Good digestion is important for the body’s proper functioning. Yoga can help improve sluggish digestion. Learn about five simple poses to improve your digestion here.
I don't know a better preparation for life than a love of poetry and good digestion. - Zona Gale
Food is the fuel to our existence. Yet, simply eating food isn’t enough to ensure good health. Despite eating healthy food, we can fall prey to some issues if our gut isn't healthy. Digestion of the food is very crucial. The digestive tract involves organs from the mouth, the GI tract, and the intestines.
With a healthy gut, one enjoys good energy levels, healthy skin and hair. But, without having a good digestive system one can suffer from multiple issues like - bloating, constipation, inflammation, acid reflux, indigestion and lethargy etc. Prolonged issues with the digestive system can lead to some serious ailments too. Feeling lethargic, having disturbed sleep, not being able to enjoy hearty meals due to the fear of bloating and feeling in general upset due to your stomach problems can be a thing of the past if you work towards having a healthy gut.
Ancient Yogis understood the importance of digestion for the optimal functioning of the body. Yoga and Ayurveda acknowledge the role of digestion in holistic well-being and keep the diseases at bay. Both these sciences have a plethora of resources and techniques to improve and maintain the digestive system. Let us have a look at how Yoga can help improve your digestion in the following paragraphs.
How Can Yoga Help with Digestion?
Stomach issues are usually caused by - either physical stress (such as improper diet, lack of sleep, dehydration etc) or psychological stress.
A well-rounded and regular yoga practice can help you to tackle these issues with grace, ensuring a healthy digestive system. Yoga inculcates a mindful lifestyle that positively influences people’s eating habits. Almost all yoga poses help in improving the functioning of the digestive organs. Some of these poses - such as the twists - massage and tone various body parts improving their functions.
Now, let’s talk about psychological stress. Yoga can help you to combat psychological stress as well. Various studies have shown stress has a direct effect on the gut. When we are stressed our body’s “fight or flight” mode is activated due to the hyperactivity of our sympathetic nervous system. Meanwhile, our “rest and digest” mode is slower due to the suppression of our parasympathetic nervous system. Studies have shown that Yoga reduces stress by soothing the nervous system and making one mentally more resilient to stress.
A regular yoga practice can help you manage stress, tone the digestive organs and maintain your digestive health. So, here are 5 Yoga Postures that target improved functioning of the digestive system.
Before we proceed, remember to compliment your asana practice with a proper diet, breathing exercises and lifestyle changes to get maximum benefits. The solution lies in a holistic approach and none of these techniques will be fully effective if you ignore the other aspects of well-being.
Vajrasana — The Thunderbolt Pose
Effect on Digestive System:
Vajrasana or the Thunderbolt is a meditative asana. Vajrasana is effective for the Vajra Nadi, improving the digestive system and reproductive organs. Vajrasana relieves digestive problems as it strengthens and massages the abdomen region. This is the only asana or pose that is recommended right after meals as it helps improve the digestion of food.
Sit with your legs straight in front of you
Fold your knees one at a time such that your toes touch and your heels are separate
Slowly bring down your hips in the space between your heels and sit comfortably
Straighten your back and place your palms on the knees
Relax your whole body and close your eyes
Even though Vajrasana seems easy, it’s difficult to sit in this posture for very long. If the ankle or calves start to hurt, quickly release this posture. People with a hip injury, leg injury or extremely stiff leg should refrain from performing this asana. People who have knee pain must also avoid doing this asana.
Ardha Matsyendrasana - The Seated Spinal Twist Pose
Effect on Digestive System:
Ardha Matsyendrasana is a Twisting pose that simultaneously stretches the muscles on one side of the back and abdomen while contracting the muscles on the other side. It massages the abdominal organs, alleviating digestive ailments. It regulates the secretion of bile which is an important ingredient in the digestive process.
Sit with your legs straight ahead of you.
Bend the right leg over the left knee and place it flat on the yoga mat, keeping the right foot toes facing forward.
Fold and tuck the left leg near the right buttock such that the left shin touches the floor
Take your left arm across the space between the chest and the right knee, and place it against the outside of the right leg.
Hold the right foot or ankle with the left hand, so that the right knee is close to the left armpit.
Sit up as straight as possible and inhale.
Slowly look over the right shoulder without straining your back and exhale.
Bend the right elbow and place the arm around the back of the waist. The back of the right hand should wrap around the left side of the waist. Alternatively, you can place the right hand as close to your body as possible enforcing the straightness of the spine. Hold this position for 5-10 deep breaths.
Reverse the movements to come out of the posture and repeat on the opposite side.
Women who are more than two or three months pregnant should avoid this practice. People suffering from peptic ulcer, hernia or hyperthyroidism should only practice this pose under expert guidance. People with slipped discs may benefit from this asana, but great care should be taken.
Viparita Karani - Legs Up The Wall Pose
Effect on Digestive System:
By pressing the chest against the chin, the Viparita Karani Asana stimulates the thyroid gland, balancing the circulatory, digestive, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. The enriched blood flow to the brain relieves mental and emotional stress and other psychological disturbances. Abdominal breathing is induced, improving the exchange of air in the body, relieving stress and massaging the abdominal organs. It tones the abdomen and drains stagnant blood and fluid, increasing circulation to the abdominal area.
Lie flat on the back with the legs straight and feet together. Place your hands and arms close to the body with the palms facing down.
Raise both legs, keeping them straight and together, over the body towards the head
Raise your buttocks as you push down using your arms and hands. Lift the spine off the floor, taking the legs further over the head
Turn the palms up, bend the elbows and let the top of the hips rest on the base of the palms near the wrist. The hands cup the hips and support the weight of the body. Keep the elbows as close to each other as possible.
Raise both the legs to the vertical position and relax the feet.
In the final position, the weight of the body rests on the shoulders, neck and elbows, the trunk is at a 45-degree angle to the floor and the legs are vertical. Note that the chin does not press against the chest.
Close your eyes and relax in the final pose for as long as is comfortable.
To release the asana, lower the legs over the head, then place the arms and hands close to the body, palms facing down.
Slowly lower the spine, vertebra by vertebra, along the floor without lifting your head
When the buttocks reach the floor, lower the legs, keeping them straight.
Relax the body in ths supine position
This asana should not be practised by people suffering from enlarged thyroid, liver or spleen, cervical spondylitis, slipped disc, high blood pressure or other heart ailments, weak blood vessels in the eyes, thrombosis or impure blood. It should be avoided during menstruation and advanced stages of pregnancy.
Pavanamuktasana & Supine Lying Pose
Effect on Digestive System:
This combination of asanas massages the abdominal and digestive organs thoroughly. It is very effective in removing wind and relieving constipation.
For Supine Lying Pose, lay down on your mat
Bend the right knee and bring the thigh to your chest.
Interlock your fingers and clasp the hands on the shin just below the right knee.
Keep the left leg straight and on the ground.
Inhale deeply, filling the lungs as much as possible.
Holding the breath, raise the head and shoulders off the ground and try to touch the right knee with the nose.
Remain in the final position for a few seconds, retaining the breath
While exhaling, gently bring your head back down, unclasp your hands and straighten your leg
Perform this with your left leg too
For Pavanamuktasana lay down on your back, arms beside your body, legs put together.
Bend both knees and bring your thighs to the chest.
Interlock your fingers and clasp your hands on the shin bones just below your knees. Inhale deeply.
Holding your breath, raise your head and shoulders and try to place the nose in the space between the two knees.
Hold your breath in the raised position for a few seconds.
Gently lower your head, shoulders while breathing out.
Unclasp your hands and straighten your legs
Not to be performed by persons suffering from high blood pressure or serious back conditions, such as sciatica and slipped disc.
Effect on Digestive System:
Paschimottanasana is a forward fold that tones and massages the abdominal and pelvic region including the liver, pancreas, spleen, kidneys and adrenal glands. It removes excess weight in this area and helps alleviate disorders of the urogenital system. The positive pressure created in the lower abdominal region helps flush out stagnated blood in the region and it also facilitates the reduction of fat deposits around the belly.
Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched, feet together and hands on the knees and inhale.
Exhale as you slowly bend forward from the hips, sliding the hands from your thighs down to your ankles
Try to hold your toes with the fingers and thumbs or hold any part of the legs that can be reached comfortably.
Move slowly without force. Hold the position for a few seconds. Maintain steady deep breaths now.
Keeping the legs straight and utilising the arm muscles begin to bend the elbows and bring your torso as close to your legs as possible while exhaling.
Try to touch your forehead to your knees without straining yourself too much
Hold the position for as long as it is comfortable and maintain steady deep breaths.
To release the asana, loosen your hold, inhale and gently sit up straight
People who suffer from slipped disc or sciatica should not practice this. People who have acute abdominal pain, back pain, spondylosis, hernia, lumbago or hydrocele should avoid this asana.
Other Yogic Practices To Improve Digestion
Practising Pranayama, Mudras and Bandhas is an integral part of yogic practice. Bandhas in particular have a direct effect on the endocrine system of the body. They also are linked with massaging various digestive organs. This ensures that we have a healthy digestive tract. In short, this helps with having your body’s hormones balanced and all the organs working at an optimum level.
Another aspect of yoga is Shuddhi Kriyas or ShatKarmas. “Shuddhi” means cleaning and “Kriya” means activity. Thus, Shuddhi Kriyas are cleaning activities that cleanse the digestive tract. It is advisable to do Shuddhi Kriyas only with guidance from experts. Various Shuddhi Kriyas target cleaning up of the digestive tract. Even the system that is responsible for the cleaning of the body could use a little maintenance sometimes.
Next on this list are pranayama exercises: these play an important role in improving your digestive system. Pranayama is a great way to deal with stress. Sheetali pranayama, Bhramari Pranayama and Alternate Nostril breathing techniques can help reduce digestive problems of acid reflux and heartburn. Plus, practising abdominal breathing reduces stress levels. Pranayama helps ensure the parasympathetic nervous system can function well. Thus helping the body carry out proper digestion.
The 5 asanas mentioned above are some asanas that target tackling issues of the digestive system. But, incorporating Yoga practice in your life will ensure you have a healthy gut. Yoga will bring mindful eating habits, better physical health and stress relief to your lifestyle. Incorporating Yoga into your life not only enhances your physical health but also your mental health. Thus, leading to a richer life experience.