Yoga asanas that aid digestion4 min read . Updated: 04 Nov 2013, 07:07 PM IST
These yoga poses help stimulate the organs and alleviate problems of sluggish digestion
Ancient yogis recognized that good digestion is the key to radiant health and tried to understand the mind-body connection. Yoga poses can have a direct, positive influence on our digestive system. They can lead to better digestion as we learn to breathe better and calm our minds. Digestive disorders are most often psychosomatic symptoms of stress, nervousness, anxiety and depression. A turbulent mind reflects on the digestive system. With regular practise of yoga, we find ourselves more calm and relaxed. This then automatically reflects in the efficiency of our digestive system. Apart from the overall well-being, some yoga poses specifically affect the digestive organs and stimulate them, alleviating problems of sluggish digestion.
The food we eat too plays a big role in how efficiently we are able to digest it. The practice of yoga brings about a higher sense of awareness in the practitioner. Over time we will find ourselves selecting foods that bring about a sense of balance, harmony and well-being—food that is natural and fresh and wholegrains over refined, fried and processed food. According to the science of yoga, overeating is a crime committed against the body. As such, moderate, mindful eating is recommended. Dinner should always be light and eaten at least 2 hours before going to bed.
Before you begin your yoga practice, make sure you have an empty stomach, allowing 3-4 hours to lapse after your last meal.
Abdominal breathing is the first thing that is taught in many yoga classes. It stimulates peristalsis (the vermicular movement of the bowels or intestines by which food and faecal matter are pushed from one portion of the bowels to another) and can be performed seated in Sukhasana (easy pose) or in Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose or lying down). It is recommended that beginners practise abdominal breathing first by lying down, since the movement of the abdomen is more apparent in a horizontal position. Begin by taking a deep breath in through your nose, keeping the mouth gently closed. The inhalation is a descending movement. As the breath moves down into the abdomen, the belly expands and fills it up like a balloon. The exhalation is an ascending movement, as the breath moves upwards and out through the nose, the belly moves towards the spine. Repeat a few times. When you grow more accustomed to it, try and equalize the duration of the inhalation and exhalation. As you grow in your practice, consciously try and lengthen the breath and apply it while you are in the poses of an asana practice. Longer, deeper breaths have a direct calming effect on our minds.
Twists in yoga poses bring us a host of benefits. According to yogic teachings, they squeeze the internal organs and encourage the flow of oxygenated blood while eliminating toxins and metabolic waste products. Twisting poses can also help reduce abdominal bloating and digestive discomfort. To do the Bharadwajasana variation, named after the sage Bharadwaja, begin by sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position or in Vajrasana. It is important to first create length in your spine before twisting. As you inhale, raise both your arms up close to the ears, as you exhale, place your right hand behind you on the right side. Inhale, and place the left hand on your right knee as you lengthen your spine. As you exhale, twist to look over your right shoulder. Take your awareness to your breath, with every inhalation your belly rises up and the spine elongates. With every exhalation, pull the belly to your spine and deepen the twist. Stay in this pose for 1-2 minutes and then change sides. Twisting first to the right and then to the left will increase the movement of the bowels and, therefore, relieve symptoms such as constipation, while twisting first to the left and then to the right will slow the movement of the bowels, thereby relieving diarrhoea.
Paschimottanasana literally translates as intense stretch of the “west"—“west" here being the back of the body. A posture that is deep, meditative and a storehouse of benefits. While it may look deceptively simple, perfecting it may take years of conscious practice. Its benefits, however, can be imbibed by remaining still, present and connected to the breath, irrespective of how far forward you can reach. Here’s how it is described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 1, verse 29: “This most excellent of all asanas, Paschimottanasana, makes the breath flow through the Sushumna, rouses the gastric fire, makes the loins lean, and removes all diseases."
To get into the pose, start in a seated pose with your legs straight in front of you. Make sure your sitting bones are firmly planted on the floor by moving your buttocks from side to side and taking the extra flesh out to the side. As you inhale, raise both your arms up close to your ears, creating length in your spine. As you exhale, pull your belly in and fold forward. As a beginner, you may keep your knees slightly bent. It’s a posture of surrender, so scan your body for any tension that you might be creating (especially around the shoulders). Use your breath to move deeper into the posture. With every inhalation you lengthen your spine and with every exhalation, you pull your belly in and sink deeper in towards your thighs. Hold the pose for a minute, gradually increasing the duration of your stay as you progress. Avoid this asana if you have diarrhoea or a back injury.
The most vital part of a yoga practice is the final relaxation in Savasana (corpse pose). After you practise the postures, lie on your back, arms at a 45-degree angle to your body and your feet hip-distance apart. Take 5 minutes to just be in the pose and relax.
Tara Goswami is an author, artist and yoga teacher trained in the Sivananda form of yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Kerala, and in the Dharmamittra Yoga Lineage.