We all know that exercise is pivotal to gut health. However, it does more than trim up that dad bod or gets that summer bod into bikini shape. When we bend, fold, and move around our joints and muscles, it also disturbs the cells and bacteria around them. This disruption causes them to interact with one another. In turn, chemical reactions happen, contributing to greater diversity in the microbiome . One study looked at how exercise can influence the gut microbiome, concluding,
“Exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent of diet and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.”
– Med Sci Sports Exerc
These findings suggest that it doesn’t matter how large your frame is or how much food you eat. Any movement can alter your gut bacteria. That is why we crafted a list of yoga poses for stomach issues for all levels of practice. How Yoga May Manipulate Gut Biome Now, those findings were about exercise. That could mean anything from running down the street to doing jumping jacks in your backyard to doing yoga with a YouTube video. Here is how yoga may influence your stomach issues and gut bacteria. Yoga and Stress Yoga is beneficial for the gut biome in many ways. For one, it’s a relaxant. The practice of yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system. These are our innate “rest and digest” functions. When we are on high alert, it disrupts things on a cellular level. Subsequently, stress agitates our digestive system, and ultimately, our gut bacteria. Like any other exercise, yoga takes your mind off everything else you have to do. You are focusing on the task at hand rather than stressing life (aka creating cortisol). However, yoga takes it to the next level. A study was conducted on the effects of yoga on stress and physiological health on 90 stressed employees . These employees were split up in programs where some did yoga for 16 weeks. Others did no yoga for the first eight weeks and practiced yoga for the last eight. One study looked at how exercise can influence the gut microbiome, concluding,
“Significant reductions in stress and all psychological health measures were found within the Yoga group over 16 weeks. When compared to the control group, yoga practitioners showed significant decreases in stress, anxiety, and general psychological health, and significant increases in well-being. The group who did not practice yoga showed significant decreases in stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia after they crossed over and practiced yoga for 8 weeks.”
– Anxiety Stress Coping
Now, you must be wondering why we are talking about stress when I have digestive issues? That’s because there is a strong correlation between stress and gastrointestinal distress. See, can’t spell either without stress. Stress and Digestion Issues We knew stress was bad, but it’s really bad. So much so, that studies suggest chronic stress may severely alter your intestinal flora. One analysis reasoned that stress was responsible on a physiological level for : • Alterations in Gastrointestinal Motility • Increase in Visceral Perception • Changes in Gastrointestinal Secretion • Increase in Intestinal Permeability • Negative Effects on Regenerative Capacity of Gastrointestinal Mucosa and Mucosal Blood Flow • Negative Effects on Intestinal Microbiota That’s a lot of influence…and that’s stress in a nutshell. Luckily, yoga can help you kick stress to the curb so you can start to rebuild gut flora. Every practice starts with connecting to your breath. You are prompted to begin with deepening your inhales and exhales before moving to physical practices. Even the warmup poses force you to check in. For instance, a common warmup yoga posture is cat-cow. You start in all fours, in a tabletop position. As you breathe in, you drop your belly down while pulling your head and tailbone back as if they were to meet. This is cow pose. When you exhale, you tuck your tailbone, bring your chin into the chest, suck in the stomach, and push away from the mat. You sort of look like a scared cartoon cat. Hence, cat pose. The point is, you do these rhythmic movements over and over. That way, each time you make a new movement, you change how you’re breathing. All of your attention is drawn to one goal. How Yoga Poses for Stomach Issues Work Sure, you can do exercise and fix some of your issues. However, going for a run with acid reflux? That doesn’t sound ideal. How about weight squats while you are feeling constipated? Yeah, a bit intense. Like pumping iron or getting into a groove while you run, yoga marries move to breath. Whereas you get a runner’s high or see rapid results with weightlifting, the benefits of yoga aren’t as noticeable. You don’t rush into yoga poses for stomach issues. Instead, you ease into them. Practicing yoga allows you to channel within. You tap into your sympathetic nervous system and promote better circulation. As you hold a posture, you find what feels good and then focus your energy on it. From there, start deep-breathing. While you breathe into your posture, focus on where the gastrointestinal distress is situated. Try to breathe into that area slowly. Like an ice pick chiseling away at ice sculpture, peck away at the stomach problems until the discomfort subsides. Diaphragmatic Breathing and IBS There has been a little bit of research popping up about the potential benefits of diaphragmatic breathing and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). As you develop your yoga practice, you naturally become a diaphragmatic breather. Therefore, doing yoga with IBS may help with gastrointestinal distress associated with the condition. The diaphragm muscle is entwined with the vagus nerve. This is an influential member of the gut biome as it is responsible for many of the gastrointestinal symptoms we feel. Scientific hypotheses purpose that deep-breathing can help relax the diaphragm and its neighbor, the vagus nerve. As a result, symptoms of IBS would be less intense. The conclusion of a study looking into this hypothesis stated ,
“Currently, there is no data on the pre-IBS functional status of the diaphragm muscle of these patients, as well as on their vagal and sympathetic functions. At the same time, there are no data on the potential impact of therapeutic approaches for IBS including diaphragmatic training; in the current context, we cannot quantify the influence of breathing on IBS and related pathologies.”
While that may sound disheartening, the study pointed out that many people who suffer symptoms of IBS also have irregularities in their diaphragm. The meta-analysis pointed to other scientific studies where diaphragmatic irregularities occurred, such as: • Low Back Pain • Chronic Pelvic Pain • Chronic Headache • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction • Vagus Nerve Inflammation • Depression and Anxiety So, while there is no concrete data that yoga poses for stomach issues such as IBS will solve your gastrointestinal problems, it might help some of the symptoms. Best Yoga Poses for Stomach Issues
What’s great about yoga is that you can practice anywhere. Just get on the floor and start stretching! Just make sure you consult a physician about any physical changes to your routine like yoga. Downward Facing Dog for Acid Reflux Acid reflux is one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. While the name implies your body is too acidic, it may be the opposite. Your low acidic levels aren’t allowing your body to break down the proteins you consume. As a result, they sit in your GI tract creating gas, instead of making their way to the small intestines. This causes the burning sensation that crawls up your esophagus. Downward dog (Mukha Svanasana) is a great beginner yoga pose for stomach issues because it requires little to no effort. Try to engage your sour stomach and tuck in your lower ribcage. Envision a dome around your belly button area. Breathe into there. These sort of dynamic movements help invigorate gut flora and exercise the abdominal muscles. Exercise helps bring fresh blood flow to the areas being worked out. Your body does this naturally to promote healing from the wear and tears of physical activity. Oxygenated blood can help soothe the burning sensations associated with acid reflux. Standing Forward Bend for Gas in the Stomach Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) is a fun way to let go of stress. Just bend over, letting your head and arms dangle. Try to keep your legs about your hips’ distance apart. As tempting as flopping over might be, try to give your spine some integrity. Think of your belly button as this massively heavy item pushing back toward your spine. From there, try to suck the inner energy upward toward your heart. Naturally, your head will lift. Let it happen, and then organically, you will stretch further down. This extension is perfect for clearing gas in the stomach. You might just want to be alone! Also, more advanced practitioners can really get into the digestive organs with a spinal twist. As you are bent over, try to slowly shimmy your right foot and left foot to their respective sides of the mat to widen your stance. Put your right arm under your nose and turn your chest to the ceiling with your left hand rising to the sky. Take a few breaths and switch sides. You are wringing your digestive organs like a wet towel. Extended Child’s Pose for Feeling Constipated Need help breaking up some of the solids inside your system? Get into Extended Child’s Pose or Utthita Balasana. Bring your knees as wide as the mat and your big toes to touch, if possible. Like a panther on the runway, slowly crawl ahead. You will feel a great stretch in your abdominal muscles. This stretching can cause some of the blockages to break up, easing constipation. After a few breaths, try experimenting. Keep your head and spine in the same spot. Tent your fingers on the mat and slowly crawl both hands to one side, creating a nice side stretch. To get even more out of this pose, put your right hand over your left. Then, switch. You’ll be amazed by the difference a little dynamic movement can make! Cobra for Bloating When you are experiencing bloating, you just want something to pop the bubble. Cobra (Bhujangasana) can pop it for you. From the Extended’s Child Pose, push up and through the belly in one big inhale. Continue up and stretch your chest through to the sky. To get the most out of the pose and avoid wrist damage, make sure your hand is directly underneath your shoulder. While in position, push up from the floor and down with your feet. You should notice a considerable stretch from the groin to the throat. That should help stretch out the gas in the stomach that’s causing bloating. Forearm Plank for Weight Loss Forearm plank (Makara Adho Mukha Svanasan) is one of the best yoga for stomach issues such as weight loss. It’s a low-impact, high-intensity burn. When you enter the Forearm Plank position, make sure your elbows and wrists, hips, and heels are all in line. That way, your spine is aligned. As you shake on your forearms, trying to suck everything into the mid-line. Also, be sure to engage your core. The more you perfect your move, the more weight you will burn. If you just lay there stagnant, you won’t see as many benefits. Want more burn? Try tapping your right knee to the floor. Then your left. Keep switching it up. You can also try some mountain climbers to get some cardio in. If the Forearm Plan is too intense, try a regular Plank. Just push back up. Don’t worry; you’ll catch yourself before your face hits the floor! Lastly, if Plank is still too intense, continue to push up to Downward Dog. You’ll still get plenty of yoga poses for stomach issues in! Half Lord of the Fishes for Detox This is another one of the more advanced yoga poses for stomach issues. It’s a Half Pigeon meets a twist. By using your body to grind the insides in opposite directions, you’re doing more than just fighting gastrointestinal distress and mixing up your microbes. With the Half Lord of Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana), you are also wringing out your liver. This ideal if you are suffering stomach problems from binge drinking or metal toxicity. For those who can’t get into such a complex move, take a more relaxed approach like a simple twist. Sit straight and put one leg up. Reach up with the opposite hand and hook that elbow around the outside of the standing leg. Take your free hand and reach behind you. Look over that shoulder and breathe into your twist. You can also lay on the ground and do a supine twist. Put your arms into a T so that your shoulder blades are flush to the ground. Pick up your legs and bend your knees so that they are parallel to the floor. Swing your knees to the left, hovering your right bent leg over the left knee. Switch sides. Extended Triangle Pose for Sour Stomach Speaking of stretching the insides out. Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) is a great way to get the energy flowing up the side body. Starting from the outside and then working toward building strength inward, you get a rush of energy built up that helps bring oxygen to your sour stomach. This is an advanced pose. For those who are beginners, try first with Extended’s Child Pose to warm up this area. Then work your way toward a seated twist before trying this yoga pose for stomach issues. To get in Utthita Trikonasana, start in a downward dog. Pick your right leg in the air to make a three-legged down and step into a lunge. Pivot your back foot to be slightly parallel to the mat. Pick up your core and stand tall. Your back leg is in extension, and your front leg is flexed. Extend the front leg while extending your arms out wide. Shift your body so that your right arm extends past your right knee. Then, slowly bend with the left arm to the sky. Your shoulders should stack to make the bottom of a triangle. The ground to your right toe and the distance from your left hand’s tip and right toe complete the shape. Supported Head Stand for Strength Why not end with not just one of the best yoga poses for stomach issues but also for mental clarity, strength, and well-being? We live such sedentary lives. Sometimes we need to turn upside down to fix our problems. Supported Head Stand (Salamba Sirsasana I) is for advanced yogis, but it’s something to strive towards. As you wrap your limbs around yourself, it wrings more body parts out, improves blood flow circulation, causing more detoxifying benefits. Can’t get upside down? Don’t get frustrated. Find a way to make it work for you. Start your Supported Headstand Practice with a wall. It’s called supported, after all! If that’s still too much, try laying flat on your back and placing your legs on the wall. Anything to get the energy flowing opposite than the usual!
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Resources  Allen, J. M., Mailing, L. J., Niemiro, G. M., Moore, R., Cook, M. D., White, B. A., Holscher, H. D., & Woods, J. A. (2018). Exercise Alters Gut Microbiota Composition and Function in Lean and Obese Humans. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 50(4), 747–757. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000001495.  Maddux, R. E., Daukantaité, D., & Tellhed, U. (2018). The effects of yoga on stress and psychological health among employees: an 8- and 16-week intervention study. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 31(2), 121–134. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2017.1405261.  Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of physiology and pharmacology : an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 62(6), 591–599.  Bordoni, B., & Morabito, B. (2018). Symptomatology Correlations Between the Diaphragm and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Cureus, 10(7), e3036. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.3036.
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