When it comes to healthy digestion, what we put in our body as well as how we move play an important role. Aside from having a balanced diet, enough daily water intake and good sleeping habits, physical movement and exercise are also necessary.
Yoga comes with many physical and therapeutic benefits, and one is certainly healthy digestion. Specific asanas stimulate the digestive organs, which lead to better functioning of these.
Whilst there are many yoga postures that benefit a healthier digestion, here are my top 7:
SEATED SPINAL TWIST
Ardha Matsyendrasana cleanses of the internal organs as well as stimulates the digestive organs. It is a great asana to practice before taking food and it energises the body.
As one of the main fundational asanas in Hatha yoga, Trikonasana comes with so many benefits. When it comes to digestion, it helps to tone the abdomen, strengthening the abdominal muscles. It also massages the digestive organs.
This great back bending posture, dhanurasana opens the chest, promoting deeper breathing. Through this, the internal organs receive enough oxygen to function efficiently. The way we breath can have an impact on digestion, and dhanurasana helps regulate the breath. Being in a prone position, it also provides a good massage for the stomach and the digestive organs.
The actual position of Malasana is physically considered by many the correct one when it comes to elimination of bowels. This posture helps with constipation or disruptive bowel movement.
I call these two the dream asana team as together they come with so many benefits. The dynamic movement of flexion and extension of the trunk and hips provides can help cleanse the digestive tract. The digestive organs are also stimulated during these two asanas.
Like dhanurasana, setu bandha sarvangasana is a back bending asana which stretches the digestive organs and opens the chest, for deeper breathing. This is another great one to do before taking food, creating a good stretch and movement from the neck to the pelvis.
The path toward self-realisation is different for everybody. All individuals have their own unique character and personality with which they explore this physical world. Through the practice of yoga, one can gain a deeper understanding of themselves and get to know their true nature. The yoga journey is an everlasting exploration of the self through direct experience, devotion and dedication to the practice. The main aim of yoga is self-realisation or liberation of suffering caused by living in ignorance of the divine light that is within all. There are 4 main streams of yoga that can help one choose a path suitable to their own temperament. Although one may choose their main path, it is important to note that all 4 are apparent in the journey towards liberation/self-realisation.
JNANA YOGA - THE PATH OF KNOWLEDGE
Jnana yoga is most suited for those with an intelligent temperament. It is also called the yoga of wisdom or knowledge as self-realisation is achieved through the study of the self. In Jnana yoga, one of the primary aspects is viveka, the discrimination between what is right and what is wrong; of that which is reality and non-reality. The Jnana yogi is drawn to self-inquiry and finds their true nature through an intellectual approach of contemplation, questioning, learning and through direct experience. Choosing this path brings one to discover their true nature through meditation and self-understanding of the individual self being one with the universal consciousness, the Atman to Brahman. Some practices of the Jnana yogi include detachment or indifference to material objects, restraint or control of the senses and a deep desire to liberation.
BHAKTI YOGA - THE PATH OF DEVOTION
Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion to the divine or the higher power. This is a path suited for those with an emotional temperament. Bhakti yoga leads to emotional maturity and an unconditional love for God. This devotional path involves practices such as chanting mantras, prayer, rituals and surrendering to the divine. Through the path of bhakti yoga, one learns to do everything with love, because they see the divine in everyone and everything. The Bhakti yogi seeks their true nature through complete surrendering and devotion to God.
RAJA YOGA - THE PATH OF WILL POWER
Raja yoga is the path of self-control or will-power. The word raja means royal and this path is also known as “the royal path”. Raja yoga is most suited for those with a mystic temperament and it follows the Asthanga/Eightfold path by Pantaji. The last 3 limbs of Ashtanga are referred to as raja yoga, as they are the highest attained practices reached through the commitment and mastering the first 5 limbs, considered hatha yoga. The Raja yogi practices will-power and self-discipline through the hatha yoga practices such as yamas and nyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara. Through commitment to these practices, one can reach the highest raja yoga practices which refer to focus (dharana), deep concentration or meditation (dhyana) and finally a blissful state of self-realisation.
KARMA YOGA - THE PATH OF ACTION
Karma yoga is the path of action and it is suited for those with an active temperament, who have an energetic nature for doing. Individuals choosing this way, learn to devote themselves to be of service with selfless action. This does not mean this is done on a voluntary basis, but with an intention to be of service for the greater good, and not for self-confidence or self-achievement. In karma yoga, one is of service for the self and the community independent of any ego driven desires or outcomes. In doing so, one learns to detach themselves from the ego by not seeking any reward or having any expectations. Karma yoga also helps to purify the heart and leads one to experience and practice compassion.
Maintaining a correct body posture is vital for our overall well-being. All parts of the body are affected by it including the internal organs, joints, muscles etc and even the breath. When the alignment of our posture is incorrect, we can experience discomfort, pain, incorrect breathing and in some cases illness.
Let’s look at three of the most common incorrect postures, their causes and how to correct them with Pilates exercises and yoga asanas.
Lumbar lordosis happens when there is an exaggerated lumbar spine curvature. This brings the pelvis out of alignment, into an anterior tilt. Some causes of this incorrect posture are due to flexed hips and weak abdominal muscles. This means that the core does not have enough strength to support the lower spine, so the pressure is placed on the lower back.
HOW TO CORRECT:
Strengthen the core muscles with mat Pilates exercises and various asanas. It’s important to be mindful that during the core strengthening exercises, the lower spine should not be arched, so tuck the tail bone under, towards the mat. Other exercises to correct this posture are any hip openers which provide a good stretch to the hips and release tension in this area. Focusing on strengthening the hamstrings and glutes is also important, because then the lower spine can receive support.
Asanas: halasana, uttanasana, adho mukha svanasana, navasana, kumhakasana;
Pilates exercises: the hundred, shoulder bridge, single/double leg stretch.
Sway back is an incorrect posture of the pelvis being pushed forward and a flat lumbar spine. This can create pressure on the lower back, joints and knees. Some causes of sway back can be tight upper abdominal muscles and weakness of the hips and leg muscles.
A range of exercises and asanas which lengthen and stretch the spine, releasing tension between the vertebraes. Increasing spinal mobility through spinal twists exercises and lateral flexions and focusing on strengthening the lower core muscles.
Asanas: Navasana, uttanasana, paschimottanasana, cat/cow, ardha mastyendrasana.
Pilates exercises: supine position leg raises, Russian twists, side toe taps.
Thoracic kyphosis is an exaggerated forward rounding of the middle back, causing the neck and head to be forward and the shoulders rounding inward. This can happen if you sit for long periods of time in front of a computer/desk work or even stress which can feel a burden on your shoulders. This incorrect posture creates tension in the chest area, causing tightness and stiffness. The breath is also affected as the chest is not open and the diaphragm is not moving effectively.
Exercises that open the chest and shoulders to release all the tension in this area; increasing the range of mobility in the thoracic spine/middle back area through cat cow; stretching the arms can also help as this can release tension from the shoulders; strengthening the lower back and core muscles.
Asanas: Malasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, setu bandha sarvangasana, cat/cow.
Pilates exercises: swimming, open chest prone position exercises, shoulder mobility exercises, swan dive.
*If you are experiencing any back/spine problems or have concerns about your posture, check with a GP before practicing any of the above.