by Kris Fondran
If you’re like most people, you don’t think very much about your digestive health until you have an “issue”.
It usually takes some kind of “back up” in the system — or perhaps the exact opposite (what fun!) — to make us pay attention to the cause and effect relationship that led to our current digestive experience.
Your diet, exercise, water intake, and stress levels all play a significant role in the digestive process. And just a little imbibing here, some travel there and a huge presentation at work can be enough to give rise to a “funny tummy.”
Because digestion is based on metabolizing not only food but our life experiences as well, you must remember that relationships, happiness, sadness and stress all play their part when it comes to digestive issues. And it may take some serious reflection to figure out what’s gone wrong.
The good news is that simply paying attention to what you expose your body to on a regular basis — physically, mentally, and emotionally — can help you start making the changes that will positively contribute to your digestive health and overall well being.
Yoga asana — or postures — are a perfect way to keep you connected with your body, and they can help you develop the awareness to see the cause and effect relationship of what you put in, and literally what and how it comes out!
While a regular yoga practice can help keep all your bodily systems running more smoothly, a more specific and regular “digestive yoga practice” can keep you… well…. “regular” and much, much more.
Take charge of your digestive health by giving the following yoga postures and movements (pun intended!) a try.
Raised Leg Pose
This pose strengthens the abdomen, low back, pelvis, and digestive system. And as if that wasn’t enough, it also improves the flexibility of your hips and hamstrings.
- Begin in the Supine Base Position, with palms facing downward.
- For low back issues, begin in a modified version of the position by bending your left knee.
- Bring your awareness to your abdomen.
- Begin on the right side (starting on the right side activates the ascending colon).
- Inhale, contract your abdomen and lift your right leg as far as possible without bending your knee.
- Pause at the top of the movement, feeling the pressure in your abdomen and throughout your leg.
- Exhale, keeping the abdomen engaged, and slowly lower your right leg.
- Continue for up to 10 repetitions.
- Repeat on the left side.
Contraindications: Those with high blood pressure or back problems such as sciatica or slipped disc should not practice this movement.
Universal Spinal Twist
This pose tones and massages the abdomen, and relieves tightness in the low back caused by prolonged sitting. If you’re lucky you’ll even get a little “crack” in your low back as the body releases into the final position.
- Begin in the Supine Base Position.
- Stretch your arms to the side in a “T” position.
- Bend your right knee, placing the sole of your right foot next to your left knee.
- Shift your body slightly to the right so your weight rests slightly on your left hip.
- Take your left hand and place it on your right knee. This is the starting position.
- Inhale, and on the exhalation gently press down on your right knee, allowing that knee to move closer to the floor. Simultaneously turn your head in the direction of your outstretched arm.
- In the final position, your head should be looking in the opposite direction of your knee, and your shoulder and arm should be in contact with the floor.
- Hold the final position for 3-5 breaths.
- On an inhalation, bring your knee up and shift the weight off your hip, returning to the starting position.
- Exhale and straighten the leg.
- Repeat 5-10 times on both sides.
Contraindications: Release pressure on the knee if you feel pain in your hips or low back.
Seated Forward Bend — Modified
This pose is a more easily attained version of the old standby. But because most of us have such tight hamstrings, we perform this stretch incorrectly. This modified version massages the abdomen and entire pelvic region while progressively stretching the hamstrings and lower back. And as an added bonus, you get to give yourself a hug. Who couldn’t use an extra hug?
- Begin in the Seated Base Position with your legs outstretched and feet slightly apart.
- Bend your knees, bringing them in toward your chest.
- Clasp your hands around your thighs, bringing them toward your chest. This is the starting position.
- Inhale and make your spine straight and long. On the exhalation, start to walk your heels away from your body.
- Continue to move your heels outward, but only go as far as you can while keeping your thighs against your chest.
- Once your thighs begin to move away from you chest, stop and take a few breaths. This is the “1st final” position.
- Release the posture by straightening your legs.
- Repeat 3-5 times, holding the final position for up to 5 breaths. On the last repetition, straighten your legs and continue to fold forward. In a perfect world your chest will be flush with your legs. Not the case yet? So be it. Most of us have a ways to go with this one.
Contraindications: Those with slipped disc or sciatica should avoid this posture.
Finally, please keep the following in mind while practicing the digestive movements and postures:
- Awareness of movement, specifically intra-abdominal pressure
- Feeling the stretch of the muscles
- Connecting the movement with the breath
Now get out there and heal and detoxify your body, mind, and spirit — starting today!