Whether you suffer from mild bloating to severe gastrointestinal issues, gut health is on most of our minds—as it should be, since so many of our body’s processes start with the gut microbiome (our digestion, mood, immune systems, the list goes on).
While you can nourish your gut with healthy food and delicious drinkable concoctions, yoga can be another way to help keep your digestive health on track. We spoke to Lee Holmes, registered 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.
"Yoga is also a key factor in improving digestion, as twisting postures can help to enhance your digestion and encourage your liver and kidneys’ detoxification processes," says Lee. "Yoga can also help with bloating, increasing the amount of oxygen to the area."
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, there are a few things to keep in mind.
"I like to look at yoga from an Ayurvedic perspective, as it is one of the key Ayurvedic modalities," says Lee. "I’ve found gentle Hatha yoga to be 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."
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, there are some basic yoga poses that can support gut health.
Standing forward bend (Uttanasana).
This pose can increase flexibility in the hamstrings and spine, calm and cool the mind, improve digestion, and relieve digestive problems such as constipation.
- 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.
Revolved crescent lunge.
This pose massages the abdominal muscles and twists the internal organs to help stimulate digestion. Compressing the colon in specific ways (right to left) can aid in digestion. These twists can also stimulate the movement of unwanted agents that accumulate in the body and can 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 hands in prayer position, twisting from your waist.
- Gaze up at your left elbow 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.
Camel Pose (Ushtrasana)
Camel pose stretches the stomach and intestines, which can potentially alleviate 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.
Revolved low lunge.
Sometimes when our hip flexors are tight, they can interfere with our internal organ function, including digestion. Stretching the front of the body can help 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 up with both hands as you lean forward. Hold for 5 breaths.
- Release slowly then repeat with your left foot. Release slowly then return to a standing position.
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.
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.
Corpse pose (Savasana).
As we know, stress is an important component for gut health, and that’s where savasana comes in. As you lie still and try to let any stress melt away, you can create a better environment for digestion and gut health.
- 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!
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.