Originated in ancient India, Yoga is a system of physical, mental, spiritual and philosophical exercises. It includes controlling your breath to help relax your mind and body. Its literal meaning is ‘union’, but essentially it means ‘something that brings you to reality.’
There are various styles, types and methods of yoga that include a combination of physical postures, meditation, breathing techniques and relaxation. Its correct application can have magical effects on your physical as well as mental well-being, which is probably why a 2017 national survey found that 1 in 7 adults in the United States practices Yoga.
The overall philosophy is fairly simple – establish a connection between mind, body and spirit by combining physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation. Once the connection is there, the health benefits follow. Some key health benefits that you get by doing Yoga regularly include balanced sleep, lower stress, weight management, pain relief, lowering or removal of symptoms of chronic diseases amongst others.
In this article, we will focus on the key benefits of Yoga for our gut, and which poses are the best for promoting gut health by improving digestion.
Yoga and Gut Benefits
Yoga promotes a healthy lifestyle and has the potential to profoundly benefit our gut health and protect it from various ailments and diseases. Many people take up yoga specifically to improve the digestion process and find natural relief.
By Increasing diversity of Microbiomes
The healthy strains of bacteria within our gut are extremely crucial in improving digestion and keeping the entire process smooth. Doing yoga consistently contributes hugely towards increasing the level of these gut-friendly microbiomes.
Research has concluded that doing yoga raises the core temperature of the body and reduces the flow of blood to the intestines. This leads to direct contact between the gut microbiome and immune cells and potentially diversifies the composition of the microbes in the gut.
By Improving Digestion
Various yoga postures are renowned to cleanse and release toxins within the gut. Other postures can act like a massage for the internal organs, which improves the flow of the oxygenated blood to various organs, lowers blood pressure and makes it easier to digest food.
In addition to this, doing yoga regularly doesn’t allow fat to deposit, stretches the body and muscles, detoxifies and even regulates bowel movement. All these allow the food to move easily along the digestive tract, avoiding any digestive issues such as bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, or similar problems.
By Reducing Stress
The gut and the brain are deeply connected. Essentially, the gut connects with the brain through hormones, neurotransmitters and chemical messengers. Even mental health problems such as stress and anxiety have a strong relationship with gut health issues such as heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea amongst others.
Research has concluded that when you practice yoga consistently and indulge in yogi breathing and meditation, your nervous system gets activated, clearing the stress response within the body and improving your mental health. This in turn restores the balance and health in the gut.
9 Yoga Asanas to Improve Gut Health
There are some specific Yoga Asanas (or postures) that are designed to target the gut and improve its functioning while promoting its well-being. We are going to discuss 9 of such postures that you can start doing immediately if you are looking to balance your gut.
1. The Peacock Pose or Mayur Asana
This asana pressurizes your stomach, liver, kidneys, intestines and spleen. In doing so, it not only increases the digestive fire in your belly but also improves the flow of oxygenated blood in all the organs. It also aids in releasing toxins from the intestine and improves its functioning, a major reason why it is also known as the “detox pose.”
To do this pose, you need to kneel on the floor and place your palms ahead of you. Now turn your hand backwards, so that the fingers face you. Bring the hands closer and bend your elbows a little. Now, lean onto your upper arms while holding your stomach in.
Lift your legs and allow all the weight to rest on your arms. Tilt your forehead slightly forwards, making an acute angle while balancing your body. Now hold for 10 seconds and breathe evenly 3-4 times. Bring your knees back into a kneeling position and release.
2. The Corpse Pose or Savasana
This is primarily a stress-busting pose that aims at activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Doing this daily reduces stress and anxiety and makes you feel calm and composed. A happy and stress-free mind then goes on to restore the balance between the gut and the rest of the body.
To do this pose, you need to lie down straight with your arms relaxed at your sides and your legs straight. You need to allow your body to feel heavy on the ground while you breathe naturally and relax every body part. It is important to keep focused on your breath.
Continue for a while and exit by gently rising and bring awareness back into your body. You can carry the newfound peace through the day and feel good everywhere.
3. The Bow Pose or Dhanurasana
The purpose of this yoga pose is to stimulate digestion with sudden movements of the body. It provides a massage to the internal organs, resulting in an increased level of oxygenated blood flow. This asana is well-known for revitalizing the digestive system and boosting gut health.
To do this pose, start by laying down on your stomach and keeping your legs straight while your arms are stretched. Now lift your hands up and backwards and your legs up and forwards in simultaneous movements, like when doing a backbend while standing.
Grab your ankles and inhale while you lift your heels. Hold the pose for 15 seconds as you stretch, breathe and balance. Exhale and release the pose by slowly lowering your head, chest, thighs and ultimately the feet. Repeat this posture multiple times for quick benefits.
4. The Seated Side Bend or Parsva Sukhasana
This is a beginner-level yoga pose that everyone can do. It stretches the belly muscles, lower back, upper back and shoulders. This stretch helps in alleviating the issues of bloating and constant gas while easing digestion.
To do this asana, you have to sit on the floor in a cross-legged position and ensure that your hands touch the floor at your sides. Now proceed to raise your left arm in the air while bending towards the right. Keep your right hand and forearm on the floor only. Now breathe slowly 4 to 5 times. Then switch sides and do this for 5-10 minutes.
5. The Knees to Chest Pose or Apanasana
This yoga asana only includes gentle movements that anyone with low mobility can do. Not only does it relieve lower back strain and relax the body, but it also gently massages internal organs such as the large intestine that promotes bowel movement and easy passage of stool.
To do this pose, you need to lie on a flat surface on your back in a supine position with straight legs. Now slowly start bending your knees and bring them up towards the chest. You can use your arms to pull the legs upwards. Now hold this position and slowly breathe 4-5 times. Relax and lower your legs, repeat. You should do this every night before sleeping for 10-20 minutes.
6. The Belly Twist Pose or Jathara Parivartanasana
This yoga asana includes doing simple twists for better circulation and improved movement in the process of digestion. Also promoting gut peristalsis, this asana is a simple way to keep the gut strong and healthy.
You can start doing this pose by lying on your back with your knees bent. Stretch your arms completely outwards. Lift your feet off the ground while keeping your knees bent and together. Now rotate your hips and bring the bent legs to your right.
Hold for 4-5 breaths and then rotate the hips again, bringing the bent legs to the left. Hold again, and repeat 10-20 times. Release by getting your hips back into a neutral position and slowly straightening your legs.
7. The Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana
This is a fun pose that you will enjoy doing. In this, you have to mimic a cobra as in its upright position. Besides the fun, it will bring you immense gut benefits including improvement in posture, stretching of gut muscles, helping in eliminating toxins and supporting the digestion process.
To do this asana, you need to lie on your stomach with stretched legs, feet hips-width wide and hands on the floor with bent elbows. Now extend your feet, ensuring that the tops of your feet are touching the ground. Press the floor with your hands and slowly bring your chest and head upwards.
Now continue by rolling your shoulder up and down, back and forth. You need to focus on lifting your sternum instead of raising your chin. Also, ensure that your pelvis stays on the floor. Now look slightly upwards. Do not overextend your neck. Hold for 4-5 breaths and relax. Release by slowly bringing the torso back to the ground and lying down again.
8. The Seated Twist or Ardha Matsyendrasana
This yoga pose is designed to aid the large and small intestine in peristalsis, as a result of which you can experience fluidity in your bowel movements. These smooth bowel movements allow food and waste to easily travel through the GI tract and keep the body devoid of any digestive issues.
To do this yoga pose, start by sitting on the floor while your legs are straight. Now bend the right knee and cross it over the right thigh. Keep the right foot planted on the floor. Now while leaning on the left hip, bend the left knee ensuring the left foot faces your right buttock.
Now place the left elbow on the outside of the right knee and rotate leftwards, placing your right palm on the floor. Now slightly turn your neck so that it overlooks your right shoulder. Hold the position and take 4-5 deep breaths. Now switch sides and do another set. Do at least 10 sets similarly to get the best results.
9. The Three-Legged Downward Facing Dog Pose
This is a straightforward yoga pose aimed at improving the blood and oxygen circulation within your brain to release all the stress, fear, anxiety, sadness and even depression. It detoxifies the brain of all the wasted thoughts. A clear mind has a direct impact on improving digestion and resolving gut issues.
To do this pose, you simply have to stand straight, then bend down while stretching your arms ahead. Now steep your head inwards and stretch the hips and legs outwards. Slowly lift your left leg in the air and bend ahead to place both palms on the floor.
Now hold the position and take 4-5 deep breaths. Release by slowly bringing the leg down and repeat with the other leg. Do at least 5 sets with each leg to see proper results and benefits in a short time.
Yoga is one of the best solutions for your regular gut issues. It may seem daunting at first, especially if you are a beginner. But with regular practice and making it a habit, you can easily master most of the poses and experience prime mental and physical health. You can start with the poses discussed above and see positive changes in your gut start to take effect within a few days.
That being said, it is important to understand one’s limitations and take necessary precautions. Only do as much as you can and slowly increase the difficulty as your body adjusts to it. If you have persistent health issues or chronic diseases, then seek advice from healthcare professionals and pursue yoga only if recommended.