With nearly 80 percent of the immune system located in the gut, gut health is rapidly becoming a widely discussed topic as it relates to optimal health. It is estimated that virtually 30 to 40 percent of the population suffer from digestive-related issues, making digestion and gut health a critical component of overall well-being. When you think of supporting gut health, yoga, I would imagine, is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, healing is an integrative approach, and it is as important to nourish the physical body as it is to incorporate other modalities.
In addition to diet being one of the best ways to support gut health, yoga offers additional health benefits and healing properties. While there are a myriad of yoga postures that aid in digestion, circulation, and detoxification (all important factors in gut health), here are the three most effective ways to improve gut health:
1. Revolved crescent lunge.
A majority of the twist postures in yoga aid digestion and gut health. This is because you are applying pressure to the areas associated with the digestive system in order to rinse and release toxins. Think of it as giving your internal organs a massage.
Revolved crescent lunge is a great pose to help relieve constipation, bloating, or other digestive discomfort. Undigested foods, fluids, and other toxins oftentimes get stuck in the intestinal tract, which is why twists are incredibly useful for stimulating the gut and eliminating waste.
To come into the pose, start from a high lunge position where your front knee is stacked over your front ankle and back leg is extended long behind the body with the ball of the feet tracking over the heel. From here, bring your hands to prayer position at heart center and begin to twist from the torso, hooking your bottom elbow to the outside of the front knee, extending the top elbow to the sky. Crown of the head is reaching toward the front with a long line of energy extending from the crown out through the heel of the back foot. With every inhale, elongate the spine, and every exhale, use the elbow as leverage to twist deeper, opening up the chest. Be mindful in this pose that the back standing leg does not collapse; rather, imagine lifting through the thigh in order to maintain integrity. Feel free to drop to the back knee for a modification and oftentimes a deeper twist, rinsing out the internal organs.
2. Bow pose.
Bow pose is a fantastic way to support gut health by applying gentle pressure to the belly, stimulating the digestive system. Rocking forward and backward on your abdomen to the rhythm of your inhales and exhales offers a gentle massage to the internal organs. Doing this increases blood flow and oxygenates these critical areas, helping to relieve constipation or other complications associated with gut health. This posture also helps aid in elimination, removing waste and other toxins that can be detrimental to the body.
To find bow pose, lie flat on your stomach with your hands extended long along your sides, palms facing down. Slowly begin to grab hold of your right foot or ankle with your right hand and then your left foot or ankle with your left hand. Keeping your thighs on the ground and gaze toward the mat, begin to lift your chest on an inhale by kicking your feet into your hands. Lift the gaze forward, extending your heart to the front. If this feels good for you, slowly lift your thighs off the ground, pressing your heart farther toward the front. Deepen your inhales and exhales enough so that it causes you to roll forward and backward on your abdomen. Stay here for three to five deep breaths, then release to the mat.
3. Sun salutation.
The third chakra, or the manipura, is associated with the gut and digestive system and is located at the navel. According to Hindu theory, digestion occurs through producing heat, and food is burned in order to create energy. One of the best ways to produce heat in the body is by doing sun salutations, a primary reason they often occur at the beginning of a yoga class—to warm your body before entering into more complex postures. Not only do they build heat needed for digestion, but they help detoxify through the inhalation and exhalation process, which oxygenates the blood and eliminates carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.
A sun salutation starts in standing mountain pose with the weight evenly distributed through both feet, finding a steady foundation, bringing your hands to heart center. On your next inhale, reach the arms high, fingertips extended to the sky, and exhale your hands through heart center into a forward fold, hinging at the hips, maintaining a flat back.
Your next inhale brings you into a half lift with a long, straight spine; you may need to microbend slightly at the knees to get there; then exhale, plant your hands, and flow through your vinyasa, which is low plank, elbows grazing the sides of the rib cage, and inhaling upward-facing dog, moving your chest forward; then leading with the low belly pressing back to downward-facing dog. Complete this sequence three to five times, moving at the pace of your inhales and exhales.
Want more ideas for how to use yoga to detox your gut? Here are some ideas.