Yoga for Constipation

Constipation affects 42 million men, women and children in the United States alone1.

What is constipation?

Constipation is defined by less than 3 bowel movements a week with stool consistency that is dry, hard, and difficult or painful to pass2.

Constipation could be caused by surgery, poor diet and hydration, pelvic floor muscle incoordination, lack of activity, side effects from medicine, motility issues, inflammation, and functional disorders. As with any medical condition it is important to be properly diagnosed so you know what the proper treatment is for you.

How is it treated?

If you and your provider suspect diet might play a role in your symptoms, being properly hydrated, increasing fiber intake and avoiding irritants may provide relief.

You might also have pelvic floor muscle tightness or incoordination that might be making bowel movements sluggish, incomplete, or painful.

Some techniques to try are elevating your feet on a Squatty Potty (or stool), working with the pelvic floor muscles (lengthen or strengthen), and abdominal massage. Stool consistency is a self-assessment tool you can communicate to your provider.

Why yoga for constipation?

Yoga offers the opportunity for slow, mindful movements with breath work and inner reflection. Relaxing, developing awareness, and integrating breath into your movement increases flexibility of the body and the mind.

When constipation has a mechanical cause, musculoskeletal and myofascial restrictions play into the dysfunction. Increasing flexibility and working with the breath during yoga can promote healthy function.

Yoga helps control the release of compounds in your body: serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and cortisol (the stress hormone). The majority of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, is produced in the gut. Strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system response via pranayama, meditation, and gentle movement can be helpful in the balance of cortisol and serotonin.

How does this yoga flow target constipation?

After seeing how much it helps with my patients and clients, I know there is value in education about anatomy and in the benefits of yoga specific to your area of concern.

Some of you might remember Abbie from my first video, Relieving Pelvic Pain. She graciously agreed to be a part of my new video series. After filming, she asked me how I determined which postures to feature, which prompted me to create a blog post explaining the rationale. The content offers you a glimpse into how this particular yoga flow supports the treatment and management of constipation. Introducing Your Pace Yoga: Yoga for Constipation.

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Aspects of a yoga practice

Eight limbs

The Indian sage Patanjali outlined “eight limbs of yoga” in the Yoga Sutras.

You may be familiar with asanas (physical postures) and pranayama (breath work), but these are only two of the “eight limbs of yoga” as outlined by the Indian sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Meditation, compassion, and other concepts and practices of yoga can be applied in the holistic model of healing the pelvis and general wellness.

Pranayama

Iyengar describes pranayama as “extension of breath and its control.” Pranayama can be practiced alone or in coordination with asana. Mindful pranayama encourages the student to explore diaphragmatic breathing without gripping and holding tension in the chest and ribcage.

To learn more about the relationship of the breath and the pelvic floor, check out this video of pelvic floor movement with the breath. If you wish to gain knowledge about different types of pranayama, read my blogs about dirga, ujjayi and letting go breath.

Asana

Asanas are the most widely known aspect of yoga. Prior to asanas, warm-ups are an ideal way to introduce movement. Gentle and slow movements combined with conscious breathing, act to warm up muscles, lubricate joints, and direct the focus of the student inward to the mind-body-spirit connection.

Half Moon

Half Moon, or ardha chandrasana, offers an opportunity to build awareness and strength in a standing pose while lengthening the side body.

Benefits

  • encourages rib mobility and diaphragmatic excursion
  • increases flexibility of the latissimus dorsi and quadratus lumborum
  • mobilizes the fascia that attaches to the ascending colon (on the right) and descending colon (on the left)
  • opportunity to evaluate standing alignment

Deepen your practice: When practicing side bending postures like half moon, we combine the lateral expansion of the rib cage during inhalation with lengthening of quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi.

Long Lunge with Twist

Long Lunge with Twist offers an opportunity to lengthen the abdominal wall and hips while strengthening and working on balance.

Long lunge with twist

Benefits

  • strengthens the lower extremity
  • increases proprioception
  • improves balance
  • lengthens the front and inside of the thigh
  • lengthens iliopsoas and fascia that connects to the GI system
  • rotation at the thoracolumbar junction (where the mid and low back meet) where the diaphragm inserts
  • offers rotation in the ribs

Mountain Pose

Mountain Pose allows for an embodied check-in for postural awareness. Playing with the weight distribution at the feet is a useful exercise in awareness and grounding.

Mountain pose

Benefits

  • encourages grounding
  • increases proprioception
  • improves balance
  • enhances body awareness

Seated Twist

Seated Twist focuses on the hip rotators as well as the fascial connections into the diaphragm. Twist left for the ascending colon and right for the descending colon to be mobilized via fascial connections.

Benefits

  • myofascial release of the abdomen
  • opens the chest wall
  • increases tissue excursion from adhesions or surgery
  • rotation at the thoracolumbar junction (where the mid and low back meet) where the diaphragm inserts
  • offers rotation in the ribs
  • increases flexibility of the piriformis and other hip muscles, including the obturator internus (a muscle in the pelvic wall)

Standing Sun Breaths

Standing Sun Breaths connect your breath to movement. It accentuates the bucket handle movement of the rib cage when you inhale. By coordinating your breath with movement in a standing position, this enhances the sense of feeling grounded.

Standing sun breaths

Supine Twist

Supine Twist is a gentle twist that can be used alone or as a preparation for a deeper twist such as revolved triangle pose. Twist left for the ascending colon and right for the descending colon to be mobilized via fascial connections.

Supine twist

Benefits

  • myofascial release of the abdomen
  • opens the chest wall
  • increases tissue excursion from adhesions or surgery
  • rotation at the thoracolumbar junction (where the mid and low back meet) where the diaphragm inserts
  • offers rotation in the ribs

Savasana

A traditional yoga practice ends with Savasana.

Savasana

Benefits

  • experience a physical letting go of the muscles relaxing
  • increase the parasympathetic response (rest and digest)
  • feel the physiological quieting
  • experience a deeper mental space of being aware of what is going on around you but simultaneously being separate.

If you are unable to creating the time/space for Savasana at the end of the video, try 5–10 breaths focusing on grounding down through the sitz bones if sitting, or through the feet if standing. This gives your body, mind, and spirit a moment to integrate the changes that occurred during practice.

Warrior 1

Warrior 1 is a popular standing posture that can be performed with the hand on the wall or a chair for balance.

Benefits

  • strengthens the lower extremity
  • increases proprioception
  • improves balance
  • lengthens the front and inside of the thigh
  • lengthens iliopsoas and fascia that connects to the GI system

Note: As with any exercise program, please consult the appropriate medical provider. Some precautions and contraindications to specific yoga postures include uncontrolled high or low blood pressure, second and third trimester of pregnancy, recent surgery, etc.

1) Higgins PD, Johanson JF. Epidemiology of constipation in North America: a systematic review. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2004;99:750–759.

2) https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts

2018-01-28T15:49:03+00:00

3 Comments

  1. […] Constipation […]

  2. […] posture is particularly helpful for managing constipation. Sometimes our day to day movement is more forward and less side to side. The large intestine comes […]

  3. […] has a mechanical cause, musculoskeletal and myofascial restrictions play into the dysfunction. Yoga can help support healthy gut function through slow, mindful movements that increase flexibility and […]

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