Normally I’m a runner but a few years ago I tried yoga, mainly to stretch out tight runner's muscles in my legs, and since then I have discovered it has a whole host of benefits for the body and the mind, including helping to relieve constipation.
The important thing to remember with yoga is that you don’t have to be able to do a headstand or even touch your toes in order to practice. The main thing is to go at your own pace as it’s not a competition, and you can practice in the privacy of your own home without the need for loads of expensive equipment.
So how does yoga help constipation?
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “union” and is about getting the mind and the body to work together to find balance, harmony and ultimately better health.
When it comes to constipation, yoga works in two ways:
1. It can help calm the mind, which is more important than you probably realise. As discussed in ‘Can stress cause constipation?’, constipation can be a constant source of worry and stress for varying different reasons. Yoga can help you to relax you (both mentally and physically) and forget any constipation worries through breathing and meditation.
2. Certain moves can specifically help ease constipation by stimulating blood flow and energy to your digestive system and its many muscles, which will help to keep peristalsis working, your stools moving more freely through the intestines and, if you are more relaxed, then less likely to strain or cause unwanted tension in the bowels.
With regular practice, yoga could help to keep your digestive system working at its best, and prevent constipation.
Yoga moves for constipation
I am no yoga expert but I have detailed a few simple exercises below that help to massage and get energy into the digestive system - please check with your GP that you are ok to practice before you start, and if you are new to exercise.
Remember to breathe slowly in and out through your nose, and go at your own pace. Everyone is different and some of you may find certain moves are easier than others, which is absolutely fine. With regular practice you’ll soon start to see improvements.
Extended Child’s Pose
This position means that you crouch down over your knees on the floor, pushing onto your lower abdomen, which can help relieve any pain that you may get when constipated.
- Start by kneeling on your knees, with your knees touching.
- Sit down so your bottom is touching your feet and your hands are on your knees.
- Place your hands on the floor in front of you and slowly start to move them forward, lowering your body down until your stomach is on your knees and your arms are stretched out in front of you. Your hands stay touching the floor.
- Now relax, taking slow deep breaths in and out of your nose.
- Hold for about 30 seconds and let the weight of your body go so that you are relaxed in this pose, and your knees push into the abdomen to provide relief.
- Then slowly work your way back up.
This one does what it says on the tin! It’s a very simple move to help relieve bloating and any unwanted gas or flatulence caused by constipation.
- Lie down on the floor, ideally on a mat or towel to protect your back, with your legs stretched out in front of you and your arms relaxed by your side.
- Tilt your pelvis or pubic bone upwards so that your spine and tailbone are touching the floor.
- Bend your right knee and bring it up to your chest.
- Place both of your hands just below your knee and on top of one another (not on your knee in case of injury).
- Now pull your shin towards your stomach so that it pushes against your abdomen and helps relieve any unwanted gas, as well as giving it a massage as you breathe.
- Hold for about 30 seconds before slowly lowering the leg and repeating on the other side.
This pose will help you to relax and stretch the intestines.
- Squat down with your feet as close together as possible, and slightly pigeon-toed or pointing outwards.
- Your heels should be on the floor – you can always place a folded towel underneath them if this isn’t possible at first.
- Separate your thighs so that they are slightly wider than your body, and then lean forward between your thighs.
- As you do so, place your elbows on the inside of your knees with your palms together in a prayer position and gently push against your knees, which helps to lengthen the abdomen.
- Hold for 30 seconds, breathing gently through the nose before releasing.
This pose provides a massage for the abdomen and digestive system.
- Stand up straight with your feet together and your arms by your side.
- Raise your arms up and over your head so that your palms then touch in prayer pose above your head.
- Keep stretching your arms and hands upwards and then slowly bend your knees as much as you can without causing pain or injury. As you bend your knees you body and arms will naturally start to lean forward. Your knees and thighs should still be touching or as close together as possible, don’t worry if you can’t keep your palms together, just try and get your arms along side your ears.
- Now tilt your pelvis or pubic bone, which will feel like you are rounding your spine and creating a bit of a hollow in your abdomen.
- Hold for 30 seconds, breathing slowly and deeply, before releasing and slowly standing up straight and then release the arms.
This pose is a little harder to hold at first so hold for as long as possible and then each time, try to hold for a few seconds longer until you reach 30 seconds.
These moves will help to keep you relaxed but also stimulate the digestive system allowing for peristalsis and movement of your food, preventing constipation.
Finding the time
Practising these moves every day really doesn’t take long and you don’t need any special or expensive equipment to do so.
There is lots of advice on the internet about yoga, or you can invest in a DVD or a beginner’s class. My favourites are:
Barbara Currie’s Power of Yoga DVD that includes 10-minute workouts, which I find I can easily fit into my day, usually first thing in the morning while the kettle’s boiling! Or if I have time at the weekend I can do an hour’s workout.
If you have an iPhone or an iPad, then there is a really good App called All In Yoga: 300 poses & classes which has a one-off cost of £2.49.
If you have Sky then tune into Fitness.TV on channel 282, or use their website www.fitness.tv where you can watch live TV and find lots of information on yoga and fitness.
For a yoga class, go to The British Wheel of Yoga to find a qualified tutor and/or class near you.
Another post that may be of interest is ‘Exercise to relieve constipation’ which talks about the importance of keeping yourself, as well as your digestive system, moving.