The title of this blog post may put some people off, but if you’ve clicked on it it’s because you’re hopefully interested in learning how yoga can help you poo easier and more healthily. In order to be sensitive to those who find the ‘p’ word unsavory, I will sometimes refer to it as ‘evacuating my bowels’.
I am currently reading a book by Mara Altman titled Gross Anatomy, which I recommend as a well written, informative and very funny book. I’ve read nothing other than Buddhist and Hindu scriptures for the last 2 years devoting myself to Jnana Yoga, but one of my trainee teachers gave it to me as a present, and I thought this Summer would be a good time to pause and read something lighter. Basically Mara Altman has done a lot of research on the areas and issues of the body, that most consider gross. One area she explores is the rectum, and she interviews a lot of medical experts to help us understand its afflictions. As a result I realised that 3 practices of yoga in particular coincide with the advice given for a healthier digestive system and evacuation of the bowels.
I often had digestive problems when I was growing up, but since practicing yoga regularly, I can’t remember having diarrhea, constipation or acidity issues in about 20 years. I evacuate my bowels pretty much as soon as I get out of bed every single morning, without the need for any motivators i.e. coffee, cigarettes etc. There’s no need to take my Iphone in with me because it happens so quickly that you’d think I’d just done a pee. It’s a smooth unceremonious event that happens at least once more later in the day. If you’re one of my past students from my yoga teacher training courses, you’ll probably remember me covering this subject. If not here’s a reminder;-)
A Bit of Science & History
Before indoor plumbing came into the picture in the 1800’s, humans would squat down, mostly outside, to poo. Then the toilet was invented which made the whole experience easier and more pleasant (think bad knees and cold draft up the bottom). Theresa Porret, a coloproctological nurse at London’s Homerton University Hospital, explains that due to gravity and standing upright on 2 legs, there is a lot of pressure on our lower regions. As a result the body has 2 fail-safes to prevent us from evacuating our bowels every time we stand up or sit down. One is the sphincter and the other is the puborectalis muscle that encircles our gut, creating a kink that chokes our bowels. The kink remains in position when we’re sitting therefore many people find they have to push or force when going for a poo, leading to internal problems including hemorrhoids. Constipation, diarrhea, acidity, and many colon and intestinal disorders cause our bodies a lot of issues, including their association with cancers of the digestive organs.
Yoga Practice #1: SQUATTING
The first yoga practice that helps us with easier bowel evacuation is squatting. When we squat we unkink the puborectalis choking our bowel. So essentially it is much healthier to poo squatting above a hole than it is sitting on a toilet. As this is not an option in most countries, there are now small toilet steps that you can buy to lift your feet up. You can also lift your feet up onto a small bin, or you can place your elbows on your knees and lift your heels off the floor. In yoga we do a lot of squat poses and poses that enable squatting to be easier. When your body gets used to being able to get into a squat and unkink the passageway for your poo, it makes for an easier evacuating experience. The body position of a squat is done in 3 ways in yoga: the regular Yogi Squat with both feet on the ground, the wide knees Child’s Pose with your shins and forehead on the ground, or lying on your back with your knees bent up towards your chest or armpits. (FYI the latter is actually translated as the ‘Wind Relieving Pose’ from Sanskrit). These poses allow for easier movement through the intestines and bowels, and when they’re held with deep breaths, allow your body to relax into them. If you’re tensing the muscles down there, you’re preventing things from being able to move through, and leave the body. This leads us to my next point.
Yoga Practice #2: BREATH & RELAXATION
Deep breathing is synonymous with yoga and also well known to relax you mentally and physically. Doctors will often tell you to take a deep breath when getting you to relax a part of the body. In relation to evacuating your bowels, the inhale is more important here. When you inhale deeply, your abdomen should balloon forwards as if it’s filling up with air. This in turn lowers your diaphragm which gently presses down on your digestive organs and relaxes the muscles around it. By relaxing the muscles of your sphincters (yes you have 2, the internal and the external one), you open the passageway to a more comfortable poo. The gentle squeeze on your lower organs by the diaphragm, also helps get things moving down and out. Therefore get in the habit of taking a few long deep breaths when you’re on the toilet. It will make the process a smoother experience and eliminate the need for squeezing or trying to force it out. As soon as I wake up I start deep belly breathing which is my number 1 advice for a smooth, quick evacuation!
Yoga Practice #3: AGNI SARA
Agni Sara is not so much a breathing exercise in yoga, as it is an internal cleansing technique. In Sanskrit ‘agni’ means fire and ‘sara’ means essence. The exercise creates fire, or heat and movement, in the lower abdomen, which stimulates your digestive organs. It is usually practiced first thing in the morning along with other cleansing practices. However we’re going to discuss its benefits when done sitting on the toilet trying to evacuate your bowels.
I don’t get what you’d call constipation but there are times when evacuation is taking a little longer than the 20 seconds I’m used to, and perhaps I’m in a rush. Deep breathing with a couple of rounds of agni sara are what clinch the deal. To do this lift your heels off the floor, place your hands on your knees and keep your back straight as you lean forward. Take a long deep breath into the belly and exhale drawing the belly back towards your spine, and up. Hold the exhale as you pump your belly in and out. Once you’ve done about 15 pumps, allow yourself to inhale again and take a couple of normal deep breaths before repeating. Don’t breathe while you’re pumping. Hold the exhale but pump the belly quickly, approximately 3 pumps per second. As it’s quite a vigorous practice, limit yourself to 3 rounds. Afterwards continue with big deep breaths to fully relax the muscles of evacuation and ease the path to happy healthy pooing.
So to summarize, get into the habit of breathing deeply, as much as you can during the day, but especially when you are on the toilet. Second, practice different types of squat poses daily and get into more of a squat position when trying to poo, to unkink your puborectalis. And lastly, if you’r struggling to get it out, don’t force and risk anal tears, leakage or haemorrhoids! Instead try a few rounds of Agni Sara and then continue relaxing with deep belly breaths.
If you have any experience on this topic or have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. And if after practicing this advice for a while, it has helped with your evacuation, please let me know. Otherwise if you fancy learning more about yoga and anatomy, and deepening your knowledge of all things yoga, you may consider joining me for my upcoming Yoga Alliance RYT200 Yoga Teacher Training or RCYT Kids Yoga Teacher Training Courses.
(After posting addition: I should have also mentioned how Twist poses, with deep breathing, also helps to stimulate the digestive organs especially the ascending and descending colon. They also help neutralize and re-align the spine, so a great pose to do after waking up (gently), and at the end of the day. I also just noticed that in 2017 I wrote a post on Agni Sara which you may be interested in reading about here.)
Charlie began practicing yoga over 25 years ago and has been teaching for more than 12 years to people of all ages and abilities. She is the lead trainer in the Indiv Yoga RYT200 & RCYT Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Courses, and has certified over 120 students worldwide.
Originally from London and having worked in New York and Lisbon after her Psychology degree, she has since settled with her husband in Switzerland, and dedicated her life to expanding her knowledge of the science of yoga, mindful meditation and better physical and mental health.
Over the years Charlie has worked with some of the most renowned yoga teachers around the world (David Swenson, Shiva Rea, Anne-Marie Newland, Leslie Kaminoff, Sadie Nardini, Sonia Sumar etc) certifying in Hatha, Sivanada, Ashtanga, Childrens and Family Yoga, Yoga for the Special Child, & Inner Engineering with Sadhguru. She has become highly respected for her successful work in yoga therapy, especially for Autism, ADHD and other behavioural and developmental syndromes. She has also talked at some of the biggest corporations in Switzerland and the annual SGIS (Swiss Group of International Schools) Conference on implementing Mindfulness in the work place and the education system.
Charlie holds the highest yoga qualifications as an ERYT500 (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher), RCYT (Registered Children´s Yoga Teacher), RPYT (Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher) and YCEP (Yoga Continued Education Provider) with the Yoga Alliance, and has developed Indiv Yoga™ to bring a more physiological, therapeutic and individual approach to yoga. Indiv Yoga™ Switzerland is a RYS (registered yoga school) and RCYS (registered children’s yoga school) providing Yoga Alliance teacher training certifications of the highest professional standards.
The focus of Indiv Yoga™ is to provide the benefits of yoga to every type of individual, using its teachings to achieve physical and mental balance, and diminish the anxieties of modern life for adults and children.
Read her onlineand for a feel of her knowledgeable and friendly professionalism.