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In Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, digestion is a huge key to health. This is the first thing your Ayurvedic doctor will check if you have symptoms of any disease. What you eat, how you metabolize it, and how you eliminate the waste products, is integral to how healthy you are.
These two healing traditions are the underlying systems of Energy Medicine Yoga, which can improve digestion. Energy Medicine Yoga is a practice that aims to balance the the body through eight energy centers. Once the body is in balance, it is able to heal itself. That is what it naturally wants to do—balance and heal. There are many simple techniques for bringing the body into this balance and even without doing a full, personal evaluation, we’ve got several tools to help you get your digestion and elimination system working better for you.
We’ll do three short exercises, working with different systems of the body, to help you better process your food. You can do each of these exercises daily or rotate them through your own home yoga practice to help keep your digestion healthy.
1. Resetting the Ileocecal and Houston Valves
This excerise can help stop acid reflux and excess gas.
The ileocecal valve of the intestines controls the flow of discarded waste, chemicals, and hormones from the small intestine to the large intestine. This valve is located on the right side of the body. Mirroring it, on the left, is the Houston valve, which is actually more of a bend in the colon than a true valve, but acts in a similar stopgap manner between the descending colon and the rectum.
To reset these valves, put your hands on your low abdomen, with your pinky fingers resting on the inside edge of the hip bone, or the ileac crest. As you inhale, press all your fingers with equal pressure into the body and smooth up several inches to the bottom rib (shown above). Exhale, through the mouth, and shake off your hands. Do this three more times. Finally, start at the top of the swipe (at the bottom rib, shown above), inhale, and as you exhale, press your fingers into your body and smooth back down to your hip bones.
2. Clearing lymph from the small and large intestine
This deeply detoxifying exercise can help reverse the effects of diarrhea and constipation.
This exercise works the large intestine and small intestine neurolymphatic reflex points, stimulating the lymph from these organs to dump their toxins into the venous blood supply. The intestines are the organs of assimilation and waste removal. On a mental level, both the organs and their meridians correspond to the decision-making process and ability to let go. The body decides what nutrients it wants to keep and what is waste. That chocolate chip cookie you ate last week or that double bacon cheeseburger you ate last month may cause soreness—the toxic residue of unnecessary or unusable material. That soreness could also be related to that disagreement you had at work that you just can’t seem to let go of.
The large intestine also contains more of the body’s neuropeptides than all other organs combined. It is often called the second brain, because it has more emotional impact on who we are than the brain in our head. The gut creates hormones, including 95 percent of the serotonin in the body, which regulates sleep and lifts the mood. There are also many stress-reducing hormones created in the gut in direct response to the fight-or-flight response. These are all good reasons to work these points frequently and keep the intestines healthy.
You can do this exercise standing, as shown, but we recommend sitting on the floor with both legs extended in front of you in Paschimottanasana. Move the flesh of your butt out of the way and elevate the hips by sitting on folded blankets if your hips are tight.
Inhale and extend the arms overhead. Exhale and fold over the legs from the hips, weaving your hands in a figure eight as you fold. Inhale and sit up again; exhale and fold forward. Do this two more times. Inhale back up to sitting.
Now bring the fingers and thumbs of both hands into the three-point notch, or into a fist, and vigorously massage the pinstripe lines, on the outside of your thighs and on the inside of the thighs. You can massage one leg at a time, working up or down the thigh with one hand on each seam. This is a detoxification technique, so it doesn’t necessarily feel good, but the benefits are huge.
If you are prone to loose stools or diarrhea, massage up from the knee to the hip. If you are prone to constipation, massage downward, from the hip to the knee. Use real and significant pressure; don’t be meek with yourself. If any points along these leg seams are sore, as they are on most people, you need this massage.
When you’re finished, inhale the arms up overhead, and exhale, folding over the legs. Hold for 1–3 minutes. If you can easily reach your feet in this position, you can pulse or hold onto the kidney 1 point in the center of the ball of the foot. This is deeply grounding and nourishing.
3. Stimulating the Spleen Meridian
This exercise can boost metabolism of both food and thoughts.
The spleen meridian in Energy Medicine Yoga, is responsible for digestion on an energetic level. The pancreas produces enzymes that help with your digestion and regulates your blood sugar. The spleen makes red blood cells and stores extra blood in the body. The spleen and pancreas, which both lie on the spleen meridian, are where the metabolizing process for the whole body begins. Not only food, but experiences, thoughts, ideas, energy, as well as every substance you take into your body are affected by the ability of the spleen energy to digest them.
Working points on the spleen meridian helps to integrate these things. Whether you ate something that doesn’t agree with you, or had an encounter with someone that doesn’t quite sit right with you, massaging these points will help you to digest and integrate these things into the body.
There are two sets of points, one on the side seam of the rib cage below the breast and one on the ribs closer into the body. You can deeply massage or thump and tap those points to activate the digestive energy of spleen.
About Lauren Walker
Lauren Walker is the author of Energy Medicine Yoga: Amplify the Healing Power of Your Yoga Practice (Sounds True, 2014). Her second book, The Energy Medicine Yoga Prescription, will be released by Sounds True in 2017. She teaches Energy Medicine Yoga across the country and internationally. She is a certified EM practitioner and assistant for Donna Eden. She’s published in The New York Times, The Jerusalem Post, Salon.com and has a periodic yoga column on MNN.com. She’s also been featured in Yoga Journal, Yoga Digest and Mantra Yoga + Healing. You can find her complete schedule onEMYoga.net