When you think of yoga, you probably think of relaxing music and deep stretches. But this ancient art does a lot more. From decreasing the risk of postpartum depression to reducing levels of inflammation in people with heart failure, spending time on your yoga mat is beneficial, from your head to your toes.
And yes, that even includes your gut.
The most common cause of constipation, gas, and other tummy troubles has to do with our unhealthy, fast-paced lifestyle. Poor eating choices, stress, and hectic schedules can manifest in your digestive system as hard stools (as well as loose stools) or infrequent bowel movements.
Yoga can help ease the pain and discomfort of such digestive troubles. Yoga alleviates constipation in two ways:
First, it helps manage your stress response, which can greatly improve the functioning of your digestion system. You may notice that you’re more likely to get “blocked up” when you’re stressed out. Simply meditating and breathing deeply can help move things along.
The second way yoga benefits your digestive system is through twisting poses, inversions, and forward folds. These poses massage your digestive organs, increase blood flow and oxygen delivery, aid the process of peristalsis, and encourage stools to move through your system. Doing yoga regularly can result in regular, healthy bowel movements.
“People who are very bloated, have distended bellies, or just have a little extra body fat around the middle may find twists extremely challenging or uncomfortable,” says Rachael Weiss from The Playful Yogi. “My rule of thumb is if it is painful, don’t do it. A little discomfort is okay, as long as it is not painful. If you struggle with twists, consider sticking to supine twisting — on your back — or seated twists.”
If you’re looking for a natural way to relieve your constipation, the poses described below may help. Roll out your mat and give it a try!
This calming pose is one of Weiss’ favorites for constipation. She says it’s a gentle twist that helps expel waste, move food, and increases blood flow to your gut.
- Lying on your back, bring your legs to your chest. Then extend your left leg out.
- Draw your bent right leg to the left across your body, while keeping your shoulders flat on the floor.
- Look toward the right.
- Hold, and then switch sides.
This seated twist simulates your digestive organs and aids in detoxification.
- Begin in a seated position.
- Bend your left leg and place your left foot on the ground over your right knee.
- Bend your right knee and tuck your right foot near your butt.
- Place your right elbow near your left knee and twist your body, looking over your left shoulder.
- Hold, and then switch sides.
“This twist provides a more substantial twist than seated or supine twists,” notes Weiss. In this lunge, your forward foot should be directly over your knee, and you should be up on the ball of your back foot. Your back leg should be straight.
- To twist, put your hands in prayer position and twist toward your bent leg, pressing your arm on the outside of the bent leg.
- Come out of the pose, switch sides, and repeat.
“This is a great non-twist pose for relieving gas — as the name suggests!” says Weiss.
- Recline on your back and hug your legs into your chest. Alternatively, you can extend one leg out.
- Hold for a minute or two and then switch.
This pose is another effective non-twisting pose.
- Start by sitting on the floor with your knees spread to a bit more than hip-distance apart and your feet tucked under you, big toes touching.
- Lean forward and place your hands in front of you, creeping forward until your forehead is touching the mat.
- Hold while breathing deeply.
While these five moves are a great start, there are many other yoga poses that help with digestive issues. Again, any twisting motion can increase peristalsis. Try:
Twisting Chair Pose is another effective choice. Other inversions to try include Supported Shoulder Stand or Plow.
Remember that the other reason yoga is effective for constipation is that it’s a healthy way to manage stress. So simple moves like Corpse Pose — where you simply lay flat on your back with your eyes closed — are also tremendously helpful.
No matter what poses your try, don’t forget to calm your thoughts and breathe deeply. A peaceful mind goes a long way to fixing your digestive woes.