Every cell in the body needs nourishment. Yet most cells cannot travel through the body in search of a food source, so food must be delivered to them in a usable form. The digestive system, along with the circulatory system, converts food to a usable form and delivers it to over one hundred trillion cells in the body, finally converting it to waste in order to be expelled. The coordination of all the functions necessary in this clever process is controlled by the nervous and endocrine systems.
The digestive system provides the body with water, electrolytes and other nutrients. It in digesting food, propelling it through the digestive tract, absorbing useful nutrients and then transporting them – via the circulatory system – to the parts of the body that use them. The undigested portion of the food is then moved though the digestive tract and expelled.
The process of digestion can be broken down into the following functions:
Ingestion & mastication – the introduction of food into the mouth where it is mechanically broken down by the teeth. The food is made into bolus and mixed with saliva to make it easier to swallow
Propulsion – the food travels through the oesophagus to the stomach. Acid in the stomach breaks the food down into liquid
Secretion – the liquefied food passes into the small intestine and enzymes from the gall bladder, liver and pancreas enter the stomach to further break down the food into absorbable elements
Absorption – the completely digested food then enters the blood stream and the vitamins and nutrients are absorbed into the body
Elimination – the food then enters the large intestine where it becomes solid as all the water is absorbed. The waste products of digestion are then finally removed from the body
Yoga in general is extremely beneficial in aiding the digestive system but there are certain types of asanas and pranayamas that particularly helpful. In general terms, forward bends – for their massaging qualities, back bends – for their ability to create more space for the organs, and spinal twists - where the abdomen is compressed by another body part, will massage the digestive organs and encourage elimination. Inverted postures also help to get things moving. Virasana (hero) has a powerful effect on digestion through the vajra nadis – the two nerve channels that run from the big toe upwards through the front of the body.
More specifically, probably one of the best poses to aid digestion and help relieve gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation would be urdvha danurasana – the wheel. In this pose we stretch the entire front of the body, which includes the muscles of the abdominal region that support and protect the digestive tract, and engage the core muscles that help stabilize the pelvic region. We are also practicing deep abdominal breathing, which helps create heat that can further stimulate the metabolism.
Another fantastic pose is Bound Sage Twist. This is a challenging deep twisting posture that works one more than one level. Not only is there a deep twist but the pressure of the heel against the abdomen massages and tones the digestive organs and increases digestive power.