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Whether the culprit is a big meal, rich food, or something more serious like IBD, bloating and indigestion never feel good. “I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in my early 20’s,” says Govind Das, Kirtan musician and owner of Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica. “After months of crippling sickness and spending eight days in the hospital receiving blood transfusions, I was told I would be on medication to control my Inflammatory Bowel Disease for the rest of my life. But when I took a friend’s suggestion and attended my first yoga class, I knew I had found my path. Through Bhakti Yoga, asana, and Ayurveda, I’ve been completely medication-free for 11+ years.”
With a combination of deep breathing, stretches that target abdominal organs, and twists that massage and wring out stuck intestinal toxins, this sequence relieves a wide range of digestive discomfort (think: gas, bloating, constipation). And the best part? With better digestion comes more energy.
Bring your hands beneath your shoulders and knees beneath your hips. Inhale as you drop your belly button toward the earth and lift your heart and hips to the sky into Bitilasana (Cow Pose). Spread across your shoulders and sitting bones. Exhale as you round your upper back toward the sky, dropping your gaze to your navel and pressing your hands and feet into the earth in Marjaryasana (Cat Pose). Continue for 10 rounds.
Breathing deeply in these poses will massage your organs as you alternately compress and lengthen the intestines, bringing fresh blood to the epithelial cells, which are responsible for healthy gut function.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
Come into Plank Pose to set up your hands and feet. Place your hands shoulder-distance apart and feet outer-hip-distance apart. Then, use your core to press your hips up and back. To broaden your back, bend your knees slightly to lengthen your spine and spread your shoulders wide.
Use this Downward Dog to take deep breaths into your belly, pulling the navel up and in toward the back of your heart each time you exhale to nourish your intestines.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Step your right foot forward into a low lunge and then straighten the leg. Walk your left foot forward 6 inches and turn the foot at a 45 to 60 degree angle to the front of the mat with your heel flat on the earth. Rest your right hand lightly on your right shin or the floor and reach your left hand to the sky with your palm facing outward. Stretch the crown of your head forward as you reach your tailbone toward your left heel.
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)
Release your left hand to the earth and level your hips by dropping the left hip down in line with your right. Keep your legs stable and strong as you lift your right arm with the palm facing away from your body.
By compressing and subsequently releasing the colon in this pose, you will stimulate the movement of accumulated toxins trapped in the body. For those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Jean Koerner, 20-year yoga teacher and former co-owner of Be Yoga Studios, advises proceeding with caution in this pose, as it may cause unwanted wringing of the organs.
Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)
Come onto your hands and knees as if you were moving into Cat-Cow pose. Then keeping your hips where they are, walk your hands forward. Release your head onto the floor or a block and allow gravity to open your heart.
Uttana Shishosana pose is especially useful for stretching the belly to relieve cramps after a large meal.
Setu Bandha Saravangasana (Bridge Pose)
Setu Bhanda is a great backbend for compressing the digestive organs, while simultaneously delivering fresh blood to the heart and relieving any fatigue that may be caused by poor digestion.
To enter this pose, place your feet flat on the floor as close to your sitting bones as possible. Exhale and press your inner feet and arms into the floor while stretching your knees forward. Take 10 deep breaths here, then slowly roll your spine down to release.
Modification: If your thighs get tired, place a block beneath your sacrum for a more passive backbend.
Ardha Pawamuktasana (Half Gas Release Pose)
Look no further than the name of this posture—Pawan (Air/Gas) Mukta (Release)—to discover its healing benefit. This pose compresses the ascending colon on the right side and descending colon on the left, stimulating the nerves to aid elimination. First, hug your right knee in toward the right side of your ribcage. Keep pressing your straight left leg into the earth as you clasp your hands around your right shin to pull it closer to the floor. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Twist)
From Ardha Pawamuktasana, release your right knee to the left, stretching your right arm straight out to the right. For a deeper stretch, use your left hand to gently push your right knee closer to the earth or take your left hand to your outer right foot and extend the leg straight out. Relish in this deep, releasing twist as long as feels good.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Bring both knees back into your chest to neutralize the spine. This compression will aid elimination by stimulating the transverse colon. Then allow your legs to straighten gently to the ground and rest the palms face up next to your hipbones. Let your breathing become natural as you relax all your muscles.
Jean Koerner believes quieting the mind in poses like Savasana is the most essential part of the practice because it calms the nervous system. “Relaxation helps to counterbalance the effects of stress, which leads to these conditions,” she tells us, “and will therefore address the reason for the discomfort as well as alleviate the symptoms.”