The Ayurvedic lifestyle and philosophy maintain that good health begins with good digestion. According to Ayurveda, poor digestion is the root cause of most disorders and diseases because it generates inflammation. It can also inhibit the absorption of vital nutrients and cause general feelings of fatigue and malaise. Poor digestion typically begins with stress, poor diet, or simply consuming the wrong foods for your dosha. When you force your body to contend with foods that it isn’t able to digest properly, the immune system unnecessarily kicks into overdrive while the body expends excessive energy on digestion.
Healing your digestion begins with restoring balanced levels of agni, our metabolic energy force or “digestive fire.” When our agni is weak, we cannot properly metabolize or eliminate food. As constipation develops, the body absorbs toxic compounds trapped in the colon into the blood stream, leading to disease. Conversely, excessive agni can cause food to pass through the body too quickly, causing dehydration and nutrient deficiency. The body can only properly absorb nutrients and eliminate disease-promoting waste when agni is balanced. Thankfully, there are certain yoga poses that help to restore lost agni and renew digestive health as part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Why Yoga Aids in Digestion
Yoga enhances digestive health in multiple ways. First, it entails deep breathing that energizes the body and activates the abdominal organ system, igniting agni. It also helps to compress and stretch the organs to encourage peristalsis. Yoga poses that involve twisting are particularly useful for those with significant levels of ama, or toxic build up, in the colon. Finally, yoga reduces stress levels, taming elevated levels of cortisol. High cortisol levels are linked to adrenal malfunction, which can affect water regulation and thus cause dehydration and, by extension, constipation. In general, stress negatively impacts digestive health. By combatting stress, yoga tames cortisol levels and thus promotes healthy digestion.
Whether your suffer from an inflammatory condition, eat too quickly, or consume the occasional disagreeable food, you are bound to suffer from digestive discomfort at some point. An Ayurvedic lifestyle and consistent yoga practice can go a long way in treating regular digestive discomfort such as gas, bloating, and constipation. In promoting regularity and nutrient absorption, yoga can even relieve pain associated with Crohn’s and IBS. Over time, yoga will reduce the likelihood of developing leaky gut, toxic buildup, and even colon cancer.
Compressing and Lengthening
Poses that compress and lengthen the intestines effectively ignite agni and encourage efficient digestion. These may be particularly beneficial poses for vata dosha’s Ayurvedic lifestyle, which is more prone to constipation.
Alternating cat pose and cow pose is a great way to combat slow digestion and relieve gas and bloating. Begin on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and your knees aligned with your hips. Lower your belly to the floor and lift the head and tailbone to the sky, inhaling deeply. On your exhale, curve your back and tuck in your head and tail bone as if you are reaching the middle of your back to the sky. Continuing in this fashion for a few minutes will increase blood flow to the epithelial cells, which encourage digestion.
Bridge is another pose that stimulates the abdominal organs through lengthening. Lie on your back with your knees up and slowly push your hips toward the sky, keeping your weight on your upper back and feet. Cobra pose and locust pose also effectively lengthen the intestines, permitting the release of pent up gas and waste.
After completing bridge, practice a compressing pose like a forward bend to thoroughly stimulate digestion. Apanasana, or knees-to-chest pose, is another great pose for compression and is great for treating bloating and gas. To release gas and massage the abdominal organs, bring the legs down and slowly twist your body from left to right.
Yoga poses that involve twisting effectively massage the abdominal organs. This massaging effect not only encourages elimination, but it also helps to release built up waste from the intestinal wall. In so doing, it can treat chronic constipation and improve nutrient absorption.
Half lord of the fishes pose is a great pose for massaging the intestines. To perform this pose, sit cross-legged on the floor, bringing your right foot over your left leg so that your knee is close to your heart. Then twist your torso to the right, bringing your left elbow to the outside of your right leg. Place your right arm on the floor to stabilize yourself. Remember to breathe deeply in order to stimulate your digestive organs. Marichi’s pose has the same effect; just extend the left leg. To reap the full benefits of these poses, perform them on the opposite side as well.
For those with acute discomfort, a deep twist may be painful. Instead practice triangle pose and revolved triangle pose to stimulate the colon without pain. These poses provide a gentle twist whilst strengthening your lower body and core muscles.