Digestion is important for breaking down food into nutrients, which the body uses for energy, growth, and repair. But did you know that one of the most popular and relaxing exercise practices can help to improve your digestion? We’re talking about yoga! In addition to its other health benefits, including increased flexibility, increased muscle strength, improved energy, and increased circulatory health, there is another little known benefit, and it has to do with your digestion. You can think of your yoga exercises as a massage for your internal organs. If you’re dealing with gut issues, gentle yoga poses and deep breathing are great ways to relax the gut. Yoga is also very detoxifying, a key factor in improving digestion. The twisting postures can help to enhance your digestion, and encourage your liver and kidneys to flush out toxins1. Yoga can also help with bloating, increasing the amount of oxygen to the area.
Before we get more into yoga and look at special poses to help with digestion, let’s talk a little more about digestion. The body uses the process of digestion to break down food into a form that can be absorbed and used for fuel. The organs of the digestive system are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and the small and large intestine. More organs than you thought, right? Recognizing how these organs work together is important in understanding how digestion works.
The digestive process starts in the mouth. Even before you eat, the anticipation of eating stimulates the glands in the mouth to produce saliva. The digestive system carries out three main processes in the mouth, mixing food, moving food through the digestive tract, and then using chemicals to break down this food. Next up is the esophagus. This is a long, muscular tube connecting your mouth to your stomach. When you swallow, the muscles squeeze together, moving food downwards to the stomach. The stomach contains hydrochloric acid and enzymes that starts the process of breaking down food. The muscles in the stomach churn food and break it all down into a liquid. The small intestine is where most chemical digestion happens, using bile and enzymes. The large intestine, commonly known as the colon, absorbs water and electrolytes. Bacteria here produces Vitamin K and biotin. The pancreas then secretes hormones including insulin and glucagon, as well as digestive enzymes to further break down carbs, fats, and proteins. The gallbladder stores bile, a liquid made by your liver, which helps digest fats and some vitamins. Lastly, your liver produces hormones, stores glycogen (used for energy), breaks down red blood cells so that we can replace them with healthy ones, synthesizes proteins, and detoxifies2.
Deeper Dive Into Yoga
The reason yoga is so beneficial for your digestion, is because it can help to relieve some common digestive problems, like constipation, stomach pain, gas, and even acid reflux, with that gentle massaging action that we mentioned earlier. There are many yoga poses that can stimulate the intestines, pancreas, and stomach, helping keep these organs strong and healthy.
Certain yoga poses have been known to bring about the following improvements: eliminate constipation problems, decrease gas, increase production of mucous, reduce acid, improve absorption of food, and even improve gastrointestinal circulation3. It is important to note though, if you plan on practicing a few yoga poses for healthy digestion, there are a few precautions to take. The first, is to perform yoga poses in the mornings, on an empty stomach. Also, try not to hurry to do each pose, practice breathing and relax. Refrain from practicing yoga if you have just had a surgery or suffer from appendicitis, hernia, or other abdominal injury.
Without further ado, here are the top two yoga poses for better digestion:
Downward Facing Dog
Begin in this post in a plank position, arms and feet hip-distance apart, hands and feet grounded. Begin to lift your hips upwards, strengthening your core and letting your head drop. Have a slight bend in your knees, gently pulling your shoulders away from your ears and lengthening your spine. Hold position for 1-3 minutes, and repeat 8-10 times.
From a seated position, get onto your hands and knees, knees hip-distance apart. Place hands firmly on the ground/mat. Have your shoulders positioned beneath your hands. Inhale deeply, bringing your shoulders back, raising your face and looking upwards and lift your hips, gently, curving your back. Hold, and deeply exhale, curving your back upwards, dropping your head and look downwards, and pull your sit bones inwards. Repeat 10 times.
In addition to improving digestion, these poses may also contribute to increased relaxation, and restore energy. Good luck, and namaste!