Health & Wellness Articles

Yoga & Digestion Issues: What You Need to Know

How Yoga Can Help or Hurt Your Symptoms

Yoga and Digestion
Take a look at a diagram of the digestive system, and you'll notice that ascending colon is on the right and the descending on the left. By putting pressure on the ascending colon (on the right), we can facilitate digestion, giving our abdominal organs a helping hand when they're overwhelmed by illness or from overeating. Twisting gently or bringing the right knee to the chest while sitting or lying on the back can ease gas and relieve pressure after a large meal. Bringing in both knees can also assist the diaphragm in putting pressure on the organs, encouraging them to work harder. Stretching the back can open up the front of the body, including the intestines, assisting with constipation. Twisting to the left, for the reasons mentioned above, can be helpful after a big meal. (You will also want to twist to the right to balance out the pose. It won't do any harm, but the left-side twists are said to be more beneficial.)
Beyond these anecdotal benefits, there is some research to support yoga's role in helping with digestive ailments. Yoga has been shown to help with both pain level and frequency in kids with irritable bowel disease. Also, stress is a major contributor to GI issues, and since there is ample evidence that yoga can help alleviate both stress and anxiety, it may help ease suffering for those with irritable bowel disease (or other stress-provoked GI symptoms). Other studies, such as one published in the journal Gastroenterology in 1994 found that the relaxation exercises learned in yoga could help reduce symptoms of acid reflux. Of course, you should always consult your health-care professional before integrating any new treatments, and neither a regular yoga practice nor any particular pose is a panacea for all digestive ailments.
Making Yoga More Comfortable
For those who are cleared to participate in yoga, here are some tips to make yoga class more enjoyable when you're suffering from digestive issues. 
  • Avoid eating at least two hours before class. A full belly makes most of the moves in yoga seem even harder. Especially if you are prone to acid reflux or indigestion, skip a pre-yoga snack. With all the twisting and inverting you can anticipate in a yoga class, you'll feel better if you err on the side of an empty rather than a full belly.
  • Avoid spicy food for at least six hours before class. Spicy foods can induce indigestion in many people, especially those with sensitive GI systems. Skip the chili at lunchtime if you plan to take a yoga class that evening. It will return to haunt you in your first down dog.
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

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