How Yoga Improves Digestion (And 7 Yoga Poses For Better Gut Health)

How yoga improves digestion

Representing a mix of spiritual, mental, and physical disciplines and practices, yoga is truly one of the most amazing gifts you can give to your well-being, both external and internal. Yoga’s unclear history begins in ancient India and is presumed to be around 5000 years old. Its roots are kind of hard to track, and some experts suspect it might have been existing for even 10 000 years.

Introduced to the Western world by Indian gurus in the late 19th and early 20th century, this self-practice quickly became well-known as a physical exercise system (a type called Hatha yoga), though its traditional variations also include spiritual and meditative aspects.

Being developed for thousands of years, this is a unique sport (yes, we’re going to call it sport, since it provides great fitness advantages). Benefits of doing yoga are dozens, and perhaps not all of them are yet discovered.

Why practice yoga?

Let’s not forget that yoga is a means to achieve balance by combining physical, meditation, and relaxation exercises. Many report that these spiritual and exercise studies do seem to support a healthy, peaceful, and happy life. As a matter of fact, many TV, movie, and music stars say they find tranquility and peace in their intense way of life by practicing yoga.

Overall, yoga may help you:

  • To be more open minded in your actions, to be in peace with yourself, and to feel your body in a better shape.
  • Yoga is an easy and quick way for refreshment and energy rush at any time of the day.
  • Yoga increases muscle and joint elasticity, and improves general flexibility.
  • Speeds metabolism and facilitates the burn of calories.
  • Normalizes the sleep quality and strengthens the immune system.
  • Reduces headaches, migraines, and stomachaches.
  • Improves the body posture.

Studies in the recent years also emphasize on the importance between digestive health and brain health, so maintaining a proper digestive tract with yoga could result in better clarity, concentration, psychological and emotional condition.

A Hindu yoga teacher asked us to name 10 physical benefits of yoga that come to mind. Better coordination, flexibility, bone system, fat loss (besides exercises, meditation can help lose weight too), and breathing were some of the answers, but not once did it cross anybody’s mind to say that they’d practice yoga to improve digestion. So after we had done making our top 10 list, the yoga master told us about it, and it took us only a few seconds to realize that it sounds logical.

How yoga improves digestion

How Yoga Improves Digestion 3Being so complex and ancient, it is only natural to presume that yoga benefits are extensive, and besides everything else, they include exercises to stimulate your bowel movement. Different types of digestive disorders could occur if you often overeat, have irregular dieting habits, lack movement, or are feeling stressed. Working out with this ancient discipline can very well make your eating way more enjoyable and healthy by improving your peristalsis, the overall work of the digestive tract and may help relieve stress.

Yoga is a great, side effect-free means to help your body get back to its optimal functioning form, and it’s a smart measure you can take to rejuvenate and fortify the digestive system, especially if it’s practiced regularly.

The Ayurveda believes a healthy digestive tract is the path to robust health, and that bad digestion is the root culprit for many ailments. Digestion’s metabolic energy called agni facilitates the elimination of toxins and waste from the body. Agni helps with breaking down the dense physical matter into energy the body requires, keeps the body temperature warm and aids in clear thinking.

Breathing is just as important to improving your digestion with yoga as the exercise part. The breathing process facilitates the imbuing of life force into the body and the excreting of noxious matters that form because of stress, poor lifestyle, and bad diet. Rhythmic, methodical breathing betters agni, improves body equilibrium and rejuvenates the constitution.

7 yoga poses to improve digestion

Yoga benefits for the digestive tract can be experienced with these 7 exercises.

Upward Abdominal Lock (Sanskrit name: Uddiyana Bandha)

Upward Abdominal Lock

Here’s a quote from the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika 3.58: “Even an old person can become young when Uddiyana Bandha is done regularly”. What’s essential to keep in mind is that you have to perform it on an empty stomach, and strictly after exhalation, never upon inhalation. It’s advisable to also perform the Jalandhara Bandha while you hold Uddiyana Bandha. Many experts recommend beginners to start practicing this position from stance, and move on to the sitting variation when they’ve gained some experience. The upward abdominal lock is a great way to start practicing yoga for digestion and constipation.

You can prevent constipation with yoga, but exercises like Jalandhara Bandha can bring more benefits like:

  • Fortifying the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles.
  • Massaging the abdominal intestines, the heart, lungs, and solar plexus.
  • Improving blood circulation in the abdomen and blood flow to the brain.
  • Stimulating the lift of energy in the lower belly area to connect it with the energies in the navel and heart.

Cautions And Contradictions:

  • Intestinal or stomach ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Hernia
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstruation

STEP 1

Start from a standing position with your legs a bit apart and your eyes open. Teachers have different execution process of this step, here are a few possibilities:

A) Practice with your trunk (torso) rounded forward, bend the knees and rest your hands on them.

B) Learn to practice the upward abdominal lock with the torso rounded forward, and when you’ve got the hang of it, practice it upright with your hands on your hips.

C) Exercise with your torso upright.

D) Start with the trunk rounded forward, perform the abdominal lock, then stand upright with hands on your hips.

STEP 2

Take a deep breath through the nose. Exhale rapidly and firmly through the nose (or pursed lips). Contract the abdominal muscles to a maximum until you have no more air in the lungs. Relax the abdominals.

STEP 3

Do a “mock inhalation” by expanding your chest as if you were breathing in, but actually aren’t inhaling. The thorax (rib cage) enlargement with the lack of air inhalation sucks the abdominal muscles and guts into the rib cage, and empties the belly.

STEP 4

Hold the bandhas for 5 to 15 seconds. Then, carefully release the abdominal tightening and breathe in normally. Depending on your capability, do 3 to 10 rounds, as you perform one or two normal breaths after each round.

Tips for beginners:

Instead of resting your hands on knees when standing, simply push the palm bases against your tights’ tips. The slight downward pressure on the femur bones you may feel will generate a mild natural hollowing in the lower belly area.

Uddiyana Bandha video

Half Lord Of The Fishes (Sanskrit name: Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Half Lord Of The Fishes Pose

If you want to make your digestive fire active and energize the spine, the Half Lord of the fishes would be a great fit to your repertoire. With exercises such as this one, you could feel first-hand how yoga improves digestion. This pose is named after a great teacher who used to be known as the King of the Fish.

General benefits of this exercise include:

  • Helps the shoulders, neck, and hips to stretch
  • Energizes the spine
  • Kidney and liver stimulation
  • Digestive fire improvement
  • Infertility and asthma relief
  • Reduces fatigue, back pain and menstrual discomfort
  • Ancient scripts say that the pose may annihilate many diseases, arouse the appetite and awaken kundalini.

Cautions and Contradictions:

  • Spine and back injury: Do this pose with the help of an expert instructor.

STEP 1

Sit on the ground and straighten your legs out in front of you. You can support your behind on a soft blanket or a yoga mat. Bend the knees, place the feet on the ground, then simply slide the left foot under your right leg, just beside the outer side of the right hip. Place the outside of your left leg on the ground. Place the right foot on the left leg and stand it on the ground, just outside the left hip. Notice how your right knee will point straight to the room’s ceiling (or to the sky if you’re in the open air).

STEP 2

Breathe out and turn your torso toward the inside part of your right thigh. Press with your right palm against the floor just behind your right butt cheek (depends on which side you’re performing the pose). Set your upper arm on the outside of the thigh, close to the knee, or just slide it down and grab your ankle. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh closely together.

STEP 3

Press the inner right foot firmly on the ground. Then, your right groin has to be released and the front torso lengthened. Tilt the upper trunk back just a little against the shoulder blades, and proceed with lengthening the tailbone into the ground.

STEP 4

You have the possibilities to turn your head in 2 directions. You can either continue twisting your torso by turning it to your right, or counter-twist it by turning to the left and looking at your right foot over the left shoulder.

STEP 5

Every time you inhale, lift a little more through your chest (sternum), pushing the fingers against the floor to make it easier. With every exhalation twist a bit more. Note that you need to carefully and evenly distribute the twist from one end of the spine to the other, don’t concentrate on the lower back. Hold like that for 30 seconds to 60 seconds, then release whilst exhaling. Go back to your initial position and repeat to the left for the same time intervals.

Tip For Beginners:

The version of the pose with the upper arm on the outside of the thigh, close to the knee, the opposite-side arm is wrapped around the outside of the raised-leg upper thigh. Those who are new to yoga may find this impractical and even a bit harmful. That’s why it’s advisable to sit up nicely on a mat or a blanket support and for starters just fold your arms around the raised leg and hug your thigh to the trunk.

Half Lord Of The Fishes video

Bow Pose (Sanskrit name: Dhanurasana)

Bow Pose

This is a very interesting pose that’s named like that, because it resembles an archer’s bow. The arms represent the string, while the legs and torso represent the bow’s main part.

General benefits of this exercise include:

  • Constipation relief
  • Light backache
  • Respiratory issues
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual discomfort
  • Stretches the whole front of your body, groins and thighs, ankles, chest and abdomen, deep hip flexors and even the throat.
  • Improves posture
  • Fortifies the back muscles
  • Improves the work of the organs in the area of the neck and abdomen.

Cautions and Contradictions:

  • Migraine
  • Low/high blood pressure
  • Neck or lower-back injury
  • Insomnia

STEP 1

As you see, the Bow pose does offer a lot and is the perfect example of the advantage of yoga. Let’s check how to perform it. First, lie flat on your stomach with your hands alongside the body, palms up. Exhale, then bend your knees as you bring your heels as close to the butt cheeks as possible. Extend back with your hands and try to grab the ankles (not your toes’ finger tips). Try to position you knees at the width of the hips, no wider than that. Aim for that width during the exercise.

STEP 2

Take a breath, firmly lift your heels away from your behind, and simultaneously raise your thighs away from the ground. The effect will be as if you were pulling your upper torso and head off the floor. Try pushing the tailbone down towards the floor while keeping your back muscles relaxed. As you proceed raising the thighs and heels higher, press the shoulder blades strongly against the back to open the chest. Pull the tops of the shoulders away from the ears. In the end of step 2, try to look forward.

STEP 3

It would be kind of difficult to breathe normally with your stomach on the floor. Try breathing more into the back of your trunk and make sure you don’t stop breathing methodically.

STEP 4

Spend from 20 to 30 seconds in this pose. Exhale as you release and lie calmly for couple of normal breaths. Repeat the whole exercise one or two times.

Modification:

If you can’t manage to grab your ankles right away, wind a strap around your ankles’ fronts and grab the free ends of the strap by keeping your arms straightened.

Tip For Beginners:

In some cases, newbies may find it hard to lift the thighs from the ground. Lying on the floor with the thighs supported on a rolled up yoga blanket will give your legs some upward boost.

Bow pose video

Head-To-Knee Forward Bend (Sanskrit name: Janu Sirsasana)

Head-To-Knee Forward Bend Pose

If you’re new to yoga, but want to exercise to improve digestion, the head to knee forward bend pose is very appropriate, because it’s executed easily.

General benefits of this exercise include:

  • Stretches the groins, shoulders, hamstrings and spine
  • Improves digestion
  • Calms the mind and improves mild depression
  • Reduces anxiety, headaches, fatigue
  • Strengthens the liver and kidneys
  • Relieves menopause symptoms
  • Fortifies the back muscles, especially in pregnant women. If you’re pregnant perform the pose without bending forward, keep your back spine and front trunk long.
  • Has therapeutic effects in insomnia, high blood pressure, and sinusitis.

Cautions and Contradictions:

  • Diarrhea
  • Asthma
  • Knee problems: don’t flex the knee too much and use a folded blanket or yoga mat to support it.

STEP 1

Sit down and straighten your legs forward. Use a mat or a blanket to support your behind, if required. Take a breath, bend the right knee and press the heel back towards the perineum. Rest your right foot calmly against your inner left thigh, and rest the outer leg on the floor. Keep in mind that you have to keep the shin to the left leg at a right angle. Use a folded blanket in case the right knee isn’t rested comfortably on the ground.

STEP 2

Next, try to keep your right hand closely against the inner right groin, exactly where the pelvis is joined by the thigh. Press your left hand on the ground close to the hip. Exhale your breath and rotate the torso a little to the left, lifting it whilst pushing down on and keeping the inner right thigh on the floor. After that, even the middle left thigh with the navel so they can be at the same line. If you have difficulties maintaining this position, you can use a strap to facilitate the lengthening of the spine.

STEP 3

When you feel flexible enough, lose the strap and try reaching out with the right hand to grab the right ankle, or better yet the inner left foot, with the thumb on the sole. Inhale and lift the front part of the trunk, pushing the top of the left thigh into the floor and stretching confidently through your left heel. You will feel some pressure on the left hand that’s on the floor. Use that pressure to augment the twist to the left side. Then stretch your left hand to the outside of the foot. With your arms extended to maximum, lengthen the front part of the torso from the pubis all the way to the end of your sternum.

STEP 4

Exhale and stretch forward from the groins rather than the hips. Make sure you don’t forcefully pull yourself when you bend forward, stooping the back and shortening the front trunk. As you incline, turn the elbows out to the sides and raise them a bit from the ground.

STEP 5

Stretch forward comfortably and lengthen the body. The thighs should be first touched by the lower belly and last by the head. Keep that position from 1 to 3 minutes of time. Rise up as you take a breath, then switch legs to change sides and do the whole exercise all over again

Modification:

Use a strap should you find it difficult to reach the extended foot without strain. Tie it around the sole and grab it with extended arms. Don’t pull yourself forward if you’re using a strap. Walk your hands smoothly along the strap while keeping the arms and the front of your torso lengthened.

Tip For Beginners:

Keep in mind that the bent-leg and foot shouldn’t slide under the straightened leg. You should be able to gaze down and see your sole. Keep the folded-leg sole active. Widen the tip of the foot on the ground and press the heel in the direction of the straight leg’s inner groin.

Head-to-knee forward bend video

Big Toe Pose (Sanskrit name: Padangusthasana)

 

Big toe pose

Even obstinately tight hamstrings are carefully fortified and lengthened by this easy to perform exercise that is another bright example as to why you can improve digestion with yoga.

General benefits of the exercise include:

  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves stress, anxiety and calms the mind
  • Straightens the calves and hamstrings
  • Improves the functions of the kidneys and the liver
  • Strengthens the thighs
  • Helps for headache relief
  • Helps relieve menopause symptoms in women

Cautions and Contradictions:

  • Avoid doing this pose in case you have neck or lower back injuries

STEP 1

Stand tall with each foot parallel to the other and leave them separated at about 6 inches of distance. Then lift your kneecaps by contracting the front thigh muscles. Keep your feet as straight as possible, exhale and incline forward from the hip joints as you move your head and torso simultaneously in synchronous.

STEP 2

Next, slide the middle and index fingers of both hands between the big and second toes of both feet. Then curl those fingers under and grab the big toes solidly, as you wrap your thumbs around the 2 other fingers to ensure a good wrap. Push with your toes down against your fingers. In case you can’t manage reaching the toes without exerting your back too much by rounding it, drive a strap under the ball of each foot, grab the straps and hold them steadily.

STEP 3

Breathe in and raise your torso, imitating an intention to stand up then straighten your elbows. Straighten up the front trunk, and next time you breathe out, lift your sitting bones. Given into an account how flexible you are, your lower back will get concaved less or more. While doing this, hollow the lower part of your belly by gently raising it towards your pelvis’s back and release the hamstrings.

STEP 4

Lift the top of the sternum as high as you possibly can, but be careful not to compress the back of your neck by lifting the head too much. Try to relax the forehead. Keep lifting the front trunk and contracting the thigh muscles for couple of more inhalations. On every exhalation, firmly raise your bones as you slowly relax your hamstrings. While doing this, continue hollowing the lower back. In the end, breath out, bend the elbows out to the sides, pull up on the toes, straighten the side and front parts of the torso, then lightly proceed with bending forward.

STEP 5

Do you have long hamstrings? If so, then you can push your forehead toward the shins. In the opposite scenario, if you hamstrings are shorter, it’s advisable to concentrate on maintaining greater length of the front torso. Stooping into a forward bend isn’t quite harmless for the lower back and is futile in lengthening the hamstrings. Hold the final position for 1 minute. After that, release your toes, bring your hands to the hips and straighten your front torso again. Joggle the front trunk and head simultaneously back to upright with an inhale.

Tip For Beginners:

If you find it kind of hard to keep your knees straight and easily hold your toes at the same time, tie a strap around the middle of each arch to have the utility of handholds, instead of knee bend. You can try a slightly different variation of the big toe pose that may be a bit easier to perform. Just try to place your hands (or fingers if the whole hand is too hard for you) on the floor just in front of your toes.

Big toe pose video

Downward Facing Dog (Sanskrit name: Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward Facing Dog

Whether we’re talking about yoga benefits for men or women, the downward facing dog is equally beneficial to both genders. Learning how yoga improves digestion with one of the most famous poses in the ancient teachings that provides the complete general, revitalizing stretch sounds great, doesn’t it?

General benefits of this exercise include:

  • Improves digestion
  • Rejuvenates the body
  • Fortifies the legs and arms
  • Stretches the hamstrings, arches, calves, shoulders, and hands
  • Soothes the brain and assists in relieving stress
  • Good for osteoporosis prevention
  • Has therapeutic effect on blood pressure, sinusitis, sciatica, asthma, flat feet
  • Reduces insomnia, headache, fatigue, and back pain.
  • Relieves menstrual symptoms in women when performed with the head supported

Cautions and Contradictions:

  • Diarrhea
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Pregnancy – don’t perform if you’re late-term
  • Headache or high blood pressure: support your head on a pillow, the level of the ears should be between the arms.

STEP 1

Begin the downward-facing dog onto the floor on your knees and hands. Position your hands a bit forward of the shoulders and your knees straight below the hips. Spread your palms with the index fingers a bit turned out or parallel, and fold downward your toes.

STEP 2

Lift your knees away from the ground as you exhale. Initially, you should keep the knees slightly bent, while the heels should be raised away from the ground. Straighten out the tailbone away from the pelvis’s back and push it gently in the direction of the pubis. You’ll feel a moderate resistance, and during that time you have to raise the sitting bones in the ceiling direction. From the inner ankles, pull the inner legs up into the groins.

STEP 3

Exhale and at the same time press your top thighs back and straighten the heels either toward the floor or onto it. Stretch the knees but avoid locking them. Roll the upper thighs inward carefully and steady the outer thighs. Tighten the front of the pelvis.

STEP 4

Steady the outer arms and press the index fingers’ bases solidly into the ground. From those 2 points raise along the inner arms from the wrists all the way to the end of the shoulders. Harden the shoulder blades against the back, then broaden them and pull them toward the tailbone. Position your head between the upper arms and avoid letting it hang.

STEP 5

Stay in the downward facing dog pose from 1 to 3 minutes. After that bend the knees to the ground as you exhale and rest for a while in the child’s pose.

Modification:

To deepen the feel of the outer arm’s work, wrap and secure a strap around the arms, just a little above the elbows. Picture that the strap is fastening in, pushing the outer arms in against the bones. Against the resistance you feel, press the inner shoulder blades outward.

Tip For Beginners:

Should you happen to experience issues with releasing and opening the shoulders in the downward facing dog pose, lift your hands off the ground on two blocks or the seat of a solid folding chair.

Downward facing dog video

Intense Side Stretch (Sanskrit name: Parsvottanasana)

Intense Side Stretch

At last, but not least, we have the intense side stretch pose that can let you feel the yoga health benefits for digestion, among other advantages for your well-being.

General benefits of this exercise include:

  • Improves digestion
  • Stretches the spine, wrists and shoulders, hamstrings, and hips
  • Improves posture and balance
  • Improves the work of the abdominal organs
  • Fortifies the legs
  • Relieves tension

Cautions and Contradictions:

  • You should avoid doing the full forward bend of this exercise in case you have high blood pressure or back injury.

STEP 1

From a stand up position, exhale and take a step or slightly jump your feet 3.5 feet to 4 feet apart. Place hands on hips, then rotate your left foot in 45 to 60 degrees to the right, and turn your right foot out to the right in around 90 degrees. Level the left and right heels. Harden your thighs and rotate your right thigh outward until the central part of the right knee cap is in one line with the central area of the right ankle.

STEP 2

Breathe out and turn the torso to your right, as you square the front pelvis with your yoga mat’s front end to the maximum. While the left hip point turns ahead, press the head of the left femur back so it can ground the back of the heel. Pull the outer thighs inward, just like as if you were squeezing something between the thighs. Firm and harden the scapulas against the back of your trunk, straighten the coccyx toward the ground, then arch your upper torso to the back gently.

STEP 3

Proceed with a consecutive exhalation and simultaneously tilt the torso forward from the groins over your right leg. When the trunk is square to the floor, stop leaning. Push with your fingertips to the floor on both sides of your right foot. If you can’t touch the floor, use two blocks or the seat of a solid folding chair as support for your hands. Pull the thighs back and lengthen the trunk forward, raising through the top of your sternum.

STEP 4

From this position the leg that’s in front tends to lift up toward the shoulder and sweep a little to the side, which abbreviates the front-leg side. Note that you have to soften the front-leg hip towards the floor and away from the shoulder of the same side whilst you keep squeezing the outer part of the thighs. Push down the big toe’s base and the inner heel of the front foot solidly into the ground, then raise inner groin of the front leg deep into your pelvis.

STEP 5

For the next couple of breaths, hold your head and torso parallel to the floor. After that, if you feel flexible enough, shorten the distance between the top of the thigh and the front torso, but avoid rounding forward from the waist to do it. Eventually the long front torso will rest down on the thigh. Try holding this position for 15 to 30 seconds of time. Next, come up with a deep inhalation by pressing firmly through the back heel, drawing the coccyx down and after that into the pelvis. After that, go to the left side

Modification:

As you bend into the pose, in case you find your back heel going up, try executing with the back heel pressed against a wall. When the heel has contact with the wall it would be easier for you to keep it on the floor. Another alternative to cope with a lifting heel is to put it on a sandbag.

Tip For Beginners:

Between pressing the hands together behind your back and having them on the floor, there is a middle position. Just cross your arms behind your back, parallel to your waist. Hold each elbow with the opposite hand. When you’ve placed your right leg in front, position the right arm behind the back. When you perform with your left leg on front, bring the left arm first.

Intense side-stretch pose video

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga
https://www.niddk.nih.gov


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