Feeling stuck? Yoga can help with constipation. Get your digestion moving again with simple yoga flows.
Yoga is a great way to fight constipation, but it's better to not get constipated in the first place. The most common cause of constipation is a lack of fiber in the diet. Don’t forget to drink enough water, too, which helps the fiber move through your system effectively.
In some cases, however, constipation has other causes. A lack of exercise, especially sitting all day, can compress the organs and make digestion more difficult. Some people find this happens with traveling—likely because of sitting on planes, in cars, or on trains for long periods of time. When this is the case, yoga for constipation is particularly effective.
Hormones can also greatly affect digestion, so if you are pregnant, taking certain medications, or have some other hormonal imbalance, constipation might arise.
Constipation can also sometimes be a little bit like an internal freeze response. When we are under a lot of stress, the body sends blood and energy out of the organs to the limbs so we can fight or flee from danger. Digestion takes a lot of energy, so if we are chronically stressed, we are essentially taking that energy away from our guts. It’s common to have diarrhea with anxiety as well, especially when we are facing an immediate threat like a big meeting or presentation. Constipation often comes with stress that is more chronic and less about a certain event. Constipation is often correlated with depression, while diarrhea is more correlated with anxiety.
How Can Yoga Help Constipation?
There are at least three specific ways yoga for constipation helps:
- Circulation: getting the blood and lymph moving in the body helps to reactivate a sluggish digestive system.
- Belly massage: Many yoga postures open, stretch, and then compress the belly, giving the intestines room to do their thing, especially if we have been sitting at a desk all day. Sending blood and energy to these organs allows them to do their job more effectively.
- Calming the nervous system. If your constipation has a relationship with stress, many aspects of yoga are calming to the body and help us to feel safe again, which can often send the body the signal that it’s okay to get things moving again.
Yoga Postures for Constipation
These are all poses you can do at home. Check with your health provider if you have any injuries or concerns before you start using yoga for constipation, or if you are pregnant, and avoid anything that feels painful or wrong in your body. If you’d like, you could do these postures in the following order at home.
There are many forms of sun salutations, and it’s easy enough to find a tutorial online if you don’t already have a favorite. In general, Sun Salutations include a relatively vigorous sequence of postures that are linked together through breath. The deep breathing and dynamic movement of the sun salutation generally includes some form of backbend and forward fold, which allows the belly to open and close while getting the circulation going and calming the nervous system, so this series really hits all our points at once. It’s also an excellent warm up for other postures.
Side bends are especially helpful for opening up the belly and encouraging the cycle of digestion. You may find this especially beneficial if you stretch the right side first, then the left.
From seated or standing, as you inhale, reach your arms up to the sky. Interlace your fingers except for the first one, so you are making a finger gun with your hands. As you exhale, lean your body over to the left, stretching your right side. Gently draw your tailbone down, and root your feet or your sit bones to the earth. Take 3-5 breaths, then switch sides.
The psoas is a muscle that runs all the way from the low back ribs through the front, attaching at the inner thigh. It runs right through the guts, and if it is particularly tight, it can compress the belly and mess with digestion. Bonus—stretching the psoas can help to reduce stress as well. Here’s how to do the pose:
Stand at the top of your mat. Step your right foot back about a leg’s length or a little less. Feet should remain about hips width apart. Let your right foot turn out about 45 degrees so that your heel comfortably rests on the floor. With both legs straight, press your back heel into the ground, engage your glutes, and tuck your tailbone under. Keep all that, and then bend into your front knee until you feel the front of your thigh stretching. If your knee goes past your ankle, you need to lengthen the stance. Reach your arms up to the sky and breathe deeply into your back. Don’t try to backbend too much, focus on tucking the tailbone and keeping the stretch on the front of the thigh or a bit into the belly. If you like, you could add a side bend, stretching to the left, away from your back leg. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then switch sides.
Squats are great for a lot of reasons, though they can be a little hard on the knees. If we can get into a full squat, the thighs press against the sides of the belly, and the pelvis is gently encouraged to open at the bottom, which can encourage movement through the digestive system.
In fact, ideally when you have a bowel movement, it’s physiologically easier for your body to do so if you are in a slight squat—feet wide, knees above hips. This is especially important if you have hemorrhoids. All you need is a small stool or ottoman to raise your feet a bit when you sit on the toilet.
To come into squat, widen your feet about mat’s width apart, and turn the toes out on a 45-degree angle or so. Sink your hips all the way down towards the floor. Bring your elbows inside your thighs and place the palms together. You may also need to modify this pose by sitting on a couple of blocks, which will ease up on the knees, and/or putting rolled towels or chip blocks under your heels. Or try it with a low-heeled shoe on! Take 5-10 deep breaths into your belly if you can.
This one is often translated as “wind release pose” because that’s what it can do! The translation is actually closer to “downward-flowing energy pose” because it is calming, but it does massage the belly. It is also an excellent pose for lower back pain and can sometimes help release the psoas as well.
To get into it, lay on your back and hug your right knee in with your interlaced fingers, holding the shin or thigh. Extend the left leg out long onto the mat in front of you. Hug the knee a little wide, toward your right shoulder, and press out through the left heel, lengthening, not lifting, the leg. Breathe down into your belly. Take 5-10 breaths and then switch sides.
Any yoga twist will tend to squeeze and compress the belly and then release it, which is one of the best things we can do for the digestive system. It’s also a lovely way to ease lower back pain and calm the nervous system, especially when we do it lying down.
From lying down with your feet on the floor, lift your hips up and move them an inch or so to the right. Then pick up your knees and place them on the floor to your left side. The more you bring the knees toward your face, the deeper the twist in the belly, but keep your lower back neutral, not rounded. Pregnant people or people with low back sensitivity might need the knees lower down. Take 5-10 breaths, and then switch sides.
Legs Up the Wall
Finally, legs up the wall is one of the best ways to calm the nervous system, relax the body, and use yoga for constipation. The inversion will also help with circulation, which benefits the digestion as well.
To do this yoga pose, lay on your side close to a wall (or you could use a couch or chair) and scootch your bum as close to the wall as you can, hugging your knees in. Then roll onto your back so that your legs go up the wall (or over the couch). You might like to add a pillow under your hips, which increases the inversion and might feel really nice (also excellent for hemorrhoids). You could also put on an eye pillow or a blanket, and then set a timer for 5-20 minutes. This yoga for constipation pose should feel very comfortable and deeply relaxing.
For more on digestion, read “Golden Mylk Recipe for Inflammation and Digestion”