From mild bloating to severe gastrointestinal issues, gut health is on all of our minds—especially in the detoxifying weeks following the holiday season.
While you can nourish your gut with healthy food and delicious drinkable concoctions, yoga is another way to keep your digestive health on track. We spoke to Lee Holmes, yoga teacher, gut expert, and author of Heal Your Gut, who gave us the lowdown on just how vital a regular yoga practice is to gut health. Here's what she had to say.
Why yoga helps.
Think of your yoga practice as a massage for your internal organs. If you're dealing with serious gut issues, gentle yoga poses and deep breathing are a great way to relax the gut, but as a general rule a regular yoga practice is an effective way to keep your gut healthy.
"Yoga is also deeply detoxifying, a key factor in improving digestion, twisting postures can help to enhance your digestion and encourage your liver and kidneys to flush out toxins," says Lee. "Yoga can also help with bloating, increasing the amount of oxygen to the area and also helps to reshape all of your wiggly bits making your tummy feel more toned."
How to tailor your practice to your gut issues.
There's not one tried-and-true yoga style that works for everyone, so when practicing yoga for a healthier gut, keep a few things in mind.
"I like to look at yoga from an Ayurvedic perspective, as it is one of the key Ayurvedic modalities," says Lee. "Gentle Hatha yoga is wonderful for digestion, but depending upon what type of yoga you do, it's always best to take it at your own speed and not overly exert yourself which can lead to injuries if not practiced correctly. If you’re competitive in yoga this can lead to anxiety which is not great for gut health. In my class I like to encourage people by staying 'yoga is not about perfection and it's not a competition, just do what you can and enjoy yourself and allow yourself to let go."
She adds that Vatas can balance their dosha by practicing yoga poses that add the qualities of warmth, stability, grounding and focus, while Pittas should go for a slower, cooling practice that encourages compassion and acceptance. For Kaphas, she suggests a light yoga practice that creates space, stimulation, warmth, and buoyancy.
A gut-friendly yoga flow.
According to Lee, if you do these yoga poses on a regular basis, you'll have a very happy gut.
1. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana).
This pose increases flexibility in the hamstrings and spine, calms and cools the mind, improves digestion, relieves digestive problems such as constipation, slows the heart and nourishes the brain cells.
Start from a standing pose with your big toes touching, heels slightly apart, tailbone tucked under and arms beside you with your palms facing forwards. Inhale and sweep your arms out to the sides then up above your head Exhale and gradually bend forward from your hips, lengthening your spine and lowering your upper body over your legs. Relax your upper body and bring your left hand to your right elbow and your right hand to your left elbow. If you feel any discomfort behind your knees or in your hamstrings, feel free to bend your knees.
Hold for 10 breaths then release slowly, rolling up your spine one vertebra at a time.
2. Revolved crescent lunge.
This pose massages the abdominal muscles and twist the internal organs to help stimulate digestion. Compressing the colon in specific ways (right to left) can aid in digestion. Detoxifying twists can stimulate the movement of those toxins that accumulate in the body and help usher them out.
From a standing position, lunge back with your right leg ensuring that both feet are pointing forwards, then twist your upper body to the left. Inhale and place your right hand on the outside (left) of your left foot and reach your left arm upwards into the air, twisting from your waist. (If you can’t get your right hand and shoulder outside of your front knee, place your hand on the inside of your foot). Gaze up at your left hand and hold for five breaths. Inhale as you slowly stand up again, then repeat on the other side. Take a long slow deep breath into the belly and relax.
4. Camel Pose (Ushtrasana)
Camel pose stretches the stomach and intestines, alleviating constipation.
Start in a kneeling position with your knees slightly apart, your thighs perpendicular to the floor and the soles of your feet facing the ceiling. Inhale and draw your hands up your sides of your body as push your chest forward and up and push your hips forward. Exhale and reach your hands back one at a time to grasp your heels. (If you cannot reach your heels when your feet are flat, curl your toes under and rest on the balls of your feet). Bring your hips forward so that they are over your knees while letting your head fall back, opening your throat.
Hold for five breaths then gently return to your kneeling position.
3. Revolved low lunge.
Oftentimes when our hip flexors are tight, they interfere with our internal organ function, including digestion. Stretching the front of the body helps keep things moving in the right direction.
From a standing position, lower your right knee to the floor as far behind you as is comfortable, with your left leg bent at a right angle, then reach back with your left hand to catch your right foot as you lift your right heel up toward your buttocks. Hold for 5 breaths. Release slowly then repeat with your left foot. Release slowly then return to a standing position.
5. Child’s pose (Balasana).
Child's pose compresses the abdomen and massages the internal organs.
Start in a kneeling position. Drop your buttocks toward your heels as you stretch the rest of your body down and forward, with your stomach resting on your thighs, your forehead on the mat and your arms stretched forward. Hold for 10 breaths. Gently return to a kneeling position.
6. Wind relieving pose (Apanasana).
This pose massages the ascending and descending colon.
Lie on your back then lift your knees and place your feet on the floor directly under your knees. Hug your knees comfortably to the belly. Hold for 10 breaths then return your feet to the floor. Now hug one knee at a time, first the right and then the left. Return to your lying position.
7. Corpse pose (Savasana).
This is the ultimate posture for all healing. As you lie still, you’re allowing stress to melt away and you are literally creating a healing environment for your body. Your blood will start to flow away from your extremities and towards your digestive organs. This will create the ideal environment for digestion, cleansing and healing.
Lie on your back with your legs together but your feet turning out, and your arms 30 degrees from your body with your palms facing up. Close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Relax into the mat for 10 breaths.
Good luck with that gut.