Yoga for Digestion: “Twists increase circulation to the abdominal organs, helping them to function more efficiently and to remove stagnant impurities in the digestive tract.”—Charity Poole of Blessed Body Yoga
One of the innumerable benefits of yoga is improved digestion. Not only does the practice as a whole improve your digestive function, but there are also certain poses that target digestion specifically. From a broader view, we know that yoga relieves stress and anxiety. When we are stressed our physical bodies manifest the stress through various ailments, one common manifestation being poor digestion. This can include sluggish digestion, constipation, gas, bloating, and stomach discomfort.
Tackle Digestion Using Yoga: Uttanasana
To tackle digestive issues, we can first practice poses that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system; relieving anxiety, calming the nerves, stilling the mind, and cooling the fires of stress in our everyday lives. Forward bends are perfect for this, either standing or seated. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) holds a plethora of such benefits as it calms the mind, relieves anxiety and even mild depression.
To perform Uttanasana, begin standing and gently fold forward, hinging from the hip joints, not the waist. The legs can be straight or slightly bent, depending on the flexibility in your hamstrings. Drop the chest toward your thighs and let your head hang heavy. Rest the hands alongside the feet or just in front of them. Breathe deeply, 5-10 breaths.
Tackle Digestion Using Yoga: Paschimottoanasana
Another pose in the same family is Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Begin seated, extending both legs out in front of you and flex the feet. Scoot your hips under your shoulders so that you are in a nice, tall “L” shape. Hinging from the hip joints, gently fold the torso toward the thighs and grab onto the legs wherever is accessible (calves, ankles, toes). Try not to curve in to the spine too much, but think about reaching the heart toward the toes. Paschimottanasana not only calms the mind, it also massages the digestive organs and relieves digestive ailments like constipation.
Target Digestive Organs with Yoga Twisting Poses
Secondly, we can target the digestive organs with our twisting poses. Twists have many benefits, but here we will focus on their ability to improve digestion. By compressing and then releasing the abdominal organs in a twist, toxins are squeezed out and released, and fresh, oxygen-rich and nutrient-rich blood is allowed to flow in. Twists increase circulation to the abdominal organs, helping them to function more efficiently and to remove stagnant impurities in the digestive tract. Twists also release stress and anxiety, just as the forward bends do, adding yet another benefit to their effect on digestive health.
Yoga Twist: Ardha Matsyendrasana
There are many twists to choose from among the postures of yoga. One of my favorites is Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of The Fishes Pose). To practice this pose, begin seated. Bend your left knee, allowing the knee to open toward the earth and placing the left heel just outside the right sit bone. Bend the right knee and cross it over the left thigh. Place the sole of the right foot on the floor a few inches in front of your sit bone. Wrap your right knee into the crook of your left elbow, placing your right hand on the floor behind your right hip. Lengthen the spine and twist, looking out over your right shoulder. Change legs and repeat on the other side.
Supine twists are also excellent, and more restorative in nature. Lie down onto your back and draw your knees into your chest. Bring the arms out into a “T” shape, resting the palms on the earth. Dropping both knees over to the right side, and turn your head to look out over your left fingers. Twist from your waist, not your lumbar spine. Try to keep both shoulder blades rooting into the earth. Take 5-10 deep breaths and change sides, repeating on the left.
You can practice these poses on their own, or incorporate them into a longer practice. They are all great to do before bed as well, due to the calming effect they have on the nervous system. Try incorporating them into your daily routine, and watch their benefits begin to take effect.