According to the American Nutrition Association, 70,000,000 people suffer from some form of digestive issue on a daily basis. Bloating, indigestion, flatulence, heaviness, and cramps bring a lot of discomfort and restlessness and never feel good, whether this discomfort is due to overeating, over-indulging, constipation, hyperacidity, or irritable bowel syndrome. These can all be unpleasant, embarrassing, stressful, and painful.
Agni (Fire) Helps Us Digest What We Ingest
‘Bad digestion is the root of all evil,’ said Hippocrates. In Ayurveda, a healthy digestive system is referred to as the basis of our well-being, and the root cause of most diseases is inefficient digestion. Agni is the source of nutrition, awareness, and intelligence. This metabolic energy of digestion helps in eliminating the body’s wastes and toxins. It breaks down the dense physical food matter into subtle energy the body needs, generates internal warmth, and produces a clear mind.
There are many manifestations of agni that affect the body and mind—from the fire of awareness to the central digestive fire. Ultimately, agni is the gatekeeper of good health. That is why it is imperative that our digestive fire remain strong and that the food that we eat is efficiently metabolized. Otherwise—regardless of how healthy our food choices may be—our body will find it difficult to assimilate and absorb the nutrients present in what we eat.
Understanding the Digestive Process
Think of the digestive system as a juicer, agni as juicer blades, body toxins as fruit waste, and energy as juice!
If the juicer blades are weak, there will be less juice and more fruit waste. So, if the agni (juicer blades) is weak, the digestive system produces less energy (juice). This results in more toxins (fruit waste) getting accumulated in the cells. A strong agni is required for a good digestive system.
While over the counter antacids, prescription medicines, and avoiding certain foods can be helpful, the age-old practice of yoga has been shown not only to help ease but also to prevent digestive discomfort. With its rejuvenating powers, yoga can make your agni strong and help improve your digestion.
Many people perceive yoga as a low-impact stretching and exercise regimen that can help improve your physical fitness. But more than improving physical fitness, yoga provides relaxation, spiritual balance, and increased mental clarity. Yoga asana practice, coupled with rhythmic breathing, brings life force into the body and cleans the body of toxic materials formed due to poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, and accumulated stress. It improves agni and creates body balance and longevity, rejuvenating the whole system.
Benefits of Yoga for Digestive Health
Many scientific studies have revealed yoga’s effectiveness in improving digestion and managing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which is the most common functional GI disorder suffered by Americans today. Here are some interesting findings:
- A University of British Columbia study on adolescents with IBS concluded that yoga holds promise as an intervention.
- A 2015 study at the University of California, found that adults with irritable bowel syndrome experienced significantly fewer symptoms after a six-month yoga program.
- In a 2007 issue of the Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, an article outlined the results of a study designed to test the efficacy of yoga on anxiety and stress. The researchers concluded that “yoga appears to provide a comparable improvement in stress, anxiety and health status”, which indirectly improved digestion.
- A 2013 article in the International Journal of Yoga focused on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The researchers concluded that “Practicing yoga in conjunction with medications can be helpful in controlling and/or alleviation of symptoms related to digestive diseases.”
Yoga and Gut Health
Yoga asanas (postures) can offer direct benefits to people who are having digestive issues:
- By stimulating the digestive fire, or agni, asanas help increase the appetite and balance the metabolism.
- Asanas stretch the body, massaging the abdominal muscles. This helps food to move efficiently along the digestive tract.
- Some asanas apply gentle pressure on the organs in the gut, while others help relieve abdominal tension.
- The twisting asanas help “wring out” some of the abdominal organs, enabling more efficient bowel movements (peristalsis), and relieving constipation.
- Asanas also improve circulation of blood to the digestive organs, thus aiding digestion.
- Regular practice of yoga discourages fatty deposits.
- The body is effectively detoxed. Toxins accumulated from a bad diet, unhealthy lifestyles, and stress are flushed out.
Yoga can also assist digestion indirectly:
- Yoga asanas keep the mind active and happy.
- You are more likely to eat a balanced diet, and this eases digestion.
- By reducing stress—a common trigger for digestive ailments.
- Since yoga emphasizes deep breathing, it helps the entire body to relax and directs more oxygen into all the cells of different body organs so that they work more efficiently. This increased awareness of mind and body also has a positive impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping inner organs to relax, heal, and recover.
- Our stomachs and minds are closely related—if you’re in constant “fight or flight” mode due to stress and anxiety, muscles and organs, including that of the digestion in your body, will not be able to relax, thus affecting your digestion.
By practicing the following yoga poses, preferably in the morning as you start your day, you can get your digestion moving, and start your day with a calm mind and a joyful belly.
Yoga to Relieve Gas, Bloating, Constipation and Increase Bowel Movement
The following yoga practice incorporates poses, like twists, that help detoxify the body, forward folds that help massage the internal organs, and back bends that help boost circulation and stimulate the abdominal muscles. You can practice this yoga sequence in its entirety or use the poses individually, either first thing in the morning or 2–3 hours after meals. Hold each pose for 30 seconds to a minute. Breathe deeply throughout the entire practice, as this will help the digestive process, too.
1. Marjariasana (Cat-Cow stretch)
- Breathing deeply in cat and cow poses massages your organs as you alternately compress and lengthen the intestines.
- According to Yoga Journal, this movement “helps bring fresh blood to the epithelial cells,” which are responsible for healthy gut function. This pose also strengthens and tones the vagus nerve, which plays an important role in digestion.
2. Ustrasana (Camel pose)
- Stretches the stomach, abdomen and intestines.
- Ustrasana exercise for digestion relieves constipation.
- Improves digestion.
3. Shishuasana (Child’s pose)
- This pose compresses the abdomen and massages the internal organs, stimulating digestion.
- This pose relaxes the mind, reducing stress.
4. Paschimottanasana (Seated forward bend)
- Massages abdominal organs and reduces abdominal fat.
- One of the best yoga poses for bowel movements and exercises to relieve constipation.
- Provides relief from flatulence.
One of the most effective yoga poses for bloating.
5. Naukasana (Boat pose)
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles.
- Powers up the intestines. This stimulates digestion by improving the secretion of digestive juices.
6. Pawanmuktasana (Wind-relieving pose)
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles.
- Removes gastrointestinal problems.
7. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Sitting half spinal twist)
- Improves digestion.
- Improves both liver and pancreas function.
8. Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved triangle pose)
- Stimulates appetite.
- Improves digestion.
- Alleviates constipation.
- Activates the kidney.
- Energizes the abdominal organs, especially the liver and the intestinal tract.
9. Surya Namaskar (Sun salutation)
- Creates a flow of movement to encourage digestion.
- Doing 5-6 rounds Sun Salutations warms the body and ignites the digestive fire, or agni.
Diet Plan for a Healthy Digestive System
- Consume fibers in the form of leafy green vegetables or whole grains, lentils, and beans.
- Cereals, such as oats, are also recommended.
- Eat freshly cooked meals, avoid leftovers.
- Eat fresh fruits such as apples, avocados, and bananas.
- Consume probiotics like yogurt and buttermilk.
- Drink plenty of water to flush out toxins.
- Avoid junk and oily food.
Other Tips to Improve Your Digestion
- Eat at regular intervals.
- Chew your food well, as this reduces pressure on your digestive organs.
- Do not lie down flat immediately after a meal.
- Avoid eating heavy meals at night.
- Avoid drinking water for half an hour after your meal.
- Speak with your doctor if you are experiencing depression—depression is a major factor in poor dietary habits.
- Reduce stress. Stress leads to binge eating, and consequently, digestive disorders.
A good digestive system is a priceless gift, as your health and well-being depends on it.
One step towards yoga, one giant leap towards a world of good digestion!
Yoga practice helps develop the body and mind, carrying numerous health benefits. However, it is not a substitute for medicine. It is important to learn and practice yoga postures under the supervision of a trained yoga teacher. In case of any medical condition, practice yoga postures after consulting a doctor and a certified yoga teacher.