How to Target Your Colon With Yoga

If you're having problems with your colon, from constipation to Irritable Bowel Syndrome and even just plain old bad digestion, yoga has much to offer.

Colon health is a particular concern of most yogic disciplines, and modern medicine is only starting to catch up to the 5000-year-old tradition in terms of recognizing the colon as key to overall good health. If you're having specific problems with your colon, from constipation to Irritable Bowel Syndrome and even just plain old bad digestion, yoga has much to offer.

The Mind-Body Connection

Yoga, of course, is all about the mind-body connection, and from the yogic perspective, the colon is where we internalize and hold onto distressing events from the past. "From an emotional viewpoint, the colon has to do with having trouble letting go," writes certified Kundalini yoga teacher Nihal Singh. The colon is the large intestine and functions to eliminate waste (the small intestine, by contrast, digests food and distributes nutrients to the body). So while the colon's job is to eliminate physical waste, unresolved emotions can be stored there too, ultimately clogging up the whole organism. While particular asanas and other practices can target the colon directly, a well-rounded yoga practice is key to helping the body process stress. [REF 1]

Yoga and IBS

Yoga has been shown clinically to relieve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), an unexplained chronic pattern of abdominal distress and altered bowel habits. In a 2014 study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 39 adolescents and young adults with IBS symptoms who did Iyengar yoga twice weekly for 6 weeks experienced notable relief from their IBS symptoms. [REF 3]

IBS, in fact, is recognized in Ayurvedic medicine as Grahani, a disruption of the "digestive fire." Grahani has many causes -- stress is not the least among them -- but also including excessive or irregular eating, eating when suffering from indigestion, and excessive fasting. In addition to recommending physical poses to target the colon, Ayurvedic treatment of bowel issues also incorporates the use of enema for colon cleansing, lubricant oils or clarified butter to assist elimination and herbal preparations that may have a pre- or probiotic effect and with breathing exercises. [REF 2]

Healing the Colon with Breath

Pranayama -- yogic breathing exercises -- can be soothing and mellow but they can also be forceful enough to stimulate the colon and draw energy into it. Kaphalabati, also known as Skull Shining Breath involves forceful exhalation using the lower abdominal muscles as bellows. For IBS and other colon-related complaints, the Journal of Evidence-based Alternative and Complementary Medicine also recommends Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing), and Dirga Pranayama (3-part breath). REF 2

Poses for Indigestion

The fact is, it would be unlikely to get through a whole yoga class without hitting on a number of poses that would invigorate the colon: forward folds, backbends and twists are all tune up the colon. Yoga Journal's recommended sequence for digestive issues includes Marjaryasana-Bitilasana (Cat-Cow), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) and Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) among others to wring toxins out of the body and invigorate colon functions. Those with IBS should proceed gradually and with some caution until they know how their inner organs are going to respond to the twisting, stretching and squeezing that goes along with yoga practice. REF 4