Scroll through your Instagram, and you’re likely to see many beautiful warrior II and tree poses these days. Yoga has long gone mainstream, which is why we were stopped in our tracks—er, feeds—recently when we spotted what might just be the world’s most interesting-looking yoga technique ever: nauli.
To help explain this gut-twisting move, we reached out to certified yoga instructor Danielle Acoff and Corrective Exercise Specialist and Pilates instructor Dasha Einhorn for their takes on nauli.
Meet the Expert
- Danielle Acoff is a certified yoga instructor in Los Angeles. In addition to studying yoga and holistic health, she is also a professional dancer, model, and actress.
- Dasha Einhorn is a Pilates instructor, as well as a certified personal trainer (NASM-CPT) and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She teaches on-demand yoga and Pilates workouts on her website, The Dashbody.
Read on to learn how nauli can benefit your digestion and strengthen your core.
What Is Nauli?
"Nauli is an ancient yogic cleansing technique that involves side-to-side rolling motion of the rectus abdominis muscles to massage the internal organs," explains Einhorn. The method includes contracting and pulling the abdomen in and under the rib cage and then performing isolated movements of the abdominal muscles. It basically looks like you are doing a sideways belly roll.
Acoff explains that this powerful technique helps stimulate the digestive fire by massaging the organs and increasing blood flow to areas including the stomach, liver, spleen, urinary bladder, pancreas, gallbladder, and intestines. “It is used in the traditional Indian medicine practice of Ayurveda, as well as Hatha yoga,” she says.
The Benefits of Nauli
Even though nauli has been used for centuries, there aren't many scientific studies on this ancient practice. Even so, those who practice nauli say this rolling abdominal movement has several benefits—besides just impressing your friends:
- Acoff says that nauli massages all the internal organs in the abdomen and keeps them healthy. The rolling movement helps increase circulation and could help improve digestion.
- External massage is recommended for relieving constipation; therefore, the massaging motion of nauli should also help relieve constipation.
- Nauli strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles as the rolling motion targets your rectus abdominis. "Nauli in Sanskrit means 'boat' (Nau) and 'to cling to' (li)," says Einhorn. "With proper technique, you contract, isolate, and 'cling' the rectus abdominal muscles to the abdominal wall in a continuous motion, which tones and sculpts the stomach."
- Because it also helps strengthen those core muscles, nauli helps prep for inversions, says Acoff.
- Einhorn explains that nauli can also aid in toxin elimination. Although research has yet to prove this, it is believed that nauli helps excrete toxic substances and other waste products so they aren't stored in the body.
How to Practice Nauli
So you want to try this at home? Check out this video to help you visualize the technique. Einhorn explains the steps to nauli breathing. Keep in mind that it does take practice to perfect.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees bent. Place your hands on top of your thighs and bend forward slightly.
- Take a sharp half inhale, fully exhale and hold, waiting to inhale as you engage or tighten the pelvic floor muscles. This is called root lock or Mula Bandha.
- Take a mock inhale, in which you act like you are inhaling but close off the back of the throat to prevent air from actually entering the lungs, and pull the belly in and up underneath the rib cage. That’s called the abdominal lock or Uddiyana Bandha.
- Bring the chin down toward the chest and watch your belly. That’s the throat lock or Jalandhara Bandha.
- Now try to isolate and contact the left side of your abdominal wall, then the right and center, moving in a wavelike motion all while not taking any air in or letting any air out.
- Try to do three waves in each direction.
- Release Mula Bandha or root lock, then abdominal lock, then throat lock, and inhale and exhale fully.
"Work up to 10 waves on each side and make sure you do both directions," says Einhorn.
When to Practice Nauli
“The best time to practice nauli is the first thing in the morning so the stomach is completely empty,” says Einhorn. At the very least, you need to wait at least five hours after eating so you have an empty stomach. It is also important to go to the bathroom first so your bowels are empty. Following these tips will ensure that you aren't uncomfortable while performing this move.
You may feel some different sensations as you practice nauli. "You should expect feeling like you are working your six-pack, a feeling of manual massage and a feeling of warmth in your belly," says Einhorn. "There should be no pain or discomfort."
Is Nauli Safe for Everyone?
Nauli shouldn't be used by everyone, explains Einhorn. Those who fall into the below categories or have any of the following conditions should avoid nauli and speak with a doctor first:
- Pregnant women
- Menstruating women
- High blood pressure
- Symptoms of GERD/heartburn
- Heart diseases
- Post-abdominal surgeries
- Anxiety from breath retention
The Final Takeaway
Nauli not only looks like a cool belly roll, it has a lot of potential benefits for your digestion and your core strength. Until more research has been done, you can try out nauli, but listen to your body and see if it benefits you.
“Please keep in mind it’s an advanced technique and requires some time—in some cases, a lot of time!—to do it properly,“ says Einhorn. “Don’t get discouraged!”
She says you can start by performing nauli three times per week, and work up to every day if it benefits you. In the meantime, check out #nauli on Instagram for some inspiration. It’s a wild world we live in.