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How To Support Your Digestive Health With Yoga And Ayurveda

Laura Finch on July 3, 2021
Laura is a yoga teacher who completed 200 hours of training.

When your gut goes on strike - brace yourself since it affects many more things than you probably think. Impaired immune system, poor mood and focus, acne - this list is just a tip of an iceberg.

Luckily, you might try to skip the stomach pills since some research shows that you can beat gut discomfort, bloating, and constipation naturally - by eating better and moving your body.

In this post, we'll explore:

  • two Ayurvedic "eating commandments" that will make you feel better and help you live longer
  • how and what exactly the world's healthiest people eat
  • a quick yoga sequence to help you digest all the goodies you've consumed
  • 3 simple tricks to put yourself on a healthy eating track.
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How To Improve Digestion Naturally, According To Ayurveda

According to Ayurveda, a traditional alternative medicine system that originated in India, food is more than just calories, carbs, proteins, and minerals that we need to live. The food we consume contains life-sustaining force prana that affects our body and mind.

Fill yourself with food that carries good vibrations and positive imprints from nature, and you'll feel light, balanced, and energized. Fill yourself with food which genetic makeup has been altered, and it will make you sluggish, bloated, and even depressed.

"Eating junk food creates chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The inflammatory response is good if we have an infection, but triggering it all the time by eating bad foods causes the body to produce chemicals that wreak havoc on our organs and arteries. People think that our skin is the main way our bodies interact with the outside world, but it is actually through our digestive tract—our stomach, large intestines, and small intestines." 

Dan Buettner from the book The Blue Zones Solution

So how exactly can we maximize the value we get from food?

Here are two (simplified) rules from Ayurveda:

  • Rule 1. Eat fresh food.

The fresher the food, the more prana it carries. Think fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts.

Unlike fresh foods, highly processed and ready meals are considered "dead" and bring no nourishment to your body and mind, leaving you craving for more.

Rule 2. Pay attention to when you eat and how you eat.

Ayurveda encourages eating only when hungry, giving a chance for your body to digest the previous meal. What's more, the process of eating should be slow and mindful.

When you focus on your senses and not the screen during a meal, you're sending your brain and your stomach signals to excrete the enzymes and juices necessary for digestion.

Next time you're eating, try really noticing the smell, the taste, and the texture of the food. Also, a good trick to slow down is to count your chews to really break down the food.

Eating slowly has additional benefits - science says slow eaters are 3 times less likely to be overweight.

While Ayurveda is a type of alternative medicine and there's not much scientific proof for its benefits, the old sages probably knew something because their nutrition advice often overlaps with modern findings.

During his travels, Dan Buettner noticed that people from certain areas in the world live longer and age better. He marked these places on the map with blue ink and called them Blue Zones.

From Japan to a small city in California, what do you think connects them all? You've probably guessed already - nutrition and eating habits.

Surprisingly, the diets of the world's healthiest people largely overlap with Ayurvedic nutrition advice.

People from the Blue Zones highly value these foods and consume them on a daily basis:

  • All types of beans
  • Fruit and veggies daily
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains including brown rice, barley, oats
  • Olive oil
  • Herbal tea

At the same time, the consumption of meat and sugar is lowered to a minimum.

“When you eat a meal in a hurry or with pent-up worry, stress hormones like cortisol interfere with the digestive process.”

Dan Buettner from the book The Blue Zones Solution.

The people from the Blue Zones are also religious about their food rituals. Just like Ayurveda advises, they:

  • avoid distractions during the meal (zoning out with screens is a huge no-no)
  • eat just enough without stuffing themselves like a thanksgiving turkey - a general rule is to eat until you're 75-80% full
  • start a day with a big meal and finish with an early light dinner
  • chew their food with no hurry.

Does Yoga Help Digestion? It Does! Here's How

When you're not feeling yourself and your gut is signaling for help (think bloating, constipation, diarrhea, rapid weight change), yoga might bring some immediate relief and support your digestion in the long term.

How exactly?

  1. Yoga helps our body switch into parasympathetic rest and digest mode, increasing blood flow to our digestive organs. More blood flow means better functioning, stronger intestinal contractions, and improved secretion of enzymes responsible for breaking down the food.
  2. Certain yoga poses such as twists (like Half Lord of the Fishes) and forward bends use the external pressure coupled with abdominal contraction to increase the colon's internal pressure. This, in its turn, encourages food to move down and can relieve constipation and bloat.

One thing though - twisting your body after the meal isn't a good idea and will have an opposite effect. So make sure to wait at least two hours after eating to jump on the yoga mat.

Feel Less Bloated With This Quick 5-Min Yoga Sequence For Digestion

Looking for quick relief for your digestive issues? This short yet effective yoga sequence for digestion includes only four poses that you can do anywhere and anytime your gut is screaming SOS. Check out the detailed how-to instructions below. 👇

Step 1. Standing Spinal Twist

  • Begin in Tadasana - Mountain pose. Ground through all four corners of the feet. Relax the shoulders away from the ears and engage through your thighs and arms. Activate your lower abdomen - often, it means you need to lengthen your tailbone slightly down.
  • Shift the weight of your body onto the right leg.
  • Lengthen through the crown of the head and lift the left knee up until the thigh is parallel to the floor, foot flexed. Your right leg and glute should stay strong and firm - it will help you stay balanced.
  • Place the right hand outside of the left knee.
  • Inhale and lengthen up, keeping your belly engaged.
  • Exhale and start to twist toward the bent leg. Try to initiate the twist from the core rather than the upper body. Twist as deep as comfortable, but keep your hips square to the front of the mat.
  • If you feel stable, extend your left hand back behind you.
  • Gaze to the front of the mat, or if the balance allows, let the gaze follow your twist.
  • Hold for about three full breaths. Untwist and release the foot with control.

Step 2. High Lunge w/ a Side Bend

  • From Standing Spinal Twist, lower your left foot down and take a big step back on an exhale. Hold a staggered stance rather than aligning the feet in one line - this will help you balance.
  • Lift your back heel off the mat and bend your front leg so the thigh is parallel to the ground. Align the front knee over the ankle. Make sure to keep your front knee facing straight up. Don't let it cave in or splash out to the side.
  • Engage your core muscles. To do that tuck your talbone slightly.
  • Sweep your arms over the head and lift your torso upright while maintaining an active stance in your legs. Keep the arms straight and parallel, palms facing each other.
  • Square your hips to the front of the mat. Often, it means you have to draw your right hip back and left hip forward.
  • Stay open through your chest.
  • Clasp your left hand with the right and start to bend your torso to the right, expanding through your left side.
  • Hold for about three full breaths.

Step 3. Extended Pyramid

  • From the High Lunge position, straighten your right leg and place your hands on the hips. Lengthen your spine up to the sky.
  • Press firmly through both feet and engage your belly. Firm up your right thigh – your knee cap should lift.
  • Breath out and hinge at your hips, folding your torso over your right leg.
  • Keep your hips square. Often, it means you have to draw your right hip back and left hip forward.
  • Bring your fingertips to the mat and let your head hang heavy.
  • Alternatively, grab a pair of yoga blocks and place them outside your front foot. Lower your hands to the blocks as you fold over your front leg.
  • Hold for about three full breaths. To release, press firmly into your feet and lift your torso.

Step 4. Half Lord of the Fishes

  • Begin in a seated position, spine tall, and legs extended in front of you - Staff pose. Keep your feet flexed toward your body.
  • Bend your left knee and bring the foot close to you. Lift the left foot and cross it over to the outside of your right hip. Your knee should point up to the ceiling.
  • Bend your right leg and bring the heel of the foot toward the left hip.
  • Hug your left knee toward your torso and place the left hand behind you to keep the spine upright.
  • Don't collapse on your back hand. Instead, press into the palm to create a lift in your spine.
  • Exhale as you start twisting to the left. Let the twist start from your core, then turn with the upper back and the neck.
  • Let your gaze follow the twist.
  • Press your buttocks into the mat. Both of your sit bones stay on the floor while twisting. Keep your shoulders drawing back and down your spine.
  • Hold for about three full breaths.
  • To come out of the twist, lead with the neck, then upper body, and core.
  • Switch sides.

Also, make sure to save this useful cheat sheet on the iconic yoga pose Half Lord of the Fishes.

3 Easy Tips To Start Eating Better Today

You don't have to move to Japan or Greece to live longer and feel better. Instead, you can create a Blue Zone in your kitchen.

As soon as you read this, I encourage you to shake up your usual eating routine and do a bit of reorganizing.

Here’s how:

  • Stop multitasking while eating. Get the TV, cell phones, and laptops out of your dining space. Distractions during mealtime make you eat more. Do you really need it?
Practice mindful eating and you'll notice how you start eating less and better.
  • Try serving food on small plates and drinking caffeine, soda, and alcohol from tall narrow glasses. Small plates make the portion seem bigger, and this tricks your brain to get full faster. As for the glasses, our brain thinks there's more content in a tall narrow glass than small and wide.
Just joking around 🙂
  • Reorganize your fridge. Place your fruit, veggies, and other nourishing food into the center of the fridge. This is the most visible place that your eyes meet when opening a fridge door. At the same time, hide all the junk food in hard-to-reach places. Out of sight, out of mind - as the saying goes.
We subconsciously reach out for food that is easier to grab so fill the eye-level of your fridge with yummy and healthy snacks.

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