Yoga a tool for combating digestive issues

September is National Yoga Month, and across the country yoga studios are opening their doors -- and hopefully, opening minds, too -- with free classes for anyone interested in learning more about yoga’s health benefits.

Among the many health benefits is better digestion, with certain yogic postures zeroing in on constipation, bloating, gas and other minor ailments.

In an interview with the Everyday Health website, yoga studio owner Lisa Korchma said that the regular practice of yoga, supplemented by a good diet and possibly even meditation, can bring about better digestive health.

Specific yoga poses, or asanas, do the trick, Korchma said.

Forward folding poses, for instance, compress the abdominal cavity so that when you release the bend, fresh blood and oxygen return to your digestive organs.

Poses using seated twisting can target gas and bloating. Many other non-seated twists, she added, relieve discomfort because they “wring out” the organs and promote bowel movements.

A similar recommendation for forward bends and twists came from Jillian Pransky, a restorative yoga expert interviewed in Yoga Journal magazine.

Pransky added that as a tension-reliever, yoga can aid peristalsis, the wavelike, involuntary movements of the intestinal muscles necessary for digestion and waste elimination.

In addition, yoga gets good marks among support groups for irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases because it can be an excellent stress reliever.

At the website, an entry on yoga praised it for stabilizing digestion and relieving constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas and pain. It also pointed out that yoga can prevent or minimize menstrual cramps, which often go hand-in-hand with IBS.
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The site also likes the way yoga can offer stress relief and a sense of control over your overall health.

Experts on ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease often recommend yoga as a way of fitting in some light exercise while managing IBD flare-ups. Perhaps more important, yoga can be a stress-reduction technique that helps neutralize anxiety about your symptoms.

Yoga joins recommended strategies like relaxation breathing, meditation and guided imagery.

You might have many health goals in mind if you decide to take up yoga, but if you have digestive concerns, here are a few examples of postures designed to help (instructions from Everyday Health):

- Mountain pose

Inhale and bring your arms overhead, then exhale and lower them back down to your sides.

- Standing forward bend

Stand with your feet together. Bend from the hips to bring your face toward your shins, placing your hands on the floor next to your feet.

- The Marichi pose

Sit with one leg stretched in front of you and bend the other leg toward your chest, with the sole of the foot flat on the floor against the inner thigh of the stretched leg. Encircling the bent knee, clasp your hands behind your back and bend forward.

More complicated poses, just as beneficial, include: the reclining big toe pose, the triangle pose, the extended side-angle pose and downward-facing dog.

A trained yoga teacher can guide you through the proper way to bend and stretch into these poses, as well as how to incorporate mindful breathing and how long to hold the various poses.

If you try a free class this month, let the instructor know that you want to target digestive health.