While planning out some yoga postures related to digestive health for the Canadian Celiac Magazine I realized it’s not a one type of posture/yoga situation. Limited on space I struggled with which aspects of yoga to focus on. My original copy was a novel which was slowly whittled down to 5 simple postures. When discussing yoga and digestion a few topics come into play:
- restorative postures that help ease digestive pain
- breath-work to stimulate and massage
- steady poses to help slow things down
- dynamic movements to speed things up
- twists to unstick and eliminate toxins
Each one of these topics have several points and many asana (pose) variations that work, thus you see my dilemma. It got me thinking; why not do a series right here! There’s no space issue and I can break it down any way I see fit. Today we are going to speed things up and get them moving in the right direction!
Increase Digestive Fire with Dynamic Twists
The idea of “digestive fire” comes from the practice of Ayurvedic medicine where Agni or fire is the root or relief of all health problems. The more intense the fire burns the less waste material, thus less chance for toxin build up and a greater rate of nutrient absorption. The opposite is true for a slow burning fire.
There are several ways to increase Agni; one is dynamic movement (stoking the fire). When we blow on, provide oxygen to, a dying fire the flames shoot up, brighter and stronger. Think of movement as the extra oxygen; movement is circulation.
Twisting postures done right will help push stagnant elements through the digestive tract so that nutrients can be absorbed and waste eliminated. Adding slow, steady, breath inspired movement to twisting postures oxygenates the fire while intensifying the effects of peristalsis: involuntary smooth muscle contractions that break down and move food along the digestive tract.
Creating Internal Heat
Key wording above was “done right”, yes there is a wrong way to twist; for several reasons! In the discussion of digestion, twisting postures need to be performed right to left to match the flow of food through the intestinal system: right to left, up, across and down. Adding movement to the twisted posture is called dynamic twisting which creates internal heat. This heat helps the body break down food, absorbing water and nutrients.
The following practice is meant to be performed with half breaths which keeps the body in steady motion. As you heat up your heart rate will increase, speeding up your rate of respiration. If you find that your breath is coming too fast to properly perform the posture pause the practice by sitting still and performing 5 cycles of abdominal breathing with each breath slower than the one before it; then continue your practice. Take these pauses as often as you need; deep abdominal breathing is a very important aspect of healthy digestion.
Stoke Your Digestive Fire with Asana
Notes before beginning this practice: Allow one to two hours after eating before practicing dynamic twist. As this is a dynamic, heat building, exercise set be sure to drink a large glass of room temperature water (cold can be a shock to a warm body) once finished the practice. This will help to flush the system and move things along.
Begin standing with feet hip distance apart. Inhale arms overhead, exhale fold forward, inhale standing, exhale right side bend, inhale standing, exhale left side bend. Repeat sequence 4 more times for 5 total.
*Do not rush through the movements, allow your natural breathing rhythm to determine the speed. If you are a fast breathing try to maintain a slow steady pace with your breath.
From standing exhale to sink the hips back knees bent, chest lifted, hands come together at the heart, take an inhale here to steady the body. Exhale twist left, inhale center, exhale twist right, inhale center. Repeat this motion linked to breath for 5 cycles each side (10 twists in all).
Return to standing and allow breath to settle and slow down before moving on to the next exercise.
*Keep knees together during motion, do not allow one knee to creep in front of the other.
Come to child’s pose: big toes together, knees apart, hips to heels, chest to ground. Take a couple breaths to settle into the pose.
On an inhale bring left hand to head, right hand under chest and lift torso, twisting body to the left. Keep the spine long, crown of the head pulling forward, shoulders aways from ears.
Inhale to center then exhale repeat twisting right.
Continue switching side for 10 full breaths (5 twists each side).
End the practice in child’s pose (balasana). Take long, slow, steady breaths expanding through the back. Allow every breath to come slower than the last. Stay here as long as needed.