I love spicy foods. There’s a Mexican restaurant right behind my apartment that makes the best mango-habanero salsa I’ve ever had. So for weeks, I indulged. But then it happened: I woke up with heartburn. The first time was a coincidence, the second time was a pattern, and the third time was me being stubborn.
It ruined my mornings at first, being uncomfortable enough to quell any desire for movement. But I was even more stubborn about sticking to my morning yoga practice, so I wondered: Can yoga help with heartburn?
It can. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and is commonly associated with indigestion. Yoga is a tried-and-true remedy for indigestion, so it didn’t seem to be a reach that it could extend to acid reflux, too. While certain foods trigger my heartburn, any combination of stress, lifestyle choices, medications, and medical complications may be the cause of yours, so it’s important to first discern why you’re suffering from acid reflux and contact a doctor if it’s chronic, which may indicate Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.
How yoga helps with heartburn
Studies have shown that diaphragmatic tone (or the slight vibration after exhalation) decreases reflux from the stomach to the esophagus and keeping your head raised above your sternum can allow gravity to keep acid reflux at bay, so poses and breathing exercises that release tension in the neck, chest, and shoulders while gently contracting the abdominals are helpful remedies for decreasing pent-up acidity.
The poses below helped with my heartburn, enabling me to eat an entire bowl of my favorite salsa in peace. Keeping my head elevated while breathing through the discomfort made the sensation slowly fade away, and after 20 minutes, I was ready for the rest of my day.
5 yoga poses to relieve heartburn
How this yoga pose helps heartburn: The key in this posture is to keep your head and neck elevated on a comfortable pillow, block, or folded blankets. It’s a very gentle restorative posture that can reduce stress and allow gravity to assist with acid reflux by gently lowering the acid out of the esophagus. Focus on deep breathing here rather than diaphragmatic breathing—allowing your belly to expand with every inhalation, and soften with every exhalation.
How to do it: First, gather up your props: A pillow, block, a few folded blankets, or a stack of books to rest your head on. Then, from a seated position, exhale and lean back on your forearms while bringing your upper back to the floor. Move a prop such as a pillow or folded blanket behind your head, elevating your head above your chest. Bring your feet together, making a gentle diamond shape from the top of your pelvis to the bottom of your toes. Rest your right hand over your heart and your left hand over your stomach. Breathe deeply here for five to 10 minutes. To come out, slowly roll onto your left side and use your right hand to prop yourself up.
How this yoga pose helps heartburn: This pose promotes good posture while gently massaging your abdominals and digestive organs. The twist oxygenates your blood, reducing acidity in the body. Keep your back straight, lifting the top of your head toward the ceiling. It’s a common posture for improving digestion.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you, buttocks supported on a folded blanket. Bend your knees, place your feet on the floor, then slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip. Place the outside of the left leg on the floor. Step the right foot over the left leg and stand it on the floor outside your left hip. Exhale and twist toward the inside of the right thigh. Press the right hand against the floor just behind your right buttock, and set your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh snugly together. Lean the upper torso back slightly, against the shoulder blades, and continue to lengthen the tailbone into the floor. You can turn your head in one of two directions: Continue the twist of the torso by turning it to the right; or counter the twist of the torso by turning it left and looking over the left shoulder at the right foot. With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor to help. Twist a little more with every exhalation. Breathe. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position, and repeat to the left for the same length of time.
How this yoga pose helps heartburn: Cobra is a more active posture, but it provides a deep stretch through your chest, shoulders, and neck and massages your digestive organs. It also keeps your head and neck upright, assisting gravity with reducing the occurrence of acid reflux.
How to do it: Lie prone on the floor on your belly. Stretch your legs back, tops of your feet on the mat. Place your hands beneath your shoulders and hug your elbows into your body. Press the tops of your feet, thighs, and front of your hips firmly into the floor. Inhale and begin to straighten your arms to lift your chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can continue to press your lower body into the mat. Lift your sternum but avoid pushing your front ribs forward. Breathe. Remain here for anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute. Exhale and release your chest to the floor.
How this yoga pose helps heartburn: While this posture is more vigorous than the others, it’s still suitable for reducing the sensation of heartburn. GERD can cause poor circulation, so getting comfortable in this posture increases blood flow while opening the chest and gently twisting the stomach.
How to do it: Stand in Tadasana. Step your left feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet back as if you were coming into Warrior II but with straight legs. Raise your arms parallel to the floor, palms down. Angle your left foot in slightly and keep your right foot facing the front of the mat. Exhale and lean your upper body to the right, directly over your right leg, bending from the hip joint and not the waist. Keep pressing down through the outer left heel. Lengthen through your sides as you reach the top of the head toward the front of your mat. Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or a block outside your right foot. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn it to the left, eyes gazing at your left thumb. Breathe. Remain here for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, strongly pressing the back heel into the floor and reaching the top arm toward the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.
How this helps heartburn: Alternate-nostril breathing is a relaxing form of pranayama that improves circulation, reduces stress, and is a non-strenuous form of diaphragmatic breathing. This is where diaphragmatic tone comes into play—the gentle breathing lightly vibrates your diaphragm on every exhalation.
How to do it: Sit in a comfortable seat and rest your hands on your knees, palms up. Connect your pointer fingers with your thumbs on both hands. Gently close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your right ring and little fingers. Open and exhale slowly through your right nostril. Keep your right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then release and go back to normal breathing.