How Yoga Can Relieve Constipation

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How Yoga Can Help

Discomfort of Constipation
Tomo Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

Constipation. No one really wants to talk about it, but if you have trouble with it (1) you’re not alone and (2) you need to find a solution that works for you. Medications may be necessary, but here are also changes to your lifestyle than can offer a more natural solution. Among the most effective changes you can make are eating more fiber from whole foods like fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, and make sure that you exercise regularly. Yoga can help by introducing movement into your routine and because it reduces stress, which can make constipation worse.

What Kind of Yoga?

A consistent practice is going to do the most to keep you regular than just doing a few poses in isolation when you have a problem. A little yoga everyday is going to do you more good than a longer class only once or twice a week. If you're going to be practicing at home, be sure to include forward bends, twists, and knees-to-chest positions as detailed below. 

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Forward Bends

Standing Forward Bend - Uttanasana
Standing Forward Bend - Uttanasana. © Ann Pizer

Standing or seated forward bends are a good place to start since changing the orientation of your digestive organs can cause things to shift. Uttanasana (above) is the classic standing forward bend. Bend your knees a little or a lot if you have tight hamstrings. The pose will be just as effective that way. It can even be done in a chair. Spend some time here moving back and forth between flat back and uttanasana or doing the first part of a sun salutation

If you prefer a seated forward bend, try pascimottonasana, which is essentially the same position just sitting down. Again, it will be helpful to move in and out of the pose a few times. On an inhalation come up a to a flat back, elongating the spine. On the next exhalation, deepen your forward bend bringing your belly toward your thighs, You can sit on a folded blanket if that make the position more comfortable.

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Twists

Supine Spinal Twist - Supta Matsyendrasana
Supine Spinal Twist - Supta Matsyendrasana. © Ann Pizer

Twists have long be used to aid digestion and as a remedy for constipation in particular. Yoga anatomy expert Amy Matthews confirms that increasing the intestines' mobility can improve their motility (how the abdominal muscles move the contents of the gastrointestinal system along). A supine twist like supta matsyendrasana is a good place to start. It's fine to bend both your knees if that feels better. 

Yoga has a lot of options for seated and standing twists. Half lord of the fishes is a basic seated twist. A chair twist is also a possibility. If standing poses are in your practice, try revolved side angle, twisted lunge, or revolved triangle. Twisting while standing is a little trickier since it brings balance into the equation. 

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Knees-to-Chest Poses

Knee-to-Chest Position
Knee-to-Chest Position. John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Lying on your back and hugging both knees into your chest is called wind relieving pose in yoga, which pretty aptly describes the effect of compressing your abdomen. If you've ever had a gassy baby, you may have seen this in action. Separating your knees in this position is called happy baby for a reason! It works pretty well on adults too.

Another option is to bring one knee at a time to your chest as shown here. A squat like malasana will give you essentially the same effects in a standing position if you prefer that.  

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Optional for Advanced Students - Inversions

Shoulderstand With a Blanket
Shoulderstand With a Blanket. Debra McClinton/Taxi/Getty Images

In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar is pretty adamant that inversions like headstand and shoulderstand (which he calls topsy-turvy poses) are the best way to get your bowels moving. Attempt these poses for this purpose ONLY if they are already a part of your regular practice since they are also among the most dangerous poses for yoga beginners

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