Can Yoga Help or Decrease Constipation?
The word constipation comes from the Latin word, “constipore”, which means “to press, crowd together”. People with constipation have difficulty passing stools regularly and emptying their bowels completely. Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, which happens frequently for approximately 4 million adults and children in the United States.
From an Ayurvedic viewpoint, constipation (Vibandha) is a health condition that can result not only in abdominal, back, and/or pelvic pain, but also irritability, headaches, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia.
How can all these conditions be related to constipation?!
Well, it’s because an Ayurvedic medical approach acknowledges prana (a life-force energy) and its flow (or blockage) through 5 Vayus: Prana Vayu, Apana Vayu, Samana Vayu, Udana Vayu, and Vyana Vayu. The movement or interruption of energy flow is an important indicator of health and well-being.
Constipation/Vibandha is an alteration of Apana and Samana Vayus. Apana Vaya is most active in the lower abdomen and pelvis. It is a downward energy that directs outward flow and influences urination, excretion, menstruation, and childbirth. Samana Vayu is located in the navel region and is responsible for the energy utilized by the digestive organs including the stomach, liver, and large intestine.
When Apana is weak, the mind-body connection is also weak, with researchers from India stating that “You cannot have sweet thoughts on a sour stomach…” (1). Apana weakness can contribute to feelings of fear, confusion, and insecurity, whereas a strong Apana Vayu supports the immune system and helps the mind to be clear and focused. An imbalance of Samana Vayu can bring weakness by disrupting metabolic processes.
In studies of yogic approaches for chronic constipation, those who participated in yoga practices including asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing practices), meditation, kriyas (cleansing practices), and diet demonstrated significant improvement in quality of life related to physical and psychological discomfort, worries and concern, and satisfaction (1, 2).
In particular, the physical practice of Surya-namaskar (Sun Salutation), Vajrasana (Thunderbolt), Pashchimottasana (Seated forward bend), Dhanurasana (Bow), Pavanamuktasana (Double knee to chest), Matsyasana (Fish), and Navasana (Boat) along with breathing practices are recommended to influence the Apana and Samana Vayus and decrease complaints of constipation (2). (See images of the asanas below)
It is interesting and important to note the parallels between a yogic approach, (which has roots from 5,000 years ago) for managing constipation, and the modern-day physical therapy approach.
Physical therapy management of constipation includes an examination of musculoskeletal and motor coordination along with relevant anatomic, physiologic, and behavioral contributors (3). This is followed by case-specific interventions that are very similar to recommendations from an Ayurvedic yoga point of view. It includes exercise for strengthening/retraining the abdominal wall, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles (think asanas and pranayama), lifestyle education including toileting postures and habits, massage and/or myofascial release, and referral to a dietician to address diet and fluid intake (included in a yogic approach) (3).
To answer the question, “Can Yoga Help or Decrease Constipation?” this answer is Yes! But we must keep in mind that it’s not just about the postures. A yogic or Ayurvedic approach includes breathing and cleansing practices, meditation, and diet, along with asanas/postures that will improve the flow of prana and the Apana and Samana Vayus. This, in turn, will have a positive influence on overall physical and psychological health including Vibandha.
Surya-namaskar (Sun salutation)
Pashchimottasana (Seated forward bend)
Pavanamuktasana (Double knee to chest)
1. Naragatti, S., Bendore, P., Garima, Hiregoudar, N.K., (2021). Management of constipation through yogic therapy, Journal of Advanced Research in Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, 8(1&2), 18-23.
2. Satani, K.G., Raghavani, H., Raghvani, K. (2017). Role of yoga in gastro-intestinal problems w.s.r. to constipation (vibandha) in geriatrics, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrated Medical Sciences, 2(2), 104-108.
3. George, S.E., & Borello-France, D.F. (2017). Perspectives on physical therapist management of functional constipation. Physical Therapy, 97(4), 478-493.
Asana images from https://pocketyoga.com