Yoga for constipation?! Yep, we’re goin’ there. It sounds like a silly topic, but there is actually a lot of information and knowledge on how yoga can not only improve the mind and body in a spiritual and fitness sense, it can improve the inner systems of the body as well. So today, we’ll discuss what yoga poses assist in digestion, as well as Ayurvedic (The sister science of yoga) practices to help utilize yoga for constipation.
First, to understand your inner workings, we’ll learn a little more about Ayurveda.
In Ayurveda, Agni, or fire in Sanskrit, is the element that creates movement in the digestive system, something that is imperative to healthy living! According to Yogapedia, the ancient practice of Ayurveda medicine, agni is considered a form of energy. It is the biological fire that controls metabolism, digestion and the immune system. By balancing the agni energy and digestive system through Ayurveda, the individual enjoys better health, reduced stress and a calm mind.
In addition, ancient yoga texts teach that everything in nature, all objects— including non-living and living things, words, thoughts, and actions—have a frequency. These frequencies have properties to them known as The Gunas. The Gunas are made up of three components:
+ Rajas – high energy; fast-paced; manic at times; fire element
+ Tamas – inertia; slow-moving; low energy; low vibrational qualities; groundedness; earth element
+ Sattva – balanced, bliss state; content; harmonious, pure consciousness; air element
Something to note, the Gunas are ever-changing, always in flux with each other. The Gunas are not permanent, just as nature is not permanent.
Poses to Move Digestion
As noted above, Rajas is the guna that represents movement. What do we want food to do in our digestive system? Move! When our digestion is slowed down, sometimes to the point of inertia, or constipation, we would say that our digestion has tamasic qualities. If we want to get our body systems to move, we need to move, getting our digestive system to have a more rajasic quality. Below are yoga poses that aid in alleviating constipation by adding agni (fire) to our digestive tract. In short, they get things moving.
- Twists: Twists are said to have a “wringing out” quality on our internal organs like the stomach, spleen, and liver, for example. It makes sense when you think about wringing out a wet towel, you’re getting the toxins out and moving along whatever nourishment you have ingested in the recent past. Examples of poses with twists: Supine twist, crescent lunge with a twist, thread the needle, revolved triangle.
- Forward folds: According to TheHealthyMaven.com, … forward fold compresses the digestive organs and stimulates circulations which helps to encourage digestion. Take a forward fold shape that is cued in most power, yin, or restorative classes and know that you’re doing your digestive tract a favor! Examples of forward fold poses are: child’s pose, standing forward fold, or seated forward fold. Bonus: if your adept at forward folding, you may try a more advanced digestive posture such as Mandukasana.
- Inversions: Inversions are thought to increase blood circulation in the body. Here we are revisiting the concept of agni, which is exactly what is building when the blood is pumping. Also, the blood flow becomes more rajasic, which is an important component to our main goal: moving the bowels. A good example of a gentle inversion that is accessible to most is legs up a wall. If you’re looking for a more challenging inversion, there is always headstand, shoulder stand, and forearm stand.
- Just move! Really any physical exercise is going to improve circulation, build agni, and support digestive movement. According to AXA Health, physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, which massage our food along the digestive tract–a process known as peristalsis–causing them to work more quickly and effectively.
Ayurveda, a natural system of medicine, originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda translates to knowledge of life. –Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ayurveda teaches us that food is medicine. We can eat certain foods to heal body systems. In this case, we’re referring to the digestive system, and how to get it moving with food and drink. In Ayurveda, nourishment that pushes along digestion is going to be food with rajasic qualities with the element of agni. Avoiding foods that make the digestive system slow down, or more tamasic is ideal when trying to alleviate constipation. Here is a list of food and drink that Ayurvedic medicine suggests to help move things along:
- Herbal Teas: Teas that contain turmeric and/or ginger create a warming affect for the digestive system. According to Banyan Botanicals, a traditional Ayurvedic blend of three spices (cumin, coriander, and fennel) brewed together as a tea to support healthy digestion and gentle cleansing. CCF tea ignites agni and supports expediting the digestive system.
- High-Quality, Whole Foods: Cooked fruits and vegetables that are in season will aid in a healthy gut. More processed foods with unfamiliar ingredients could put your digestion in a state of shock and induce inflammation of the gut, ie: backed up digestion, bloat, and gas.
- Spices: Agni-inducing spices such as black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne can be added to all your home-cooked, whole foods. These help to break down the food during cooking and also stimulate the digestive juices in the mouth and stomach. –Ekhart Yoga
- Foods to Avoid: Unfortunately, some of our favorites like meat and cheese dull digestive fire, so eat them in moderation. Heavy foods… can easily disrupt the light, clear nature of agni. –Banyan Botanicals. Also, drinking water that is too cold, or along with your meal is going to inhibit agni.
Know Your Body
Each individual has a specific constitution and certain mechanisms that work differently than other bodies. Not everyone is built the same nor reacts the same to any two foods. If you are a mindful eater, you will be able to sense when something is wrong. Keeping tabs on what you eat, perhaps with a food journal, can help you track what has slowed your digestion or kept it on track. Being intentional about cooking with fresh, local ingredients versus buying frozen, pre-made meals is going to make a difference in how your digestion reacts.
When digestion is moving, energy increases and our minds are clearer. When our bodies are holding onto a couple day’s worth of food, we’re going to feel heavy and tamasic. Next time you’re at the store, pick up some new herbal teas to try that contain some of the ingredients we mentioned above. And you know you always have a place to come move your body in all the folds and twists you could ever ask for! Now you are educated on yet another benefit to a yoga practice, yoga for constipation, and you can add healthy digestion to the list! Leave a comment to let us know what kind of natural resources you use to move things along.