Digestive imbalance is almost at epidemic levels these days. Constipation, IBS, acid reflux, GERD, etc. plague a whopping 70 million people every day.  The omnipresence of processed food, GMO’s and increased use of medication is largely blamed for for the loss of our ability to properly digest our food.

This is highly concerning because when the food we eat isn’t digested well it doesn’t get delivered to our cells as nourishment. The body then takes the undigested food and stores it as fat – hoping it will be able to use it later – or excretes it prematurely viewing it as a toxic waste product.  When either of these two scenarios occur our cells get starved for nourishment and we are more susceptible to fatigue and disease.

A good organic and Ayurvedically balanced diet will certainly help, but I believe what is often over-looked as a contributing factor to digestive imbalance is the overwhelming lack of body movement in our society.  Recent studies suggest that the average American spends 75% of their waking hours in sedentary behavior, like sitting.

Sitting is being called “the new smoking” for the reason that prolonged sitting has been scientifically linked to increased risk for cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes (among other things.)

One of the hypothesis about why sitting is so bad for the human body is that as a species we just weren’t mean to sit for 8 hours a day. We were built to move.  We are movement making machines.

Movement assists blood flow to our limbs, taking pressure off our hearts. Blood flow is important because it’s the blood that brings the nourishment to every one of our 70-some trillion cells in our body. It also supports hormonal balance, the immune system and builds strong muscles and bones.

One more thing movement may help is with is the health of our digestive track. It’s possible that the lack of tonality of the abdominal muscles relate directly to the lack of tonality of the abdominal organs. This means if you don’t move all day not only does your belly go flabby but the muscle tone of your organs – stomach, intestines and colon – weaken as well causing digestive distress.

Because Yoga practice challenges the core muscles in all directions with forward bends, back bends, lateral bends and twists it uniquely tones all the abdominal muscles and also the organs. The organs are made of smooth muscle and they need toning too!

Whether you’re teaching a class or simply doing your own practice make sure to include movement in all directions for a balanced sequence, and if you’re facing your own digestive issues consider the strength and flexibility of your abdomen as part of your yogic prescription for health.

Healthy Digestion Practice

Pranayama

Therapeutic Tool

Benefits

 

Three Part Breathing

  • Inhale slowly and expand ribs, upper belly, lower belly. Exhale contract lower belly, upper belly, ribs.
  • Mobilizes abdominal organs
  • Releases stuck prana in digestive track,
  • Releases stuck emotion
  • Calms nervous system

Asana

Benefits

Therapeutic Tool

 

Apanasana

  • Move legs into abdomen while moving belly area back on the exhale, push legs away from chest on inhale
  • Increases digestive fire (agni)
  • Assists healthy elimination
  • Relieves gas
  • Reduces constipation

Lever Pose (one legged Modifcation)

  • Mobilizes abdominal organs
  • Gentle core strengthener

AVOID: Straight-legged position. Counter-indication for Low Back Pain

Navasana (with modifications)

  • Increases digestive fire (agni)
  • Tones abdominal arear

Twists (sitting, supine, standing)

  • Move into twist on exhale, stay during inhale.
  • Tones abdominal area, including obliques
  • Removes toxins and assists with blood and oxygen flow to abdominal organs

Variations

Standing side leans (half moon)

  • Move into side lean on exhale, stay for an inhale, engage obliques to move again to other side on exhale.
  • Stretches and strengthens obliques.
  • Rolling inward opens tight lower back and side body areas- reduces chronic tightness on rib cage and diaphragm which can reduce optimal movement of the heart and digestive organs.

Cat/Cow

  • Arch spine on inhale stretching abdominal area, round spine on exhale. Pull belly in to spine on exhale to engage abdominal area
  • Gentle core strengthener and stretcher

Variations

Can be done seated for those students who can’t be on their knees.

Sphinx

  • Core stretch
  • Releases stuck prana and fascia in abdomen

Moving and Restorative Bridge

  • Elevate hips on inhale, stay for exhale, roll down on hold after exhale.
  • Engages deep core muscles.
  • Helps moves waste through intestinal track

Yoga Nidra

  • Encourages The Relaxation Response which turns on “rest and digest” nervous system function and fosters healthy digestion.