Many of us suffer from digestive disorders, the most common being indigestion, IBS, constipation, diarrhoea, colitis and gastritis. The increase in these ailments is often attributed to an unbalanced diet, a rise in stress levels and a more sedentary way of living.
So where does yoga come in?
There have been many scientific studies which show that yoga helps considerably in reducing the effects of digestive issues, in particular IBS and constipation.
Many of the postures in yoga are specifically designed to stimulate the digestive system and increase peristalsis; the constriction and relaxation of the muscles in the intestine. Twists and stretches, alongside gentle compression of the abdomen, massages the stomach, intestines and liver. This allows for more oxygenated blood to flow through the body, a stimulation of necessary enzymes to absorb nutrients and also encourages a strengthening of the internal muscles. Any inversion, or pose where you are upside down, works with gravity to move waste and release trapped gas.
As stress is a big contributor to digestive problems, yoga has shown to be one of the most effective tools in learning how to reduce and prevent stress. When we are in a difficult or stress inducing situation, our body release certain hormones which prepare us for ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. The release of this hormone, cortisol, is enabled by the sympathetic nervous system. The value of practicing yoga is that it encourages deep mindful breathing, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This counteracts the effects of cortisol on our bodies.
What can I do at home?
Twists –Lying on the ground, hug both knees into the chest and slowly drop them to one side. Extend your arms out in T position, trying to keep both shoulders on the ground. Stay for a few breaths before changing sides.
Stretch – Lying down, pull both knees into your chest. Extended one leg long and pull the other knee toward you on your exhale. Swap legs. This pose is aptly called ‘wind relieving pose’!
Inversion- Come to a hands and knees position, where your shoulders are stacked above your wrists and your hips are above your knees. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees of the ground, extending through the legs if you can. Let your head be loose and gaze at your toes.
Deep Belly Breathing - Lying down, bring all of your awareness to your breath. As you inhale, allow your belly to expand, as you exhale in deflates. Repeat this, trying to consciously slow down each breath.
Through physical, emotional and hormonal means, yoga has the potential to be an extremely powerful tool in combating the painful effects of digestive disorders.