No matter how healthy you might be, everyone has the occasional onslaught of holiday digestive troubles. You deviate from your normal diet and eat heavier meals, then throw in erratic meal timings, constant snacking, and the stress of holidays, and you will likely notice digestive discomfort. It can show up as gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, or a feeling of lethargy and heaviness. Chronic constipation and frequent indigestion can also give rise to other gastrointestinal disorders if not addressed early.
Ayurveda tells us that if our agni, or digestive fire, gets weak, our digestive health suffers. And the root cause of most diseases in the Ayurvedic perspective is bad digestion. Agni helps in eliminating the body’s wastes and toxins. Agni doesn’t only ensure proper digestion and excretory functions but also impacts our emotional health and general zest for life.
If you are traveling or spending the holidays with friends or family, you might not always have control over the meals served. But no matter where you are, you can rely on yoga asanas to help nourish the agni. Yoga asanas can also help lower stress and anxiety associated with the holidays.
Studies show that one contributing factor to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome is stress. According to Harvard Medical School, the human gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions. Feeling angry, anxious, or sad can trigger a response in the gut. Constant stress and depression may be related to various digestive conditions, from mild intestinal distress to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other chronic ailments.
How Yoga Asanas Help Digestion
Studies show that certain yoga poses soothe the parasympathetic nervous system and get us out of flight-or-fight mode. Once stress is lowered, digestion may become easier.
By stimulating agni, asanas help increase the appetite and balance the metabolism.
Certain asanas improve blood flow to the digestive organs.
Massaging the abdominal organs and alleviating muscular abdominal tension is possible through many asanas poses.
Yoga is an effective way to stimulate the gut-brain axis, as it switches on the “rest and digest” mode of our nervous system.
Asanas help manually move the food along the digestive tract.
Some yoga poses increase peristalsis (apana vayu), which is the movement that propels food and waste through the GI tract. This enables bowel movement and relieves constipation.
Yoga Poses for Digestion and How to Practice Them
The twisting motion of this asana massages the digestive organs, gently compresses the abdominal content, increases blood flow, and promotes bowel regularity. It does so by starting peristalsis in the intestines.
Seated twists are incredibly good at lessening bloating and relieving gas and constipation. In fact, a client I was working with had to rush to the toilet midway through our session when we were doing this particular asana!
A friend of mine complained of gas and cramping a few days after Diwali. She isn’t Indian, so all the festive eating at erratic hours, along with feasting on unfamiliar foods, got to her gut. I showed her this asana, and it helped her tremendously.
Knees-to-Chest is a gentle movement that can be relaxing and relieve lower back strain. You can choose to keep the knees together and circle them in a clockwise and counterclockwise direction to massage the abdominals. This asana also massages the large intestine to stimulate bowel movement and strengthens abdominal muscles.
This is one of my favorite poses—you get so much out of doing so little. Cat-Cow Pose transitions between two classic yoga positions that stretch your back and belly muscles: Cat Pose and Cow Pose.
This movement relieves stress and calms the mind. It can stimulate the digestive system, as the rhythmic movement massages the abdominal organs and induces peristalsis. This asana strengthens and tones the vagus nerve, which plays a huge role in digestion.
Garland Pose is a form of yogic squat that places you in the optimal position to accelerate elimination. In the old days in India, the toilets were designed in such a way that you sat in a squatting position to poop. Malasana was considered better alignment for bowel movement; in this pose, the pelvis descends, leading to a downward flow of the apana vayu, which helps in the elimination of waste.
This pose also increases blood flow to the kidneys and intestines, creates space in the lower back area, and stretches and relaxes the pelvic floor. When you squat and sit in this pose, it puts pressure on the abdomen. All this combined reduces stagnation, bloating, and helps to stimulate digestive flow. This asana also creates warmth in the body, which improves circulation and digestion.
This is a relaxing pose done right at the end of a yoga class. It calms the mind as well as the nervous system (which might be the root cause of some digestive issues). This asana offers your body a chance to rest and restore.
Yoga can help improve your digestion, but you must also keep a check on your stress levels and be mindful of your diet and lifestyle. My recommendation would be to learn and practice yoga poses under the supervision of a trained yoga instructor so you don’t hurt yourself while practicing asanas. Get familiar with what works for you and your body.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Yoga and Ayurvedic coach, contact Sweta here.
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