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Constipation is a relatively common ailment that can run the spectrum from annoying bloating to mild discomfort to more severe pain. Often, constipation is due to changes in the routine and diet or insufficient intake of fiber and water.
Mild constipation can typically be alleviated by modifying the diet to include more leafy green veggies and increasing water consumption. I personally find that a mug of warm water with a lemon squeezed into it helps facilitate easy bowel movement!
Moreover, you can try other remedial therapies such as yoga that can help facilitate better digestion and thereby ease or prevent constipation
The practice of yoga is centered around controlled breathing, which has a deeply soothing effect on the inner workings of your body. This, combined with appropriate poses, can help stimulate smoother bowel movement and relieve digestive distress.
Yoga for Constipation Relief
Studies show that exercise can help to manage constipation, (1)(2) and one of the best forms of exercise to alleviate constipation is yoga.
Yoga Breathing Techniques for Constipation
Yoga breathing techniques and exercises help with constipation in two ways. First, deep breathing engages the abdomen. Second, and maybe more importantly, using yoga breathing techniques relieves stress. (9)(10)
You can implement yoga breathing through these three techniques.
1. Pranayama breathing
In the simplest form, pranayama breathing is focused breathing, which means taking time to focus on your breath.
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose.
- Try to allow your breath to be an audible breath. If you were in a yoga class, you’d want the person next to you to be able to hear you breathe. Some call this the “sound of the ocean” and even “Darth Vader” breathing.
- Add a count to your breathing. Inhale for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 1. Exhale for a count of 6.
The simple act of taking a few moments to focus on your breath can help to relieve stress. And when you’re not completely wound up as tight as a drum, you might be able to relax and feel some relief from constipation!
2. Single-Nostril breathing
Single-nostril breathing is another great way to relieve stress and refocus.
- Take your thumb and pointer finger, and place your thumb on one nostril.
- Breathe in through the open nostril.
- Place your pointer finger on that nostril, remove your thumb from the other nostril, and exhale.
- Inhale through the nostril that you just exhaled from, place your thumb back on that nostril, and exhale through the opposite nostril.
Single-nostril breathing is a fantastic way to relieve stress by focusing on your breath. It makes you focus because you have to think about how you are breathing and which nostril you’ll be using for the inhale and the exhale. This form of breathing is also believed to provide a mental reset to improve focus.
3. Kapalabhati breathing (skull shining breath)
The skull shining breathing technique may not be the most effective for stress reduction as it is a quick, forceful breath, but it is very good for re-energizing the body.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Take a large breath in through your nose.
- Forcefully exhale in short bursts, pulling the belly in quickly to expel air until you must take another breath in.
Since the skull shining breath also involves the abdomen to force air in quick exhalation, it can be beneficial for those experiencing constipation by getting the body moving.
Yoga Exercises for Constipation
With poses that apply gentle pressure on the abdominal area and promote twisting in the midsection, yoga is one of the best forms of exercise to prevent and treat constipation.
Although most yoga practices are beneficial for individuals dealing with digestive problems, here are the four yoga series that can best help to alleviate constipation.
1. Seated series with twist
This basic seated yoga series is one that I recommend for anyone with tummy troubles because it promotes movement in the abdominal region and has a gentle twist.
- Start in a seated cross-legged pose and focus on your breath.
- Inhale and reach your arms overhead, exhale, and cup your hands around your knees.
- Rock to the back of your hips, drop your chin to the chest, and inhale.
- Come back to a seated pose, reaching your arms up to shoulder level.
- Reach out and over to the right side, placing your right hand on the mat and reaching the left arm up and over the head to stretch the left-side body.
- Come back to the center. Place your right hand on the left knee and your left hand directly behind you.
- Inhale and get tall. Exhale and twist with your eyes looking over your left shoulder.
- Inhale and come back to the center.
- Repeat the series on the opposite side.
2. Cat, cow, and cobra
Begin this series in a hand and knee pose on your mat.
If you’d like to add core strength and stability to this series, you’ll begin with the spinal balance series, reaching out with the right hand and left leg, then placing the hand and knee back on the mat, and repeating on the opposite side. Then move into the cat and cow poses.
- In a hand and knee pose, with your hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips, take a deep breath in through the nose. Then, exhale and let the head drop between your arms while the hips pull forward and the belly pulls up and in toward the spine for a cat stretch.
- As you inhale, lift the crown of your head and your tailbone. Let your back sway and your chest open for the cow pose.
- Continue moving through the cat and cow poses with the breath.
- Once complete in the cat and cow poses, move to the cobra pose. From your hand and knee pose, lower your chest to the mat and let your legs relax down behind you.
- Place your hands under your shoulders with your elbows pulled in tight by your sides.
- Gently push through your palms to lift your chest off the mat with your eyes looking up toward the sky for the cobra pose.
The cat and cow pose promote movement through the abdominal region with the activation and relaxation of the muscles in the abdominal wall. The cobra pose applies gentle pressure to the abdominal region by pressing it down into the mat as you lift your chest.
3. Sun salutation A
Sun salutation A is a series of poses used as foundations of any yoga class. It’s the perfect way to get your body warm with movements that promote both mobility and strength.
This series also includes:
- A forward fold that brings the chest down toward the legs and applies gentle pressure to the abdominal region
- An upward dog that stretches the abdominals
- A downward dog that pushes the hips back and pulls the belly in
All these movements involve the abdominal region and help with constipation.
- Start in a standing pose on your mat.
- Inhale and reach your arms up and over your head. Exhale and fold forward, bringing your hands down toward your feet.
- Inhale and halfway lift. Exhale and fold.
- Inhale and step back into a high plank. Exhale and lower into a hover.
- Inhale and move to an upward dog. Exhale and move to a downward dog.
- Inhale and let your eyes look forward between your hands. Exhale and step one foot forward, followed by the other.
- Inhale and halfway lift, eyes looking forward. Exhale and fold.
- Inhale and come all the way up to standing. Exhale, bringing your hands to a prayer pose in a mountain pose.
You can repeat this series multiple times. Sun salutations are a great way to get the body warm and provide a gentle workout!
4. Triangle and revolved triangle
The triangle and revolved triangle poses get the upper body moving in the opposite direction of the hips and helps to open the chest. This series is beneficial for constipation since all movements involve the abdominal region, and the revolved triangle is a twisting pose.
- Start with your right foot forward with toes facing the front of your mat and your left foot back with your foot flat on the floor but toes facing in at about a 45° angle.
- Let your left hip reach back toward the back of your mat as you reach out toward the front of your mat with your right arm.
- Let your right arm drop down toward your right leg and your left arm reach up toward the sky.
- Open your chest up toward the sky.
- Use your left arm to help gently bring your body back to a standing position.
- Take a big inhale. As you exhale, “helicopter” your arms around, bringing your left hand down on your right leg and reaching your right arm up toward the sky for the revolved triangle.
- Inhale and come back up to standing to complete this series.
Your body is in a large twist in this pose, which is good for alleviating gas and abdominal discomfort and promoting movement.
Note: Many other poses can help with constipation – any twisting poses, poses that bring the knees toward the chest and exert gentle pressure, and poses that fold the upper body toward the lower body would all help with constipation since they promote movement throughout the abdominal area.
Yoga provides a safe, drug-free method to help alleviate some of the discomforts of constipation. Combined with proper nutrition and hydration, you should see some improvement in mild constipation relatively quickly using these methods.
While yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and is generally considered a very safe and healing form of exercise, you should always consult a doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen, especially if you are pregnant or have an underlying medical condition.