Fast-paced lifestyles often lead to mental and physical burnout. It is common for this burnout to manifest in the digestive system, especially if we are not giving the body time to rest, digest, rejuvenate, and restore. Let’s explore why we need a slower pace to promote digestion, and review some yoga postures that can help us enter this state of being.
What happens during digestion?
Our nervous system is divided into two parts: sympathetic (responsible for the “fight or flight” response) and parasympathetic (responsible for the “rest and digest” response). These systems work together to keep our body functioning without conscious thought. In the fight-or-flight state, the senses become heightened, adrenaline begins to flow, and our heart rate increases, allowing blood to flow toward the muscles.
In contrast, when the rest and digest response is activated, the breath and heart rate slow down. The body is able to focus on digestion—extracting and metabolizing food nutrients. The organs for elimination are also active in this state, allowing the body to process and release.
While the nervous system is automatic, it can become imbalanced. Help re-establish the balance by practicing the yoga postures below, holding each for 3-5 minutes and breathing deeply.
Restorative Yoga Poses for Digestion
Before you proceed, remember that the general rule is to avoid practicing yoga on a full stomach. Refrain from eating two hours prior to your practice to allow the body to start its digestive process.
Also note that digestive issues can be complex and individualized. Always check with your doctor if you are concerned about your digestive health.
1. Child’s Pose with Inward Fists
Child’s pose or Balasana is a well-known restorative yoga posture. In the full expression of the pose, the belly and chest are resting on the thighs, creating a gentle compression. Increase this compression in the lower abdomen by making fists with both hands. Place each fist in the fleshy part of the lower abdomen. To increase the intensity of the compression, increase the pressure of the fists.
2. Supported Bridge
Setu bandha sarvangasana opens the chest, stretches the front body, and provides a gentle backbend. Using a block for support turns this normally active pose into a restful, restorative one. Come into the pose and place a block gently underneath the sacrum. Yoga blocks give you three options depending on how they are turned, so take a moment to find the level that is comfortable and allows you to rest. After you find the correct block height, relax the body and breathe.
3. Half Frog Pose
Half frog is a pose that originates from Yin Yoga. If you rest on your belly, you may also do this when trying to lull yourself to sleep. Lying on the belly creates a gentle compression on the digestive system, and bending one knee up activates the rest and digest response. For comfort, rest the knee on a folded blanket. Hold the pose on each side.
The low squat of malasana activates the downward energy (apana) and promotes elimination. This pose is especially useful when you need to get things moving! If you need extra support, rest the sit bones on a block and hold the pose.
5. Seated Twist
Twists stimulate the digestive system and can help reduce stress. To enter the pose, bend the knee and hug your arm around the shin. To increase the twist, cross the bent knee over the straight leg and bring the elbow to the outside of the bent leg. Focus on the breath.
6. Reclined Baddha Konasana with Self Massage
Supta baddha konasana opens the hips whilst relaxing on the back. Place blocks under the thighs or upper back to offer support. Take your pointer and middle finger and press about one inch below the navel, moving in a circular motion for 10 seconds.
Begin to move in a clockwise motion, massaging each area until you come full circle. Notice if there are any areas that need more attention and stay longer in these areas if needed. Repeat the massage as needed.
Apanasana, or wind-relieving pose, is touted as one of the best to release ‘wind’ and any trapped gases when you are feeling bloated. Recline on the back and bring the knees in toward the chest. Wrap the hands around the shins and hug them in. Rock right to left to explore the posture, keeping the knees in toward the chest the entire time.
8. Crocodile Pose with Heat Pad
Sometimes the digestive system needs heat and rest. Makarasana is a great place to practice this. Take your version of a heating pad (my personal favorite is rice in a long sock that you can heat in the microwave) and place it just below the navel. Lie on the belly and bend the elbows, resting whichever cheek you’d like on the top of your hands. Focus on your breath and relax.
The rest and digest response takes practice. In order for the physical body to slow down, and the rest and digest process to activate, the mind needs to allow it to happen. Give yourself time and space to rest, relax, and be present.