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Digestive problems like gas and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can range from uncomfortable to downright painful. Leslie Howard, a San Francisco-based therapeutic yoga teacher, shares her recommendations for strengthening and stretching with specific yoga poses to help soothe your most annoying stomach problems.
Get rid of gas
There's no yoga pose that will make your toots smell like roses, jokes Howard. But some poses can loosen up the digestive system to help you produce less gas to begin with. A relaxed and supported version of bridge pose (putting a block or bolster under your butt) encourages you to relax your glutes and pelvic muscle. The goal is to let go of any gripping in the pelvic area, says Howard.
For an abdominal massage, sit back in Chair pose -- tuck in your belly and hollow it out. That brings some movement to the area, too. Don't tuck your tailbone, scrunch up your shoulders or clench your jaw -- all signs of tension. For a more passive abdominal twist, lie on your back with your arms forming a T and let both legs fall to the floor on one side of the body and then the other.
This painful digestive problem usually manifests as constipation or diarrhea, with bloating and cramping. “If you have gas, that’s painful, so [you hold in both your stomach and pelvic floor]. That gripping makes it worse and you grip more. It’s hard to break that cycle,” says Howard.
The key to overcoming the pain of IBS is to stretch and loosen the pelvic area. A great pose for this is Reclining Bound Angle Pose (supported Sputa Badha Konasana). Lie on the floor with a pillow under your upper body, so your spine is fully supported. Place folded blankets or pillows under each thigh. Bring the soles of the feet to together and pull your heels toward the groin, without going beyond what's comfortable.
Alleviate acid reflux
Yoga breathing can help rid you of the pain of acid reflex -- the backwards flow of food or drink into the esophagus from your stomach. “Sometimes acid reflux can be alleviated through calming the nervous system with abdominal breathing,” Howard says.
How does this differ from everyday breathing? It's deeper and more focused. Try this exercise: Lie down and breathe deeply so your belly rises as you inhale and sinks as you exhale. If you can't always stop and lie down, you can still do some deep breathing during the day. If you sit properly and breathe (back straight, sternum lifted, knees lower than your hips), the air reaches deeper, Howard says. She also recommends moving around throughout your day. “Sitting in one position the same way every day is death to the body. Your metabolism slows, your heart rate and oxygen are low and the body is not vibrant. The breath should be moving through every single cell of the body.”