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 through 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?
According to a Self article, which tapped Rebecca Weible, a yoga instructor and founder of Yo Yoga! in New York City, it can. "When you feel bloated, the back and core muscles are going to feel really tight, because the organs are expanding," Weible tells the health and wellness magazine. Weible goes on to say that focusing on opening up the hips and twisting your torso can be especially beneficial to getting rid of bloat, and fast.
"When you feel bloated, the back and core muscles are going to feel really tight, because the organs are expanding," Weible told Self. "Stretching is going to help open things up a little bit, and it can be really relieving. It's also going to increase circulation in the torso, and therefore, the organs that are working to digest."
What Causes Bloating?
According to a Johns Hopkins Medicine blog post, certain foods are more prone than others to cause gas and bloating, 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. says.
Other common causes of bloating include gut sensitivity (also known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS), a condition called small intestinal bacteria 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. Try Weible's favorite de-bloating routine, plus eight more yoga-instructor approved stretches to help with digestion and beat belly bloat:
Start in Wind-relieving Pose ("Knees To Chest")
Lie on your back, and pull your knees into your chest, hugging them with both arms, like you do at the beginning of yoga class. "This is going to let you open up the hips a little bit and stretch through your back," Weible explains. "Try to keep your lower back and tailbone as close to the mat as possible." Breathe.
Drop Your Knees to One Side Into a Spinal Twist
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. "If you're feeling bloated, sometimes the last thing you want is to put on a really tight pair of yoga pants and put yourself in weird positions," Weible adds. "But this is something you can do anytime and almost anywhere that can help make you feel a little bit better."
For more stretches that help with bloating, try these additional eight yoga-inspired poses, with alignment and modification tips from Ayanna Wells, a Maryland-based yoga instructor:
With your knees on the ground, legs spaced apart as wide as you're comfortable, sit your butt back over your heels and lean your upper body forward with 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.
Seated Forward Bend Pose
Sit on the floor with 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. Wells advises to extend out of your hips and reach your crown towards your toes, as opposed to your chin. "Keep your neck long and gaze towards your shins, and hands can rest on the outside of the legs or, if you're able to reach, hook on to the outside of your feet," Wells says.
Legs Up The Wall
This gentle inversion encourages blood flow and aids in 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, arms at your side, or wherever is most comfortable for you. If you have tight hamstrings, sit further 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, 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 and place your hands on a sturdy, waist-high surface while cycling between the two poses.
From a standing position with your feet hip-width apart, hinge forward with back straight, abs engaged as you press your palms to the ground in front of you. Ensure your "full palm presses into the ground, especially the palm side of your knuckles and push the floor away from you," Wells says. Imagine creating a V shape with your body; heels pressed into the ground (though keep them lifted and knees bent if you have tight hamstrings) and try to draw your tailbone back and up. Draw shoulders away from ears and keep your ribcage in.
Hold this pose and breathe for five to ten 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 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, calves. Let your head hang heavy to stretch your neck, and reach your tailbone to the sky to maximize the stretch. Looking for more of a stretch? "To stretch the upper back, hold your elbows or shoulders with opposite hands and allow gravity to pull the shoulder blades apart," says Wells.
One-Legged Seated Spinal Twist
Sit with 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; your right hand placed on the floor behind you. Breathe. Release and repeat on the other side. "With each inhale, think about growing taller towards the sky and each exhale twisting a bit deeper," says Wells.
Lie on the floor with arms beside your body and bend your knees with feet flat on the floor. Make sure your knees and heels are aligned. From your heels, and with back straight, push your hips up and feel a stretch in your chest. For a variation, try pressing up with one hip and breathe for five breaths, then switch and hold for another five breaths. "For a more restorative pose, place a block at the lower back," Wells says.