Digestion and Yoga are not always discussed during a traditional yoga practice, but when the focus of yoga becomes digestion some basic postures can be a great aid for better digestion. Digestion is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and not for all the warm fuzzy feelings either. I’m going to just put it out there…”Hello, I’m Ericka and I have a sluggish digestive system.” I remember having this issue as long as I can remember. In fact, upon a family vacation to Spain I can remember being stuck on the toilet just waiting for something to happen! I was well under 10 years old. My Aunt came into the bathroom to check on me, because a significant amount of time had passed. I began to cry in panic due to the overwhelming feeling of literally being stuck!
My Mom soon followed in behind her and began to support me in the only way a Spanish mom could, with passion. I remember her kneeling down, holding my hand in comfort, but then she began to shout; “Concentrate!, Concentrate!, Concentrate!” Well, I’m not certain what truly had happened, or how that even helped. Yet, the deed eventually completed and we all went about our afternoon, lol.
That was my earliest memory of sluggish digestion, and it wasn’t my last. Now, if I take honest notice of the times I’ve had the most complications with my colon it seems to be centered around vacations, or spending more than a day, or two at an unfamiliar location. I’ve actually heard this referred to as vacation colon on the Dr. Oz Show. He had some great proactive recommendations to help avoid this vacation scenario. He first suggested beginning a fiber regimen a week prior to taking the trip. I like a chewable fiber tab that I can take right before bed. Then he recommended drinking plenty of water the week before, as well as during the trip!
Honestly, Dr. Oz’s pre-vacation steps definitely has benefits, but for me I noticed I still needed a little extra support to keep things moving consistently as possible while I’m away from home. One of the best ways, I found to help me is intentional movement that generates twisting and compressing actions for my large intestine, along with tactile massage of my abdomen. The concept is to massage the internal organs to help push things along the track. and down the track. I also incorporate deep breathing to help calm the nervous system, as well as relax the body which helps with the process of elimination too.
In the attached video, I will take you through a short sequence of extension, twisting, folding forward and tactile touch. It’s important to warm the spine before twisting, so beginning with the breath and starting with extension helps to prepare the body for the twist. When the twist is approached, it’s important to keep both feet on the ground, hip’s distance with toes facing forward.
The knees will track in line with between the first and second toe to help maintain proper alignment. By pushing equally through both feet the tops of the legs will engage helping to create stability in the low body, as well as anchoring the buttocks securely to the seat of the chair, so no one falls over during the twist! That’s important to avoid…wink!
As the focus goes towards pressing the feet equally into the floor, the attention must also go towards the the notion of lengthening the spine. I think about lifting my lowest ribs away from my hips, so there’s an equal sense of space around my waistline. Taking the time to make this action happen helps to create room for the extension action, as well as the twist action soon to follow. One last thing to note is the breath action. When extending, exhale into the stretch while maintaining the sense of length on both sides of the torso.
Next, twisting! The twist creates the sense of compression for the large intestine. We want to twist to the right, followed by twisting to the left. Think of it as a kink in the garden hose. When the hose is kinked water flow is restricted. When the hose is un-kinked normal water flow resumes. In essence, it like forcing the waste on its way down the intestine. I know, not completely appetizing conversation or imagery, but we have to remember what the overall goal is with our physical actions within this specific practice. Agreed? OK!
When the twisting action begins, it’s important it comes from the rib cage on an exhale. Not the knees, not the low back, but the ribs guide the action. Only twist as far as comfortable in the body, and if it’s available the neck and head can follow completing the twisting action, or sensation by looking over the back shoulder. Once the twisting range is found, press through the feet and lengthening through the top of the head creating space for the breath to move.
Holding this position for 3-5 breaths, allow the abdomen to rise on the inhale, while falling back on the exhale. On the last cycle of breath, take one large inhale. Allow the exhale to slowly bring the spine back to center. Repeat this action on the left side. This side may have a different sensation and that’s perfectly fine, because our two sides are not exactly alike. For me that’s the fun of exploring a yoga practice, discovering what’s similar and what’s significantly different between the two sides of the body.
Now that there’s been extension, followed by twisting, forward folding comes into the sequence. It’s an opportunity to create compression for the abdomen while continuing with abdominal breathing. Breathing in a forward fold can be challenging, so take the time support the body if it needs the extra attention. The goal is the keep the breathe deep and even to help calm the nervous system, not to mention calm the body. While breathing notice if there’s the sensation of expansion in the abdomen, the ribs and the low back.
Being still can be a challenging practice on its own, so be kind to self and just keep coming back to the even, steady breath. The sense of struggle may lessen overtime and over ample practice. Be patient and consistent. The shift will come in time.
After all the postures have been experienced take the time to stop and notice the new sensations. There may be tingling, warmth, calm….these are all great things! It shows that oxygenated blood flow has arrived bringing nutrients to the digestive system, bravo! Not to mention some great work has happened for the spine, and neck as well. Its a win/win type scenario, which is always welcomed.
Lastly, tactile touch. The large intestion, essentially makes a wide bottom, upside down U encircling the small, bundled up small intestine like a white, picked fence. Beginning on the lower right side of the body (above the hip), moving across the top the body (just below the diaphragm), then heading back down the left side where it meets the colon. Think about moving in a clockwise direction. Starting on the right side of the torso. moving from the bottom to the top. Then moving across the torso, followed by the left side of the torso, moving from the top down.
Once its clear of the area that’s being massaged as well as the direction, lay back and give the abdomen a good ole’ massage. There are three techniques that can be focused on: the poke, the tap, and the slide. Fun names I know, but less see if the hand actions can connect with the terms. When performing the poke, think of using three fingers from each hand and literally making rapid, poking action beginning on the bottom and working around until arriving on the opposite of the large intestine.
Think of pistons within a motor, moving up and down in unison. Or even a needle working on a sewing machine would work well for imagery to support this action. The tap consist of making fist with the hands and using the same motor, or needle action to massage the intestine going in the clockwise direction moving from up right, to top across, followed by down left.
Last, but not least is the slide. It sounds like a smooth dance move, and I invite you to think of it as such if it feels right in your spirit! Place the dominant hand on the lower right side, then place the other hand on top. Push the hands down creating a sense of force into the body. Slide the hands up, across, and down in that same clockwise direction. Coordinate as best as humanly possible an even, calming breathe with the intention of all techniques being a firm, consistent touch. Once again, after the techniques are completed take notice of how the abdomen feels, as well as the energy of the overall body.
Next time a vacation is on the horizon, or just the next moment to over-indulge with eating arrives, we’ll be ready! We now have some possible tools to help ease the woes of the tummy! So lets be proactive in helping ourselves feel good with some moves targeted to “massage” the large intestine. If nothing else at least its a moment of self care, and who couldn’t benefit from some of that??! So pull up a chair and give it a go, you’ll be happy you did, enjoy!