Exercises to Improve Digestion

Think of your gut as a river, or a creek. In a healthy stream, the water continuously runs, uninhibited. Flowing down a clear path, the water is often unclouded and debris can easily make its way downstream. Consider what tends to happen when a flowing river meets a beaver dam or a built-up pile of rocks — the water tends to pool, unable to flow, and passing debris gets caught. As water sits, there is a continual build-up of toxins, film, bacteria, debris and mud. Our guts experience a similar ebb and flow, which can lead to smooth passages and regular elimination or a build-up of toxins that become stuck, unable to move.

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It is oftentimes easier to maintain a clear path than it is to clear out the debris that creates a blockade. There are numerous methods to prevent the build-up of debris in the river of your gut, including:

staying hydrated;

exercising regularly;

• avoiding ignoring the urge to “go;”

• maintaining a consistent eating schedule;

• eating pre- and probiotic-rich foods (i.e., bananas, yogurt, pickles); and

• eating fiber-rich foods (i.e., beans, vegetables, fruits, bran) and minimizing low fiber foods (i.e., dairy, meat products, processed foods).

Given that poor digestion is an unfortunate reality for over 70 million Americans, it is all too common for most to experience a blockage in the gut, accompanied by abdominal pain and constipation. What then?! Well, let’s expand the visual of our gut as the river to now picturing our entire body like the river. When the body is stagnant, blockages occur, and build up is inevitable. The objective is to get things moving again.

Similar to how exercise can help improve circulation of the blood, aiding in flushing toxins, twisting exercises and breathing can specifically help to increase blood flow to the digestive system while massaging the internal organs, including the colon, to get things moving again. An initial twist to the right compresses the ascending colon, which gets stool moving up and across the transverse colon. Then, a twist left encourages stool to move down the descending colon toward elimination. These types of exercises can be performed standing, seated or lying down.

Exercises to improve digestion

Try these simple dynamic and static movements to help improve gut health:

Seated Twist

Seated twist

Sit up tall with your feet firmly on the floor. With your spine erect, begin to gently twist your upper body (from the belly button up) towards the RIGHT. Hold and breathe here for three to five long breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Twisting first to the right massages the ascending colon, while twisting to the left massages the descending colon, aiding in the elimination process.

Seated Child's Pose

Seated child’s pose (‘wind-removing’ pose)

Sitting with your feet firmly on the floor, sit up tall throughout the spine. On an exhale, begin to hinge forward from the waist, folding your abdomen down onto your thighs. Relax the head and neck, and breathe consistently for three to five breaths. Inhale and slowly bring yourself back upright.

This posture applies gentle pressure to the organs, aiding in blood circulation.

Seated Knee Hug

Seated knee hug

Sit with your feet planted on the floor and your spine tall. Bring your right leg up toward your chest, hugging the thigh closely to your body. Hold this position and breathe three to five breaths. Change sides.

Bringing the right leg up compresses and massages the ascending colon, while compressing on the left massages the descending colon, aiding in the elimination process.

Want to learn more about maintaining good digestion? Read “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” “Top Tips for Healthier Eating” and “Cooking With Herbs and Spices.”

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