Raise your hand if you've been there (or felt this, rather): that tight, overly full feeling we usually blame on an indulgent meal or PMS. That feeling, as if a balloon inflated in your belly, is otherwise known as bloat. Whether it's due to overeating or a certain medical condition, bloating feels uncomfortable at best. The good news is that most bloating is treatable, no prescription necessary. Although when it comes to relief, can stretching help?
Try these 10 yoga-instructor-approved stretches to help with digestion and beat belly bloat.
Meet the Expert
- Kali Mutty is a certified yoga instructor at IM=X Pilates & Fitness in Tampa, Florida.
- Jayla Pearce is a yoga instructor and the co-founder of vstudio.
What Causes Bloating?
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, certain foods are more prone to cause gas and bloating than others, including oligosaccharides (found in wheat, onions, garlic, legumes, and beans), disaccharides (found in lactose like milk, yogurt, and ice cream), monosaccharides (found in apples and pears, for example), and certain sugars found in most chewing gums and candies.
"The small intestine doesn't always fully absorb these carbohydrates, instead passing them to the colon, where they are fermented by bacteria and produce gas," Linda Lee, M.D., writes.
Other common causes of bloating include gut sensitivity (also known as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS); a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO); gastroparesis, which delays stomach emptying; and some gynecological conditions.
With a combination of deep breathing, stretches that target abdominal organs, and twists that massage and stimulate the colon (a vital organ for keeping you regular), this sequence relieves a wide range of digestive discomfort—think gas, bloating, constipation. And the best part? With better digestion comes more energy.
Start in Wind-Relieving Pose ("Knees to Chest")
Lie on your back and pull your knees in to your chest, hugging them with both arms, like you do at the beginning of yoga class. "Focus on the feeling of contact between your thighs and your stomach, the warmth on your stomach, and use deep breaths to imagine relaxing and relieving any tension and built-up gas," says Pearce. And don't forget to breathe.
Get more "wind relief" by adding in movement. Gently rock from side to side, and rotate in a circle for 30 seconds in each direction.
Drop Your Knees to One Side for a Spinal Twist
Lying on the floor, reach your arms out to a "T," and keep your knees and hips in line with each other as you lean both knees in the same direction toward the floor. Try to keep your chest and shoulders relatively square to the ceiling, but don't strain. "Twists are a great way to stretch the stomach area, give it more space, as well as massage all internal organs to less bloat," says Pearce.
With your knees on the ground and your legs spaced apart as wide as feels comfortable, sit your butt back over your heels and lean your upper body forward with your arms stretched out in front of you. Keep your back straight, and rest your forehead on the floor or rest your head on an elevated surface like a pillow or yoga block as a modification. Hold for five breaths.
According to Pearce, you're basically using your body weight to massage your stomach and bowels. She says, "By using the warmth of your body and gravity, you can help comfort upset bowels and bloating."
Seated Forward Bend Pose
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. With your back straight, gradually hinge forward from your hips, and lower your torso toward your legs as low as is comfortable. Extend from your hips and reach the crown of your head toward your toes, as opposed to your chin—if possible, latch to your feet.
Legs up the Wall
This gentle inversion encourages blood flow and aids with digestion. To do it, lie on your back, feet facing a wall. Inch your butt up against the wall, and raise your legs up to rest against the wall with your feet flexed and arms at your sides or wherever is most comfortable for you. If you have tight hamstrings, sit farther away from the wall, or place a bolster or long pillow beneath your lower back for extra support. The best position to be in is one where you don't feel the need to "hold up" your thigh bones.
From your hands and knees on the floor, with your spine in a neutral position, inhale and engage your abs. Then exhale and drop your head while you round your spine, and imagine pulling your belly button up into your chest. This is cat pose. For cow pose, inhale, arch your back, and lift your head and butt. Draw your shoulders away from your ears. Switch between these two poses to warm your spine and release tension in your back and neck. To modify, stand up and place your hands on a sturdy, waist-high surface while cycling between the two poses.
"Lifting the chest and lowering the belly while inhaling gently stretches the abdomen while rounding the spine, while exhaling gently compresses the belly," says Mutty. "Deep breathing coupled with alternating stretching and compression soothes the stomach and aids digestion."
From a standing position with your feet hip-width apart, hinge forward with your back straight and abs engaged as you press your palms to the ground in front of you. Imagine creating a "V" shape with your body, heels pressed into the ground (though keep them lifted with knees bent if you have tight hamstrings), and try to draw your tailbone back and up. Draw your shoulders away from your ears, and keep your rib cage in. Hold this pose for five to 10 breaths. Feel free to position your feet as far back as is comfortable. For a mini-flow, you can pair this pose with child's pose and alternate between the two.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand up with your back straight and legs apart. Hinge from the waist, and round your spine as you reach for the floor. To modify, place hands on a yoga block or waist-high surface. You should feel a stretch in your seat, hamstrings, and calves. Let your head hang heavy to stretch your neck, and reach your tailbone to the sky to maximize the stretch.
One-Legged Seated Spinal Twist
Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee, and position your right heel as close to your body as possible. Straighten your back, then twist your torso to the right as you reach your left elbow to the outside of your right knee and place your right hand on the floor behind you. Breathe, then release and repeat on the other side.
"Gently twisting and compressing the belly massages the digestive organs and increases circulation without putting strain on the system," explains Mutty.
Lie on the floor with your arms beside your body, and bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your knees and heels are aligned. Keeping your back straight, push your hips up from your heels, and feel a stretch in your chest. For a variation, try pressing up with one hip and breathe for five breaths, then switch sides and hold for another five breaths.
John Hopkins Medicine. Bloating: Causes and Prevention Tips.
Seo AY, Kim N, Oh DH. Abdominal bloating: pathophysiology and treatment. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013;19(4):433-453. doi:10.5056/jnm.2013.19.4.433
Krajmalnik-brown R, Ilhan ZE, Kang DW, Dibaise JK. Effects of Gut Microbes on Nutrient Absorption and Energy Regulation. Nutr Clin Pract. 2012;27(2):201-14.doi:10.1177/0884533611436116