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If you live with digestive issues, you’re not alone. An estimated 60 to 70 million people live with digestive diseases — from gall stones to chronic constipation. We also know gut health may be key to overall health. “In the integrative medicine community, good gut health is the key to long-term wellness,” says Tasneem Bhatia, MD, yoga instructor, and author of The 21-Day Belly Fix.
Another way to potentially help your belly? Yoga! Let’s talk about the benefits of yoga for digestion and gut health, and some poses to incorporate into your routine.
Can yoga improve digestion?
There’s still a lot of research to be done, but there’s some evidence that yoga could be beneficial in aiding digestion and some symptoms of digestive diseases. A 2015 study found some benefits of yoga for helping to manage irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and its related symptoms like anxiety and depression. A 2013 study suggested that supplemental yoga alongside medication can be helpful in relieving symptoms related to digestive diseases.
Moving your body can also help to relieve gas and bloating, so that alone may be enough incentive.
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 your right leg behind you, foot flexed, as you hinge your upper body forward (as if coming in to Warrior III). Lower your right hand to the floor, and lift your 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 NYC-based yoga spot Y7 Studio.
How to: Stand with your feet wider than hips-width apart, right toes pointing forward, left toes turned 90 degrees. Reach your right arm down and place it on the floor inside of left foot. Twist your torso and reach your 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, knees bent, and place your feet on the floor shoulder-width apart, arms down at your sides. Squeeze glutes and push through your heels to lift your body off the floor, resting on just the shoulders. Clasp your 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 your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the floor by your ears, wrists flexed, fingertips facing forward. Press into your hands and feet to lift your torso and head fully off of the 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 people 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 the bent leg on the inside of your opposite thigh. Open your chest to the ceiling and extend your top arm up overhead toward the foot of the extended leg. Try to twist your torso open and keep lengthening through the sides of your waist.
6. Seated Spinal Twist
“This twist compresses the organs, and once released, allows fresh, oxygenated blood into the digestive organs,” Levey says.
How to: Sit on the ground with both legs extended in front of you. Lift your right leg, bend your knee, and cross over your left leg, placing your foot on the floor next to your left thigh. Bend your left knee, bringing your foot toward your glutes on the right side. Place your right hand on the floor behind you, to use as a guide. Reach up with your left arm, elongating the spine and sitting as tall as you can. Twist your torso to the right, placing your left arm and shoulder in front of your 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 a wall. Lie on your back, butt up against the wall, legs extended against the wall, feet flexed. Lay your arms comfortably at your sides or with your left hand over your heart and right on your lower abs.
Even if yoga isn’t fixing all of your digestive issues entirely, it may well be benefiting your mental wellness and helping you to manage anxiety. There are loads of confirmed benefits to yoga that will make you want to keep it in your repertoire.
Give these poses a try the next time you feel a little, ahem, backed up or bloated to see if they help you.
Special thanks to Beth Cooke from Y7 Yoga for modeling. Beth wears a top and pants from Lululemon.