[1,2,3,4,5] Yoga has also long been valued for aiding digestion, increasing the body’s agni or “digestive fire” (our ability to break down foods and assimilate nutrients). It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the population suffers from digestive complaints, which is alarming given that digestion and gut health are so critically important for optimizing overall health.
As an adjunct to diet, yoga offers additional health benefits and healing properties for normalizing gut function. While there are a myriad of yoga postures that enhance digestion, circulation, and detoxification—all important factors in gut health—here are the three I’ve found to be most effective.
Chair Twist – Parivrtta Utkatasana
A majority of the yogic twists facilitate digestion and support gut health, because they apply pressure to the GI tract. Think of them as giving your internal organs a good massage. Massages are wonderful for loosening up tissues and releasing any toxins that may have built up.
Twists in yoga act the same way, especially the chair twist. In this posture, you are twisting from the core in order to gently massage the intestines as well as stimulate the liver and gallbladder—all essential organs in the digestive process. This is a great pose to help relieve constipation, bloating, or other digestive discomforts. Undigested food, fluids, and other toxins often get stuck in the intestinal tract, which is why twists are incredibly useful for stimulating the gut and eliminating waste.
To come into the twist, start in chair pose with your knees bent, weight shifted toward the heels, ensuring that you could see your toes if you were to peek down at your feet. With an inhale, bring your hands to meet at heart-center; then, on your next exhale, begin to twist towards the right side of the room from your navel, bringing your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, reaching the right elbow towards the sky. Remember, your weight should still fall primarily onto your heels, and your knees should still be aligned with each other. Breathe. Lengthen your spine with every inhale, extending through the crown of the head, and with every exhale, use your core to deepen the twist. Stay here for three to five breaths, and then release back to chair pose and begin to use the same sequence for the opposite side.
Bow Pose – Dhanurasana
Bow pose is a fantastic asana for supporting gut health because it applies gentle, migrating pressure to the abdomen, stimulating the digestive process. Rocking forward and backward on your belly to the rhythm of your inhales and exhales gently massages the internal organs. By doing this, you increase blood- and oxygen flow to critical areas, helping to relieve constipation and other digestive complications.
To enter bow pose, lie flat on your stomach with your hands to your side, palms facing down. Slowly begin to grab hold of your right foot or ankle with your right hand, and then take your left foot or ankle with your left hand. Keeping your thighs on the ground, begin to lift your chest up and forward with an inhale by pressing your feet into your hands. Look forward. If you feel good in this pose, you can slowly lift your thighs off the ground, directing your heart toward the front of the room. Here, allow your inhales and exhales to deepen, causing you to roll forward and backward on your belly. Stay here for three to five deep breaths, then release.
Surya Namaskar A – Sun Salutation
Sun salutation is not technically a pose, but rather a “flow” of poses, and it may seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the gut; yet this short sequence is arguably one of the best tools for supporting digestion and eliminating toxins from the body. According to Hindu theory, digestion results from heat production, and food is burned in order to create energy. Sun salutations offer a powerful way to produce heat in the body, hence their frequent appearance at the beginning of a yoga class—to warm up your body before it encounters more complex postures. Not only do sun salutations build the heat needed for digestion, but the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation they involve also help detoxify the body by oxygenating the blood and eliminating carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.
Start in standing mountain pose, and bring your hands to heart-center. From here, inhale your arms high and exhale your hands through heart-center into a forward fold. On your next inhale, bring yourself into a half-lift with a long, straight spine; you may need to bend slightly at the knees to get there. Next, as you exhale, plant your hands on the floor in a high plank and continue to flow through the vinyasa: lowering into low plank, elbows grazing the sides of the rib cage, then inhaling into upward-facing dog, and then exhaling back into downward-facing dog. Complete this sequence three to five times, coordinating the movements with your inhales and exhales.
With the wealth of new research findings surrounding the significance of gut health, it has become clear that the gastrointestinal tract should be a central focus of our health system. Although there are many ways to support gut health through diet, yoga offers a powerful adjunct for eliminating toxins and massaging the internal organs in order to foster and sustain optimal gut health.
1 Siu PM, Yu AP, Benzie IF, Woo J. “Effects of 1-Year Yoga On Cardiovascular Risk Factors In Middle-aged And Older Adults With Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Trial.” Diabetol Metab Syndr 30.7 (Apr 2015): 40.
2 Gamus D. “Advances In Research Of Complementary And Integrative Medicine: A Review Of Recent Publications In Some Of The Leading Medical Journals.” Harefuah 154.1 (Jan 2015): 9-15, 70. [In Hebrew].
3 McDougall GJ Jr., Vance DE, Wayde E, Ford K, Ross J. “Memory Training Plus Yoga For Older Adults.” J Neurosci Nurs 47.3 (Jun 2015): 178-88. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25943999
4 Chimkode SM, Kumaran SD, Kanhere VV, Shivanna R. “Effect Of Yoga On Blood Glucose Levels In Patients With Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus.” J Clin Diagn Res 9.4 (Apr 2015): CC01-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26023550
5 Buttner MM, Brock RL, O’Hara MW, Stuart S. “Efficacy Of Yoga For Depressed Postpartum Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Complement Ther Clin Pract 21.2 (May 2015): 94-100. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25886805
6 “The Brain-Gut Connection.” Healthy Aging. Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2014. Web. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
About the Author
Carley Smith, aka the Fairy Gutmother®, is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and certified GAPS Practitioner (CGP) as well as a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT). She became interested in health and nutrition after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, and used food as medicine to help herself heal. She was so empowered by the improvement in her health that she became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Certified GAPS Practitioner so that she could share her experience and help others feel better, too! Carley developed a nutrition plan called the 70/30 Plan in order to help people transition into eating more healthfully. She enjoys working with people and sharing her knowledge and experiences in order to help people restore their health. While she is not working with clients one-on-one, she teaches various nutrition classes and cooking demos as well as leading wellness retreats.