Published October 22, 2013
It's easy to overindulge, and feel bloated and puffy after a big meal. The main cause? Not-so-savory reasons like gas and acid reflux. Instead of popping a Tums and flopping back on the couch, think about trying a natural cure for stomach troubles.
"Fifteen minutes of yoga will help ease your pain," says Zayna Gold, creator of Healing Through Movement and a Boston-based yoga instructor. As a long-time sufferer of Crohn's disease, she's created this yoga sequence to beat bloat, flatten your middle, and ease your stomach pains.
Benefits of yoga
Gold recommends starting from a reclining position. "This gives you a chance to take a deep breath and feel energized," she says. Then, she progresses from seated to standing positions. Some, like the bridge pose, are stretch moves that stimulate your abdominal organs. Next are twist poses that massage and tone your abdomen—great therapy for gas, bloating, and constipation. The remaining poses work out your back, neck and spine. "You will feel less stress when your nervous system is relaxed. The health benefits will spread to the rest of your body and ease your digestion," says Gold.
Knees hugged to chest or "Apanasana"
You'll want to do this simple stretch—also known as the wind-relieving pose—to gain relief from bloating and gas pains.
How to do it: Lie down, relax and inhale, placing your hands on your knees. Exhale, and hug your knees to your chest. Rock your knees from side to side to maximize the stretch. Stay for five to ten breaths, and release your knees. Repeat this move a few more times.
Modification: Bring up your knees as far as it is comfortable. To vary the stretch, you can do one side at a time. Leaving your left leg extended, bring up your right knee and hold it for five or more breaths. Then, switch to the other side.
Use this twist pose to soothe and tone your abdomen.
How to do it: Lie down, hug your knees and inhale. As you exhale, drop your knees to the left, using your left hand to push them down gently. Then, turn your head and stretch your arm out to the right. Stay for five to ten breaths. Inhale, and return your hands and knees to center. Repeat on the other side.
Bridge Pose or "Setu Bandha Sarvangasana"
This mild inversion helps your blood flow, making you feel more energized.
How to do it: Lie on the floor and bend your knees. Keep your arms beside your body and your feet flat on the floor. Move your hips up to give your chest a good stretch. To better aid your digestion, try this variation. "Press one hip up and hold the pose. Take five breaths, then switch to the other side," says Gold.
Modification: Keep your hands under you as you arch your back and open your chest. You can also clasp your hands and interlace your fingers under your back.
One-legged seated spinal twist
Since you're doing this twist pose from a seated position, you have more control over your stretch.
How to do it: Sit with your legs extended. Bend your right knee and place your heel close to your body. Reach your right arm behind you and place your palm on the floor. Your left elbow goes on the outside of the right knee to help you twist. Stay for five or more breaths, deepening the stretch every time you exhale. Then release the twist and repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Bend Pose or "Paschimottanasana"
This simple stretch helps you relax, and relieve some of the stress that's affecting your digestion.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Keeping your back straight, slowly hinge forward at the hips and lower your torso. Stay there for five to ten deep breaths.
Modification: Lower yourself as far as you can, but keep it comfortable and feel the stretch.
Seated Heart Opener
Use this move when you've eaten too much. It will stretch out your belly and ease stomach cramps.
How to do it: Sit down on your heels and lean back, placing your palms about eight inches behind you, with your fingertips pointing away from you. Press your hands into the ground, lift your chest and arch your back. You should feel your hips pushing into your heels. Increase the stretch by lowering your head behind you. Feel the stretch in your throat and chest. Hold for five breaths, and then sit up.
Modification: You can do this pose while sitting in a chair. Lift your chest, arch your back and feel the stretch.
Cat and Cow or "Marjaryasana and Bitilasana"
Transition between these two poses to warm up your spine and relieve the tension in your back and neck.
How to do it: Get on your hands and knees on the floor. Inhale, making sure your back is flat and your abs engaged. Exhale, drop your head and round up your spine for cat pose. On an inhale, arch your back, lifting your head and butt for cow pose. Switch back and forth between the two poses, connecting your inhale with cow pose and exhale with cat pose. Repeat several times.
Child's Pose or "Balasana"
Also known as the resting pose, this is a basic move you can use for a relaxing stretch. Stay in this position for five breaths or more.
How to do it: Sit on your knees and feet with your legs spaced wide apart. Lean forward, stretching your arms in front of you. Then, keeping your back straight, place your forehead on the floor.
Modification: To make it easier to hold the pose, rest your head on a block or a pillow.
Downward Facing Dog or "Adho Mukha Savanasana"
Do this all-over stretch to energize your mind and body.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your back straight, hinge forward and press your palms to the ground. Hold the pose for five to ten breaths. Alternate with child's pose.
Modification: Place your feet further back, and bend your knees to make it easier to keep your back straight.
Standing Forward Bend or "Uttanasana"
Hold this pose to strengthen your spine and relieve tension in your neck and back.
How to do it: Stand with your legs apart, and bend forward from the waist. Keeping your back straight, place your hands on the floor.
Modification: Can't reach the floor? Place your hands on a yoga block or your furniture to help you hold the pose.
Open Triangle Pose or "Trikonasana"
Tone your belly, and get a good stretch and twist with this pose.
How to do it: Stand and take a big step back with your right foot, turning it towards the side of the mat. Spread out your arms. Keep your spine long as you hinge forward at the hip. Float your left hand down to the floor. Raise your right arm, keeping your arms spread out. Look up to your right hand. To exit the pose, look down to your left foot before you straighten up. Repeat on the other side.
Modification: Float your forward hand down to your shin, or a yoga block placed beside your foot.
Chair Pose or "Utkatasana"
This pose opens up your chest, and helps strengthen and tone your legs.
How to do it: Stand with your feet together. Bend your knees like you're sitting in a chair. At the same time, raise your arms up beside your ears. To exit the pose, straighten your arms on an exhale. Then, rise to a standing position, and bring your arms down to your sides. "For more dynamic action, you can move out of the pose and into a standing position on alternating breaths," says Gold.
Modification: Leaning against a wall will help you hold the pose. If you're stiff, you can separate your feet so that they're hip-width apart.
Breathe in and out or "Pranayama"
As you end the exercise, take a moment to breathe deeply for up to five minutes. "This is the best way to wind up your yoga practice for a final healing to the digestive system," says Gold.
How to do it: Exhale deeply through your nose. Then, inhale slowly through both nostrils. Repeat five to ten times, each time focusing intently on your breath.