Can Yoga Help Aid Digestion? 9 Poses to Try

By Staff 16 Min Read

When you have digestive issues, you may want to find relief fast.

There’s growing interest in finding natural relief for digestive issues through yoga and gentle movement. Many people tout the benefits of yoga for digestive relief, so you may be wondering whether you should try it.

This article investigates how yoga might aid digestion and lists several poses you can try.

Yoga is a traditional practice that people have used for thousands of years to connect the mind and body for good health. For many people, it also includes a spiritual element (1, 2, 3).

To promote better mind-body awareness, the practice combines:

  • gentle movement (asanas)
  • breathing techniques (pranayama)
  • meditation (dyana)

It stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, known as the rest-and-digest system (1, 2, 3).

The term “digestion” typically refers to the breakdown of food to provide your body with nutrients and expel waste products.

However, many people also use the term to refer to any symptoms that arise from digestion, such as gas, bloating, discomfort, and stool type and frequency (4, 5, 6).

The gut-brain axis is a communication system of nerves and biochemical signals that travel in the blood, connecting the digestive system to the brain (7).

Through this system, your gut can directly react to psychological and physical stress with symptoms such as stomach aches, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and changes in appetite and digestion (7).

General gut health

People believe yoga aids in digestive health by reducing stress, increasing circulation, and promoting physical movement, or motility, of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Irritable bowel syndrome

In particular, those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find relief from yoga. Scientists think IBS results from overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, the stress system of your body.

The condition has an array of symptoms, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation (8, 9).

In a 2018 study, 208 participants with IBS followed either a low-FODMAP diet or did yoga for 12 weeks. By the end, both groups showed improvements in IBS symptoms, suggesting yoga may play a complementary role in IBS treatment (10).

A 2016 pilot study showed improvements in IBS symptoms after people participated in 16 biweekly yoga sessions (11).

However, the study also found people experienced similar benefits from walking. This suggests that adding in regular movement and reducing stress may be the main factors in symptom relief (11).

Other studies have also shown benefits to yoga for IBS relief (12, 13).

Inflammatory bowel diseases

In inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, yoga may also support symptom management. However, you shouldn’t use it to replace medications or other treatments (14, 15, 16, 17).

Little research exists that directly investigates which yoga poses might relieve GI issues and which ones are most effective. Most current claims are based on anecdotal reports. Therefore, scientists need to do more research on this topic.

Summary

Yoga may help relieve digestive issues by decreasing stress, increasing circulation, and promoting gut motility. However, scientists need to do more research to understand its role in specific digestive issues.

Here are 9 yoga poses that may help with general digestion or other specific digestive issues.

1. Seated Side Bend (Parsva Sukhasana)

This is a great beginner move for people looking to stretch their obliques, belly muscles, lower and upper back, and shoulders.

The gentle stretch may help alleviate bloating and gas and support general digestion.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position, with your hands touching the floor at your sides.
  2. Raise your left arm straight into the air, then gently lean to your right side.
  3. Keep your right forearm on the floor, facing outward.
  4. Slowly breathe in and out 4–5 times. Then, switch sides and repeat.

2. Seated Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

The twisting motion of this move is thought to promote bowel regularity by aiding the small and large intestine in peristalsis. This is the movement that propels food and waste through the GI tract.

This yoga move may also help alleviate bloating.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor, with both legs straight. Bend your left knee and cross it over your right knee or thigh, placing your left foot on the floor. Keep your left foot planted throughout the entire movement.
  2. Then gently lean on your right hip and bend your right knee so that the sole of your right foot is facing inward toward your left buttock. If this is too difficult, you can keep your right leg straight.
  3. Take your right elbow and place it on the outside of your left knee while you gently rotate your trunk to the left. Place your left palm on the floor to the left of your buttocks.
  4. Turn your neck so it is slightly looking over your left shoulder.
  5. Hold this position and breathe for 4–5 deep breaths. With each breath, notice your spine elongating. Then, switch sides and repeat.

3. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

Supine Spinal Twist Pose is great for stretching the lower back and increasing spinal mobility.

People believe it alleviates constipation and bloating and supports general digestion.

How to do it:

  1. Lie down on your back, also called supine position.
  2. Bend both knees, with the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) off the ground and shift them to the right about 1 inch (2.5 cm). This will allow your hips to stack when completing this move. Lower your hips back to the floor.
  3. Straighten your left leg and grab your right knee and bring it toward your chest.
  4. While keeping your left leg straight, gently rotate to the left and bring your right knee over your left. Instead of forcing your knee to the ground, allow it to gently drape over your left leg.
  5. Bring your right arm back and place it straight on the floor, perpendicular to your body. Take your left hand and gently press on your right knee for a greater stretch. Alternatively, leave your left arm straight.
  6. Hold this position for 4–5 deep breaths. Then, repeat on the other side.

4. Knees to Chest (Apanasana)

Knees to Chest is a gentle movement that can be relaxing and relieve lower back strain.

Proponents say it gently massages the large intestine to promote bowel movements.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back, in supine position, with your legs straight.
  2. Slowly bend your knees and bring them toward your chest, using your arms to pull them closer.
  3. Hold this position for 4–5 deep breaths.

5. Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)

Cat-Cow Pose transitions between two classic yoga positions: Cat Pose and Cow Pose. Together, they can stretch your back and belly muscles.

Proponents say these poses improve circulation and gently massage your organs to promote gut peristalsis.

How to do it:

  1. Start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine — that is, with a flat back and neck. Make sure your knees are aligned with your hips and your wrists are aligned with your shoulders.
  2. Begin by entering Cow Pose. To do this, tilt your pelvis so that your tailbone goes up and your belly moves down. Be sure to engage your core.
  3. Gently roll your shoulders back and raise your head by looking upward. Make sure to avoid overextending your neck.
  4. Hold for 4–5 breaths.
  5. Next, return to neutral position.
  6. To enter Cat Pose, place the tops of your feet on the floor with the soles of your feet facing upward. Tuck in your tailbone, draw your belly button towards your spine, and roll your shoulders forward so that you’re arching your back.
  7. Gently lower your head, allowing gravity to control this instead of forcing it down.
  8. Hold for 4–5 breaths.
  9. Repeat this 2–3 times.

6. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Cobra Pose mimics a cobra in its upright position. It helps stretch your belly muscles and improve posture, and proponents say it supports general digestion.

How to do it:

  1. Start by lying on your stomach, with your feet hip-width apart and the palms of your hands flat on the floor by your lower ribs, elbows bent.
  2. Extend your feet so that the tops of your feet are touching the ground.
  3. Press into your hands and slowly bring your head and chest upward. Keep your elbows slightly bent as you slowly straighten your arms. Roll your shoulders back and down. Focus on lifting your sternum rather than raising your chin.
  4. Be sure to keep your pelvis on the floor and focus on bringing your chest and upper back up and forward.
  5. Look upward slightly without overextending your neck or raising your chin. Hold for 4–5 breaths.

7. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

Bow Pose mimics the shape of an archer’s bow. It stretches your back, and proponents say it aids digestion and constipation and alleviates menstrual cramps.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your stomach, with your legs straight and hands to your sides, palms up.
  2. Bend your knees back and bring your feet as close to your buttocks as you can. Reach back and gently grab your ankles. Be sure to keep your knees no wider than your hips.
  3. Pull your feet toward your body and slightly lift your thighs away from the floor. At the same time, lift your chest and head upward. Keep your pelvis flat on the floor.
  4. Hold for 4–5 breaths. If you are having a hard time breathing, stick to a light stretch that is comfortable for you. Some people may choose to skip this move.

8. Belly Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana)

This is a simple twist that people believe supports digestion by increasing circulation and promoting gut peristalsis.

How to do it:

  1. Start by lying on your back, with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and arms stretched outward. Shift your hips about an inch (2.5 cm) to the right.
  2. Lift your feet off the ground, keeping your knees and feet together.
  3. Rotate your hips and bring your bent legs to the left. Keep your upper back flat on the ground. Allow gravity to lower your legs toward the ground.
  4. Hold for 4–5 breaths.
  5. Gently return your hips to neutral position and bring your knees toward your chest with your hands. Then, slowly straighten your legs.

9. Corpse Pose (Shavasana)

You’d usually perform the Corpse Pose at the end of a yoga session. It is designed to allow you to achieve true relaxation through controlled breathing and meditation.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back, with your legs straight and arms to the sides.
  2. Close your eyes and take a deep breath to the count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four. To stay focused on the breath and not on intruding thoughts, notice your stomach or chest rise and fall with each breath.
  3. Allow gravity to naturally relax your muscles.
  4. Continue this for at least 5 minutes or as long as you want.

Summary

Each of the yoga poses above may help relieve digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, and constipation. They may also help with general digestion.

People generally recognize yoga as safe. However, it may not be suitable for people who:

  • have back or neck injuries
  • are pregnant
  • have high blood pressure

Some yoga instructors offer specialized classes, such as prenatal yoga classes.

Furthermore, if you’re experiencing digestive issues on an ongoing basis, it is best to speak with a healthcare professional. They may be able to identify the root cause.

While you may find yoga beneficial, you shouldn’t discontinue other treatments your healthcare provider has recommended. It’s best to consult them before starting yoga or any other exercise regime.

Summary

Yoga may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions. Consult a healthcare provider if you want to start practicing yoga regularly, and make sure to tell them if you are experiencing ongoing digestive issues.

Yoga is a traditional practice that has existed for thousands of years. It promotes health by engaging people mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Some research supports yoga as a complementary treatment for digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome. It may help alleviate certain symptoms, such as discomfort, gas, bloating, and constipation.

Though more research is needed on how yoga may help with digestion, you may benefit from trying yoga alongside any current treatments your healthcare provider has recommended.

With few downsides and potential digestive relief, yoga may provide the relief you are looking for.

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