If your body can absorb nutrients and energy from food, thank your digestion.
Good digestion translates to physical well-being and mental health. Impaired digestion, on the other hand, can expose you to bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).
Yoga is an effective approach to address struggling digestion. The ancient practice blends aasana (postures), controlled breathing, and mindfulness to promote optimal physical and mental health. Think of it as a holistic approach to health and wellness.
If this has piqued your curiosity, let’s elaborate on all things digestion, from its importance to the factors that affect it to how yoga promotes digestive health.
Digestion Spelled Out
Digestion is an essential process involving the breakdown of food into smaller, easily digestible particles. These food particles provide the body with energy, support growth, and aid in cell repair. Without efficient digestion, the body would struggle to sustain health.
Digestion: Unlocking the Intricacies
Digestion involves multiple organs and unique mechanical and chemical processes. Let’s track the food journey, from ingestion to waste removal:
- Food enters the mouth, where it mixes with saliva, which lubricates and alkalizes it.
- Teeth break down food into smaller pieces, forming a bolus.
- Muscular contractions (peristalsis) propel the bolus into the esophagus.
- The gastro-oesophageal sphincter guides food into the stomach.
- The stomach mechanically churns food in gastric juices, leading to chyme formation.
- Acid in the stomach denatures proteins, eliminates bacteria, and activates pepsinogen for protein digestion.
- Chyme enters the small intestine, where pancreatic enzymes convert carbohydrates into sugars and emulsify fats.
- Villi on the small intestine’s surface absorb nutrients, pushing them into the bloodstream.
- Chyme moves into the large intestine for water and electrolyte absorption, converting into feces for elimination.
Tell Tale Signs
When the digestive system functions optimally, you stay healthy and in a good mood. Likewise, a struggling digestive system can manifest itself in ways like
- Recurring abdominal pain
- Indigestion and constipation
- Acid-peptic Disorders
- Nausea and constant urge to throw up
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Weight management issues
Seek help from a doctor or functional medicine expert if you experience persistent symptoms. Remember, early intervention means quicker relief and better recovery.
Doctors link digestive problems to multiple factors, including, but not limited to:
- Low-fiber diet
- Overconsumption of dairy products (if intolerant or sensitive)
- Inadequate physical exercise
- Unhealthy dietary practices
- Overuse of antidiarrheal drugs
- Medications like iron supplements, antidepressants
How Yoga Transforms Digestion?
Yoga and good digestion can go hand in hand. Here’s how.
- Stress Reduction:
Yoga involves deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness techniques that subdue stress, one of the prime triggers for indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Better Blood Flow:
Certain asanas divert sufficient blood supply to digestive organs, enabling them to digest quickly and efficiently.
- Muscle Strengthening:
Yoga practitioners tend to have stronger abdominal muscles that can execute digestion effectively.
- Improved Parasympathetic Response:
Stretching and breath control can transform your parasympathetic nervous system, ensuring efficient saliva excretion, stomach function, sphincter function, and food movement in the intestines.
- Efficient Gas Expulsion:
Bhujangasana and others allow efficient venting out of carbon dioxide and methane, the byproducts of digestion, through exhalation and flatus. Relief from bloating, thus, comes by default.
- Promote Bowel Regularity:
Yoga may help rectify bowel irregularity caused by dietary choices, lifestyle, and other factors.
Yoga can even facilitate toxin removal from the body, keeping your digestive organs humming along smoothly.
|A clinical trial by Leora Kuttner, at the University of British Columbia, found that IBS like symptoms improved in 25 adolescents after four weeks of yoga practice.|
Best Yoga Poses for Good Digestive Health
With digestion basics out of the way, it is time to focus on yoga asanas that can transform your digestive health. Some are simple and easy to pull off, and some require more skill and effort.
1. Headstand Pose (Shirshasana)
Resting your head and forearms on the mat with legs extended vertically upward can remedy an ailing digestive system.
- Bend on the mat with forearms parallel and elbows directly below shoulders.
- Interlace your fingers to cup your hands.
- Place the top of your head on the mat, the back of your head against clasped hands.
- Put your toes under and lift the hips to form an inverted “V.”
- Shift weight onto your head and forearms by bringing the feet closer to the head.
- Gaze forward and keep your neck in a neutral position.
- Raise one leg off the mat, drawing thighs near the torso for stability.
- Lift the other leg gently parallel to the first one.
- Breathe calmly and maintain focus throughout.
- Stay in the pose for a few breaths.
- To exit the pose, lower one leg at a time and return to the starting position.
- Diverts blood flow to digestive organs
- Increases the nutrient absorption efficiency
- Stimulates the pituitary gland that regulates digestion
- Strengthens the core digestive muscles
2. Plough Pose (Halasana)
Halasana promotes spine health, muscle health, overall flexibility, blood circulation, and digestive system.
- Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and arms resting alongside the body.
- Gradually raise both legs using abdominal muscles for elevation and back support.
- Continue lifting the legs over the head, trying to touch the ground with your toes at the back of your head. Maintain a straight neck throughout.
- Place your hands on your lower back to provide the needed support. Your elbows should have ground contact during the pose.
- Avoid trying too hard to touch the toes to the ground. Instead, keep your hands on your lower back and legs at a higher angle.
- Maintain this pose as long as your endurance permits.
- Stimulates the abdominal organs
- Increases circulation to digestive organs
- Relieves bloating and gas
- Massages your thyroid gland
- Calms the nervous system
3. Frog Pose (Madukasana)
Usually done to relieve sciatica pain and strengthen the back, the frog pose (Mandukasana) can help ward off digestive issues.
- Kneel on your yoga mat with your feet wide apart and your toes pointing outwards.
- Slowly lower your forearms, keeping your elbows aligned with your shoulders and both hands on the mat.
- Gently press your hips back and down at the side of your heels while keeping your spine straight.
- Move your chest towards the floor and touch your forehead on the mat.
- Take a slow and deep breath and try to hold for 20-30 seconds or as long as you are comfortable.
- Enhances metabolism
- Improves bowel movement
- Eases bloating
- Supports digestive fluid production
- Soothes Constipation
4. Seated Twist Pose (Ardha Matasyaendrasana)
Add a twist to your seating pose and enjoy a stronger spine, better overall flexibility, toxin removal, and improved digestion.
- To begin with, sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and place the right heel over your left hip.
- Keep the left leg extended and the foot flexed.
- Inhale, stretch your spine, and elevate the left arm. Now, slowly twist it to the right.
- Wrap your right arm around your right leg and place your hand on the mat behind your back.
- Gently twist your torso and head to the right, looking towards the right shoulder.
- Hold the position for several breaths, slowly release, and return to the center.
- Repeat the same pose on the opposite side.
- Stimulates the digestive organs
- Enhances detoxification
- Improves the Oxygen supply to the organs
- Relieves bloating and gas
- Improves nutrient absorption
- Helps to fight constipation
5. Supine Spine Twist (Supta Matasyaendrasana)
Nicknamed “heart opener,” Supine Spine Twist (Supta Matasyaendrasana) can relieve back pain and improve spinal mobility, heart health, and digestion.
- Lie on your back and extend your legs straight.
- Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest. Keep your feet flat on the mat.
- Extend your arms out parallel to the floor with palms facing downward. Use your strength to keep your back on the mat.
- Slowly turn your bent knees to the right side while relaxing your shoulders.
- Hold this position for several breaths and keep feeling the stretch along with your spine.
- After some time, bring your knees back to the center and repeat the same movements on the opposite side.
- Stimulates digestion
- Relieves bloating and associated discomfort
- Supports detoxification
- Aids in stress reduction
- Improves constipation
- Encourages better bowel movements
6. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
The Bow Pose or Dhanurasana is a classic back bending asana with benefits like back pain alleviation, spine strengthening, and improved digestion.
- Lie down on your belly with your feet hip-width away and your arms alongside your body.
- Bend your knees and reach backward with your hands to hold onto your ankles.
- Inhale slowly and lift your chest and knees off the ground. Now, lift your thighs as high as possible while keeping the feet together.
- Maintain this pose while breathing calmly. Stay in the same position for 20-30 seconds or as long as possible.
- Stimulates the abdominal organs
- Improves digestion
- Boosts bowel movement
- Alleviates indigestion
- Resolves constipation
7. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
The Bridge Pose or the Setu Badhasana can benefit your spine, chest, neck, legs, and digestion.
- Start with lying down on your mat with your feet hip-width away and your knees bent. Keep your arms alongside your body and palms facing towards the mat.
- Press your feet and arms tightly onto the floor and inhale deeply. While exhaling, slowly lift your hips above the ground.
- Support your weight on your shoulders, arms, and feet.
- Touch your chin to the chest while keeping your thighs parallel.
- While maintaining your breath, hold this pose for 20-30 seconds and gently release by moving your back down to the mat.
- Stretches and massages the abdominal organs (stomach and intestines)
- Improves blood circulation
- Promotes healthy digestion
- Prevents constipation
- Provides relief from gas and bloating.
8. Seated Forward Bend Pose (Paschimottsanasana)
True to its name, the Seated Forward Pose involves forward bending and straight legs. If done properly, it can render flexible hip joints, a calm mind, and healthy digestion.
- Start by extending your legs while sitting on your yoga mat.
- Make sure you keep your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.
- Inhale while extending your arms over your head.
- Exhale as you move forward from your hips.
- Hold your toes firmly and continue to stretch on every exhale.
- Maintain the pose for 20-30 seconds.
- Massages and stimulates the digestive organs
- Relieves digestive issues like constipation and indigestion
- Stimulates the abdominal region
- Increases the blood flow
- Gentle compression of the abdomen in this pose helps in the elimination of unwanted toxins and waste from the body
- Improves overall digestion
9. Cat-cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
The Cat-cow pose merges two distinct yoga poses in a flowing sequence for overall flexibility and a healthy spine and digestive system.
- Begin this pose by aligning your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Inhale while lifting your back and tailbone towards the ceiling. Allow the belly to face towards the floor. (Cow pose)
- Exhale and round your spine, touch your chin to the chest and tuck your tailbone under. (Cat pose)
- Repeat the movements while inhaling and exhaling with Cow and Cat poses.
- Follow the Cow pose when inhaling, and the Cat pose when exhaling.
- Facilitates proper movements of bowel
- Stimulates the flow of digestive juices
- Increases blood circulation
- Soothes bloating, gas, and constipation
- Enhances overall gut health
10. Classical Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Easy to pull off, the back-bending pose can keep your gut, lungs, and muscles healthy and your mind stress-free.
- Lie on your belly with extended legs and your toes flat on the yoga mat.
- Keep your hands next to your shoulders and palms facing the mat.
- Inhale deeply and lift your chest away from the ground while keeping the navel touching the yoga mat.
- Gently breathe and start curving your spine using your arms for support.
- Straighten your arms, tilt your head back, and look at the ceiling.
- Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds and then release slowly.
Benefits of Classic Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
- Stimulates digestive organs
- Improves digestion
- Alleviates constipation
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles
- Promotes healthy gut
- Eases stress
- Boosts blood circulation
11. Belly Twist Pose (Jathara Parivartanasana)
All about twisting your spine and abdomen in a reclined position, the asana realigns and lengthens the spine, while also remedying digestive conditions.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended.
- Bend both knees and bring them closer to your abdomen.
- Stretch arms out to the side.
- Inhale and gently twist your lower body to the left as you exhale. Keep shoulders grounded and touching the mat.
- Hold the twist for a few breaths. Repeat the twist to your right side before releasing.
- Keep doing this pose until discomfort sets in.
- Improves digestion by stretching the abdominal organs
- Promotes healthy bowel movements
- Relieves gas and bloating
- Fights indigestion
12. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
The Corpse Pose or Savasana is an unnerving name for an easy and beneficial asana that promotes overall relaxation and digestive health.
- Lie on your back with both legs extended.
- Place your arms alongside your body.
- Next, close your eyes and relax your body and mind.
- Take slow breaths.
- Stay in the same position for 2-3 minutes.
- Reduces stress
- Relaxes the mind and body
- Calms nervous system
- Improves digestion
Precautions for Incident-Free Practice
Yoga is a safe practice, but you can take a few precautions to make it incident-free. Here’s your rundown.
Consult a Doctor:
Ensure yoga is safe for your specific health conditions. If you are recovering from a recent injury or surgery, are pregnant, or have any medical conditions, seeking guidance from a qualified yoga teacher who may modify certain poses to your individual needs is advisable.
Don’t Force the Issue:
Listen to and respect your body. Recognize your limits and avoid pushing too hard. Go slow at first and gradually increase your practice’s intensity and duration.
Comply with the Basics:
Warm up with some simple rhythmic movements, light stretching, and squats. Stay hydrated, practice with an empty stomach and bladder, and wear appropriate clothing.
Regardless of your age, gender, or fitness level, regular yoga practice can improve gut health. It restores order in the digestive system, primes the digestive organs for peak performance, promotes blood circulation, and initiates bowel movement. It can boost the body-mind connection, leading to a stress-free mind.
However, consult your medical doctor before starting, as underlying conditions or injuries can worsen without proper guidance.
Join us to explore the synergy of yoga and functional medicine for digestive wellness.