Yoga for Digestion

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Yoga can be beneficial when practicing mindfulness, relaxation, improving strength and balance. But did you know that yoga can be great for the gastrointestinal tract?

That is because your brain and your gut is connected. Gastrointestinal diseases can result in side effects of stress, anxiety and may make it difficult for individuals to live their day-to-day lives.  Your digestive tract is comprised of 100 million mesh-like body neurons, which is the network of nerve cells referred to as the enteric nervous system. It is so extensive that some scientists call the enteric nervous system our “second brain.”   The vagus nerve (a thick cable of neurons running between the base of the brain and our gut) allows the brain and the gut to communicate with each other, with information flowing bi-directionally.  Because of this, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause OR the product of stress, anxiety, or depression.

Techniques such as meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, gut-directed relaxation training, and exercising are all proven therapies to help you better deal with stress levels and improve mood, and consequently symptoms of digestive discomfort.

Studies have shown that video and in-person yoga classes significantly improve anxiety and quality of life in patients with GI disorders. [1] Individuals with IBD specifically have reported reduced stress and improved ability to manage physical symptoms after partaking in yoga.[2] Mind-body interventions are great alternatives to standard gastrointestinal disease treatments.

We’ve compiled ten yoga poses that support the GI tract. Scroll through these poses and try them out yourself!

*Note: The images shown are directional- everyone’s body is different! Always speak to your healthcare provider to determine what is best for your body.

Wind relieving pose

This pose relaxes the abdomen, hips, thighs, and buttocks. Relaxing your body, especially your bowels and intestines, can help you pass gas and thus make going to the bathroom easier. Doing this pose may also help with bloating and trapped gas through compression and release.

How to:

  • Lie on your back; bend your knees and bring your legs to 90 degrees.
  • Place your hands at the top of each shin or reach for your elbows.
  • Inhale and expand your belly while moving your knees towards the bottom of the mat.
  • Exhale and draw your knees in towards the chest.

Forward Fold

The forward fold compresses the digestive organs and stimulates circulations which helps to encourage digestion.

How to:

  • From a standing position; place your toes together with heels slightly apart; fold at the hips, and rest your stomach on your thighs.
  • Place your fingers next to your toes on the mat and bend your knees as much as needed to allow for that, with your weight shifted to the balls of your feet.
  • Gaze to your stomach.
  • Lift sitting bones to the ceiling to lengthen and continue folding.

Virasana

The kneeling in this pose creates stimulation in the stomach area, which is good for relieving bloating and can improve digestion.

How to:

  • Kneel on the floor with your knees touching.
  • Slide your feet apart, slightly wider than hips, with the tops of your feet flat on the mat.
  • Remove skin and flesh of calf muscles away to make room to sit down between feet (using a block to support sitting bones if they don’t rest comfortably on the mat).
  • Press thigh bones into the mat while lifting your sternum.
  • Widen your collar bones, and lay hands in your lap.

Twisting Chair

The act of twisting helps improve mobility and motility!

How to:

  • From a standing position; with your toes together and heels slightly apart, sit in an imaginary chair and shift your weight to your heels.
  • Hands to prayer position in front of your heart and twist to the right, bringing your left elbow to your right knee.
  • Pull left hip back to keep knees aligned and repeat on the other side.

Child’s Pose

This pose gently stretches your spine, thighs, hips, and ankles. It can also be used as a resting pose during yoga practice before and after more advanced poses. The light compression on your stomach in this pose can activate digestion.

How to:

  • Sit on mat with knees touching. Bring toes together and spread knees to either edge of the mat; enough for the torso to lower between thighs as sitting bones drawtowards feet.
  • Bring your forehead and bridge of the nose to the mat, relaxing your neck with arms overhead on the mat and palms facedown.
  • With each inhale lengthen the torso, exhale draw sitting bones towards the feet.

Cobra

This pose stretches belly muscles, improves posture and supports general digestion.

How to:

  • Lie on your stomach, with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Place your palms flat on the floor by lower ribs, with your elbows bent.
  • Extend your legs, press the tops of your feet & all toenails into the mat, and keep your pelvis on the mat.
  • Press into your hands, slowly straightening the arms while bringing your head and sternum up & forward. Roll your shoulders back and down.

Bow

This posture can increase blood flow to the digestive system, helping with constipation, digestion, and bloating.

How to:

  • Lie on your stomach with your legs straight and hands to your sides with palms up.
  • Bend your knees and bring your feet as close to your buttocks as possible.
  • Reach back and gently grab your ankles; keep knees hip-width.
  • While keeping your pelvis on the mat, lift your feet skyward, lifting your thighs away from the mat.
  • At the same time, lift your chest and head upward.

Seated Spinal Twist

This pose massages the intestines and abdominals and stimulates blood flow, which can increase movement in the digestive tract.

How to:

  • Sit on the floor, with your legs straight out in front.
  • Take your left foot and place it flat on the ground on the outside of the right knee.
  • Place left hand at the base of the spine with fingers facing away.
  • Inhale and bring the right arm up to lengthen.
  • Exhale and place your elbow on the outside of the left knee; slowly twisting to the left, while bringing your gaze over the left shoulder.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Bridge

A mild inversion that helps move blood flow in the opposite direction, encouraging digestion.

How to:

  • Lay on your back and bend your knees.
  • Bring your feet close so your fingertips can almost touch the back of your heels.
  • Press your feet into the mat and slowly lift your pelvis using your hamstrings. Keep your chin neutral and gaze skyward.
  • Lift your sternum and ribs skyward, while tucking your arms underneath the body with your fingers interlaced or arms pressed into the mat, elbows bent and fingers skyward.

Waterfall

This pose reverses blood flow which stimulates circulation and digestion.

How to:

  • Lie on your back and extend your legs skyward, one at a time and flex your feet.
  • Rest arms comfortably at sides.
  • Can also be done with your butt up against a wall.

To learn more about the brain-gut connection and its role in digestive disorders, view our webinar with Dr. Christopher N. Andrews, MD, MSc, FRCPC, AGAF, Clinical Professor, Gastroenterology and Dr. Maitreyi Raman, MD, MSc, FRPC, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary, Gastroenterologist, Physician Nutrition Specialist.


References:

  1. Wilke, E., et al. “Effects of Yoga in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and on Frequent IBD-Associated Extraintestinal Symptoms Like Fatigue and Depression.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, vol. 45, Elsevier Ltd, 2021, pp. 101465–101465, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101465.
  2. Arruda, Jenna M., et al. “Yoga as Adjunct Therapy for Adolescents with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Pilot Clinical Trial.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol. 41, Elsevier Ltd, 2018, pp. 99–104, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2018.09.007.