Given the standard diet, lack of physical activity and stress level of the general population, feelings of being bloated or constipated are an increasingly common complaint. It is so important that you visit the bathroom (for number twos!) at least once a day – ideally after each meal. If this isn’t the case and you’ve already worked on the obvious areas – taken out all processed food from your diet, increased your exercise, reduced your stress levels and optimised your sleep – then add these 5 easy movement patterns into your daily routine.
How these movements help digestion:
- They stimulate fluid flow around the whole body, but in particular the gut. This helps stagnant food waste move speedily through your large intestine, meaning your stool won’t be dry and dehydrated from waiting in your bowel for so long
- They encourage you to breathe! Increasing the depth of your breath and properly utilising all respiratory muscles regulates peristalsis or the wavelike movement that propels food through the gut. This means better nutrient absorption and quicker evacuation of digestive waste
- They rebalance irregular tissue tension. Releasing tension in a tight lower back and the back of the legs allows the abdominal tissue to more readily engage which releases intra-abdomial pressure; addressing hunched shoulders and a compressed chest opens up the front of the body giving the gut far better space to go more smoothly about its business
1) BELLY BREATHS
INSTRUCTIONS: Breathe in through the nose allowing the belly to fill, breathe out through the mouth allowing the belly to soften back towards the spine.
CUES: On the inhale, visualise filling your whole body with fresh, clean air; on the exhale sigh out old stale air and any emotions that are no longer serving you. Imagine breathing into the back, front and sides of the body – making space and releasing tension in every joint.
Breathe in for 5 counts, pause for 5 counts, breathe out for 5 counts – repeat for 1 minute.
INSTRUCTIONS: Lie on your back with your legs bent and ‘glued’ to each other – beginners keep your feet on the floor, others take them up in the air, arms wide out to the sides. Exhale – take legs to one side and head to the opposite side, inhale – bring your legs and head back to centre, exhale – go to the opposite side.
CUES: Every time you exhale make sure you gently sink, wrap and lift your abdominals – your shirt should get baggier! Gently massage the spine into the floor as you go from side to side (i.e. no arching the back).
Take the legs from side to side for 1 full minute.
3) PILATES SCISSORS
Lie on your back, stretch both legs up in the air, curl upper body forward, exhale – pull one leg towards you and stretch the other one away, exhale – swap to other side, repeat.
Really emphasise the exhale – you should hear the breath being blown out through your mouth and see your belly sinking back towards your spine. Keep shoulders soft and collarbones wide. Feel the middle to lower spine gently massaging into the floor, stretch open through the back of the leg that is pulled towards you and the front of the hip of the leg stretching away. Think of the reaching the crown of your head and your toes up to the ceiling – always think of making space throughout every joint, avoid compressing and tensing.
Scissor the legs for 30-60 seconds
4) YOGA COBRA
Lie on your front, forehead resting on the floor, arms bent hands at shoulder height, palms down. On an exhale gently roll your shoulders back, press lightly through your hands and pull your breast bone forward so that you lift your upper body away from the floor. Inhale to bring the spine back to the floor. Repeat.
CUES: Keep your abdominals drawn gently up towards your spine. Use your lower abs to gently tuck the pelvis under to avoid compressing into your lower back – do not squeeze your butt! This movement is about opening the chest wide and getting your upper back to move; you shouldn’t feel any discomfort in the lower back.
Cobra for 30- 60 seconds
5) THE MARVELLOUS MOVING CAT
All cues and tips here!
EXTRA HELPFUL TIPS
- Sit upright when you’re eating! How can you expect your food to move through your system if you’re hunched forward over your plate squashing the life out of your guts? Sit tall, give your belly some space!
- Wait an hour after eating to do these movements as you want your blood to go into your belly to get those intestinal contractions going, rather than into your heart and muscles
- Avoid drinking at the same time as eating – save your sips for 30 minutes before, or an hour after eating to avoid diluting the digestive enzymes needed to help break down your food
- Take probiotics after a meal or eat fermented foods with your meal to help balance out gut bacteria and encourage better breaking down and absorption of your food
- Consider these emotional connections to constipation – “where are you holding on in your life and what would happen if you let go? What might happen to your work or relationships if you released control and let things happen spontaneously? What is needed for you to have a greater trust in the unknown?” Read more about the emotional / digestive connections in Deb Shapiro‘s Your Body Speaks Your Mind