Ease your bloating with these simple, soothing yoga for digestion moves.
If you’re looking for a physical solution to relieve digestive issues, look no further than yoga. Yoga acts to increase digestion in two specific ways: by stimulating the vagal tone and peristalsis. More on those below!
Vagal Tone: The vagal tone is connected to the vagus nerve, which is the body’s largest cranial nerve. The vagal tone starts at the base of the skull and travels through the body, affecting our digestive, respiratory, and nervous systems, and thus regulating all of our major bodily functions (including digestion). When our vagal nerve is functioning at a high rate, our vagal tone is also high. (1)
So how does yoga come into play? Yoga helps to regulate the nervous system by increasing vagal tone and, in turn, the body’s ability to successfully respond to stress. (2)
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The use of yoga breathing techniques, like the commonly used Ujjayi Breath and restorative yoga poses, help to slow the Parasympathetic Nervous System and thus increase vagal tone.
To practice Ujjayi Breathing: Seal your lips closed and place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. When you do this, you should feel a slight constriction in the back of your throat. Begin to breathe slowly in and out of the nose. Your breathing should feel textured and your exhales should be audible.
An important thing to remember is that you should always be able to hold your breath. If you lose your breath or start to strain, it is a sign to back out of the pose until you can find that balance between effort and ease!
Peristalsis: Peristalsis is the movement of food through our intestines. Yoga poses like twists help to apply a gentle pressure to the abdomen that acts like a massage for our intestines, helping to move bodily waste through the colon towards the rectum. By twisting first to the right side, we massage our ascending colon to get things moving. From there, it passes through the transverse colon. Then, when we twist to the left, we massage the descending colon. The bodily waste will then move into the sigmoid colon and out towards elimination.
Yoga For Digestion: 6 Poses To Undo Bloating
These 6 yoga poses will act to both stimulate the vagal tone and peristalsis through the use of Ujjayi breathing, twists, and restorative movements.
With the use of Ujjayi Breathing and lifting the hips above the heart, this pose will help get to your blood flowing and things moving in the right direction.
- Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Place your arms down alongside your body with your palms face down. Keep your feet hip-width distance and walk them close to your body.
- Press your palms into the ground as you exhale and lift your hips up towards the ceiling.
- Hold for 8 Ujjayi breaths, then slowly roll back down to your back one vertebrae at a time.
Modified Crescent Twist
This pose utilizes a twisting motion. Begin twisting to the right to compress the ascending colon and then the left to compress the descending colon.
- Start in a low lunge position with your right leg forward. Keep your left knee on the ground with your toes untucked.
- Bring your hands to a prayer position at your heart and inhale to lift through your chest and lengthen your spine.
- On an exhale, twist your torso to the right to hook your left triceps outside of your right thigh. Hold for 8 breaths. Focus on lengthening your spine with your inhales and twisting deeper through your mid-back on your exhales by pressing your palms together. Make sure to keep your shoulders squeezing back, your neck long, and your belly engaged the entire time. After 8 Ujjayi breaths, inhale to come back to center and then switch sides by taking a low lunge on the left side.
This pose works to continue to massage the colon and puts our bodies in the anatomically correct position for elimination.
- Begin standing up with your feet slightly wider than hip-width distance. Turn your toes out so that your heels are in. Bring your hands to a prayer position at your heart and engage your belly.
- Exhale to slowly lower yourself down to a squat, keeping your knees pointing out in line with your toes and dropping your hips down towards the floor.
- Once your hips are low, use your elbows to press your thighs open. Keep everything active by pressing your thighs in against your elbows slightly and by keeping your chest lifting in towards the back of your thumbs. Keep your shoulders from rounding by squeezing your shoulder blades together, and keep your belly engaged. Hold for 8 Ujjayi breaths, then inhale to stand all the way back up.
Tip: If this pose feels uncomfortable on your knees, you can modify by placing a block or a pillow under your hips.
This restorative pose works to activate the vagal tone through parasympathetic activation and also activates peristalsis through the massage of the colon with the forearm.
- Start by kneeling on the ground with your legs together and sit back on your heels. Place your hands on the floor in front of you.
- Keep your hips on your heels as you walk your hands out in front of you. Take one hand and make a ball with your fist. Then bend that elbow and place the forearm in front of your belly. Lower your chest down on top of your thighs, compressing the forearm against your belly.
- Bring your forehead to rest all the way down on the ground. Hold for 8 Ujjayi breaths.
Wind Relieving Pose
This pose also works to increase peristalsis through the massage of the colon with the thigh.
- Lie down on the ground on your back with your legs out long in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and draw it in towards your chest. Interlace your hands around the front of your right knee cap, and hug it around your rib cage towards your right shoulder. Keep both feet flexed as you continue to squeeze the knee towards your body, compressing the ascending colon. You should feel a little pinch in the right hip flexor and a release in the left hip flexor.
- Hold for 8 Ujjayi breaths and then switch sides to compress the descending colon.
This restorative pose stimulates the vagal tone while also increasing peristalsis through the compression of the colon.
- Begin with steps 1 and 2 from Wind Relieving Pose.
- Keep the right knee drawing up and in as your release your right arm out long to the side.
- Use your left hand to draw your right knee across your body, bringing your spine into a twist. Make sure to keep your right shoulder on the ground the whole time.
- You can keep your neck straight by looking up towards the ceiling or, for a deeper twist, turn your head to the right. Close your eyes and hold for 8 breaths. Use each inhale to find a little bit of length through your spine and use each exhale to let yourself twist a little bit deeper.
- Hold for 8 Ujjayi breaths and then switch sides.
(Your Next Workout: 9 Yoga Poses to Smooth Away Belly Bloat)