When it comes to nutrition, what could be more important than digestion? Quite simply digestion is our body’s way of breaking down the nutrients in our food so that our body can absorb it and actually use it.
I’m going to walk you through three yoga poses that will help improve your digestion, but first the most important part is your BREATH, this in itself will actually help improve digestion. You want to connect with ujjayi pranayama (the victorious breath) this breathing technique causes movement of the diaphragm which then massages the digestive organs with each breath. Start by letting go of a nice long exhale getting rid of any stale air that may be sitting in your lungs. Then imagine you were filling glass of water, fill your lungs from the bottom up taking the inhale deep in to your belly first, then feel the rib cage and then the chest expand. Then just as a glass of water empties from the top to the bottom so you want to empty your lungs, begin your exhale from the throat, feel the chest fall and then last contract your abdomen in towards your spine but then up under the rib cage to help press out the last bits of air. Once you have found these full inhales and equally long exhales, try to get your breaths, both the inhale and the exhale to be audible by restricting the back of the throat, imagine as if you were fogging up a window but through your nose. Try to use this breath throughout the fallowing poses.
1. Cat and Cow (Marjaryasana and Bitilasana) – Cat and cow are actually two different poses but I like to link and use them together to create a seamless sequence of movement. Together they warm up the spine releasing tension that can interfere with digestion and they gently massage and stimulate circulation to the abdominal organs which will help the digestive tract.
Start by coming to all fours or table top: stack your knees directly under your hips, tops of the feet in the mat. Now be sure your wrists, elbows, and shoulders stack like pillars and both palms are fully planted in the mat. With an inhale sway in the back for Cow – drop your belly towards the mat as you lift your tailbone and head/glance to the sky. Be sure the arms are straight, you want to rotate the inner elbows forward and really draw the shoulders down your back so all the movement is coming from the tilting of the pelvic bone and movement in the spine. Now exhale round through the shoulder blades like a scared Cat, take your glance towards your navel as you pull the navel towards the spine. Repeat 10-20 times linking it with ujjayi breathing, counting one cow and one cat as 1 set.
2. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – This pose will help stimulated the abdominal organs as it brings them into correct alignment where they operate most efficiently. It also stimulates the thyroid gland which plays a huge role in the function of digestion and metabolism.
Lay flat on your back, bend the knees and bring the heals as close to the buttocks as possible, feet should be flat on the floor and hips distance apart (this is just a guideline most important is when the hips lift that the ankles and knees are stacked, so if you know you’re tighter in the back maybe have the feet a few inches from the buttocks) be sure the big toes are slightly turned in heals slightly out, and plant your palms next to your hips. With an inhale press your palms and big toe edge of your feet in to the mat as you lift your hips to the sky for Bridge. Once the hips are lifted interlace your hands underneath you then press the pinky edge of your hand in to the mat, roll the backs of your arms down toward the mat and tuck your shoulders under so you’re resting on their top edge (if you find interlacing your hands difficult you can grab the edge of your mat or even place a yoga block in the lower back allowing the hips to hang heavy). Once you’ve set up the arms, notice if you’re clenching your buttocks, if you are try softening them and instead firm your quads by rolling the tops of the thighs in towards each other, now with the buttocks soft lengthen your tailbone forward (towards your calves) and burst your heart to the wall behind you. Stay in this pose with deep ujjayi breaths for 30 seconds to a minute, come out on an exhale by releasing the hands or black and rolling down vertebrae by vertebrae till you’re flat on the back. To end bring your knees together but step the feet out wide to the edges of your mat, find rest for 10-20 seconds and rest. Feel free to repeat Bridge 2-3 times.
3. Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana) – Any and all twists are good for digestion as they are like a deep massage to the inner organs, think of how your wring out a wet cloth, twists in essence are the same thing, you’re just wringing out the internal organs flushing out toxins and stress. I’ll be walking you through a very basic but perfect twist that will really help stimulate the ascending and descending colon, while wringing out all those other abdominal organs!
Lay flat on the back, bend the right knee and hug it out and over towards your right armpit, try to avoid the ribcage (very important you do the RIGHT side first as it has to do with stimulating the ascending colon, the liver and gallbladder) hold for 5-10 seconds, then take your left hand to the outside of the right knee, open your right arm like a wing palm face up, inhale look to your right, exhale twist pulling the knee to your left. Scoot your left hip underneath you 2-3 inches so that the tail bone is inline with the rest of your spine, all the while keeping your right shoulder flat on the floor (if that means the right knee has to lift just use your left hand as a paper weight). Now complement this twist by nice over exaggerated ujjayi breaths, stay for 5-10 breaths. To exit hug your right knee in to the chest coming flat on the back, then switch sides, as the right leg slides out hug the left knee out and over in to the left armpit (on the left side you are stimulating the descending colon, which has to do with release of toxins and waste), take your right hand to the outer left knee, open your left arm out to a T palm face up, look to your left with the inhale, twist pulling your knee to the right as you exhale. Slide your right hip 2-3 inches underneath you, but keep the left shoulder flat on the floor, use the same breathing technique on this side as you did on the other and stay for the same amount of breaths. Inhale hug the knee in to your chest, come flat on the back and hug both knees in to the chest neutralizing the spine, then allow both legs to go long and lay to rest for as long as you would like.
If you can somehow work the above poses in to your day-to-day routine not only will your digestive system thank you but your whole body!
Sesa is a certified E-RYT 200 Master instructor with Tamal Yoga School in Los Angeles, CA.
For her teaching schedule go to: www.sesayoga.com