What immediately comes to your mind when you think of yoga? You probably think of breathing exercises and next-level stretching. But really, it’s more than just a flexibility workout. Did you know, studies show that practicing yoga has health benefits to it as well?
A recent article by the National Institute of Health mentions several results of such studies on yoga, and presents this 2,000-year old discipline as a possible measure against stress, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. The article also cites how yoga helps relieve muscle pain, as well as people who are trying to quit smoking or lose weight.
But researchers are discovering that those benefits are not all there is to yoga. They’ve also found how yoga can do much to benefit our guts.
If you’re currently suffering from constipation, indigestion, gas, acid reflux, and other digestive health issues, we feel you. And while you can try to address your digestive problems by changing the way you eat and the types of food you take in, why not try out a more holistic approach? Now we’re not saying that you shouldn’t switch to a healthy diet. We agree that you need to ditch eating junk food and processed sugars and go for wholefoods instead. But doing yoga along with that diet change can work wonders for your digestive system.
Take a look at 8 yoga poses you can do wherever and whenever to help boost your gut health.
1. Marjaryasana Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
Photo: Micheal Winkler. Credits to: https://www.yogajournal.com/
What it does: The cow pose helps you warm up for the next set of yoga poses. It serves as a gentle massage to your stomach and other belly organs, as well as to your spine. It also helps in circulating blood to your digestive tract and helps stimulate peristalsis.
Step 1: For this pose, you first need to get down on your knees, making sure your legs are a hip distance apart. Next, position both of your hands firmly on the floor or on your mat. Check that your knees are directly below your hips, and your shoulders and elbows are perpendicular to the floor or mat, as shown in the photo.
Step 2: Take a deep breath. As you inhale, raise your head and look straight forward, lifting your hips and curving your back as you do. If you have a neck injury, make sure to keep your head in line with your torso.
Step 3: Exhale and return to the neutral position outlined in Step 1. Repeat the process for 10 to 20 times.
2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
What it does: This pose works to relax your nervous system and restore energy levels. This is important as our digestive system works in tandem with the nervous system. High stress levels can take a heavy toll on our guts. In fact, stress and anxiety are a major cause for common digestive problems such as indigestion, constipation, and acid reflux. So, learning how to relax our nervous system can help relieve our digestive tract as well.
Step 1: Start this pose by getting down on your hands and knees, almost similar to the first position of the Cow Pose (Marjaryasana Bitilasana). This time, however, position your hands slightly forward of your shoulders, as seen in the picture above. Make sure your palms are spread open and angled away from your body, while your feet are angled inward.
Step 2: Take a deep breath and then exhale, gradually lifting your knees and heels off the floor and arching your body as you do so. In this position, your sitting bones should be lifted up towards the ceiling.
Step 3: Next, stretch your heels so it is positioned flat on the floor. This should straighten your knees and you should be feeling a firmness in your outer thighs. However, be careful not to lock your knees in this pose.
Step 4: Focus on the upper part of your body, and slowly broaden your shoulders, pulling it away from your ears as you lengthen your spine.
Step 5: Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing as you hold this pose for 1 to 3 minutes.
3. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
What it does: Balasana helps you to rest in between challenging yoga poses. Done correctly, this helps you to focus on your breathing and calm your thoughts at the same time stretches your lower body. However, caution is needed for individuals with knee injury. If you have diarrhea or are pregnant, it would be best to perform a different pose as the Child’s Pose could be extremely uncomfortable for you.
Step 1: Get down on your knees and sit on your heels, your big toes touching. Then spread your legs, keeping it a hip-distance apart.
Step 2: Lean forward with your hands stretched out in front of you, head down until you feel your forehead touch the floor or mat.
Step 3: Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds or up to several minutes while you focus on your breathing.
4. Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
What it does: This pose helps stimulate your digestive organs and aids in detoxification. It thus works best for individuals who suffer from constipation, dysmenorrhea, respiratory ailments, and mild back pain, among others. It also offers relief to those who are suffering from anxiety and fatigue. The traditional Matsyasana involves complicated positions which beginners may find difficult to perform. To keep things simple for you, we will stick to a simpler form of this pose, where you have the option to bend your knees or keep your legs flat on the floor. You may also want the assistance of a yoga expert if you’re performing this pose for the first time.
Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Then, take a deep breath, slightly lifting your pelvis off the floor so your hands could slide underneath your buttocks. Keep your elbows close to your body as you do this.
Step 2: Gradually arch your back and lift your chest as you inhale. Be careful not to put too much weight on your head as you do this to prevent a neck injury.
Step 3: Hold this pose for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Keep your breathing normal. Then slowly lower your back to the floor and then draw your thighs up to your belly and squeeze.
5. Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Twist)
What it does: The supine twist is effective in relieving discomfort and digestive cramps. This twist also aids the body in expelling waste, which works well for people suffering from constipation.
Step 1: Take a few deep breaths as you lie flat on your back with your legs stretched out and your hands to your sides. If your chin juts upward toward the ceiling, try elevating your head a bit with a folded blanket or a pillow.
Step 2: Bring your thighs up to your chest, and then extend your left leg and your right hand.
Step 3: Keep your right leg bent and then with your left hand, draw your right leg across your body, as seen in the photo. Try to bring your right leg as close to the floor as you can while keeping your back flat on the floor as you do this.
Step 4: With your right leg drawn across your left leg, fix your gaze on your extended right hand. Hold this pose for at least 10 breaths and then do the same with the other leg.
6. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Crescent Twist)
What it does: The crescent twist, also known as a revolved side angle pose, helps strengthen your legs, knees, and ankles.It also stimulates belly organs, thereby helping improve digestion and relieve constipation. Caution is needed for individuals who suffer from high or low blood pressure as well as those suffering from insomnia. For those who have neck injuries, skip the part where you need to turn your head. Instead, keep your head straight or look down on the floor.
Step 1: Put your left foot forward and extend your right foot backwards. Then bend your left foot so as to stretch your right leg.
Step 2: Bring your hands up to your chest as if you’re praying. Make sure to keep your back leg straight as you do this.
Step 3: With your hands in the same ‘prayer’ pose, twist your torso over to your left side and then bring your right elbow down towards your left knee. Keep your head turned up as you do this.
Step 4: Hold the pose for 1 to 3 minutes, and then repeat the process on the other side.
7. Pawanmuktasana (Wind Relieving Pose)
What it does: As the name suggests, this pose works particularly well for those who feel bloated and helps relieve indigestion by aiding the body in pushing out unwanted toxic gas from your stomach and intestines. However, this pose is not advisable to those who are pregnant or are still recovering from abdominal surgery. It is also not for those who have spinal injury.
Step 1: Start this pose by lying on your back with your legs and arms extended. Take a deep breath and then draw your thighs up to your chest as you exhale.
Step 2: Hold your right leg, keeping it curled up to your chest as you extend your left leg out.
Step 3: Hold the pose for up to 1 minute before repeating the process with your other leg.
Step 4: Bring back both of your knees to your chest and then slightly pull your body up, drawing your head to your knees. Keep your hands clasped around your knees and hold this pose for at least one minute. Then gradually release both legs and let it rest against the floor.
8. Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)
Photo by: Jeff Nelson. Credits to: https://www.yogajournal.com/
What it does: This pose stretches out the stomach and digestive tract, helping relieve common digestive problems such as indigestion and stomach cramps. It is also particularly helpful for those who are constipated. This pose is not advisable for those who have knee injuries. If you are a beginner, it would be helpful to perform this pose with a rolled-up blanket placed between your thighs and calves.
Step 1: Go down on all fours, and keep your knees a hip-distance apart. Your hands should be perpendicular to the floor.
Step 2: Stretch out your upper body, extending your hands above your head and with your forehead almost touching the ground. Keep your arms straight and make sure that your elbows do not touch the ground as you do this.
Step 3: Pull your hips back to fully stretch your spine. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds to a minute and then slowly release the pose and sit on your heels.
Caring for Your Body While Doing Yoga
Yoga positions involves a lot of movement and requires a certain measure of flexibility. If you are just beginning yoga, here are some safety tips before you begin:
1. Listen to your body
Although a minimal measure of discomfort should be expected, especially if you’re doing the poses for the first time, be sensitive to your body’s limits. If a certain pose is painful, don’t force it.
2. Don’t overthink things
Flexibility comes with practice, so don’t expect yourself to be as graceful as yoga experts during your first few tries. Yoga is not a competition, so don’t stress yourself out thinking that you should get everything right the first time.
3. Consult an expert
Some poses can be challenging for beginners. If you are unsure whether certain yoga poses are suited for your health condition, make sure to consult a medical expert or an experienced yoga teacher.
Get Yourself Started!
Want to start doing yoga to relieve your digestive problems but still at a loss of how to properly execute them? Watch this video and see how you can do yoga to boost your digestive health.
“What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now.”
If you’re just starting to do yoga, keep your expectations realistic. Don’t expect to see results overnight. Yoga can improve your digestion and your overall health, but consistency in practicing it is the key.