We all know that feeling of bloating and uncomfortable fullness, especially after scoffing down food too fast or indulging in a delicious meal. It’s a common thing we all experience once in a while, especially us women, who are affected by fluctuating hormones throughout our lives. In this article we will explore how yoga for digestion can help.
Indigestion and bloating can be caused by many things besides hormones, such as diet, lifestyle, and certain conditions. While it is normal to feel this occasionally, it is nevertheless uncomfortable and makes you sluggish and down.
On a more spiritual level, the digestive system is located at our core, where the solar plexus chakra resides (AKA the “Manipura chakra”). This chakra, or energy system, in our body, is responsible for making us feel low, insecure, and out of control if it is blocked – feelings that are often associated with being bloated.
A strong and open Manipura gives access to our self-confidence and efficacy, which relates to the energy we gain when our digestive tract is functioning well. While this is a more spiritual way of explaining the interconnectedness of our gut and brain, it is important to consider when trying to pursue a holistic approach to health.
One of the natural ways to improve your digestion is yoga. While yoga can’t cure anything, it can definitely ease the symptoms of indigestion and bloating. More importantly, instead of reaching for laxative teas or medicines, natural remedies within your diet and lifestyle will help your colon improve its function naturally.
Abusing laxatives and relying on stimulants for your intestines can have long-term, and potentially, even irreversible effects to your digestion.
Indigestion and bloating can be caused by many things besides hormones, such as diet, lifestyle, and certain conditions.
Cause and Effects of Indigestion
Before we delve into using yoga as a powerful tool for our gut health, it is helpful to know some of the scientific causes and effects of indigestion.
The uncomfortable tightness and swelling in the abdomen is often a sign of disturbance in the intestines, making it difficult for your body to eliminate (yes, to poop) substances.
This build-up of liquids and foods leads to gassiness, constant fullness, pain, and sometimes even acid reflux. Meanwhile, the other organs will slow down to save strength for the colon, which is why you can often feel low in energy.
With 90% of our serotonin receptors located in the gut, an unhappy gut can quite literally lead to an unhappy mind. Along with our mental health, indigestion can have lasting physical effects with diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and scarring in the digestive tract.
Therefore, whether you call this area the colon or the Manipura chakra, prioritizing your digestion can be a key factor in achieving wellness.
There can be so many reasons why you bloat and/or are constipated, but knowing them can help you identify factors in your life that could be causing this unnecessary discomfort. Consuming foods you are intolerant or allergic to will cause a disturbance in your colon, as well as eating a diet low in fiber and variety.
Hormonal changes are another cause for bloating, which is why women are more prone to it, especially in the stages leading up to their period and during menopause – check out the article we have for yoga in menopause.
Some people suffer from medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), so if you have these kinds of medical conditions, it is important to seek professional help alongside applying the holistic tools of diet and lifestyle.
Finally, stress can contribute to gut disturbance, which is why mindfulness and yoga can help.
Consuming foods you are intolerant or allergic to will create a disturbance in your colon, as well as eating a diet low in fiber and variety.
Yoga for Digestion, Why It Helps
The word “yoga,” meaning union, yolks together breath and movement for a mindful practice that centers you physically and mentally. With stress being an underlying cause for many medical conditions today, amongst indigestion, practicing yoga can infinitely improve your health holistically and in the long run.
Yoga and The Mind
As long as we are alive, our breath will always be there with us, thus, making it the best resource for us to turn to at any given time. Focusing on our breath forces us to be in the present, despite the thoughts running through our heads.
The constant invasion of thoughts is what the Buddhists call “the monkey mind,” and we are able to calm it by using our breath.
One of the best breathing techniques you can do is called “Nadi Shodhana,” otherwise known as the “alternate nostril breath.” This technique helps clear and balance both hemispheres of the mind to ease stress and anxiety.
Yoga uses the breath to guide movement, which is why it is such a strong tool for clearing your head. More scientifically, slowing down the breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers the cortisol levels in your body and allows you to relax.
With decreased cortisol, melatonin (the sleep hormone) can kick in, which will help improve your sleep as well.
Sleep is imperative for both mental and physical recovery and improves your body’s digestive and metabolic function.
Therefore, lowering cortisol levels using mindful breath and yoga can help if you suffer from indigestion.
In addition, high-stress levels will put the body in its fight-or-flight response mode, which slows the intestines down to be able to exert more energy towards the muscles that “need” it.
For more tips for mindfulness and bloating, check out this article: https://mbzen.com/yoga-for-belly-bloat/.
Yoga uses the breath to guide movement, which is why it is such a strong tool for clearing your head.
Yoga and The Body
There are many ways to exercise the body, some of which will produce more stress and can be counterproductive if you are trying to heal your gut. Yoga, as opposed to forms of movement that are high impact, will move the body in a gentler, more mindful way.
However, do not be fooled, as yoga can cause just as much sweat and burn as your Monday morning spin class!
If you do suffer from indigestion and bloat specifically, steer clear of crunches and other exercises that put pressure on the abdominal area as well, as they will just add stress to the abdomen and can cause/worsen acid reflux.
Yoga stimulates the blood flow to wake up the organs and increase oxygen around the body, resulting in producing more energy and stimulation to the colon. With all the twists and folds we do in yoga, they provide a deeper benefit than just showing off in class.
In fact, during these poses, our body is receiving an internal massage, as they bend and fold in ways that will release tension – just like when we treat ourselves to a massage on our spa day. Not only does it wake up the intestines, but it can help release some of the gases (now you have been warned).
Lastly, yoga has also been linked to helping with balancing hormones, as the increase of blood flow to the ovaries can help with cell activity (read more on yoga for hormonal balancing here: https://mbzen.com/best-yoga-for-hormones-yoga-poses-to-balance-hormones/).
Therefore, for whatever reason that is causing you to be bloated and/or blocked up, there are specific yoga poses you can do to help.
Yoga Poses for (IN)Digestion
Here is a short sequence that can be done in just 10 minutes, that can help ease the symptoms of bloat and indigestion. With these poses, you can target the points of tension where your organs are working extra hard.
Stretching out the abdomen, lower back, and hips will open up space for your intestines to work as well as ease the discomfort.
Start with lying on your back, preferably on a mat or a towel under the spine.
Hug the knees into your chest, and wrap your arms around the shins – if this is enough for your spine, then hold the stretch here, or you can rock side to side to massage the back muscles.
Relax your neck and head on the floor, and hold for one minute. This is a nice and easy pose to start with if you are blocked, gassy, and/or feeling pain, as it helps release some of the tension in the lower back.
As the pressure is higher at the abdominal area, it massages the abdomen, improving digestion.
SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA (Bridge pose)
Staying on the back, lower the feet to the floor, and keep the knees bent straight up. Make sure the heels are hip-width and close to the glutes while pressing the palms to the floor along the side of your body.
Lift the hips up and engage the glutes and back muscles, and stay here for five breaths. It’s important that the lower back is not in pain and that your knees don’t rotate inward/outward as you perform the exercise.
Lower the hips for a breath and repeat the movement 3-5 times, or as much as your lower back can handle. This pose provides a small inversion for the body to increase blood flow as well as a nice stretch and release for the abdomen.
Bridge Pose stimulates the abdominal organs and thyroid glands, which improve digestion and help regulate metabolism.
PASCHTIMOTANASANA (Seated forward fold)
Come to a seated position and straighten your legs out in front of you. Flex the feet so that the toes are pointing up, and keep the spine long, as if someone is pulling a string from the crown of your head.
Relax the shoulders as you use the hips to bend forward. Keeping the sensation of elongating the spine, see if you can reach the calves or even the toes with your hands.
This pose offers a stretch and release for the back and lets the abdomen fold for a much-needed internal massage.
Stay with this pose for 10 deep breaths.
Forward fold massages the internal organs, especially the digestive organs.
MARICHYASANA (One-legged seated twist)
Remain seated and start with bending the right knee towards the sky as you keep the left leg long and the left foot flexed. Lengthen the spine as you twist the ribcage to the right, and place the right hand behind you for support.
Maybe this twist is enough that you simply hold the knee with the left hand as you look behind you, or you can tuck the left elbow outside the right knee for a deeper twist.
This is the kind of pose that gives the organs a massage, as it offers a deep twist that can stimulate the colon while also releasing tension in the lower back.
Hold it for 5-10 breaths and repeat it on the left side.
This yoga pose promotes good digestion and encourages spinal mobility.
BITILASANA MARJARYASANA (Cat Cow pose)
Come to your hands and knees in a tabletop position – keep the palms under the shoulders and knees under the hips as you tuck the toes. Start with inhaling in cow pose, where you drop the belly, arch the back, open the chest and look forward.
On your exhale, lower the head and tuck the tailbone as you curl the spine and shoulders upwards for cat pose. Repeat these moves with your breath 5-10 times to release the spine and open the hips.
This flow creates space and flexibility for the organs to be stimulated and work more effectively.
Repeat these moves with your breath to stimulate the organs so they work more effectively.
ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA (Downward dog)
Finish the sequence with this famous pose as you are now warmed up and energized. From tabletop, press the palms and fingers equally to the floor and lift the hips up. Keep the spine long, the shoulders pressing away from the ears, and the heels working towards the floor.
Before finding stillness in this pose, you can take this dog “for a walk,” by bending the knees one by one to release the backs of your legs a little more. This pose is a great full-body stretch and engages the muscles just enough for increased blood flow and still leaving you energized.
It also allows you to notice other areas in your body that may be tense, which you can then further work on after this sequence – every BODY is different, so we all have different areas where we are naturally stiffer!
Try to stay with this pose in stillness for 10 deep breaths.
Check the other benefits of this pose!
This pose is a great full-body stretch that also massages your digestive organs improving their functioning.
Whether you suffer from digestive issues or not, this sequence can benefit everyone and is easily done at home. These poses will target the solar plexus and help you unblock some tension you may feel as a result of stress and/or anxiety.
With the focus on this area and practicing linking breath with movement, this flow can help your digestive tract and, at the same time, empower you and encourage you to take more time for yourself.
Yoga is beneficial in all aspects of our health, especially because we all need more mindful movement in our lives. Perhaps this sequence can inspire you to do more yoga, without needing a specific reason for it other than to just feel good!
Hi, I’m Amanda! I’m a singer/actress as well as a yoga instructor, who is super passionate about holistic wellness. Having suffered mental and physical stresses due to the hectic life of a performer, I have regained strength through practicing yoga, mindfulness, and healthy eating. I am a firm believer in the power of holistic health to navigate this crazy world we live in, and I hope to help and inspire others on their journeys to a healthier, happier self.