Yoga is Your Digestive System’s Best Friend
Much is known about the many outstanding benefits of a regular yoga practice. A consistent yoga routine has been linked to an increased sense of mental clarity, calmness, and body awareness while also sharpening concentration and even boosting creativity. And on the physical sphere, yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, increase flexibility, build muscle tone and strength, maintain metabolism, and improve respiration, energy, and vitality.
But there’s another hidden perk that makes yoga a necessary component of any total body health system. Yoga can do wonders for your digestion.
Today, there has been a steady increase in research and studies concerning our gut health and digestion. Digestive issues such as SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Growth), GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), and other gastrointestinal issues are plaguing Americans at alarming rates, and yoga has now been shown to serve as an effective remedy for these maladies.
Not only does a consistent yoga practice reduce stress, which has been linked as a core cause of many digestive issues, but it also works to physically alleviate disruptive symptoms such as gas, bloating, and cramping.
Whether you’ve eaten the wrong thing during a birthday dinner splurge, or are experiencing chronic digestive issues throughout the week- yoga is a must-have for anyone suffering from any gastrointestinal issues.
The Science Behind Yoga and Digestion
Anecdotally, yoga has long been linked to digestive relief. Deep twisting postures are believed to detox the bowels and intestines, giving relief to any bloating or gastrointestinal distress, while a general yoga practice is shown to decrease stress which often lies at the root of most digestive issues.
“Yoga can aid digestion, elimination (constipation), and bloating by increasing circulation and energy to those areas,” says yoga teacher and nutritionist Fiona Tuck. “Yoga works on a physical level by stimulating the internal organs via various asanas and it also helps to soothe the sympathetic nervous system, decreasing stress levels and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us rest and digest.”
Tuck is not the only practitioner to profess the benefits of yoga and digestion. Kate Kendall of Active Yogi cites yoga as one of the core tenets of a healthy digestive system.
“Twists and forward bends, coupled with conscious breathwork and an emphasis on drawing the navel to the spine at the end of an exhalation are notoriously good for digestion,” she says. “Both groups of postures are like giving your internal organs a massage which is ideal for detoxification...it’s one of the things, alongside a healthy diet, that has kept my own digestive system on track.”
However, behind the wisdom and experiential evidence of many seasoned yoga practitioners and teachers is a growing body of evidence pointing more directly to the link between the practice and gastrointestinal relief.
A recent study out of Canada studied the conventional gastrointestinal treatments against yoga in a group of males aged 20-50 suffering from diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) and found a startling discovery. The 9 participants in the yoga group practiced 9 separate postures and a breathing exercise daily over the course of two months while 12 participants in the medicinal group received symptomatic treatment with lopermadine. At the end of the study, both groups improved equally in decreasing both instances of bowel movements and anxiety, while the yoga group showed a sizably enhanced parasympathetic reactivity at the end of the second month of classes and a decrease in stress response.
Further bolstering these results, another case-control study compared 186 patients suffering from chronic diseases, including gastrointestinal issues, who also practiced yoga with 186 control group patients who did not engage in the practice. Patients in the yoga group reported a better overall quality of life and health status than the control group.
Therefore, it is evident both through the conventional wisdom of the practice and the corresponding science that yoga does indeed improve digestion and can be an effective technique for combating any intestinal discomfort.
Yoga Poses for Digestion
While there are a wide number of yoga poses specifically designed to aid digestion, below is a sample of the most effective methods for reducing gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Sit on the floor with knees apart or touching
- Lower your upper body to the floor, either in between your thighs or atop them depending on your preferred variation
- Rest your forehead on the floor and extend your arms
- Take a series of deep breaths into your diaphragm as you hold the pose
- Sit on the floor, crossing one leg over the other with your foot resting by the opposite knee
- Hook your elbow around the knee and begin a gentle twisting motion from the lower abdominals
- Lengthen your spine as you breathe to deepen the twist
- Repeat on the opposite side
- Enter a kneeling position and lengthen one leg to your side, foot flat on the floor
- Reach the opposing arm up by the ear and lengthen from the side body
- Breathe deep as you lengthen
- Repeat on the opposing side
RECLINING ABDOMINAL TWIST
- Lie on your back in a relaxed state
- Bring one knee to your belly and then gently cross across your body
- Reach the same arm as leg out and breathe deep
- Repeat on the opposing side
Digestive issues are a common source of irritation and pain for a large majority of Americans. SIBO, IBS, and other gastrointestinal issues are becoming more and more prevalent across a wide demographic and therefore there is a great demand for remedies and treatment options.
While it may be tempting to lean on a quick and easy over the counter remedies that could in practice create more issues than it actually solves, consider giving these few yoga poses a try for deeper and fuller health. Over time, the practice can alleviate any discomforts and issues while also gifting you any one of the wide variety of benefits associated with the practice.