As Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Its amazing that he knew this, long before our modern era of medicine, where diet has been all but neglected by many a doctor as being a determining factor in disease. And Hippocrates was right. About 70% of our immune system lies in our gut, so keeping it healthy is the key to keeping all parts of your body healthy. Ancient Ayurvedic medicine, which takes a mind-body-spirit approach to health, has also always emphasized digestion as an important pillar in a healthy life.
And while good diet is crucial to gut health, Ayurvedic medicine also employs other techniques to stimulate a healthy digestive tract: yoga. Yoga incorporates both stress relief and exercise all in one, and is a relaxing way to get more movement in your life. It opens up “chakras” and airways, bringing more oxygen to otherwise blocked areas of your body. It stretches and gently strengthens muscles while also gently massaging and invigorating organs. While practically any yoga pose has therapeutic value for us, these poses are known to be particularly good for digestion. As well as relaxation. Which itself is also very important for healing.
You don’t have to get all decked out in Lululemon gear, unless it actually inspires you to break out into pose! You can easily do these yoga stretches in the comfort of your living room or bedroom, just after you rise or just before bed (or both). If you are new to yoga, or to exercise in general, take it slowly in the beginning. It shouldn’t hurt when doing these poses, unless its a little bit of a “good” hurt. 🙂 Never force anything. Feel free to use extra cushioning if you need to. And as with any new exercise routine, please consult with your doctor if you have medical concerns.
1. Standing Forward Bend. This is a great way to get out of bed and start your day. But it can also lead into other yoga poses that bring relaxation for you, just before bed. This pose helps relieve stress, reduce fatigue and insomnia and help improve digestion (among other things).
Start from a standing position, with your hands on your hips. While exhaling, bend forward from the hips (not the waist), and extend your torso out in front of you, lengthening it as you descend. Try to touch the floor with the palms of your hands or your fingers, while keeping your knees straight. If you can’t reach the floor, cross your arms. Let your head hang from the base of your neck. Push your heels into the floor and your “sitting bones” upward toward the ceiling. Hold this pose for about a minute, while breathing deeply. With each inhalation try to lift and lengthen your torso more. With each exhalation try to bend forward just a little more. Come back to a standing position, the same way you descended – with a long torso (not a back roll).
2. Camel Pose. Good for stimulating the kidneys which aids digestion. Also good for relieving respiratory ailments as well as menstrual discomfort. Also known as a “heart opening” pose, it is said it can make you emotional, so keep track of your thoughts as you practice this one!
Kneel on the ground with your knees hip-width apart. Place your hands on the back of your pelvis. Lengthening your spine, lean backwards. Stay in this position if you are a beginner. Optionally, you can try to place your hands on your heels, with your fingers pointing toward the toes. For an even deeper pose, lengthen your neck, curl your head backwards and slide your hands to the soles of your feet. Do not crunch your neck. Stay in this position (whichever version is best for you) for about a minute, while breathing deeply.
3. Cobra. This is a beginning back bend that strengthens the back and abdominal muscles, and stimulates digestion. Not recommend for those with carpal tunnel syndrome, or back or wrist injuries.
Lie face down with the palms flat on the floor next to your chest, and the elbows close to the body. If lying facedown is not comfortable, start with your nose or chin on the floor. The tops of your feet and toes should be flat on the floor and next to each other. Inhale and push your hands into the floor, while gently lifting your head and chest off the floor. Your lower ribs should still be on the floor. Exhale, then inhale again, continuing to push your body off the floor, using your abs (not your back) and straightening your arms as much as possible. Your hips, legs and feet should be planted into the floor. Tilt your chin upward (as far as is comfortable) and lift your chest toward the ceiling, lengthening the crown of your head as you lift it up and expand the chest forward. Do not crunch the neck. Hold this pose for at least a minute, lifting with each inhalation and settling with each exhalation. To release, exhale and drop the forehead to the floor while relaxing your head to one side.
4. Seated Forward Bend. This is almost the same pose as the Standing Forward Bend (above), except in a seated position. It helps to relieve stress and mild depression, and also works to improve digestion.
Start from a seated position, with the palms of your hands pressing through the floor next to your hips. While exhaling, bend forward from the hips (not the waist), and extend your torso out in front of you, lengthening it as you descend. Try to grab the sides of your feet with your hands, while keeping your elbows bent and your knees straight. If you can’t reach your feet, loop a belt around them and hold the belt firmly. Let your head hang from the base of your neck. Hold this pose for one to 3 minutes, while breathing deeply. With each inhalation try to lift and lengthen your torso more. With each exhalation try to bend forward just a little more. Come back to a sitting position, the same way you descended – with a long torso (not a back roll).
5. I love the Abdominal Twist. This pose is often incorporated into my workouts by gym instructors. It just feels great! But its also good for stimulating the liver and kidneys as well as the “digestive fire” of the belly, and is even said to destroy “most deadly diseases”.
Sit on the floor in “criss-cross-applesauce” position. Cross the right foot over the right thigh, placing the sole of the foot flat on the floor. Both “sitting bones” should make firm contact with the floor. While exhaling, twist your body to the right, bringing your left elbow to the outside of your right thigh, and placing your left hand in a “stop sign” position. Press your right hand into the floor just behind your right buttocks. Look over your right shoulder with your head held high. Hold the pose here for about a minute, while breathing deeply. With every inhalation, try to make your spine taller, and with every exhalation, try to turn your torso even deeper. Exhale to release the twist. Then repeat the procedure, twisting to the left.
6. Bridge pose. Another one of those poses that just feels good. This one is good for stress, insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure and mild depression. And it helps to stimulate abdominal organs and the thyroid, while also being therapeutic for people with asthma. Do make sure you are gentle with the neck, and avoid this if you have neck or should injuries. If you are a beginner, you may want to place a pillow or folded blanket under your neck.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat, hip-width apart. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, lift up your hips and your buttocks, and clasp your hands together below your pelvis. Make sure your knees are parallel to one another, and you aren’t squeezing your buttocks. Optionally, for a deeper pose, you can try to grab your ankles. Stay in this position for about a minute. With each exhalation, try to lift your chest and buttocks even further, and lengthen your arms more. To release, exhale while unclasping your hands and slowly unrolling your spine, vertebra by vertebra, along the floor.
7. Plow pose. I’ve been doing this pose since I was in high school, if not earlier. It was on the cover of an old paperbook yoga book, performed by a strapping man in 70’s leisure-suit yoga gear. I’ve always loved it because it is supposed to calm and relax the nerves, brain and heart, giving you a deep sense of contemplation and renewal. Its also very good for digestion and detoxification, as well as for the thyroid. It is not recommended if you are currently experiencing diarrhea. Be gentle with your neck!
Lie flat on your black, with your legs extended and your arms by your sides, palms down. Inhale, and lift your legs and hips toward the ceiling, using your abs and supporting your lower back with your arms. You may stay in this position (known as the Supported Shoulderstand) for 30 seconds, or you may continue into Plow. As you exhale, bend from the hips and slowly lower your toes to the floor behind your head. Try to keep your torso perpendicular to the floor and your legs fully extended. Do not crunch your neck. Stretch your arms out behind you, opposite from the legs. Press the arms into the floor as you push the sitting bones up toward the ceiling. Hold this pose from 1 to 5 minutes, while breathing deeply. To release the pose, exhale and lift your legs and hips back toward the ceiling. Exhale again, while rolling out of the position.
8. My favorite of these poses is the “Wind Relieving” Pose. Just as the name says, its perfect for relieving any stubborn painful gas that is trapped in your body. We’ve all been there. I’ve even helped my kids do this pose once or twice when they’ve experienced it. Its very simple.
Lie on your back and breathe in. Then as you slowly exhale, pull your right knee up to your chest, pressing your thigh into your abdomen. You may optionally breathe in again, then bring your forehead to your knee as you exhale, or you may continue with your head on the floor. Hold this pose for about 1 minute, while breathing deeply. While exhaling, return your right leg to the extended position, then repeat this same procedure with the left leg. Return your left leg to the extended position, then repeat this same procedure, bringing both knees into the chest. Continue the sequence, until gaseous pressure has been released. 🙂
9. Child’s pose. You can do this pose after doing any of the other poses, or at the end of any yoga stretching session. It is among the most calming and restorative poses, probably because it puts you in the same fetal position you were in before you entered this world.
Kneel on your hands and knees, with your forehead touching the floor and your toes stretched behind you and touching each other. Then separate your knees until they are hip-width apart. Lay your arms by your sides with palms facing up. Feel your shoulders spread over your shoulder blades and your torso relax into your thighs. This is a resting pose, so hold this for several minutes, while breathing deeply.