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Joyce Englander Levy

Updated: 03/25/2022

Harness the healing power of yoga to help your gut do its job.

If you only credit yoga with the ability to tone muscle while taming the mind, you're selling it short! Thanks to poses that fold and straighten the legs, twist the torso and squeeze and release the abdomen, as well as synchronized breathing techniques, yoga also has the power to aid in digestion.

What follows is a sequence that integrates digestion-boosting breathing techniques and postures. The idea is not necessarily to bring immediate relief to acute digestive distress — although it might! Rather, the purpose is to reduce stress in the body and to continually support your digestive system in the long term.

1. Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana variation)

How To:

  • Lie on your back. If you have to strain your neck to rest your head on the floor, place a folded blanket under your head.
  • Fold your legs in toward your torso, and cross your right ankle over your left.
  • Take hold of your feet or thighs to help pull the legs in closer to your upper body. Breathe deeply here for at least one minute, and then switch the cross of the ankle, and hold for another minute.
  • As you inhale, let your belly expand and your legs move up and away from your torso slightly. As you exhale, let your belly fall and your legs fold in more deeply.

Why It Works:

This pose can support peristalsis, which is the involuntary contraction and relaxation of muscles that creates a wave-like pattern, helping to break down food and move it through the digestive tract.

2. Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)


  • Lying on your back with your legs off the ground, take your thighs towards your ribs, shoulder-width distance apart, and hold onto the outer edges of your feet with your hands.
  • Let the weight of your arms pull your legs down towards your torso.
  • Breathe here for one minute.

Why It Works:

Every time we breathe in, the thoracic diaphragm contracts down, spreads wide and massages the abdominal organs. Every time we breathe out, the thoracic diaphragm relaxes into a dome-like shape and gives space to the abdominal organs. Happy Baby is a pose to allows you to tune in to this reaction.

3. Flow between Apanasana and Ananda Balasana

How To:

  • As you inhale, come into the crossed-ankle Apanasana. As you exhale, move your legs into Ananda Balasana.
  • Change the ankle which is crossed on top each time you breathe in, and pull the thighs or feet down mindfully as you breathe out in Happy Baby pose.
  • If you feel tightness across the front of your hips, bring the knees forward a bit more — away from the shoulders and over the hips as you breathe in. Then pull them back in as you breathe out.
  • Practice this combination of poses, coordinated with breath, 4 to 6 times.

Why It Works:

This is all about rhythmically creating the feeling of squeeze-release, which is such a vital component of healthy digestion.

4. Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

How To:

  • With your left leg straight along the floor, bend your right leg in toward your torso, revolve your spine and take your right knee to the floor.
  • If it feels difficult to twist enough for both the knee and shoulder to touch the floor, prop the right knee up with a bolster or pillow. Prioritize the right knee being grounded. It’s okay if your shoulder is off the ground, as long as it doesn’t bother your neck or shoulder.
  • Never force the knee or shoulder down, but slowly give them each a sense of direction, down and away from each other.
  • As you inhale, imagine you are a balloon, filling all the way up so that even your finger tips feel inflated. As you breathe out, imagine that the opening for the balloon is down near your tailbone. Breathe like this for one minute and then switch sides.
  • When you are done, hug your knees and roll up to sit.

Why It Works:

The digestive tract is full of twists and turns, squeezes and releases. Yogic wisdoms holds that mirroring these motions with the whole body will aid them internally.

5. Bharadvajasana

How To:

  • Sit side-saddle on your right outer thigh. Your inner left knee will also be touching the floor.
  • Your feet are both pointing back by your outer left hip. The sole of your right foot cradles the top of your left foot. Tip: Sit with a blanket under your right thigh if the floor feels far away or you have any knee injury. Your left leg and buttock will be off the floor.
  • Place your right fingertips on the floor behind your back like a kickstand. Place the back of your left left hand outside your right thigh to add support and pressure to your twist.
  • Twist from the ground up, revolve sequentially up the spine until your chin is in line with your right shoulder.
  • Now, instead of breathing deeply, "pump" the breath 12 times. Breathe in and out of your nose with sharp, quick breaths.
  • On your last exhale make sure you exhale all the breath out, and then breathe in as you return to neutral. Switch sides and repeat for 12 breaths.

Why It Works:

This continues the theme of twist, turn, squeeze and release from an upright position, emphasizing the exhale, which is associated with the soothing parasympathetic nervous system.

6. Ardha Matseyandrasana

How To:

  • Sitting on your left outer thigh, place your right foot near your left knee. Placing it outside the knee is more difficult, but don't force it — you can experience equal benefits if you place it inside.
  • Place your right fingertips on the floor behind your back like a kickstand.
  • Hug your left hand and arm around your upper right thigh.
  • In this pose, breathe rapidly in-and-out through your nose with bursts of breath. Take 12 to 15 powerful breaths, and then on your last exhale, really push the breath out. Inhale and return to center. Repeat on the other side.

7. Garland Pose Variation (Malasana)

How To:

  • Separate your feet so that they are wider than your hips. Turn your feet out, making sure to keep your toes in line with your knees. Bend the knees deeply and lower your pelvis towards the back of your heels to hover above the ground. If you need to, you can raise up on the balls of your feet, or place a blanket under your heels.
  • In this variation, place your upper arms on your knees, and fold your forearms to hold opposite elbows.
  • Your heels, tailbone, and upper arms should all press down, so that it feels like the arches of your feet, armpits, roof of your mouth and crown of your head all reach up — imagine the space created by domed ceilings or archways.
  • Stay here for 30 seconds, and then change the cross of your arms and repeat on the other side.

Why It Works:

Historically, malasana has been considered as one of the best poses to ease and support healthy digestion. In this pose, there is a complete fold of the legs. The pressure of the upper body is bearing down, while the power of the legs is concentrated up into the abdomen.

"Mindful movement can include expressing gratitude for your body and health — that may be the secret ingredient in this practice."

8. Half-Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana)

How To:

  • Straighten your legs, lengthen your spine and place your hands on blocks.
  • As you inhale, let your belly relax down towards the floor.
  • As you exhale, allow your belly to pull up and in toward your spine.
  • Along with your breathe, undulate the belly in this way for one minute.

Why It Works:

Relaxing the belly after all of twisting, turning and squeezing is important. Remember, it is the internal, rhythmic process of peristalsis that we are trying to mirror.

9. Standing Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana)

How To:

  • Take hold of the back of your calves, and gently pull your upper body towards your lower body.
  • Exhale, and pull the belly back towards your spine. As you inhale, try to engage the abdominal muscles around the abdominal organs. You will feel the movements of breath more in your lungs and in your back body. Breathe deeply with this contained stillness in your belly for one minute.
  • Inhale and bring your hands back to your blocks with your spine elongated and let your abdominal muscles relax. Exhale.
  • Inhale and come all the way up to stand.

Why It Works:

Coming up to stand in a relaxed position after one last squeeze and fold gives you a moment to acknowledge how hard your digestive system works. Mindful movement can include expressing gratitude for your body and health — that may be the secret ingredient in this practice.

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