Yoga for Gut Health
While the term “yoga” is widely used to describe the practice of moving through poses guided by the breath, the true meaning of the word comes from Sanskrit, the ancient language that the Sutras (ancient texts) were written in and continues to be used in the yogic and spiritual community today. Meaning “to yoke”, yoga refers to the “yoking” or connecting of body and mind. The poses that are done in a typical yoga class are called “asanas” in Sanskrit.
Types of Yoga
With yoga continually gaining popularity in the health and wellness world, there are an endless number of modalities to try. Traditionally, all types of yoga fall under the Hatha umbrella, with systems like Ashtanga and Yin being subtypes. All types of yoga generally use the same poses, which is what we will look at next. When looking for a class to attend, be mindful of these terms:
Hot Yoga: This class will likely be done in a heated room. While the added heat is a great way for beginners to get into the practice by preheating the muscles upon entry to the room, the heat can also be a barrier as it can cause light headedness, overexertion, and dehydration.
Power Yoga/Power Flow: This class will likely be high energy with lots of “flows” or sun salutations (see below). If you are new to yoga, try working up to this type of class, starting with gentler classes first.
Sun Salutation: This term refers to a sequence of movements typically done in a flow or vinyasa class.
Flow/Vinyasa: A class with “flow” or “vinyasa” in the title generally means that it will be a high tempo class with lots of sun salutations and movement.
Yin/Restorative: A class with these words in the description will likely be slower-paced with few if any sun salutations. You will likely be holding poses or stretches for a longer amount of time than in faster paced classes. These classes are a good place to start for beginners.
So What About Gut Health?
Yoga can be a great way to move your body and stimulate digestion if you are struggling with gut health issues as it can be gentle and incorporates breathing which calms the nervous system. Here are three of the best poses/asanas for gut health:
Start on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Lengthen your spine by gazing between your hands and melting your shoulder blades away from your ears. Inhale deeply and relax your belly, letting your stomach drop towards the floor while turning your gaze and sit bones upwards. At the top of your inhale, begin to exhale while reversing the motion: engage your abdomen, press into your hands to round your spine upwards, squeeze your glutes, and gaze at your belly button. Inhale to repeat the first movement. Repeat for 10-20 breaths.
How it helps: This movement will massage your organs, stimulating digestion while also compressing and lengthening the intestines. The compression and decompression pushes stagnant blood out of the intestines and then delivers fresh blood to the epithelial cells which are responsible for healthy gut function.
Helpful hints: Imagine your spine moving like a wave, vertebrae by vertebrae, focusing on each tiny aspect of the movements.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Start lying on your back, arms by your sides, palms facing down. Engage your core and bend your knees to plant the feet hip width apart, about a hand-length from the glutes. Press into your feet to raise your hips off the ground. Squeeze the glutes and engage your core muscles to press the hips as high as is challenging but still comfortable. Hold for 5-20 breaths, then gently lower your back to the mat, one vertebrae at a time, finishing with the hips. Repeat 3-5 times.
How it helps: The gentle backbend helps to deliver fresh blood to the heart that can help relieve fatigue caused by digestion issues. It also compresses the digestive organs which can stimulate digestion.
Helpful hints: To incorporate core strengthening, try lifting one knee at a time, hovering the leg in either a bent or straightened position for a few seconds before repeating on the other side.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
Start lying on your back. Bring both knees into your chest and then take one knee into each hand, pulling your knees apart and opening the hips. This is called Lazy Baby, and if you would like to increase the hip stretch further, come into Happy Baby by extending your feet upwards, holding on to either your big toes or the outsides of your feet. Pull your bent knees in towards your armpits.
How it helps: Lazy and Happy Baby are wonderful hip openers that can help to release the stored emotion that lives in the hips. This pose is also known to encourage gas release and feels great when you may have eaten a little too much.
Helpful hints: Try rocking side to side, or extending one leg and then the other to make this pose more dynamic.
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