How to use Yoga for Relief from Constipation                                                                                                    2016 

If you spend more time on the toilet than you would like, you are not alone. 19% of Americans suffer from intermittent or chronic constipation and spend over 850 million dollars on laxatives each year. Drugs may relieve symptoms, but often there are side effects and over time laxatives become less and less effective. Along with medication or supplements you can address some underlying causes of your obstruction and discomfort with Yoga and diet. These lifestyle changes may take longer, but have better, long lasting results because they focus on the source of the problem, not just the symptoms. Incorporating even small changes will contribute greatly to your overall state of health and especially to digestive health.

 

Yoga offers guidance for preventing and reducing the causes of constipation with techniques that get things moving again. I will present yoga both as a preventative measure and a series of yoga movements and breath-work to use when stuck on the toilet.

 

Last winter I spent 3 months volunteering and traveling in India. In Varanasi I got filled with spirituality and a bad dose of ‘Bombay belly.’ I took the Pepto Bismol and antibiotics brought from home and herbal medicine from the Ayervedic Health shop at the local market. After days of nonstop diarrhea, weak and dehydrated, I finally went to the health clinic. The doctor took one look at me and prescribed a strong antibiotic specific to the local Diarrhea, which worked like a charm. It worked so well in fact, that 5 days later taking laxatives and fiber additives, I still had not pooped. I felt like a stuffed turkey with indigestion. On day 6, I followed my own advice and did the movements I assembled for my clients who suffer with constipation.  After about 15 minutes I could detect some movement inside.   Voila!!!! It worked.

 

Things to consider are if you have chronic constipation:

Do I eat enough whole foods containing fiber?

Do I consume foods that contain probiotics, bacteria and enzymes needed for digestion? Do I nurture myself when I eat? Remember fiber ONLY comes from plants. The more food is processed, the less fiber it contains. Without sufficient roughage, food takes much longer to move through the digestive system loosing moisture and compacting along the way. Fiber creates bulk, moves things along and acts as a scrub brush keeping nooks and crannies free from debris. Why depend on bottled fiber or laxatives when you can enjoy a sweet pear or crunchy Caesar salad. Along with the natural fiber, you are getting micro and macronutrients. Don’t forget to chew.

Throughout history man has eaten foods containing ‘probiotics’ or good bacteria that help breakdown food in the stomach. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and active cultured foods like yogurt and buttermilk with active cultures boost the immune system and support digestive health.

There are foods that are harder to digest and may contribute to slowdown or stoppages. Nuts are particularly slow to digest along with fried and dried foods.  Meats are harder to pass than most fruits and vegetables. Highly processed foods tend to replace fiber with salt, sugar and fat, which clogs arteries and the digestive track.

Having a regular eating habits helps in regulating digestion. Digestion starts with your first bite: eating slowly and chewing well is the first healthy step in absorbing food.

 

Do I drink enough water?

How much is enough? If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. If you are dehydrated so will be your poop. Hard poop takes considerably more effort to move through the intestines and out into the bowl. Straining can cause hemorrhoids to boot.  Alcohol, coffee, soda and juice do not replace water. In fact, caffeine is a diuretic dehydrating you even more. Think of drinks as liquid food or sugar. Drink water to prevent thirst, not just to quench. Try drinking a glass of warm water about 20 minutes before going to the toilet…you may be surprised. Water keeps you juicy!

 

Do I exercise?

The right kind of exercise?  Enough exercise? Animals need to move, even humans, almost every day. Of course some exercise is better than none, but not all exercise is created equal. Aerobic exercise is great for your heart and lungs and a good preventative measure by increasing overall circulation including in the gut. When constipated, simply moving your arms and legs  (walking, biking, lifting) is not as helpful as moving and twisting your torso (golf, tennis, dancing). YOGA IS THE BEST because the focus can be primarily on moving the torso to simulate abdominal organs.

 

Do I live with a lot of stress or anxiety?                                                                    Emotions influence digestion. Ever have a ‘gut reaction’ or ‘butterflies in your stomach’? Stress and fear activates the Sympathetic Nervous System (‘fight or flight response’) and causes digestion to slow down so other body functions can work harder to deal with real or imagined danger. Depression too diverts energy from digestion and may cause constipation. On the other hand, anxiety and hostility may cause diarrhea that in turn creates more anxiety. Often strong emotions disrupt sleep patterns which is yet another cause of constipation. Tense muscles, erratic hormones and anger are byproducts of stress and contribute to bowel dysfunction.

 

Do I rely on Laxatives?

Prolonged use of laxatives will diminish normal function. Relying on external help, the colon ‘forgets’ how to work on its’ own.  Overuse results in ’Laxative Abuse’, which may lead to IBS and colon cancer.

 

Do I take medication or supplements with gastric side effects that may contribute to constipation?

Take the initiative to research the effects of over the counter drugs and dietary and herbal or ‘natural’ supplements. Ask your doctor about side effects of prescribed medications and inquire about possible interaction between multiple drugs. Opioids, ant-acids, anti-depressants and iron supplements may cause blockages and slow elimination.

 

Do I believe I can heal myself?     

We all have the potential to affect our health and wellbeing. Without sufficient knowledge and guidance, we feel powerless and rely on external help. Do I expect health practitioners and medication to fix me? Now is the time to take responsibility for your own wellbeing. Do I make choices that support healthy digestion? Your body WANTS to be healthy…it just needs support from you.

 

Yoga is one of the best activities to include on your path to digestive health. It is accessible to EVERYONE.

If you can sit on a toilet, you can do yoga!

It works both proactively, helping to prevent and decrease many gastric and digestive problems and relieves constipation and discomfort when it occurs.

 

Yoga as preventive medicine Yoga done consistently over time is a GREAT way to keep your body and mind open, balanced and comfortable.

It consists of Breathing practices, Meditation, Postures and Relaxation.

 

Breathing / Pranayama- Conscious breathing is integral to yoga. Slow, full breathing internally massages the abdominal organs and the heart. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called ‘Rest and Digest,’ which encourages the skeletal muscles to relax so energy can concentrate on smooth digestion.

 

Meditation / Sitting quietly- Is an important element of yoga. It can be a stand-alone practice or as part of a physical yoga practice. More than promoting relaxation, it trains the mind to stay in the present moment rather than reliving past disturbances or worrying about the future. Copious evidence supports Meditation as one of the best ways to relieve and transform emotional and physical tension, pain and stress.

 

Postures / Asana are designed to move the entire body in myriad shapes and directions and provide focus that can be directed to specific conditions and injury. The pain associated with constipation can be caused by an underactive digestive system. The effort of doing the poses proactively stimulates the abdominal organs. Besides strength and flexibility, these movements increase lymphatic flow, circulation, digestive juices and frees up joints and muscles that may compromise the nervous system. Attention to good alignment in standing and seated posture keeps the abdominal organs open and functioning. Squatting postures are also helpful as this position is ideal for bowel evacuation. They are so beneficial, that commercial foot supports are designed to mimic squatting on the toilet A Gentle comprehensive yoga practice consists of paying attention to the present moment, contracting and releasing muscles, twisting, balancing, flexing and extending the spine, and using the breath to relax and release deeply into a pose.

 

 

POSES AND MOVEMENT ESPECIALLY HELPFUL FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH

Seated    Cat /Cow       Sit tall on a chair or the floor with hands on knees. Inhale to arc and extend the back and gently look up, exhale to round the back and tuck the chin. Move with breath 5X.

 

Seated Twist     Sit tall on a chair or the floor and inhale left arm up and right arm on the seat behind touching the base of you spine. Exhale releasing the left hand to the right knee and begin twisting right. Continue to Inhale to elongate the spine and exhale twist. Start at the base of the spine and twist upwards. Concentrate on the movement of the abdomen. After 5 breaths, return to center and repeat to the left.

 

Standing Roll                                                                                      

Stand with feet hip distance apart and fold forward. Keep knees soft, grab hand to elbow and gently swing up-side-down. Release arms to the floor and slowly roll up the spine to standing. Tuck your chin and slowly roll back down the spine to a forward fold. Repeat up & down slightly turning to the right side, then to the left side.

 

Standing Wide Leg Twist                                                                      

Stand with legs 2 or 3 feet apart with arms extended out at heart height. Inhale arms wide, exhale right hand reaches across to left hand. Inhale arms wide, exhale left hand reaches across to right hand.  Twist slowly with the breath 5X in each direction.

 

Hula-hoop                                                                                                 

Stand tall, bend knees and circle the hips 5X in each direction.

Floor Child’s Pose:

Sit with butt on heels & hinge forward from the hips to bring forehead towards the floor & stretch arms forward. The knees push into the low abdomen massaging and stimulating the gut, which relieves pain from constipation. Walk & stretch both arms on the floor to the right, center and left.

 

Wind Relieving Pose

Laying face up on your mat, bend the right knee into your chest. Interlace both hands behind the bent knee and inhale to pull your shin in towards your belly. Repeat on the other side to relieve the bloating and painful gas associated with constipation. Repeat 5 times each side. Pull both knees in keeping head and shoulders on the ground-breathe. Rock back & forth and side to side if it feels good on your spine.

 

Supine Side Twist-two legs

Laying face up on your mat with arms stretched out wide, bring bent knees over hips with shins parallel to the floor. Slowly exhale and lower knees towards right elbow, inhale back to center, exhale left. Repeat 5 times.

 

Supine Side Twist-one legs

Laying face up on your mat, bend right knee into chest. Take left hand to the outside of the right knee and slowly guide it across your body towards the floor. Keep the left leg extended and heavy on the floor. Breathe here for a while. Return to center and pause with both legs straight on the floor. Repeat on the other side.

 

Relaxation Pose                                                                                          Laying on your back, allow legs and arms to roll out and be heavy on the floor. Close your eyes, do an easy body scan to release tension. Feel your belly relax as the breath moves in and out. Stay here for 3-5 minutes to give the body an opportunity to absorb all the movement and energy of the practice.

 

 

Standing Roll Up     Stand with feet hip distance apart and fold forward. Keep knees soft, grab hand to elbow and gently sway side-to side. Release arms to the floor and slowly roll up the spine to standing. Tuck your chin and slowly roll back down the spine to a forward fold. Repeat up and down slightly turning to the right side, then to the left side.

 

Standing Wide Leg Twist      Stand with legs 2 or 3 feet apart with arms extended out at heart height. Inhale arms wide, exhale right hand reaches across to left hand. Inhale arms wide, exhale left hand reaches across to right hand.  Twist slowly with the breath 5X in each direction.

Hula-hoop   Stand tall, bend knees and circle the hips 5X in each direction

                                                                                             

Child’s Pose on the Floor 

Sit with butt on heels and hinge forward from the hips to bring forehead towards the floor and stretch arms forward. The knees push into the low abdomen massaging and stimulating the gut, which relieves pain from constipation. Stretch both arms on the floor to the right, center and left.

 

Wind Relieving Pose

Laying face up on your mat, bend the right knee into your chest. Interlace both hands behind the bent knee and inhale to pull your shin in towards your belly. Repeat on the other side to relieve the bloating and painful gas associated with constipation. Repeat 5 times each side. Pull both knees in keeping head and shoulders on the ground-breathe. Rock back and forth and side to side if it feels good on your spine. Interestingly, the Sanskrit name for this pose is ‘Apanasana’ which literally means downward moving energy.

 

Supine Side Twist-two legs

Laying face up on your mat with arms stretched out wide, bring bent knees over hips with shins parallel to the floor. Slowly exhale and lower knees towards right elbow, inhale back to center, exhale left. Repeat 5 times.

 

Happy Baby

Laying face up on your mat, bend both knees into chest and grab outside of feet. With knees bent and shins perpendicular to the floor and soles of the feet facing the ceiling, dram both knees towards your armpits and the floor.

 

Supine Side Twist- single leg

Laying face up on your mat, bend right knee close into chest. Take left hand to the outside of the right knee and slowly guide it across your body towards the floor. Keep the left leg extended and heavy on the floor. Breathe here for a while. Return to center and pause with both legs straight on the floor. Repeat on the other side.

 

Relaxation Pose      Laying on your back, allow legs and arms to roll out and be heavy on the floor. Close your eyes, do a full body scan from feet to head to notice and release tension. Feel your belly relax as the breath moves in and out. Stay here for 3-5 minutes to give the body an opportunity to absorb all the movement and energy of the practice.

 

Yoga for Immediate Relief / Treating the Symptoms   

Over the years I have worked with clients suffering from a range of conditions that result in digestive problems and constipation. I have developed a series of 6 simple movements to do while sitting on the toilet that give immediate relief from discomfort and help get things moving again.

Sit with spine straight, feet under knees, hip distance apart.     Try each movement for 30-60 seconds. Those that are most affective do longer.

Pelvic Tilt with Goddess arms and big slow breath. Arms out, elbows bent like goal posts. Inhale arc the spine and open the elbows backwards, exhale round the spine and bring elbows together, Breathe and move together.

Washing machine with breath   Fold arms with elbows lifted shoulder height and twist side to side. At a good pace breathe in right, out left.

Kayaking  Fold arms hand to elbow and sway arms and torso in a horizontal figure-eight. Make sure to move the torso with the arms.

Hula Hoop Rotating the pressure on the back of the legs around the toilet seat. Feel the circular movement raise into the belly.

Round the World Cross arms and bring hands to opposite shoulders. Inhale to lift elbows and chin to the ceiling and exhaling a big circular motion, to draw the elbows down to the waist and inhale back up. Go in both directions.

Side tilt  Inhale to lift one arm and exhale as you reach the other towards the floor. Keep firm on your seat as you take 2-3 breaths. Inhale back up and go to the other side.

Relax    Sit straight and tall and soften your facial muscles and your gaze….maybe close your eyes. Take a few slow deep exhales to release any tension in the belly.

 

​© Copyright 2012 Lisa Manheim.

              
                 Lisa Manheim   -   Rebalance Yoga Therapy - Philadelphia - Bucks County - Doylestown      
                                                  215-519-4847      lisajmanheim@gmail.com