Today, with the low quality of the Standard American Diet, (SAD) it is more commonplace for people to suffer with symptoms of digestive upset including gas, bloating, nausea, irregularity, cramping, and diarrhea.
In fact, digestive problems affect an estimated 60-70 million Americans every year.(1) That’s because the SAD includes high amounts of red meat, dairy, fat, sugar, as well as highly-refined, processed carbohydrates, and junk foods.(2)
The lack of fresh fruits, and vegetables, and whole grains in the SAD has left many Americans suffering with some very uncomfortable (and embarrassing) tummy troubles. With so many different digestive problems plaguing Americans today, people are wondering, “How can I improve my digestion?”
Breath as Energy
Yoga breathing techniques involve a combination of muscular activity in the abdominals, as well as internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy.
This is known in yoga as prana or “life force energy.” Once yoga practitioners start converting their breath into energy, they often report significantly reduced digestive trouble.
People who have tried yoga in its many forms often feel more relaxed, and energized after only a few minutes of breathing practice, and studies have shown that practitioners often notice positive changes in life perspective, self-awareness, and an improved sense of energy to live life fully with genuine enjoyment.(3)
4 Simple Yoga Poses (Asanas) for Better Digestion
Yoga breathing techniques are heightened when paired with different physical positions, also known as asanas. By applying yoga breathing exercises to these poses, you may notice improvements in overall digestive functioning, and a feeling of vitality.
1. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Starting in a forward fold at the back of your yoga mat, walk your hands out to the front, keeping arms shoulder-width, and feet hip-width apart. If this is too intense, you can take the hands, and feet wider. Then turn the heels slightly outward, and lower them with even pressure from the inside and outside of the ankle. If your heels are too high, place a folded blanket underneath them, and try to get them to touch the blanket.
Relax the head, and bring it up near your biceps with the chin slightly pulled in. Lift the forearms, and melt the chest towards the thighs simultaneously lifting the hips. Place your gaze either at the tip of your nose, at the waist, naval, or just leave your eyes closed. Once in position, it is time to work the breath in.
With the pelvic floor engaged, fill your belly with breath, and let it balloon out, while the chest expands on the inhale for a count of 4, through the nose. After a brief hold of the inhale, push the breath completely back out of the belly, and chest through the nose. While holding the breath out, draw the navel up towards the spine, and ultimately vacuum it into the ribs. The more advanced you get at practicing this technique, the longer you can hold the exhale out, and move your stomach around the rib cage.
2. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) or Cobra
This pose often comes paired with Downward Dog, and does a great job of stretching, and stimulating the digestive process.
Start by laying on the belly, then bring the elbows under the shoulders, and come onto the forearms. Take the legs slightly apart, and lift the chest bringing the upper ribs through the shoulders. If you have the upper body strength it is then safe to transfer your weight into the palms, and lift the elbows. Lifting the chin will also stimulate the throat area which, along with the mouth, is the beginning of the digestive system.
3. Reclining Twist
Starting on the back, hug your right knee into the chest, and move the hips to the right. Take the left hand to the outer right thigh, and guide the knee over to the left. Slide the left leg into the center of the mat, and extend the spine through the left foot by pointing the toes. Look over the right shoulder, and attempt to get the right knee, and the right shoulder on the floor. You can modify this position with both knees neatly stacked over to the left.
From here, the belly is folded in half similar to a pretzel. Feel the belly balloon out, and the chest expand on the inhale, and as the belly, and chest draw back on the exhale, hold the breath out, and get the right shoulder closer to the ground. Keep the breath held out longer, for maximum results, and try exhaling out of the mouth until your lungs are empty. Then reseal your lips.
4. Helicopter Legs Plow
Starting in plow pose (with the feet up, and over the head, and the hands on the hips) take the right leg up so it is perpendicular to the ceiling. Then take the left leg up about 10%. Bend the right knee, and take your foot over to the left – steering the hips with your hands so the right hip moves away from the body, and the left hip gets closer to the chest. This will bring the straight left leg over to the right in front of your face. After several deepening breaths, and turns of the hips, return the hips directly over the shoulders, and switch with the left leg up, knee bent, and right leg straight, and down. This isometric twisting around the center of the spine greatly increases intestinal movement.
NOTE: Twists such as this are not recommended for expecting mothers, or people with back injuries. If unsure how to do ANY of the above poses, please consult a trained instructor before attempting.
Yoga is a wonderful, and relaxing way to boost the functions of a healthy digestive system. Today, with so many poor food choices available to you including processed, packaged, and fast food, it can be difficult to keep tummy troubles at bay. However, practicing a few yoga techniques may help. If you are suffering with the common symptoms of digestive upset, including gas, bloating, indigestion, or even more serious problems like chronic irregularity, consider trying these yoga breathing exercises. Used for centuries as a way to boost energy levels, and increase digestive fire they are well-known to help improve GI function.
For more helpful articles follow the links below:
1. Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
2. Standard American Diet. NutritionFacts.org.
3. Catherine Woodyard. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jul-Dec; 4(2): 49–54.