Did you know that yoga not only improves muscular flexibility, it can also improve our internal systems? Certain poses actually massage our internal organs and intestines and help improve digestion — as well as circulation, coordination and much more.
Finding ways to relieve and relax the stomach is an important topic for many people in today’s hectic world, as only in the U.S. alone there are between 60-70 million people who suffer from digestive issues.
When it comes to yoga, there are some studies that show how yogic breathing combined with poses can potentially help people who suffer from IBS, especially the type of IBS that is caused by anxiety, depression or other psychological distress. Chronic stress, anxiety and similar psychological ailments often lead to long-term tension in the body, which is sometimes felt most prominently in the stomach.
When you practice yoga, it’s important to maintain deep, conscious breathing. Move mindfully and gradually, flowing with grace and inner peace. Invite your muscles to stretch and contract in a gentle and caring way. We never want to push ourselves into pain or try to go too far into a pose before the body is ready.
Here are nine poses to help enhance the digestive process:
Cat-cow spinal flexion
On the hands and knees, move the spine back and forth gently. Inhaling deeply, lift the tailbone, drop the abdomen and lift the gaze, arching the back in cow pose. On the exhale, starting from the base of the spine, tuck the tailbone under, lift the abdomen and lower the gaze, rounding the back like a Halloween cat. Move at the pace of your breath.
This aptly-named position involves lying on the back and pulling each knee, one at a time, in toward the chest or armpit on the same side of the body. Deepen the internal massage by reaching for the sole of the foot while pulling the knee in. Hold for several breaths on each side, allowing the lower intestines to relax with each exhalation. After, hug both knees and rock from side to side for a couple moments in order to relax the lower back.
Twisting postures are a great way to “wring out” the inner organs, spurring the release of toxins from the physical body. (Be sure to drink plenty of water and herbal tea after yoga!)
To do a simple seated twist, sit with both legs extended in front of the body, bend the right knee and place the sole of the foot just outside the left knee. Place the right palm pressing into the ground right behind the pelvis. Inhaling, lift the left arm up. On the exhale, bend the left elbow and bring it to the right side of the right knee, twisting the spine and neck as you look back. Take 7 breaths and then slowly untwist and switch sides.
From hands and knees, press the hips back and down toward the heels and relax the chest and arms. Separate the knees to give space for the abdomen. Enjoy a rest in this restorative pose, letting the forehead press into the ground, a blanket or your hands.
Lying down on the back, pull the right knee in toward the chest. With an exhale, cross that knee over to the left side of the body. Open the arms out to the side. Bring yin qualities into the twist; let gravity do the work rather than trying to force your way into a deeper twist. Practice for a few minutes on each side.
Separate your feet and allow the toes to turn out as needed, while knowing the pose is eventually executed with the toes forward. Bend both knees, lowering the hips as close to the floor as is comfortable. If in a low squat, you can press the palms together in front of the chest and use your elbows to gently open the knees and hips.
Lying on the stomach, reach your hands for the ankles or feet. With an inhale, press the feet into the hands, lifting the head, chest and knees off the ground. Start out low. Over time, your bow will get higher as you strengthen the lower back and increase flexibility in the spine. The digestive variation of this pose involves rocking gently forward and backward in order to massage the abdominal organs.
Downward facing dog
Pressing into the palms and soles of the feet, lift the pelvis up, lengthening the spine, arms and legs. Press the heels toward the ground; it’s okay if they don’t reach. Relax the neck. Spread the fingers and toes and press the hands and feet into the Earth. Move the chest back toward the legs. A super variation is half-dog, in which you do the pose with your hands on a wall instead of on the floor.
Standing with the legs wide and the toes pointed forward, lift your arms out to the sides, parallel to the ground with the palms facing down. Keeping a straight line in the arms, tilt the torso to the right and touch your right knee or shin lightly. Hold 10 breaths. Then switch and practice on the other side.
Try bringing more yin into your yoga — and life in general! Surrender the long-held armor protecting your heart. Let go of tension and energy that is no longer needed or beneficial. Let things be as they are. Stretch with the help of gravity and time, working with the joints as well as the fascia and muscles.