September 9, 2016

How Yoga Cures Digestive Illness.

stomach ache

I used to suffer from lack of energy, for as long as I can remember.

Actually, I used to think that it was just who I was. Little did I know it was due to a poor digestive system.

Food, along with oxygen, are our raw sources of energyHow can we function properly if we are not getting the necessary fuel for our daily activities?

The way I felt about myself changed when I dove deep into yoga. There are so many yogic techniques that boost our digestion that it’s no wonder the scriptures say a yogi can digest even poison.

Through adopting yoga practices I was able to deal with chronic indigestion. It was also through yoga that I understood that common indigestion can build up different diseases in our bodies. 

But what is indigestion really?

Indigestion is linked to the poor functioning of the digestive system. Whenever our digestive system or our choice of diet isn’t healthy, the length of our digestion cycle gets disturbed. You’ll know it when you feel it!

Indigestion makes us feel bloated, discomfort in our upper abdomen, heartburn, nausea or even acid reflux. Those symptoms usually take place when food takes too much time to be digested due to eating habits, disturbance in our regular chemical processes or even emotional unbalance. Yes, how we feel directly influences the soft tissues of organs connected with the digestive system and its secretions, (we all know about the stress-induced ulcers or gastritis right?) therefore we should be aware of our emotions especially at the moment we are eating and right after.

Why does indigestion create diseases?

If the food that we ingest takes more than twelve hours to be fully digested you can be certain that it is producing toxins which are called amma from the Ayurveda point of view.

The real concern, however, is that it easily becomes a chronic condition. Indigestion cultivates more indigestion; the liver tries to deal with those extra toxins, resulting in more lethargy of the digestive system as a whole. It is a vicious cycle and a direct path to chronic diseases due to the great amount of toxins being stored and circulating through our whole bodies.

Ideal Meal Cycle according to Yoga:

Obviously, the amount of time that it takes to digest a meal depends on factors like quality and quantity of food. In other words, our diet! It is no wonder that light meals like (fruits, vegetables, leaves etc) takes less than twelve hours to be out of our intestines. On the other hand, medium meals take about twenty four hours and heavy meals, which usually combines high carbohydrates, high proteins and/or high fat can take up to three days (meat falls definitely in this category). The ideal path for a meal from yoga’s perspective follows up the twelve hour time-frame. That would mean:

– two to three hours in the stomach
– three to five hours in the small intestine
– five to eight hours in the large intestine

Yoga’s advice?

There are a lot of poses and cleansing techniques that will address the digestive system quite nicely. However, even for a yogi it definitely does not start there—it starts with the yogic principles of diet (and that includes not only what we eat but also how).

Here are some really important principles according to yoga that will help you to prevent indigestion and cure them as well:

1) Eat at the correct time, and eat slowly.

A good tip is to eat your last meal before eight p.m

2) In every meal, eat to fill: half of your stomach with solids, a quarter with liquids and leave a quarter of your stomach empty. Your stomach needs room for the mechanical part of digestion.

3) Have a sattvic diet. What we eat influences our brain or, as research points out, the gut-brain connection is a two-way street.

Choose light meals, seasonal food and focus on vegetarian and non-processed ingredients. Milk and yogurt are well accepted in a yogic diet; however, one must remember the scriptures obviously refer to organic food (moreover, cows are mostly treated as a family member in India which means having milk still respects the ahimsa yogic ethic).

Nowadays, even science is beginning to understand that what we eat can change our brains.

4) Eat when you feel emotionally balanced.

That means to let go of eating when you are feeling too stressed, angry or anxious. Take ten minutes before a meal to achieve a positive inner attitude or relaxation if it’s necessary. Welcome your food in gratitude; practicing a supported inversion is suggested as a way to cultivate emotional balance.

5) Eat with awareness: be present while you eat.

If you are watching TV, using your phone or talking, your mind and emotional state will also be fluctuating. The way you eat is as important as what you eat.

6) Have an empty stomach by bedtime.

It’s really not advisable to have heavy meals at night. When you sleep your digestion is not working in its full potential. It actually should be mostly resting!

Sleeping right after meals is connected to building up gas in your body due to fermentation. Studies say it’s advisable to take at least a one and a half hour gap from a meal, while yoga goes a little further and suggests three hours from a light meal. In any case, it’s pretty much agreed that sleeping after a meal is bad for digestion.

7) Have an asana practice and, if needed, go for specific cleansing techniques. There are several of those and since they should be practiced under guidance, give it a try after you applied the other principles and tips of this article.

Okay, those are the basics! Let’s dive into the Yoga Postures.

What should we focus on if we have indigestion?

It’s usually advisable to focus on poses activate our bowel movements and tone your digestive organs.

Practice gently, daily and always with an empty stomach (mornings are best). Do not eat right after you’ve practiced. If it’s possible wait thirty minutes before you eat. In any case, go for:

8) Twists.

This family of asana is known for its cleansing abilities. Twisting massages the liver and wrings out stuck intestine toxins. Choose a couple of twists, there’s no need to overdo it.

9) Prone backbends and Forward Bends.

Any practice that creates a pressure in the lower abdomen can speed up our digestion. Prone backbends like dhanurasana (the bow) are very good for that.

Forward bends like the seated paschimottanasana(the intense dorsal stretch) also creates intra-abdominal pressure and can be of assistance in boosting our digestion. However, it’s advised not to stay long in this last family of asana if you have constipation, it can make it worse.

10) Inversions.

When our hips are above our hearts we create a different pressure in our body (specially in the lower abdomen). This helps gas (from the food fermentation) and the general waste of our bodies to get moving and be eliminated.

If you are having any reflux symptoms issue though leave this practice out. If you don’t, you can get yourself a bolster and enjoy staying in a legs-up-the-wall pose (Viparita Karani) for ten minutes or so. Build up the time you spent in it slowly so you can check how you feel. This pose will also help you to feel emotionally balanced and relaxed (remember what we said about taking care of how we feel once we are about to eat?).

Need an extra help?

If you are stuck in the chronic cycle of indigestion either with bad symptoms or with constipation, drinking warm water frequently during the day can really help you get you out of it.

Don’t drink anything an hour before or after your meals. Combine the yoga teachings on how and what to eat along with the body practices that help the digestion so you can keep yourself out of the indigestion’s vicious cycle.

Nurture yourself: feel filled with energy, be healthy and do not harvest future diseases.


Author: Suzana Altero

Images: author’s own ; Flickr/Christy McKenna

Editor: Erin Lawson

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