Yoga for a happier gut
According to Ayurveda, you are not what you eat. Rather, you are what you digest. You can eat the right food and still not get the maximum benefit from them if your digestion or “agni/digestive power” is weak.
Today we are going to look at some yoga poses which aid in a healthy gut function, enhance your agni and also make you feel more energetic. But first let’s understand how yoga practice can be an asset for our digestive system. When we are stressed, our body struggles to digest food which leads to diarrhoea, bloating, constipation and general gut discomfort.
There is a direct pathway from the brain to the gut which is called the vagus nerve. Certain kinds of stimulation to the vagus nerve can beneficially impact certain psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, etc. This is where Yoga can be beneficial. When you are under high stress, your digestion will either be superloose or backed up. This is because the Sympathetic Nervous system which is responsible for flight or fight response is in overdrive. When you take slow and deep breaths, the autonomic nervous system comes into action and helps to activate the rest and digest function of the nervous system. Yoga helps in moving people to the relaxed state of being which positively affects digestion. Especially for diseases such as IBS and colitis which can flare up because of stress, yoga can help manage the symptoms better in these cases.
Yoga also helps drive blood flow to internal organs and increase oxygen supply to them so that they can do their job better. Certain yoga postures gently compress the stomach and colon which can help get stuff moving internally. Let’s discuss some of these yoga poses below:
1) The Cat Cow Pose
The Cat-Cow pose or Marjaryasana – Bitilasana is like a massage for your internal organs. The alternate arching and rounding of the back helps in compressing and lengthening the intestines. You need to remember to inhale and exhale deeply between the cat and cow poses as it will help in massaging your digestive system and bring fresh blood to the epithelial cells which will in turn help in good digestion.
To enter this pose, bring your hands beneath your shoulders and knees beneath your hips. Inhale, drop your belly button down and lift your heart and hips to the sky into Cow Pose. Exhale, round your upper back toward the sky, dropping your gaze to your navel and pressing your hands and feet into the ground in Cat Pose.
2) Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose or Setubhanda is an inverted back -bend that mimics the shape of a bridge. This backbend and accessible inversion compresses the digestive organs and also encourages blood to the heart which can relieve any fatigue that you might be feeling. This powerful pose stretches your back and aids constipation and also alleviates menstrual cramps. Avoid the pose if you are currently experiencing any kind of stomach pain as the pressure might aggravate pain.
To enter this pose, lie on your back, place your feet flat on the floor as close to your hips as possible. Exhale and press your inner feet and arms into the floor while stretching your knees forward. Pull your feet toward your body and slightly lift your thighs away from the floor. At the same time, lift your chest and head upward. Keep your pelvis flat on the floor. Once in this position, use your breath to create a rocking motion. Inhale to let the abdomen expand while rocking slightly back and exhale to contract the abs while rocking slightly forward. This motion massages the digestive system.
3) Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana is not just great for a good hamstring stretch but is also a powerful core workout which stimulates the torso and hence the entire digestive system.
To enter this pose, start with a plank to set up your hands and feet. Place your hands at shoulder distance and feet outer-hip-distance apart. Use your core to press your hips up and back. Now take deep breaths into your belly, pulling the navel up and in toward the back of your heart each time you exhale. This move will help nourish your intestines.
4) Deep Squat
Deep Squat or Malasana is every yoga teacher’s favourite pose. It is one of the best poses for digestion as when the knees, hips and ankles are folded deeply, it stimulates the agni or digestive fire. Also, malasana is the stance that our ancestors used to excrete waste from the body. This asana relaxes the digestive system and pushes the waste and toxins downwards easily.
To enter a deep squat, place your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the floor. Squat down like you are sitting on a chair. As you begin to lower down, your knees will travel forward over your toes, and your hips will travel backward to keep your centre of gravity over your feet. Your torso and pelvis will stay aligned as you bend at your hips. At the lowest depth, your pelvis will be in alignment with your shins. Finally, push through your feet with your weight centred just in front of your ankles and return to the starting position.
5) Supine Spinal Twist
This spinal twist, also known as Supta Matsyendrasana helps reduce constipation and bloating. In the pose when you twist your torso, it activates your digestive system. Twisting in any asana encourages detox and movement. This is also a great pose for lower back stretching and increasing spinal mobility.
To enter this pose, lie on your back and bring one knee up towards your chest. Then cross that knee in front of you and drop it onto the opposite side of your body. You can use the opposite side hand to press your knee or thigh gently to deepen the stretch, while keeping the other arm extended out to the side.
6) Cobra Pose
Cobra pose or Bhujangasana is a heart opening backbend which stretches the belly muscles as well as the back muscles and aids in digestion
Start by lying on your stomach and keeping your feet hip-width apart and the palms of your hands flat on the floor by your lower ribs. Keep your elbows bent. Extend your feet so that the tops of your feet are touching the ground. Slowly bring your head and chest upward. Keep your elbows slightly bent as you slowly straighten your arms. Roll your shoulders back and down. Be sure to keep your pelvis on the floor and focus on bringing your chest and upper back up and forward.
7) Wind Relieving Pose
Wind relieving pose or pawanmuktasana helps in expelling gas from the stomach and also strengthens the stomach muscles. It gently massages the large intestines to encourage bowel movement.
To enter this pose, lie down on your back with your legs straight and your hands at your side. Take a deep breath and raise your legs. Now, bend your knees and bring them towards your chest. Wrap your arms around your knees and hug them to keep them near your chest. Try to touch your knees with your nose.
A combination of deep breathing along with stretches and twists that target abdominal muscles help in pushing out intestinal toxins, relieves digestive discomforts and improves overall quality of digestion. If you are looking for more motivation to start your yoga practice, check out Leviosa’s yoga props here.
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