Many people recognize that a regular yoga practice provides profound mental, emotional, and physical benefits. The ‘side effects’ of a regular yoga practice are indeed impressive. Also, both modern science and Ayurveda are aware of the importance of gut health. A regular yoga practice can do a lot in terms of promoting gut health.
In this article, I’m going to describe how yoga can enhance the health of your gut, improving digestion and leading to an overall improvement in your wellbeing.
Yoga and the Gut
The gut is incredibly important—more so than many people are aware of. However, modern science is catching on to what Ayurveda has known for thousands of years—gut health matters! The gut is sometimes referred to as your ‘second brain,’ and keeping your gut healthy ensures not just optimal digestion and physical health, but good mental health.
In fact, recent research into the gut-brain axis has revealed that there is a highly complicated communicative network that links your brain and your gut. This means that imbalances or unhealthy digestion can disrupt your mental health, and vice versa.
Yoga, especially when combined with other facets of a healthy Ayurvedic lifestyle (plant-based diet, consistent routine, good sleep habits), can support optimal digestion.
Yoga Gut Health Benefits
Here are some of the unique ways in which yoga can help enhance the health of your gut.
Yoga Reduces Anxiety and Stress
As discussed earlier, there is a communication highway that connnects the brain and the gut. Struggling with anxiety and stress can lead to significant digestive issues, so if you tend toward nervous system jitters, and are struggling with indigestion, yoga might be one of the best things for you.
Yoga Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System
This is part of the reason why yoga helps to reduce stress and anxiety. However, your nervous system also plays a direct role in our digestion. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, digestion is slowed, and you may experience constipation. However, when the parasympathetic system is activated, your mind, muscles, and digestive organs become more relaxed. And no surprise—this leads to optimal functioning of those systems.
Yoga Stimulates the Digestive Tract
There are many yoga poses that can directly stimulate digestive organs, such as the intestines, pancreas, and stomach. By encouraging healthy blood flow and peristalsis (the wave-like contractions of the intestines), you encourage tone and ensure healthy elimination. Twists and inversions (such as headstand) are some of the poses that assist in this way.
Yoga Tips for Gut Health
The body is actually more supple and mobile after a bowel movement. However, if you need some encouragement to help stimulate your bowels, a morning yoga practice can be great for this.
Try to practice yoga asana before you eat your morning meal. These are just a few simple yoga poses that may help balance and stimulate digestion.
Yoga Poses for Digestion
- Standing forward bend (Uttanasana) helps to relieve constipation.
- Cow/cat pose (Marjaryasana Bitilasana) helps to massage organs and bring blood to the digestive tract
- Downward dog (Adho Mukha Svasana) gently stimulates the nerves and reduces anxiety.
In addition, as mentioned above, twists and inversions can also help stimulate and balance digestion. Inversions, such as headstand (Sirsasana), can be very beneficial for constipation. However, it is best to learn more complicated or difficult asanas from a skilled yoga teacher.
Reclined Hero Pose for Digestive Ease
Furthermore, many supported supine poses assist in balancing digestion. For instance, Reclined Hero Pose (Supta Virasana) is one of the best yoga poses for easing gas and bloating—and for encouraging regular elimination. (Include Supta Virasana in your post-travel routines!). You can even do Supta Virasana on a full belly, and it is a useful pose if you have overeaten. Most people find that they need some support behind their spine to make this pose accessible. Therefore, consider using a bolster or two, or folded blankets, as spinal support. There are many ways to get creative with your Supta Virasana set-up so that you can stay with ease for several minutes.
Yoga provides profound benefits when it comes to overall wellbeing. Yoga promotes health of body, mind, and spirit—your digestive system included! Having a regular yoga practice can ensure healthy elimination and digestion…and that’s just the beginning!