If you suffer from digestive issues, you’re not alone. An estimated 60 to 70 million people suffer from digestive diseases—from gallstones to chronic constipation. Because about 75 percent of your immune system lives in your stomach, it’s important to make sure you have good gut health. “In the integrative medicine community, good gut health is the key to long-term wellness,” says Tasneem Bhatia, M.D., yoga instructor and author of The 21-Day Belly Fix. And good gut health includes digestion.
Eating is one way you can work to improve your stomach issues. “Poor digestive health has to do with a lack of a diverse range of bacteria in food,” Bhatia says. “Good bacteria, found naturally in yogurt and kefir, help promote digestion and metabolism of food.”
Another way to help your belly? Yoga! Because many of the poses open and stretch the front of the body, they are able to get blood flowing and improve digestion.
With some big holiday meals around the corner, you may want to have a plan in case you experience some stomach issues. Below are some of the best yoga poses to ease that stuffed feeling.
1. Revolved Half Moon Pose
Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana
“Deep twists help aid in digestion, and this standing [pose] helps boost metabolism and get things moving,” says Kristin McGee, celeb yoga instructor in New York City.
How-to: Standing tall, lift right leg behind you, foot flexed, as you hinge upper body forward (as if coming in to Warrior 3). Lower right hand to floor, and lift left hand up toward the ceiling, twisting the upper body but keeping hips completely level.
2. Twisted Triangle
This pose has some surprising benefits, even if they're not exactly brag-worthy. “It strengthens the core muscles and stimulates the deep abdominal muscles as you twist, which helps aid in intestinal flow—especially constipation,” says Sarah Levey, yoga pro and co-founder of N.Y.C.-based yoga spot Y7 Studio.
How-to: Stand with feet wider than hips-width apart, right toes pointing forward, left toes turned 90 degrees. Reach right arm down and place it on ground inside of left foot. Twist torso and reach left arm up toward the sky.
3. Bridge Pose
“Digestion is improved when you open up the front of your body, stimulating the abdominal organs, as is done in this pose,” Levey says.
How-to: Lie on your back, bend knees, and place feet on the ground shoulder width apart, arms down at your sides. Squeeze glutes and push through heels to lift body off the ground, resting on just shoulders. Clasp hands together underneath your arched body, touching palm-to-palm.
4. Wheel Pose
“Sometimes when we're backed up, we just need to take a deeper breath and oxygenate our body,” McGee says. “Backbends are great for stretching out the entire front of the body and tight hip flexors. When the hip flexors pull on our back, it gets in the way of digestion.”
How-to: Start lying on back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place hands on floor by ears, wrists flexed, fingertips facing forward. Press into hands and feet to lift torso and head fully off ground.
5. Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose
“This pose is great for bringing in fresh air to the lungs, opening up the kidney region—our battery packs—and stretching out the shoulders, hips, waist, back, and thighs,” says McGee. “It stretches the sides and gets oxygen flowing, which is great because individuals get backed up or feel indigestion when they are compressed and rounded.”
How-to: Sit with one leg to your side, and the other bent with the foot of bent leg on inside of opposite thigh. Open chest to ceiling and extend top arm up overhead towards the foot of the extended leg. Try to twist torso open and keep lengthening through sides of waist.
6. Seated Spinal Twist
“This twist compresses the organs, wringing out the toxins, and once released, allows fresh, oxygenated blood into the digestive organs,” Levey says.
How-to: Sit on ground with both legs extended in front of you. Lift right leg, bend knee, and cross over left leg, placing foot on the ground next to left thigh. Bend left knee, bringing foot toward glutes on right side. Place right hand on the ground behind you, to use as a guide. Reach up with left arm, elongating the spine and sitting as tall as you can. Twist torso to the right, placing left arm and shoulder in front of right knee.
7. Legs up the Wall
“This pose reverses blood flow, which stimulates circulation and digestion,” Levey says.
How-to: Sit in front of wall. Lie on back, butt up against the wall, legs extended against wall, feet flexed. Lay arms comfortably at sides or with left hand over your heart and right on your low abs.