So we’ve talked about yoga to help with stress and to counteract sitting at a desk, but what about yoga for digestion? Yoga originated thousands of years ago in India for many spiritual, mental, and physical intentions. One of these intentions is to increase Agni (Sanskrit for “fire”), which is used in Ayurveda to refer to digestive processes in the body. In other words, what you eat is not the only factor of healthy digestion; how you move can impact digestion too.
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“A regular yoga practice can be a great asset to our digestive systems,” explained Erica Zellner, MS, CNS, and health coach at Parsley Health. “For one, stress can cause the body to struggle to digest food, leading to GI symptoms like bloating, discomfort, constipation, or diarrhea, and a regular yoga practice can calm our stress response. But also, yoga can help drive more blood flow to internal organs, to increase oxygen and nutrients to specific organs so they can do their job better (like digesting!).” Read on to try yoga poses that can improve overall digestive health.
1. Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
Think of the classic Cat-Cow as a massage for your digestive system. Alternatively arching and then rounding your back compresses and lengthens the intestines to help with digestion and overall health. Inhale and exhale as you transition between Cat and Cow to get the most out of the pose, and think of the movement as starting in the belly: let the navel relax to arch your back and look at the ceiling (Cow pose) and then contract your abs to move into Cat pose.
2. Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
I love doing this pose after meals to stretch out my stomach, and it also helps relieve minor cramping that comes with digesting a big meal (looking at you: Thanksgiving dinner). Think of the pose as a blend between Downward Dog and Child’s Pose: your hips are the highest point of the body, but you’re able to stretch the abs. The pose has been used to help relieve stomach discomfort caused by gas: since the hips are at the highest point of the body, it can help release any trapped gas bubbles (gross, but it happens to all of us, right!?).
3. Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
While this pose is one of the most challenging, it can also be one of the most rewarding (and to put it plainly, it feels hella good for the torso). Thanks to the deep twist in the torso, Revolved Triangle Pose can invigorate the abdominal organs and stimulate digestion. Just make sure you’re twisting from the abdomen (you should feel it in the obliques) to avoid putting pressure on the neck or upper back.
4. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
While you should avoid this pose if you’re currently experiencing bloat or stomach pain (the pressure might feel too intense), the powerful pose is a great stretch to try first thing in the morning or in between meals to help stimulate digestion and boost digestive health. Once in the position, use the breath to create a rocking motion: inhale to let the abdomen expand (rocking slightly back) and exhale to contract the abs (rocking slightly forward). This motion (and the breath itself) massages the digestive system. Don’t forget to engage your glutes, which will take pressure off of the lower back, spine, and hip bones.
5. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana)
While many yogis think of the common pose as a hamstring stretch or an arm exercise, it’s also an incredible core workout when done correctly, which means it also stimulates the entire torso (including the digestive system). First, use your core to press your hips back and up (rather than coming from your arms) by engaging and pulling abs back. Once in the position, take deep breaths into the belly by pulling the abdomen up, which is said to nourish the intestines.
6. Deep Squat (Malasana)
“One of the best yoga poses for digestion is Malasana (or deep squat),” suggested Krissy Jones, co-founder of major yoga company, SKY TING. “When the knees, ankles, and hips are deeply folded (like in this pose), it stimulates the digestive fire.” Sure it’s a ridiculously great hip opener, but Deep Squat Pose also happens to be a similar stance to how the body is meant to, ahem, use the bathroom (or a bush), like before bathrooms were a thing. This position relaxes the digestive system, allowing waste to go through the digestive system easier.
7. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
My favorite yoga pose of all (so relaxing) also promises some major digestive health benefits. Start twisting to the right, breathe through the twist, and then move onto the other side of the body, giving each side equal attention, breaths, and time. Similar to the Revolved Triangle Pose, twisting the torso can help stimulate the digestive system in a much simpler and more relaxing way.
8. Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
A sun salutation is a series of poses in a specific sequence that create a flow of movement. Doing the sequence two times in a row warms up the body, but also warms up the digestive fire. The poses in a Sun Salutation alternate between stretching and compressing the abdominal organs, so this part of the body is getting worked and stimulated for better digestion.