Yoga Asanas for Digestion

Since young, my digestion had always been sluggish with irregular bowel movement. My stomach used to be really bloated even as a kid, my mom told me our family doctor once asked me if I put a balloon inside my tummy when I was four or five years old.
Since late last year, while going through bouts of nasty acid reflux and heartburn, I have been taking digestive enzymes to help on my digestion. They are god-sent to me and I would never want to run out on these digestive enzymes so surely I stock up!
When I started the teacher training course 6 weeks ago, I realized that the need for me to take these supplements has decreased significantly. After being introduced to the anatomy of the human body where we learnt how yoga and our body work in the theory classes, I began to understand why I needed less of the supplements. My digestive system has improved from practicing asanas intensively for 5 days a week!
Below I share some very simple and accessible poses which can improve digestion.
Vakrasana (Seated Twist Pose)
A simple seated twist like the Vakrasana has great benefits to digestion. This pose is designed to twist the spine to both the right and left side from a seated position. Think of elongating your spine and then twisting your spine so that you are facing towards the back while still sitting on the same spot on your sitting bones.
This pose will warm and stimulate the abdominal organs necessary for the digestion process. The digestive system needs warmth to function better, this is the same reason why Ayurveda diet recommends avoiding cold drinks at meals as it will slow down digestion. Stimulating the organs will allow the organs to work more efficiently for example, twisting will keep the smooth muscles in our stomach supple which is necessary for propelling contents through the digestive tract.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Bhujangasana is usually done as part of the sun salutation series. In this pose, the back is arched and contracted and the front of our torso is extended. This pose has multiple benefits, not just for digestion – it will strengthen the back muscles, reinvigorate the abdominal organs in the lower body and the reproductive organs in the pelvic area. There will be pressure on your lower abdomen and the reproduction organs against the floor which will feel like a massage. The lower abdomen is where the small intestines are located, the small intestines are where most of the food gets digested hence stimulating and massaging this area will greatly aid the digestion process.
Uttanasana or Paschimottasana (Standing forward bend or seated forward bend)
Forward bends are therapeutic for digestion as this pose will massage all the digestive organs. If you have tight hamstrings like me, you can micro-bend your knees, the benefits on the digestive organs will not be diminished just because you bend your knees! This pose will stimulate all the important digestive organs like the stomach and small intestines. The next time you struggle in your forward bends (like I do sometimes due to my tight hamstrings and hip flexes), just think of the pleasant therapy you’re giving your digestive organs, focus on your breath and just hang in there.
The beauty about these asanas is that they not only have just one benefit, their physical benefits are indefinite! For example, vakrasana will also keep your spine flexible, bhujangasana will strengthen the spinal muscles, forward bends stretch the hamstrings. All the poses described above are accessible and suitable for beginners, however if you have serious health conditions do consult your doctor before practice.

Sirsasana

Sirsasana or headstand is a pose that predominantly uses isometric contraction as the muscles contract to stabilize the body. In this pose the prime mover is the serratus anterior, shown in the image in red. This muscle originates from the ribs and inserts in the scapula with contraction drawing the scapula away from the spine and allowing the hands to extend above the head. The serratus anterior combines with the lower trapezius to depress the scapula. At the same time the rhomboids contract to prevent the scapula from rotating too much. The latissimus dorsi help prevent the winging of the scapula, but are also stretched.

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The arms are flexed above the head and slightly externally rotated. The pectorialis major flexes arm up while the infraspinitus assists in external rotation of shoulders. Engaging medial triceps brachii prevents movement of elbows out to sides. The triceps stabilize arms and shoulders. Forearms help to balance body, hands slightly supinated. Rectus abdominus slightly engaged to ensure neutral, or slight posterior tilt of the pelvis. Other core muscles such as the transverse abdominus also provide stability and protect the spine.  

The gastrocnemius and soleus contract to point the foot while the tibialis anterior stretches.

The inverted position of sirsasana has effects on a number of systems in the body. If a student is calm and relaxed in sirsasana the inverted position will increase the stroke volume, that is, the volume of blood ejected by each ventricle during a single contraction. This is because gravity assists in the blood leaving the ventricles rather than pushing against it as it does when we are standing. If the student is calm their heart rate will should lower as more blood is leaving the heart so fewer stroke per minute are required. This takes some of the stress off the heart. The inverted state also makes it easier for blood from the toes to return to the heart.

According to yoga theories sirsasana is also one of the best poses for benefiting the pituitary gland which regulates many of the bodies hormones, particularly those relating to the thyroid, affecting our metabolism; adrenal cortex stimulating the release of glucocortoids and thus increasing blood glucose; hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, prolactin and oxytocin which are involved in reproduction and human growth hormone which stimulates our growth as the inverted position directs a greater quantity of blood to the head.

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Getting Into Baddha Konasana

  1. Sit with legs out along median plane
  2. Lateral rotation of both thighs to bring legs away from median plane
  3. Bringing both soles along the transverse plane towards each other, place heels close to the groin.
  4. Press soles of feet together.
  5. Extend spine up along the coronal plane.
  6. With back straight, flex at hips to bring body down along median plane, out along transverse plane and place chin down.

How to get into virabhadrasana II

Although it looks that warrior II is a very simple pose, to pose it in a correct alignment and hold for 2 to 3 minutes, is a very hard work. Because each muscle and joint below the waist, around the shoulders, around upper back and upper arms is keenly engaged in this posture.

Strengthen muscles:
Back-leg: adductor magnus, gluteus maximus, glutus medius, tensor fascia lata, quadriceps, tibialis anterior
Front leg: pectineus, psoas, sartorius, quadriceps, calf muscles,
Trunk: erector spinae, quadrates lumborum, rectus abdominus
Shoulders and arms; deltoids, supraspinatus, trapezius, rhomboids, pectoralis minor, triceps
Stretching muscles:
Back-leg: calf muscles
Preparation

  1. Loosening hip joints. Flex hip to 90 degrees by raising knee up and rotate from in to out for 20 times, from out to in for 20 times. Swing straight leg back and forth for 20 times and side to side for 20 times. Repeat it for the opposite side.
  2. Strengthening pelvic and thigh and stretching calf muscles. Stand opening legs a little wider than prasarita and open toes toward sideways. Bend one knee to side the same direction of the knee sinking hip down and straighten the opposite leg by stretching the back side of the leg. Hands can be prayer pose or placed on the pelvis. Go to the opposite side. Repeat this for 30 times.
  3. Opening hip joints and stretching hip muscles. Supta Konasana. Sit and open legs as wide as possible. Move bums up and extend pelvis so that sacrum will face in parallel to the floor. Keeping spine straight and bend forward. Stay here for 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Shoulder blades strengthening. Abduct shoulders to 90 degrees. Relax shoulders by bringing them down and swing arms back as far as possible slowly squeezing shoulder blades. Stay here for 10 breaths. Repeat 2 more times.
  5. Core strengthening. Navasana. From legs-front position, lean back with ischium on the floor and bring both legs up, keeping spine and legs straight. Both arms straight in front and count 10. Repeat 4 more times.

Viravhadrasana II.
Alignment check.

  1. Front leg is making 90 degree angle and knee is going toward outside.
  2. Buttocks are tucked in. Hips are square.
  3. Back leg is straight and outer foot is firmly grounded on the floor.
  4. Upper body is up straight.
  5. Arms are parallel to the floor.
  6. Shoulder blades are squeezed
  7. Shoulders are relaxed.
  8. Gazing toward front middle finger.

Yoga and Psoas Major

Psoas Major

Psoas major is a polyarticular muscle, which runs inside body from lower back bone to its forward inward downward direction, front inner thigh bone, by crossing over pelvis. On its way, Psoas major combinds with Iliacus to form Iliopsoas.

Actions of Psoas major are flexion and external rotation of the hip joint.
Since it is an inner muscle, it is very hard to be aware its working. However, it starts functioning in the early stage of human life because when a baby starst to sit up or crawls it is already awakened.
Iliopsoas (Psoas major together with iliacus) is used constantly when we stand, walk or run in regular basis. But if it is not used for a long time, it will get shorten and contracted because it is a typical posture muscle and made with slow twitch fibers. That’s why those old people who have a sedentary life style have lower back pain.
With almost all asanas you can strengthen or stretch this muscle.

Examples

  • Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana D (strengthen by flexion and lateral rotation of the leg)
  • Virabhadrasana 2 (strengthen by flexing the upper body, forward tilting the pelvis, straightening and supporting the lower back)
  • Ustrasana (stretches by extension of the upper body and contracting hip muscles together with contraction of quadriceps)

Antagonists

l  Gluteus maximus
l  Hamstrings

Synergists

l  Tensor fascia lata
l  Satorius
l  Rectus femoris
l  Pectineus
As part of the iliopsoas, psoas major contributes to flexion and external rotation in the hip joint. On the lumbar spine, unilateral contraction bends the trunk laterally, while bilateral contraction raises the trunk from its supine position.
It forms part of a group of muscles called the hip flexors, whose action is primarily to lift the upper leg towards the body when the body is fixed or to pull the body towards the leg when the leg is fixed or to pull nothing when both legs and body are fixed..
For example, when doing a situp that brings the torso (including the lower back) away from the ground and towards the front of the leg, the hip flexors (including the iliopsoas) will flex the spine upon the pelvis.
Due to the frontal attachment on the vertebrae, rotation of the spine will stretch the psoas.
Tightness of the psoas can result in lower back pain by compressing the lumbar discs