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Ayurveda

Tiffany Cruikshank’s Yoga Tricks for Better Digestion

Yoga Medicine founder Tiffany Cruikshank offers four tricks for fine-tuning your body’s digestive process with yoga.

As Mother Nature hits refresh, we can too by taking some time each day to power off our devices and zoom in on our center. Join Yoga Medicine founder Tiffany Cruikshank here each Tuesday to unplug and unwind with new a practice for your #digitaldetox.

In almost all alternative medicine traditions (Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Naturopathic Medicine, and so on) digestion is seen as the keystone to good health. In our busy modern-day lives, however, it’s often the last thing we have time to consider. We often think of digestion as primarily related to what we eat, but the truth is there are many other factors that might be even more important than what you’re putting in your mouth.

You may be familiar with the nervous system’s connection to the digestive system and the importance of slowing down to eat so that the parasympathetic nervous system can kick in to do its job of digesting and absorbing the vital nutrients from your food. Knowing this, from a holistic yoga perspective, we can influence digestion in several ways. Here are a few ways to jumpstart your digestion that can be used daily or as needed.

1. Try a pre-meal pranayama practice.

It’s often overlooked but incredibly helpful to take 5–10 minutes before meals to let your nervous system transition to eating mode.

This is especially useful if you’re at work, under a lot of stress or feeling intense emotions of any kind. The quickest way I have found in my own experience and with my patients is to do a simple Pranayama technique to directly address this nervous system transition from stress mode (sympathetic nervous system) to digestion mode (parasympathetic nervous system).

Begin by turning away from your work and finding a comfortable seat. Close your eyes. Start deepening your breath to inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4. As that becomes comfortable, slowly start to increase the duration of your exhalation a little bit at a time until you get to a 4-count inhalation and an 8-count exhalation. The key is to increase the duration of the exhale slowly so there is a sense of ease in your breathing. If that is not the case, you can remain at a 4-count inhale and a 6-count exhale. Once you make your way to 4 counts in and 8 counts out continue for 3–5 rounds. When you are finished, simply release the breath and breathe naturally for a moment, noticing the effects before you prepare to eat. Once you are comfortable with this process, it only takes a few minutes and over time your nervous system will adapt and become more familiar with it, making it easier and more effective.

See also The Science of Breathing

2. Begin your meal mindfully.

We often plan our meals around social engagements, which is a great way to connect to those we love, but it can also be a distraction to the process of digestion and our ability to absorb the nutrients in our food.

In fact, much of our digestion begins before we even place the food in our mouth. Smells and thoughts send signals to our brain to prepare for what’s to come and our salivary glands start to secrete vital enzymes as our stomach and pancreas start to release acid and enzymes to assist in the processing of our food. When we eat too quickly, we can miss some of these vital steps, limiting the nourishment our body is able to draw from our food.

As you begin your meal, take some time to pay close attention to your sensory experience. Notice the smells, textures, and tastes and allow yourself to be fully immersed in the process of slowly eating and experiencing the food. The practice is quite simple but easy to forget—slow down, experience all the senses, take in the full experience, and consider the nourishment you are consuming in gratitude.

See also 4 Ways to Breathe Through Overeating Urges

3. Practice this digestion-boosting pose between meals.

This restorative posture can help stimulate the digestive process. It is best done on an empty stomach between meals.

For this pose all you need is a blanket that you can roll up to be about 3–5 inches in diameter. To begin, place the roll horizontally across your mat and lay on the roll so that the blanket is underneath the soft part of your belly (between the ribcage and pelvis). Rest your head on the floor or grab a pillow. Begin by inhaling into your belly, gently pushing the roll away with your belly and as you exhale simply relax the belly and let the roll sink deeper into the abdomen. Continue for 2–5 minutes then slowly release. If this is too much and you want less intensity, just unroll the blanket a little to make the diameter of the roll smaller.

See also YJ Asked: How Can Teachers Make All Students Feel Included?

4. Practice this restorative pose between meals.

This restorative posture can help stimulate the digestive process. It is best done on an empty stomach between meals.

For this pose you will need two blankets folded into rectangles and placed on top of each other. Sit with your right hip next to the blanket and your knees stacked on top of each other. Place your forearms on each side of the blankets and lengthen out your torso before you lay down over them, bringing your head and ribcage to rest on the blankets. Turn your head in the direction of your knees and find a comfortable position for your neck (you may want a small pillow under your head). In this position the side of your hips should be on the floor and your belly should be mostly off of the blanket draping toward the floor. Let your belly be soft and take a few deep breaths into your belly before you let the breath be natural and rest here. Stay for 3–5 minutes and then repeat on the second side.

See also 4-Step Bedtime Restorative Practice for Better Sleep

About Tiffany Cruikshank

With a B.S. in medicinal plant biology and nutrition, a masters in acupuncture and oriental medicine, and a specialty in sports medicine and orthopedics, Tiffany Cruikshank is an expert in how holistic medicine and yoga come together. She teaches vinyasa yoga in Venice, California, and leads teacher trainings in her therapeutic style of yoga, called (what else?) but Yoga Medicine. Her book, Optimal Health for a Vibrant Life, offers a 30-day detox program with sequences, and her Twitter feed is full of delicious recipes to support a healthy practice. Learn more on tiffanyyoga.com

Twitter: @yoga_medicine
Instagram: @tiffanyyoga
Facebook: @TiffanyCruikshankYoga