Yoga for Digestion

I taught a Yoga for Digestion class yesterday at Yogavidala here in Los Angeles.  I am going to provide you with the sequence from the class, but first, a few thoughts.

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about digestion or our digestive system unless a problem arises, but your digestive system is actually a lot bigger and more integral to your body than you may think.  Beginning in your mouth and continuing down your throat, through your esophagus, into your stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon, rectum and anus and also incorporating bile from your liver and gall bladder, enzymes produced by your pancreas, and excretion through your kidneys, bladder, and urethra, and signals cued from your thyroid and hypothalamus, your digestive system is really pretty enormous and involved.  Moreover, there are deep emotional connections to our digestive tract.  Even in our language, we suggest that there are deep emotional components to the workings of our digestive system. “My stomach is in a knot” or “I knew it in my gut” and science is beginning to back this up as well, showing, for instance, that there are neurotransmitters in the gut.

So, what do we do to take care of our digestion and how can yoga help?  Exercising, eating a consistently healthy diet, drinking enough water, stress management, and listening to the cues from our body about when and how much to eat are all important parts of maintaining digestive comfort and health, but the main focus of my class yesterday was how our society’s emphasis on a flat, tight, hard stomach can hinder our digestive processes.

In our society, most of us tense and constrict our abdominal area, both in exercise and throughout our day to day life, which reduces circulation to our digestive (and reproductive) organs and makes it much more difficult to breathe (by restricting movement in the diaphragm).  In our efforts to look slim or fit into a tight pair of jeans, we are actually damaging our body’s innate biological processes.

In this yoga sequence, the belly does not initiate any of the actions, but rather stays soft and receptive and receives the benefits of the practice.  Your breath is relaxed and normal throughout the practice.

Sukhasana (Easy Sitting Pose) – find a neutral tilt to the pelvis by releasing the tailbone down and balancing the lift in the sacrum and pubic plate

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) – the “supta” poses are calming to the stomach and can even be practiced after a meal

Uttitha Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) – standing poses “soak and squeeze” the digestive organs – alternatively soaking them with oxygenated blood and squeezing out old blood, fluids and toxins

Uttitha Parsvakonasana (Extended Lateral Angle Pose – see in picture above) – this pose is particularly good for assisting with elimination (i.e. constipation and regularity)

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)

Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) – twists also incorporate the soaking and squeezing action described above

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Lateral Angle Pose)

Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) – make sure you are creating a neutral pelvis in this pose, just like in Sukhasana

Surya Namaskarasana (Sun Salutation Sequence) – movement helps tone the bowel muscles

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero’s Pose) – the panacea for many stomach issues, including a feeling of heaviness in the stomach

Salabhasana (Locust Pose) – these gentle backbends stretch the abdominal muscles and open space in the front body (and give you a slight stomach massage as you breathe)

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Urdhva Dhanurasana over a chair (Supported Upward Facing Bow over the back of a chair)

Bharadvajasana in chair (Pose to the Sage Bharadvaja sitting in the chair)

Salamba Setu Bandha on block (Supported Bridge Pose with sacrum on a block)

Chair Sarvangasana (Supported All Limbs Pose or Shoulderstand using the chair) – inversions give your digestive organs a break from the normal pull of gravity, enhances your circulation, relieves congestion, and helps balance your endocrine system that is the control panel to your digestion

Salamba Ardha Halasana (Supported Half Plow Pose)

Reclined abdominal strengtheners preparing for Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extension of Legs Pose) – abdominal muscles support the digestive organs, but this toning must happen without tension or constricting the breath – begin slowly just taking the navel towards the floor with the knees bent and hands resting at the sides, learning to soften and spread the diaphragm as the abdominal muscles work, then you can add toe touches, take your arms over your head, and eventually come into Urdhva Prasarita Padasana or variations and Jatara Parivartanasana

Salamba Adho Mukha Virasana (Supported Child’s Pose with bolster and blankets) – supported forward bends with a bolster are especially helpful for expelling gas

Savasana modified with legs in the chair seat (Modified Corpse Pose)

Yoga helps us become sensitive to the inner workings of our bodies, making us more aware of the bodily processes that usually happen unconsciously.  By bringing this consciousness to the digestive process, we become more aware of how our actions affect our digestion and, over time, our digestion improves and becomes more healthy.



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3 Responses to “Yoga for Digestion”

  1. Lynn Franklin November 27, 2011 6:28 pm #

    Becca, This sequence sound yummy. Thanks for all the information about our digestion and how the specific asanas affect it. Good stuff! Now I get to try it.

    • Becca November 27, 2011 6:41 pm #

      Definitely let me know how it feels to you. :)

  2. Bob Sweeney November 27, 2011 6:48 pm #

    Just saw an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine on the value of yoga for lower back pain, which I will send to you. Doesn’t surprise me that your yoga for digestion would be effective; I think I attended it last year.

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