest). Keep your exhale smooth and long. Continue these deep breaths for several minutes, initiating your body’s aptly named “rest and digest” mode.
Physiological Effects of Yoga on Digestion
Scientifically speaking, there are plenty of reasons why yoga works. Let’s examine the physiological and neurological connection between yoga and your body.
Yoga, Digestion, and the Nervous System
Your digestive flow happens all thanks to your nervous system — specifically, your vagus nerve. This cranial nerve is responsible for sending signals along the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve plays a vital role throughout the entire digestive process:
- Signals to digestive organs to initiate the process of digestion.
- Regulates peristalsis, the contracting and relaxing of muscles to move food through the gastrointestinal system.
- Controls secretion of gastric acids and enzymes.
- Helps the gut communicate to the brain about when it is satiated.
Yoga activates your parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates your vagus nerve, helping your GI tract function smoothly and efficiently. This helps prevent stomach pain, gas, and bloating typical of gut-brain axis disorders.
Enhances Blood Flow to Digestive Organs
Twists, inversions, and forward bends increase blood flow to the abdominal region to benefit your digestive tract. The magic happens when you release a pose.
When your abdomen is twisted or folded, the compression temporarily constricts your circulation. Then, when you release the posture, freshly oxygenated blood floods your abdomen, increasing blood flow to your digestive organs.
The increased circulation delivers more oxygen and nutrients to your organs, meaning your body can more efficiently process food and absorb the nutrients it contains.
Aiding Detoxification Process
Here’s that word again — “detox.” What is detoxification? I’m not talking about those fancy juice cleanses or detox teas. Your body has its natural detox process in your lymphatic system!
The lymphatic system maintains fluid balance, transports nutrients, and removes waste and toxins, including those in the digestive system. It also plays a crucial role in regulating inflammation. Habitual inflammation in the intestines can lead to chronic conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (which we’ll address below).
Incorporating asanas that involve movement, compression, and twisting will stimulate your lymphatic system and help keep bigger problems at bay.
Managing Chronic Conditions with Yoga
Yoga offers hope to those struggling with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Specific asanas combined with yogic practices like pranayama and mindfulness meditation help ease the discomfort associated with IBS.
Research on Yoga, IBS, and IBD
Within the scientific community, there is a growing amount of research on the therapeutic effects of yoga as a treatment for chronic conditions of the gut.
- This systematic review showed significant decreases in IBS symptoms and severity.
- Yoga is effective in relieving anxiety and stress, a cause and contributing factor to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
- As a therapy for IBS and IBD, yoga yields improvements in physical symptoms of the conditions, as well as psychological. Participants of one study reported lower anxiety and stress levels and a higher quality of life when dealing with their digestive issues.
Like any other treatment method, consistency is vital. Regular practices will yield better results over time. Studies have shown that individuals who practiced yoga consistently for six months experienced significant improvement in their IBS symptoms compared to those who didn’t.
Best Yoga Poses for a Healthy Gut
As we’ve been examining the effects of yoga on digestion, I’ve mentioned a couple of key asanas already. Let’s take a more detailed look at a few of the best postures for keeping your gut happy. Try putting them all together in a mini-sequence.
1) Cat and Cow Pose
Cat and Cow stretch brings movement to your abdominal region and stretches the abdominal muscles, stimulating your abdominal organs.
- Begin in Table Top position, on your hands and knees.
- Inhale to Cow Pose: tilt your tailbone toward the sky, drop your belly, and open your chest as you lift your chin slightly.
- With your exhale, round into Cat Pose: spread your shoulder blades wide across your back as you tuck your tailbone and drop your chin towards your chest.
- Continue flowing between the two poses for several rounds.
2) Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is both a forward fold and an inversion, increasing blood flow to your stomach while calming your mind.
- Begin on your mat in Table Top, on your hands and knees.
- Tuck your toes and send your hips toward the sky, bringing yourself into the shape of an upside-down “V.”
- Keep your shoulder blades broad and your head aligned with your spine. Press your chest back toward your thighs.
- Hold the stretch for several deep breaths, then gently release your knees back down to the floor.
3) Seated Forward Fold
As a forward bending posture, Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) can aid digestion by increasing circulation to your abdomen.
- Sit on your mat with both legs extended in front of you.
- Extend your spine as you inhale and reach your arms overhead.
- Exhale and fold forward over your legs, dropping your head and relaxing the back of your neck.
If flexibility is an issue, elevate your hips slightly by sitting on a folded blanket. Additionally, you might use a rolled blanket or bolster under your knees.
4) Supine Twist
As you’ve already learned, twists are highly effective at increasing circulation to the intestines and can help release trapped gas stuck in your GI tract. There are many twisting asanas, but I recommend the gentle supine twist if you’re dealing with stomach issues.
- Lie on the floor and bend your knees, keeping your feet flat.
- Inhale. As you exhale, let your knees fall to the right.
- Hold the twist for a few deep breaths, then return your knees to your center as you inhale.
- With your next exhale, drop your knees over to the left and hold.
Rather than hold the twist, you can also move dynamically with your breath, flowing gently from side to side to stimulate your digestive flow.
5) Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is both an inversion and a stretch for your abdominal muscles. It can bring relief from symptoms of indigestion and promotes peristalsis, the wave-like movement within your intestines.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees separated at a hip-width distance.
- Bring your arms by your sides with your hands pressing into the floor.
- With your inhale, lift your hips toward the sky, keeping your upper back, shoulders, head, and heels pressing into the ground.
- Hold the position for several breaths, then lower your hips to the floor gently.
Embracing Yoga for Enhanced Digestive Health
The truth is, many people experience times when they’ve eaten something a bit too spicy or had anxiety that caused an upset stomach. Instead of feeling helpless in those times, yoga is a potent tool you can use to improve your health.
Whether you’re dealing with general digestion issues like gas and bloating or need support to manage symptoms of chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), yoga can be the key to your relief.
Aside from trying the yoga postures recommended in this post, why not try a whole yoga class geared explicitly toward digestive health? Visit YogaDownload.com and type “digestion” into the search bar to find several options for related yoga classes.
Remember that your journey to optimal health requires consistency. These digestion-focused asanas can bring you relief at the moment you need it. Still, if you practice them regularly, you can see significant improvements in your digestive flow.
Why wait? Begin to twist and flow your way to better digestive health today!
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FAQ 1: How often should I practice these yoga poses for better digestion?
Regular practice is critical to experiencing the digestive benefits of yoga. Aim to add these poses to your routine at least three times a week.
FAQ 2: Can I perform these poses even if I have never done yoga?
Absolutely! These asanas are beginner-friendly but always consult with a certified instructor or healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.
FAQ 3: Will practicing these yoga poses cure my IBS?
While there is promising evidence suggesting that yoga may help manage IBS symptoms, it’s not touted as a cure-all. It’s best to consult with your healthcare provider about incorporating yoga into your treatment plan.
FAQ 4: What other lifestyle changes can complement my yoga practice for better digestion?
A balanced diet rich in fiber, staying hydrated, regular exercise apart from yoga, and managing stress effectively are all essential components of good digestive health.
FAQ 5: Are there any precautions I should take while performing these poses?
Yes. Always listen to your body during practice. Stop immediately and consult an expert if you feel discomfort or pain while performing a pose.