Last week, I discussed the digestive organs and the anatomy of the abdomen. This week, I’ll outline some techniques to help your organs do their job more efficiently.
The success of our digestive system depends on food being able to pass through the tubes unrestricted. Chronic abdominal tension reduces our ability to digest, assimilate, and metabolize our food. Even though the digestive processes of our stomach and intestines are out of our conscious control, we can deliberately relax the abdomen to help free up the flow.
Try the following moves to help your food move!
1. Induce the relaxation response before and after eating.
Before eating, sit and breathe deeply to prime your body for digestion. Deep breathing will down regulate the nervous system before, during, and after eating. And it’s easier to feel satisfaction before getting too full. Many of us eat on the run, but for one meal day, chill for at least 20 minutes after to rest and digest.
2. Eat without distractions.
Stimulus from our environment can trigger fight or flight reactions. Like checking email. There may be that one message lurking in our inbox that prompts a load of to-dos. Focus on your food. Chew thoroughly to tire your jaw muscles. Realign your head from forward head position for ease of swallowing. Taste the subtle flavors of your meal.
3. Teach the muscles to relax with Yoga Tune Up® techniques.
Constant stress reinforces abdominal muscle contraction. Therefore, it might feel unfamiliar to relax the abdomen. The muscles need to relearn the sensation.
- Use the Courgeous® Ball for Global Shear on the Abdomen. (But not with a full stomach – unless you want to learn how your abs help with puking.)
- Practice Bridge Lifts with Uddiyana.
Feel how that goes down and tune in for the next installment on proper elimination posture.
Thank you for adding techniques and references on how to help our digestive tracts relax in order to work well, beyond being conscious of the type of food we put into our body. Foods that inflame the gut is one thing, but if we eat non-inflammatory foods and we don’t have a relaxed abdominal muscles we still won’t have optimal digestion. Great reminder on ways to slow down and be present with our food!
Several years ago I discovered a style of yoga that has a lot of focus on the core. WE use a roll to lay over to release the low back or or support the spine in back poses that overwise would be difficult or impossible to access. Allowing the roll to come in takes practice, patience and lots of deep, consciencious breathing, but are WELL worth the effort and time. Sadly, when I clicked on the “Global Shear” the page no longer works. Is there an alternative or substitute I might refer to?
Lay over a roll or doing Corgeous ball style movements will be essential in my rehab and healing journey in working towards growing and evolving into a better, stronger version of myself.
The relaxation before eating and slow eating without distractions techniques make intuitive sense to me but resting after eating contradicts other advice I received from health professional. This may be outdated now but I was told that it is good to stay upright and moving after eating to help with digestion, like going for walk. Does lying down and resting work better to help with digestion right after eating? Thanks
Hi Jessie, Thanks for the tips! Having lived a lifetime of digestive issues, I’ve tried many, many techniques to help. I look forward to your step 3 on this blog to see if it can help.
Yes. Such an important component. Relax before you eat. Thank you for that.
I remember the weird sensations the first time I rolled my abdomen, my body was stressed and ‘guarding’, not wanting to let the ball in. It took a few more tries before I allowed myself to relax enough to feel the effects, but it made a HUGE difference, making digestion smoother (also a fantastic way to downregulate before bed). I’ve practiced belly breathing to relax, but never thought to use it before eating. Neat idea!
Thank you for sharing these tips on healthier digestion. I often find myself eating on the run and not really slowing down and allowing my system to relax before and after eating. I hope to incorporate this advice into my daily routine as much aspossible.
This reminds me of the adage of chewing your food 23 times before swallowing. This practice allows you to become mindful and in the practice of eating your food. Also, since one becomes present during eating, you may just taste the different ingredients in the dish. The slower we eat, the better prepared our digestive system is to receive the food, since the saliva will have had time to begin breaking down the food. Long mastication will also assist in the breakdown.
I’ll admit, I rarely relax during or after eating. I though about doing it a few times last year but, as weird as it can sound, I didn’t really knew how. I will definitively try some of your tips tomorrow morning (like deep breathing before, during and after), it looks so «simple» and easy to do! Also, I didn’t know it was best to realign our head from forward to ease the swallowing… will also keep that in mind!
Very important article for some of us who have had digestive problems. It has taken me a long time to slow down my eating habits much as I love food and enjoy cooking. But digestion has also been a problem and now I listen to my body and how some foods sit well with me or not and I have tried to eliminate such foods . Most importantly l now chew my food mindfully and taste different ingredients.
Our society places so much emphasis on “ripped” abs – chronically tight – that we miss the benefits of relaxed abdomen and a healthy digestive system. It’s about finding that balance between stability and mobility. I love the connection stress and digestion, and how using uddihyana bandha and the Coregeous ball can help us digest food better.
The wonders of the digestive system will never cease to amaze me! I am completely fascinated by the recent discoveries on the microbiota and all their implication on our physical and potentially mental health. However, giving TLC to this region in my own body hasn’t been that easy over the years. After a big ovarian cyst removal a couple of years ago, I got a coregeous ball and started abdominal massages (many weeks after the operation) to minimize adherences. I cannot help but think that it may have invited a gentler perception of my belly and its great wonders 🙂
Too many people have problems with digestion. These simple things can help so much. I pass on to my students. 😉
I’m loving this whole series. As a teacher of movement the notions of the musculature of the abdomen and nervous system contribution as contributors to digestion and overall health feel like afterthoughts or benefits of a great yoga practice. This article hits home because it brings the practice to the action of eating – which, when we think about it, we do ALL the time – and often in such a distracted way. I love the idea of a pre-eating meditation and have been using the coregeous ball regularly on my abdomen – thanks for the video and the tips!
I love practicing bridge lifts with Uddiyana and working with the Courgeous® Ball. Since I had to undergo a gallbladder removal in 2015, I am grateful for any practices that help my stomach recover. Both practices are initiatlly painful when I start them, but pain then slowly reduces with each repetition and my stomach feels softer and more supple afterwards. Thank you for your entire range of articles on this subject.
I often have connected these tips with mindful eating but it didn’t occur to me that there would be an obvious physiological effect as well. Thank you for the reminders to consciously relax before digestion to free the flow and also to check in with whether the abdomen is relaxed before eating.
Slow down & breath before my meals to prepare my digestion is going to be a new routine introduced this year.
Great article! All too often I find myself multi-tasking while eating which I know cannot be good for my body. Will really start to slow down and think about my body and my food – begin to Mindfully Eat.
Thank you for this advice!
I never even considered how calming the nervous system while eating could aid the digestive process! Additionally, I eat a lot of my meals on the go, sometimes not even sitting down (now I understand why my mother always told me not to stand and “eat like a horse”!). I am definitely going to try to incorporate these techniques into my daily routine!
Relaxing and concentrating on enjoying your meal, rather than multitasking or eating on the run is way more enjoyable.
I have also had the experience of not digesting well when eating at a restaurant with really load music playing. I wasn’t able to fully relax and it definitely effectected my digestive experience!
Excellent tips. I never thought about relaxing the abs prior to eating. I tend to eat on the fly, or in front of the tv (ugh). I need to work on that!
I’m going to create a template for our clients with links to each of your digestion articles. Becoming more conscious of something we take completely for granted could be the answer to many people’s issues. Thank you!
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Thank you, I work on so many strengthening abdominals that this is a good reminder to me personally and professionally.
Eating without distractions is something I need to work on. Will also need to try uddiyana bridge lifts
Tension and contraction in the abdominal muscles from stress (or other tings) can really impact our digestion negatively. Thanks for sharing this.
There is a big need and wish for better digestion and assimilation in the world.
I am so happy to read this article ! Give me some exercises to experiment in link with a digestive journey ! The choice of what I eat and how I eat it make my long time digestive trouble away ! And it is not easy for all to change so long love habits of eating so it give me some tools to help others in a new way. Merci !
This article make me to remember of Hrani Yoga. To many people eat to feel full or they eat as hypochondriac maniac. The modern man lost his contact with Mother Nature and all industrial food is make to make some cash. The Hrani Yoga, like this article tell me to have to respect me and to be grateful to the food that God give me. If you eat 3 times a day, yo can make a day in awareness.
I definitly need to take a break while I am eating, every times I try, I find my way to my Ipad ?
Seeing as though some days I eat all three meals on the run in my car, I need this on the days I can actually eat at home.
This is a useful tip to help with digestion. I appreciate the tools for mixing prana with the food you eat for better digestion. Thanks!
Great tips in this article! Working at a busy restaurant makes calm, slow eating very tricky for me, but I’m totally guilty of sometimes multitasking on my phone while I eat and I hadn’t considered the effects that could have on digestion! Thanks for sharing.
I find that when I am very stressed I have a really difficult time eating and digesting my food in general. I can imagine that smaller everyday stressors also have a huge impact on the quality of digestion. These are great techniques.
Great article. I am a fast eater myself, always in rush, and suffering with the stomach all life. It helps to read about the reasons even if they are pretty obvious and point finger at a problem. Great excercises to relax and relieve angry stomach.
Thanks for the article. I am a fast eater , always in rush. However, it helps to read about it and point finger at a problem. Great excercises to relax and relieve angry stomach.
As a natural bodybuilder I also am always eating on the run. I eat about 6x a day and am a busy guy so this really resonates with me as i am always trying to choke my food down about 100 miles an hour. Down regulating my nervous system would be a great benefit for me also. I will definitely be trying to add this practice to my life at least once a day.
Thank you for the great article! Always love seeing teachers connecting yoga and mindfulness in practices both on and off the mat. Mindful eating is on the rise today, so I’m thrilled to see more content being created around the holistic approach and techniques and tools that we can use to better our digestion.
I remember in undergrad Biology my professor said to sit, not lay, after eating and to give your stomach 20 minutes to properly digest, which matches your recommendations for time. And in my latest meditation lessons, the focus is placed on tasting the food to bring awareness to the taste and proper chewing of the food. Later, it was suggested to count the “in” breath and “out” breath with odd and even numbers like the Belly Breathing techniques video’s suggestions of “rise” and “fall” to deregulate the nervous system. All such simple techniques but so important for healthy digestion unlike what I have heard from on-the-go colleagues who have upset stomachs.
Thank you for this article. Often times when my stomach is upset my mind immediately goes to what I ate that day. Not taking into account what may be going on with stress. Its so incredible how the nervous system plays such an important role is digestion and our stomachs reactions. I will definitely put belly breathing at the top of the list whenever my stomach starts to act up.
I was initially interested in this article because my daughter has irritable bowel syndrome. I think this will be helpful for her but additionally I like how it has a video reinforcing belly breathing. I can see how this practice will be great for everyone in the family.
I definitely believe in the connection of mind body and eating. I am a huge stress eater and at times eat way more when stressed, and at other times i can not eat at all when really stressed. although not specifically discussed here , i think there is a huge connection to hormonal impact on stress eating and weight gain.
Being someone who eats a lot on the go, I find that taking the time to breathe and relax before/after eating helps me not only to relax my digestive system, but also my mind. I feel like I experience less indigestion and absorb more nutrients.
Thank you for this post. I love working with the corgeous ball in my abdomen. Primarily for scar tissue I have there from an old surgery, but I really enjoy the added benefit of encouraging healthy digestion and observing how perhaps some of my scar tissue has been affecting my digestion. Intriguing indeed!
Thank you for a great article…very informative. I didn’t realize how much chronic abdominal tension can affect our digestion, assimilate, and metabolize our food. I will definitely bring more mindfulness when I’m having a meal or about to have a meal. I also like the idea of doing some belly breathing prior to a meal, will definitely add that to my personal self-care. Looking forward to your next article.
Thank you for your informative article. I never thought to much about how chronic abdominal tension could have so much of an effect on our ability to digest, assimilate, and metabolize our food. I will definitely start practicing mindfulness more often and being more aware to what’s going on with me. I plan on doing some belly breathing techniques prior to eating to bring more awareness. Thank you
Thanks for your continued discussion on our digestive tract as it’s very educational. I am attempting to be mindful of my eating habits. Even though I haven’t practiced your techniques yet, I am looking forward to giving them a try and hopefully making them a part of my daily routine. Your background as a Mindful Eating facilitator is intriguing.