“When Agni is normal there is good digestion, circulation, and complexion; pleasant breath and body odor; adequate energy and strong resistance to disease.” (1)Think of tending your agni like tending a fire—you want to keep it burning with just the right amount of heat and flame. This is where yoga can help. There are several guiding principles when it comes to practicing yoga for digestion.
Understand Seasonal EffectsClimate and time of year have an impact on the doshas. Therefore our psychology and physiology are also affected by seasonal changes. For instance, autumn is Vata season. Many Vata imbalances are more prevalent at this time. What does this mean in terms of digestion? Especially if you have a Vata constitution, you may be more susceptible to gas, bloating, constipation, and a variable appetite during the fall. This is why a Vata balancing diet and lifestyle are especially important in the fall. Also, you can tailor your yoga practice to support digestive wellness.
Soothe the NervesIf you suffer from a ‘nervous stomach’ as many Vata types do, yoga poses that soothe the nerves and release abdominal tension will be helpful. If your nerves are jumbled, try taking a supported restorative asana or two to let your nervous system and body settle. This can be a nice way to ease in—even if you are planning on a more active practice. Some examples of restorative yoga poses are Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) and Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose). Also, simply crossing the legs and resting the spine on a support such as a bolster with a folded blanket for the neck and head is a great way to settle the nerves. This is also a good way to relax the abdomen and roots of the legs.
Stoke the FireYoga poses that create warmth and tone the abdomen can also be part of any yoga for digestion program. As the weather cools down and the season transitions to autumn, this is generally a good time to focus on strengthening the agni. Foods, asanas, spices, and practices that create warmth are recommended. This will also help protect the immune system during cold and flu season. Twists are a great way to create warmth and abdominal tone. However, if you are suffering from acute constipation, abdominal distress, or cramping, it is usually best to wait until those aggravating symptoms calm down before working on poses that strengthen and contract the abdomen. In this case, starting with some of the restorative poses that soothe, calm, and relax the abdomen and nerves is a good idea. In addition, the bija mantra “Ram” pronounced “Rum” corresponds to the chakra located in the region of the solar plexus. This chakra and the sound “Ram” corresponds to the fire element. Therefore, chanting this mantra (aloud or silently) can strengthen the fire element. Strengthening the fire element will give a boost to agni.
Yoga for Digestion: The StaplesIf you have chronic or serious digestive challenges, it is always wise to seek the help of an experienced teacher. However, there are several yoga poses that are are thought to be generally helpful for digestion. Sirsasana (Headstand) is one such pose. Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar writes,
“Coupled with SarvangasanaFurthermore, in the famous yoga text Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar lists sequences for various maladies, including constipation, diarrhea, and colitis. The seated forward bend Paschimottansana (Stretch of the West Side of the Body) is included in both the sequences for constipation and colitis. Of Paschimottanasana, B.K.S. Iyengar writes,
movements, is a boon to people suffering from constipation.” (2)
tones the abdominal organs and keeps them free from sluggishness.” (2)