A few years ago, I suddenly found myself suffering from bloating, stomach cramps and constipation, symptoms that were later diagnosed as IBS. I couldn’t understand what had brought this on! I hadn’t changed my diet, and I had always been conscious of what I ate. I exercised, I did all the things I should, yet my stomach still seemed to be turning against me! The doctor told me that it was most probably stress induced. I had been working at a primary school for almost a year, I was under severe amounts of pressure, I was exhausted and was (it seemed) permanently stressed. Not long after this diagnosis, I quit. I decided that a job which was literally running me into the ground and affecting my health so drastically, wasn’t worth it.
I started to then experiment with various things to try and help my gut in any way I could. I cut out certain foods, reintroduced them. I began experimenting with my yoga practice and realised there was a massive reduction in my symptoms when I practiced certain postures frequently. This intrigued me. What was it about certain poses and techniques in yoga that helped digestion so effectively? Having completed my teacher training already, I had a firm grasp of the fundamentals but I wanted to understand it more fully and it was this exploration and experimentation that has lead me to barely suffer from any of the symptoms I had before! Throughout the rest of this blog, I will talk about four specific aspects of yoga that really help me and my gut! I hope it helps you as well.
Benefits of Twisting Asana
Twists tend to be the main poses people talk about when wanting to aid digestion or to detox, and for good reason! Twists help move food / waste through the intestines and help massage the internal organs. When teaching twists, I always tell students to twist to the right first, as this helps push waste through the ascending colon. When you then twist to the left, you help push that waste down through the descending colon. Twists are therefore the perfect way to alleviate constipation or trapped wind.
Top Tip for Twists!
The great thing about twists is that you can incorporate them into pretty much any yoga pose or day to day activity! If you are sat at a desk, use your chair to help you twist from side to side, taking three deep breaths for both the right and the left!
Benefits of Backbends
Most of us work hunched over a computer or desk all day, which does not do wonders for our digestive system, or our posture! Backbends are a brilliant way to open up our chest and stomach, meaning we create more space for our lungs and our digestive system! By stretching our tummy, we stretch all of our digestive organs, meaning that it is easier for our food to pass down through our gut. When we slump forward, we end up squashing our organs and this makes it much harder for waste to pass through them with ease! It also means that we help create space for our diaphragm to move into, helping us to take deeper breaths and also allowing our diaphragm to help massage our digestive organs.
Top Tip for Your Posture!
If you do sit at a desk a lot, then make sure you find yourself a supportive chair so you can sit with a straight spine. Make sure your computer screen is level with your eyes, so you are not inadvertently encouraged to hunch forward to see what you are typing!
Benefits of Forward Folds for Your Tummy
If we have a stomach ache, we tend to naturally lean forward and hug our belly. There is good reason for this! By folding forward and pressing our belly against our legs we help to massage the digestive system, encouraging movement, and also increasing blood flow. Both of these can help relieve wind, constipation, diarrhoea and stomach ache! In addition, by relaxing into folds (through the use of props), we can help relax the nervous system and therefore the breath, which as we will see, is fundamental to keeping our gut happy and healthy!
Top Tips for Tight Hamstrings!
Don’t worry if you have incredibly tight hamstrings! A lot of people look panicked when I suggest forward folding as a helpful posture because they can’t touch their toes! First off, always modify if you need to. Use blocks, bolsters, straps, cushions; bend your knees to create more space and bring the belly towards the thighs – whatever it takes to make you feel more comfortable. However, if you still aren’t feeling it, simple poses such as Child’s pose (pictured below) and Wind Releasing Pose (hugging your knees into your chest) are some of the most effective ways to create a forward fold and help massage that tummy.
Relaxation – the most important stage!
We live in a a society which is constantly on the go and this doesn’t result in a very relaxed mind and body! Stress is one of the main causes of IBS and other digestive issues. When we are stressed it means we are permanently in a mild state of fight or flight! This is not good for our poor digestive system, as it causes digestion to stop whatever it is doing until the body can take the time to rest once more. That is why relaxation is key to having a healthy and happy gut! Giving yourself the time for savasana, meditation or breath work are the easiest and most simple ways to calm down that mind and body – yet they are often the main ones we skip out! By practicing full diaphragmatic breath, we not only encourage our bodies to use the full capacity of our lungs but we also cause the diaphragm to push down on the digestive system and therefore, assist food and waste to keep moving. On top of all that, the bigger breaths we take, the more oxygen we will bring to our digestive organs, which helps them absorb nutrient efficiently, as well as carrying toxins away!
Top Tip for Calming Down Your Gut!
Take the time to sit, breathe and relax for at least 10 – 15 minutes a day, the benefits on your mind and body will be noticeable almost instantly! You can even separate this into three, 5 minute chunks spread over the course of your day. Try to not to have any distractions during those 5 minutes and sit with the eyes closed and just follow your breath and feel your body soften.
As with everything, there is no ‘one size fits all’ in yoga. I have experimented a lot with what poses and techniques work best for me and my body and I encourage you to do the same! If you do suffer with any form of digestive discomfort (big or small), definitely give yoga a try. I have found it completely life changing. Obviously, yoga won’t cure you completely, you need to mix it with other dietary and lifestyle changes to see full results but I urge you to not give up and instead to research and experiment! It will all be worth it in the end! I promise.
For those of you who are interested in looking into the benefits of Yoga for Digestion but don’t know where to begin, then I highly recommend Charlotte Watts book titled Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health, it is incredibly informative and I found it very helpful during my own research.