When the Gastro-intestinal (GI) system becomes unbalanced a myriad of symptoms and diseases can occur and even the mildest symptoms can cause much distress and dismay. A yoga practice combined with diet and lifestyle changes can strengthen and harmonize digestion and elimination to heal and reduce many GI complaints.
Yoga is such an effective therapy for digestive complaints due to its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to nourish and activate digestion and elimination. Yoga also has a regulating effect on the enteric nervous system, which independently functions to digest, move and eliminate our food.
Yoga can also be used to balance the digestive fire, called Agni in yoga. If Agni is depleted or low then digestion becomes weak creating symptoms of diarrhea, bloating, gas. If Agni is excessive then there is too much heat in the GI system creating symptoms of constipation, acid reflux, and burning. To stimulate Agni practice an energizing vinyasa with standing yoga postures (especially the warrior poses) and practice Kapalabhati and Ujjayi pranayamas. To reduce Agni, a gentle practice of floor postures (especially supine) is used and Sit Cari and Shitali Pranayamas can be practiced.
The most common digestive disorder is irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) effecting 30 percent of the world’s population. Yoga’s general ability to regulate and balance the digestive system is helpful for IBS and all digestive complaints, but yoga can also be used to address specific symptoms.
To relieve constipation, practice postures that compress the abdomen such as prone (belly down) postures, forward folds and twists. Use similar poses to reduce excessive gas, adding hip opening poses if the condition is chronic. Inversions, backbends and hip opening postures help alleviate diarrhea. For abdominal bloating and distention use twists and hip openers. To relieve cramps, practice backbends, side bends and hip openers to open and stretch the abdomen. For stomachache and indigestion practice prone postures, forward folds, twists and hip openers. If nausea or acid reflux is present avoid inversions and postures that compress the abdomen and practice grounding, lunging and squatting poses.
If IBS or digestive symptoms become aggravated with stress, then use the calming practices of meditation, dirga and nadi sodhana pranayamas, and add an extended shavasana pose to your yoga practice.
Remember to always speak with a physician before beginning any type of physical exercise. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience bleeding, fever, weight loss, and/or persistent severe pain.
A complete list of postures for digestive complaints and a pose sequence for digestion are available on our membership site.