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Wellness

7 yoga poses to improve digestion

Do these yoga poses regularly and say goodbye to belly bloat for good.
By Patricia D'Amato
7 yoga poses to improve digestion

Yoga for Digestion

Keep things moving

How well is your digestive system working? Do you feel bloated, irritable and sluggish all day long? It may be time to incorporate some yoga in your regular exercise routine to get things moving at an optimal pace. I spoke with Pat Harada Linfoot, co-owner and instructor at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Center in Toronto, who specializes in therapeutic yoga and meditation. She sheds insight on why a tailored yoga practice can help with digestion, and why it's just as much mental as it is physical.

Photo, Masterfile.

MeditationClick on pink triangle for exercise information

When is it best to practise these poses? Should they be done on an empty stomach?

This sequence can be done any time of day, however, it's best to practise on an empty stomach. To reap the most benefits, it’s best to drink a lot of water either before or afterwards but not during your practice. You want to focus all of your energy on digesting rather than taking in new fluids that add to the digestion process, forcing your intestinal tract to work harder. 

A woman mediating, yoga for digestion, water bottleClick on pink triangle for exercise information
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Should I incorporate any equipment into this sequence?

You don’t need to, but the use of heated Acuballs or a sandbag can definitely help with speeding up digestion. Most importantly, creating an environment of peace in your body to release anxiety is essential to proper digestion.

Illustration, Julia Schwarz.

Blue AcuBall, Feb 13, p86Click on pink triangle for exercise information

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone trying these poses for the first time?

First and foremost, please check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine. With varying conditions and ailments, it’s important to understand if your body is able and ready. Secondly, allow the innate processes and functions of your body to happen.

I also think meditation is really important – digesting thoughts as part of a holistic practice – and letting go is a big part of fostering healthy digestion. If you're in “fight or flight” mode your body won’t be able to relax and let these poses do what they’re suppose to do.

7 yoga poses to improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information

Standing forward bend

Make sure feet are hip-width apart and inhale to raise arms up. Lowering down, exhale and bend at the hips to come forward. Tuck chin in towards chest and lengthen head towards the floor. Bend your knees if it’s more comfortable. Hold for 5 to 7 breaths. 

Why it works: Calms nervous system and pacifies adrenals in the kidneys to compress abdominal area to aid in digestion. 

Photo, Getty Images.

7 yoga poses to improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information
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Downward-facing dog

Begin on all fours. Inhale and tuck toes under your heels. Lift your hips upwards coming to an inverted V shape. Spread fingers and allow your heels to lower as closely to the ground as possible. Let your head rest between your arms and hold for 5 to 7 breaths (or as comfortable). 

Why it works: Allows for the traction of the spine and creates space in the torso for digestion to occur. Since this is a full-body stretch and your torso is pulled in, downward-facing dog can help you become more aware of your digestive system and relieve any built up stress.

7 yoga poses to improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information

Triangle pose

Bend knees and step (or jump) feet leg-length apart, placing right foot at 90 degrees and left foot is slightly turned in (heel to arch alignment). Inhale to extend arms out to the side reaching right hand over right leg. Bring your right hand down to the floor. Stack left shoulder on top of right. Lift left arm straight up and look up. Hold for 5 to 7 breaths. Switch and do the opposite side. 

Why it works: Side bending opens up the obliques, and the twisting motion tones and energizes abdominal organs, especially the intestinal tract and liver.

Photo, Getty Images. 

Triangle pose (shown here) can ease anxiety and is known to also improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information

Bow pose

Lying on your belly, bring your hands alongside your body, palms facing up. Bend both knees and reach hands behind to grab ankles. Knees should be hip-width apart and allow your sacrum (large bone at base of spine) to feel heavy. Inhale to lengthen and lift heels away from your buttocks, pressing your shoulder blades firmly against your back. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and release lowering your body back down.

Why it works: Creates a lot of space in the abdomen and lengthens torso, core and digestive cavity. Lying on your belly creates pressure in the abdomen, and by extending arms and legs upwards there’s room for oxygen to flow through.

Photo, Getty Images.

7 yoga poses to improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information
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Boat pose

Begin seated with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Come forward on your sitting bones and lean back until elbows are straight. Lift feet two inches from the floor and bring arms forward, palms facing the floor. Straighten your knees and tighten your core. Lift legs to create a V shape forming a 45- to 60-degree angle. Hold for 5 to 7 breaths. 

Why it works: Lifts diaphragm to take pressure off stomach and liver creating space for air to flow through the belly. Because the pose requires you to engage your core and lower back to maintain support, pressure is being placed on the abdomen to aid in digestion.

Photo, Getty Images.

7 yoga poses to improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information

Seated twist

Begin by sitting firmly on your buttocks. Place your left leg straight on floor and toes face up. Right knee bent with the right foot outside of the left thigh. Both sitting bones are on the floor. Place right hand behind the body. Inhale to raise left arm up and exhale bend the left elbow and place left elbow on outside of right thigh or hug right knee into chest to sit tall. Inhale to extend spine upward and exhale to deepen into twist. Hold for 5-7 breaths. Each exhale is an opportunity to deepen more into the twist. 

Why it works: Allows blood to flow through the digestive tract and by the motion of the twist new blood will enter the digestive system. As the spine twists, you really feel that “wringing out” motion in your abdominals. 

Photo, Getty Images.

7 yoga poses to improve digestionClick on pink triangle for exercise information

Legs-up-the-wall pose

Make sure your bolster is a couple of inches away from the wall to provide protection for your back and spine. Place forearms downs on the floor and swing legs up on the wall. Sitting bones should be as close to the wall as possible. Hold legs up for for 3 to 5 minutes. 

Why it works: This is a restorative pose and aids in digestion by moving the body from resting mode to digestive mode. By alleviating pressure from standing, the pose helps relieve congestion and stress in the legs as well.

Photo, Masterfile.

See a great yoga sequence for runners sequence here?

*Article originally published Mar 6, 2013

Yoga for Digestion, Legs Up the WallClick on pink triangle for exercise information

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