Exploring yoga for improved digestion
As an alternative to solely discussing dietary guidelines and supplementation, dietitians can also provide support with complementary therapies that may pair well with nutrition recommendations and promote quality of life to our patients who are uncomfortable, stressed out, or scared. Yoga for improved digestion is one technique that may offer relief from GI distress.
Basics of yoga practice
Yoga is a therapeutic tool that may provide relief from a variety of conditions including pain, anxiety, depression, and even potentially digestive issues. The therapeutic benefits of practicing yoga come from its three main components: movement, breath, and mediation.
- Movement in yoga is mindful. Your expression of creativity and balance is what helps you relax and achieve a sense of peace and calm. Allowing gravity to guide you, listening to the sounds of your breath, and aligning your spine are all repeated in practice, so they become intuitive as you move through different sequences. Many yoga poses involve stretching and twisting of the abdominal muscles and organs, which may help to ease symptoms of digestive discomforts.
- Breath in yoga is an essential part of every practice. The primary breathing technique is called diaphragmatic breath, and it helps regulate the central nervous system. Deep, mindful breaths begin in the upper lungs, move to the mid lungs, expanding through the back and sides of the rib cage, and end at the bottom of the lungs at the belly. When breathing out, the whoosh of air should be audible. This breathing technique is repeated during yoga practice and can also be extremely effective when lying down before or at the end of practice to achieve total relaxation.
- Mediation is a central tenant of yoga. Just like with mindful movement and diaphragmatic breathing, meditation calms our central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is inextricably linked to the GI system. Stress and anxiety can manifest in symptoms of GI unrest. Meditation reduces stress responses and cortisol production, which can improve digestion and overall well-being due to the positive impact on the parasympathetic nervous system’s “rest and digest” function.
Common digestive disorders
More than 62 million people are diagnosed with a digestive disorder in the United States each year. There are many contributing factors, including poor dietary habits, environmental factors, increased age, and higher levels of stress.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), digestive disorders cost Americans billions of dollars each year due to ambulatory care visits, hospitalizations, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures as well as over the counter and prescription medications used to manage symptoms. Some common digestive disorders are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- IBS affects the stomach and GI tract causing uncomfortable symptoms including belly pain, cramping, diarrhea or constipation, gas, and bloating. This disease can be managed by dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and stress management.
- IBD encompasses two conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It is characterized by chronic inflammation of the GI tract. The exact cause is unknown, but theorized causes include abnormal immune system response and genetic factors. IBD is treated with medications, and surgery is sometimes needed. Common symptoms of GI discomfort, stress, and anxiety can be alleviated by the relaxation techniques that yoga incorporates.
Poses specific for relieving GI symptoms
There are countless yoga poses that are good for improving digestion by toning the vagus nerve, which runs all the way from the brain to the abdomen. It’s responsible for the regulation of all internal organ functions including digestion. Some of the best poses to activate the vagus nerve are:
Happy Baby is a pose that mimics the posture a baby takes while lying on his back with his feet extended into the air. To achieve this pose, the yogi grabs the outer edges of his feet and encourages his knees to move toward his armpits while his spine is grounded. Deep breathing allows the hips to open fully.
Child’s Pose is considered a resting pose and can be done by kneeling with the knees wide apart and feet together. Folding over face down, the yogi will extend the arms out in front of her with palms on the ground.
Forward Fold is a posture that allows the arms to hang heavy reaching toward the ground while the yogi bends forward at the waist. Feet stand hip width apart and the belly aims to rest on the thighs.
Savasana is usually done at the very end of a yoga session to absorb the effects of the work that was just done. Commonly, the yogi will lie on his back in stillness with arms and legs extended alongside the body. However, it is also appropriate to lie in any position that is most comfortable and let go of any breath control and release the mind from all tension.
Waterfall is similar to legs up the wall, without the wall. A yogi lies on her back and extends her legs straight up to the ceiling, allowing her body to be heavy on the earth. Often adding rotation to the feet and ankles allows added stretch that helps with relaxation.
Management of GI conditions can be complex. The gut-brain connection should not be overlooked in helping clients and patient to manage their GI symptoms. Yoga is a safe and easy technique that can be trialed alongside diet, lifestyle, and medication management. Consider learning more about Integrative and Functional Nutrition and how you can incorporate alternative therapy recommendations in your practice to offer your patients a comprehensive approach to healing and optimal health.
Dietitians On Demand is a nationwide staffing and recruiting company for registered dietitians, specializing in short-term, temporary and permanent-hire positions in acute care, long term care and food service positions. We’re dedicated to dietitians and helping them enhance their practice and excel in the workplace. Check out our job openings, request your coverage, or visit our store today!
Yoga for Digestion: How it Works. Available at https://www.livescience.com/yoga-for-digestion Accessed on 2/16/23.
Can Yoga Help Digestion? 9 Poses to Try. Available at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/yoga-posture-for-digestion Accessed on 2/16/23.
Yoga. Available at https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/4/yoga Accessed on 2/16/23.
Dynamic and Mindful Movement in Yoga. Available at https://yogadigest.com/dynamic-and-mindful-movement-in-yoga/ Accessed on 2/16/23.
Digestive Disease Statistics for the United States. Available at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/digestive-diseases Accessed on 2/16/23.
A Yoga Practice to Activate the Vagus Nerve. Available at https://chopra.com/articles/a-yoga-practice-to-activate-the-vagus-nerve Accessed on 2/17/23.
Who we are
Dietitians On Demand is the nationwide leader in providing dietitians with jobs they love. If flexibility, competitive pay, a full benefits package, free CPEUs each month and a team dedicated to dietitians sound good to you, apply to our positions today.