How Yoga can improve your digestion

August 20, 2019
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1. Introduction – Personal experience

„How can you eat so much without gaining weight“? This question accompanied me my whole life
until the age of 23. I was always called „the skinny one“ and I could eat whatever, whenever as
much as I wanted and I would have never imagined that my light body feeling I was used to, could
turn into the opposite one day. But exactly this happened one year after the removal of my
gallbladder. I started to gain 10 kg of weight almost over night, my entire metabolism changed
and I felt like I was in the wrong body. Heaviness, easy weight gain, constipation, feeling bloated.
That was the feeling of a new me which I was not able to accept. Then suddenly my digestion
turned into the opposite, I lost a lot of weight accompanied by other symptoms. The main
symptom was that my digestion remained very sensitive and reacted to any lifestyle change from
having visitors, to travelling, eating out, changing eating times and many more with constipation.
After passing a lot of time in this uncomfortable condition searching for solutions, I finally found
my key in Yoga and Ayurveda. How it has helped me to not only regain my former body feeling
but even made me healthier, stronger and more balanced than ever before is going to be
described in the following pages.

2. What is Yoga and how can it influence your digestion

According to the Sutras of Patanjali, YOGA is CHITTA (mind), VRITTI (modification of thoughts),
NIRODHA (stopping, blocking) which means Yoga is the science to control/modify the mind.
Patanjali describes an eightfold path called ASHTANGA (eight limbs) which are guidelines on how
to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These eight limbs are YAMA (non-violence, truthfulness,
non-stealing, continence, non-receiving), NIYAMA (cleanliness, satisfaction, practice, study, faith),
ASANA (postures), PRANAYAMA (breath control), PRATYAHARA (becoming master of senses),
DHARANA (concentration), DHYANA (meditation), SAMADHI (higher stat than enlightenment).
YOGA is also part of AYURVEDA (Ayuh + Veda), the „Science of life“ offering guidance to all those
who seek peace health, wealth and happiness in their life.
Yoga and Ayurveda have the power to provide a natural relief from constipation. Constipation
means dry and hard stools that are difficult to eliminate. According to Ayurveda this disorder is
often related to the Vata Dosha since Vata governs movements and elimination (and nervous
system) . Therefore, anything that aggravates Vata causes constipation or makes it even worse.
This can include aspects like stress, tension, travel, dehydration, cold wind, exhaustion or dry and
cold food or cold drinks. Apart from constipation, imbalances of Data dosha cause symptoms
like: lack of concentration, sleeplessness, exhaustion, sensitivity, restlessness, intolerance to cold,
muscular tensions, stiffness or pain in the joints.
In Yoga it is said that Vata excess disrupts Apana Vayu, the downward energy which supports
elimination and stability. When Vata is increased, Apan Vayu flows upward instead of downward.
So in order to pacify Vata, it will help you to practice inversive Yoga postures which will be
described among others in point 3.
If the constipation becomes chronic which means spending weeks without or hardly any bowel
movements, deep relaxation is needed so that the muscles will remember how to let go. Habitual
holding in the pelvis stems from longterm chronic anxiety, stress or trauma. With the help of
Pranayama and Meditation, Yoga provides many helpful relaxation techniques in order to resolve
these issues with regular practice.

3. Asanas to relieve constipation

As already mentioned, inversions are very powerful to balance aggravated Vata and thus
activating your digestion. One helpful inversion is for example HALASANA or PLOUGH POSE.
For this you lie flat on the back with the legs and feet together. Place the arms beside the body
with the palm facing down. Relax the whole body.
Raise both legs to the vertical position, keeping them straight and together, using only the
abdominal muscles. Press down on the arms and lift the buttocks, rolling the back away from the
floor. Lower the legs over the head. Bring the toes towards the floor behind the head without
straining, but do not force the toes to touch the floor. Turn the palms up, bend the elbows and
place the hands behind the ribcage to support the back. Make sure that your elbows are turning
inside and not too much outside. Using a strap can help to keep the elbows in the correct
position. Relax and hold the final position for as long as it is comfortable. Return to starting
position by lowering the arms with the palms facing down, then gradually lower each vertebra of
the spine to the floor, followed by the buttocks, so that the legs resume their initial vertical
position. Using the abdominal muscles, lower the legs to the starting position, keeping the knees
straight.

Focus on the right breathing:

Inhale while in the lying position. Retain the breath inside while assuming the final pose. Breathe
slowly and deeply in the final pose. Retain the breath inside while returning to starting position.
Raise your awareness on the abdomen, relaxation of the back muscles and neck.
Apart from relieving constipation, this Asana has many more benefits like massaging all the
internal organs, revitalizing the spleen and the suprarenal glands, promoting the production of
insulin, improving liver and kidney function, strengthening the abdominal muscles, relieving
spasms in the back muscles, toning the spinal nerves and increasing blood circulation. Moreover,
it regulates the thyroid, which balances the body’s metabolic rate. It also improves the immune
system.
In order to give more flexibility to shoulders, upper back and spine the following modification can
be practiced: In the final pose, walk the feet away from the head until the body is completely
stretched and a tight chin lock is performed. Breathe normally for as long as it is comfortable in
the final pose.
Precautions: HALASANA should not be practiced by those who suffer from hernia, slipped disc,
sciatica, high blood pressure or any serious back problem, especially arthritis of the neck.
Cobra Pose – BHUJANGASANA
Another pose which is effective and beneficial for improving the function of the digestion system,
is BHUJANGASANA. It strengthens the abdominal muscles and cleans the entire digestive tract.
Furthermore, it deepens and improves the breathing. It can help to remove backache and keep
the spine healthy. It’s helpful in menstrual and other gynaecological disorders. It stimulates the
appetite and is beneficial for all the abdominal organs.
To perform the cobra pose, you lie flat on the stomach with the legs straight, feet together and the
soles of the feet pointing up. Place your palm flat on the mat, below and slightly to the side of the
shoulders, with the fingers together and pointing forward. The elbows are pointing back and try to
keep them close to the sides of the body. Rest the forehead on the mat and close your eyes.
Relax the whole body and especially the lower back. Slowly raise the head and and gently bring
the head backwards so that the chin points forward and the back of the neck is compressed.
Then raise the neck and then the shoulders. Straighten your elbows to raise the trunk further and
arch the back. In the final position, the pelvis remains on the floor and the navel is raised
maximum of 3 cm in order to make sure that the bend is in the back. Depending on your flexibility
the arms may or may not be stretched. Hold the final position.
Then slowly release the upper back by bending the arms, lower the navel, chest, shoulders and
finally the forehead on the floor (starting position). Relax the lower back muscles.
Focus on the right breathing:
Inhale while raising the torso, breathe normally in the final position or retain breath if position is
held for a short time. Exhale while lowering the torso.
Raise your awareness on the smooth arching movement of the back, the stretching of the
abdomen, and on synchronizing the breath with the movement.
Precautions:
Those who suffer from peptic ulcer, hernia, intestinal tuberculosis or hyperthyroidism should be
careful with this position and practice with a competent teacher.
Forward Bending Pose – PASCHIMOTTASANA
PASCHIMOTTASANA is also an excellent asana for constipation and digestive disorders.
Moreover, it strengthens and stimulates the hamstrings and increases flexibility in the hip joints. It
tones and massages the entire abdominal and pelvic region as well as it stimulates circulations to
the nerves and muscles of the spine.
Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched, feet together and hands on the knees (starting
position). Relax the whole body. Slowly bend forward from the hip, sliding the hands down the
legs. Try to grasp the big toes with the fingers and thumbs. If possible, hold the heels, ankles or
any part of the legs that can be reached comfortably. Move slowly without forcing yourself and
hold the position for a few seconds. Relax the back and leg muscles, allowing them to gently
stretch. If further possible, keep the legs straight and bend your elbows by utilizing your arm
muscles to gently bring the trunk down towards the legs, maintaining a firm grip on the toes, feet
or legs. Try to touch the knees with the forehead but do not strain (final position). Hold the
position for as long as it is comfortable and relax. Slowly return to the starting position.
Modification: Instead of sliding the hands down the legs at the beginning, you can also begin by
inhaling and raising the arms in the starting positioning then exhaling into the forward bend.
Focus on the right breathing:
Inhale in the starting position. Exhale slowly while bending forward. Inhale in the static position.
Exhale while bringing the trunk further towards the legs with the arms. In the final position breathe
slowly and deeply or retain the breath out. Inhale while returning to starting position.
Raise your awareness on the abdomen, relaxation of the back and leg muscles, or the slow
breathing process.
Precautions: PASCHIMOTTASANA should not be practiced by people who suffer from slipped
disc, sciatica or hernia.

4. Pranayama and Meditation

PRANAYAMA
An effective breathing exercise (PRANAYAMA) where the abdominal muscles are exercised and
movement of belly helps to improve the digestive system is the abdominal or diaphragmatic
breathing. Regular practice can cure other ailments like stomach disorder, insomnia, acidity and
reduces belly fat.
For the abdominal breathing, you lie in SAVASANA, relax the whole body and gently close your
eyes. Place the right hand in the abdomen just above the navel and the left hand over the centre
of the chest. Observe your natural breathing breathing first. Then start the abdominal breathing by
feeling as though you are drawing the breath directly through the navel. The right hand will move
up with inhalation and down with exhalation. The left hand remains almost still. Let the abdomen
relax and do not force any movements. Do not expand the chest or move the shoulders. Feel the
abdomen expanding and contracting and continue breathing slowly and deeply.
While inhaling, expand the abdomen as much as you can without expanding the ribcage. At the
end of the inhalation, the diaphragm will be compressing the abdomen and the navel will be at its
highest point.
While exhaling, the diaphragm moves upward and the abdomen moves downward. At the end of
the exhalation, the abdomen will be contracted and the navel compressed towards the spine.
Continue for a few minutes and then watch again the natural breathing. Bring the awareness back
to the whole body and the surroundings and gently open your eyes.
This breathing technique could be followed by alternate nostril breathing.
Meditation
Calming the mind by meditation is – especially for Vata types or when Vata is elevated – very
beneficial as their mind is always wandering. At the same time you will face in this situation more
trouble than other doshas concentrating and grounding yourself. A simple method of meditation is
the „So-Hum-Meditation“ which brings awareness, harmony and natural order to human life.
Select free time in the early morning if possible and sit quietly in a simple crossleg position.
Observe your breathing. Breathing is the movement of PRANA which is life-energy. Through
breathing you will become aware of the vibration of cosmic sound. This cosmic sound, which is
the soundless sound aum, has two manifestations, one male, the other female. The male
manifestation is hum and the female energy is so. During inhalation, you will feel the vibration of
the cosmic sound so. During exhalation you will feel the vibration of the cosmic sound hum. In
so-hum meditation, there is a union of individual consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness.
Listen to the so-hum sound through the breath. These vibrations are sound-energy which is one
with the life-energy of the breath. Your breathing will become quiet and you will go beyond
thought, beyond time and space, beyond cause and effect. Limitations will vanish, your
consciousness will empty itself and in that emptying, consciousness will expand.

5. Suggestions to release constipation according to Ayurveda

The methods for eliminating the symptoms of Vata induced constipation wich were mentioned
above can according to Ayurveda be supported by the following Ayurvedic practices (among
others):
1) Following a Vata diet
Following a Vata diet means that you will benefit from:
• eating warm, cooked and soupy foods
• drinking hot/warm beverages, preferably water or herbal (Vata reducing tea)
• high quality fats that are easy to digest like ghee
• having regular meals in calm atmosphere; don’t skip meals
• focusing on sweet, sour and salty taste
• sweet: carbohydrates like rice, dates, raw cane sugar, jaggery,…
• sour: fruits like e.g. lemon, orange, sour apples, …
• salty: rocksalt
• vegetables like sweet potatoes, okra, carrots, beetroot, …
• spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, fennel, basil, …
• pulses like mung beans, kidney beans, red lentils, …
• nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds (soaked in water), sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, …
3) „Ginger is your best friend“
Elevated Vata weakens the digestive fire called AGNI. In order to make your Agni strong, you
could have a slice of fresh ginger with a pinch of salt and lemon before meals and drink fresh
ginger tea regularly.
4) Oil massage
Integrating a nice self-massage with warm oil (sesame or special ayurvedic Data oil) in your daily
or weekly routine is one of the most effective lifestyle practices to pacify elevated Vata.
5) Herbal remedy – TRIPHALA
Triphala is a very safe and strengthening laxative herb which consists of three fruits – Amalaki,
Haritaki and Bibhitaki. One teaspoon (to be adjusted on personal experience) of Triphala should
be taken in warm water (you could even add a little bit of Ghee) before sleep to ensure a normal
evacuation upon rising. It can be taken over longer periods. It also exists in tablet form. Triphala
gradually cleanses the bowels of toxins and enhances the digestive fire. So it does not have the
side effects of other purgatives. It has moreover a strengthening and nutritive effect upon the
deeper tissues of the bone , nerve and reproductive.
6. Conclusion
Integrating the described practices in my life on a regular basis, let me grow physically and
mentally in a way, I would have never imagined before. However, as Vata being predominant in my
constitution and my life bringing a lot of moving and changes, it is not always easy for me to be
consistent in my daily routines. But whenever I drop out of my practice, I feel my energy level
going straightly down and all the Vata symptoms when this dosha is irritated, start to come up
again and they disappear as soon as I’m getting back to my healthy routines. By this I have felt
the effect of Yoga and Ayurveda several times. If you also feel challenged to keep up routines due
to your distracted Vata mind, it can help to sometimes just disconnect from daily life and go for a
Yoga retreat or Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatment in order to clean and rejuvenate your body.
According to my experience, it makes me feel like newborn and the wish to keep up this newly
gained body feeling and mind makes me stronger to stay with what is the most valuable power for
me – Yoga and Ayurveda.