• Hunching or slouching puts pressure on the digestive organs with little opportunity for stretching or twisting them.
• Any simple opening and stretching of the front body (with progressive strengthening of the back to support in asanas) makes more space for the duodenum.
• Good posture allows the full diaphragmatic needed to expel faeces and help prevent acid reflux by exerting pressure on the oesophagus.
A 2006 clinical trial (Kuttner et al) studied the effects of yoga on IBS; although the study was small at 25 participants, the results were promising. Over only four weeks with an hour’s weekly asana based class and a daily home video, those in the yoga group experienced less anxiety, avoidance behaviour and disability than those in the control group on a waiting list. The study was then repeated with those originally on the waiting list and symptoms compared with the first group, showing significantly fewer less IBS symptoms and anxious avoidance.
A recent pilot study (Brands et al, 2011) also showed good results in twenty children 8-18 years with IBS or functional abdominal pain (FAP) receiving 10 yoga lessons. In the 8-11 year old group and the 11-18 year old group pain frequency was significantly decreased at the end of the course. In the 8-11 year group pain intensity was also significantly decreased at this time. After three months there still was a significant decrease in pain frequency in the younger patient group and a borderline significant decrease in pain frequency in the total group with parents reporting a significantly higher quality of life.
From Structural Yoga Therapy: Adapting to the Individual by Mukhunda Stiles:
• Holding inversions, twists and forward-bends and helps reposition the digestive organs, with deepening the breath and holding for longer being more beneficial.
• These poses help stimulate peristalsis.
• Downward Facing Dog is of particular digestive benefit, opening the front body and inverting at the same time.
• Supine practices to encourage these actions e.g. gentle restorative back bends or lying pranayama positions.
• Lying and inversions also allow gravity to settle and reposition organs, although may cause discomfort in those with reflux or GERD.
• Opening up the psoas, inner thighs, hips and groin helps relieve compression in the colon and encourages lymphatic flow that helps elimination processes.
• Can be influenced by yoga, mindfulness and meditation practices that extend body awareness, self-compassion and calm ‘beyond the mat’.
• No studies to be found on the specific effectiveness of Mindful Eating on digestive issues, but meditation, mindfulness and gut hypnotherapy have been shown to have positive effects on IBS symptoms (Asare, 2012).
• Stretching, compressing and twisting of the GI tract and viscera are a large part of the discussion of digestive health within yoga traditions.
• When the main focus is the digestive system, asanas are often focused on the solar plexus region, which is known in yoga as (manipura).
• Whether these energetic considerations have validity or not, there are practices associated with this region that many find helpful to digestive function eg. uddiyana bhanda, agnisara kriya and nauli. These practices will be addressed later in the course.
• Belly breathing has massaging, stimulatory and circulatory enhancing effects on the abdominal and diaphragmatic digestive areas.
• Focus on allowing the exhalation to become more spacious has a direct gut-brain feedback via the vagus nerve.
• The parasympathetic sacral outflow comes from spinal nerves S2–S4 and innervates the smooth muscle of the large intestine.
• Movement and tension release around these areas may positively affect colon muscle contraction-release.
The practice within yoga of balancing cranio-sacral rhythm to assist parasympathetic action via spine undulations such as cat/cow pose may help calming gut-brain feedback. These physical movements have long been associated with improving digestion in many cultural practices e.g. belly dancing and kundalini yoga.
Buy Charlotte’s book, Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health, here