It’s no secret that in order to digest we need to rest.
But what does this mean and why?
Scientifically speaking, this means switching off your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), or our “flight or flight” system and anchoring into a parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Basically, your fight/flight system exists to detect risk and switch on survival mode. It is a response that floods your body with stress and adrenaline hormones.
This is an amazing feat of engineering in the human body and necessary when you are up against a tiger in the wild or trying to meet your office deadline.
Again, an amazing mechanism of survival. However, while it may be necessary for survival or problem solving in high pressure situations it is completely ineffective and even hindering to other major systems in the body.
Any system that is not necessary for survival comes to a grinding halt.
This includes the digestion system.
This is precisely why it’s so important to make friends with your SNS. Good things start to happen when we settle into this state, real good things.
It basically works to undo all the stress and erratic energy we exert in order to move through our stressful lives. The PNS actually enables heart rate to slow, digest, assimilate and ultimately bring us into a state of rest.
However, it’s also no secret that this state of rest is such an elusive concept in this modern way of life, right?
So, how does one achieve this rare feat?
If relaxing on the couch with a book is not really your jam or going for long slow romantic walks on the beach, that’s ok.
There are alternate paths you can follow in a bid to seek out a place of rest and digest.
Yoga… And Breath.
More specifically, both of them together.
There is a plethora of asanas you can integrate into a practice that will move you into the PNS and promote rest and digestion.
These asanas paired with Apana Vayu are a powerful way to still the body and soul and as such activate your PNS and all the good things that come with it.
Apana meaning downwards and Vayu meaning breath, air or movement.
A downward moving energy placed over your breath which focuses on developing the length of the exhalation. The exhale breath known as langhana means to reduce or slow down. This breath is achieved by emphasising your exhale breath and pulling it right down the length of your spine and into the very pit of your belly.
This breath is known for its powerful elimination qualities and also for stimulating the PNS.
This movement of energy is an eliminating force which promotes a sense of grounding and letting go. This can be manifested into an emotional sense as well as in a physical sense.
The application of this breath will allow you to land and settle into a place of gentle awareness and stillness and let go of anything that no longer serves you.
Now that you have successfully settled into you state of rest you are ready to digest.
Twists are a group of asanas that create a rotation or rinsing in in your thoracic spine. This twisting and rinsing churns and massages the internal organs of your abdominal organs. In a very real and physical sense this is stimulating your digestion system.
Upon releasing the twist, a flood of fresh blood rushes into the organs. This blood flow is bursting with oxygen and nutrients. This mechanism works to increase the functioning of these organs and thus support your digestion system.
Twists are sequenced into practices for this reason; digestion and detoxification of physical and emotional matter.
This movement will work to not only digest but to also assimilate that in which nurtures your body. Just as we need to assimilate emotions and feelings to nourish our heart and soul, we also need to assimilate the physical matter in our guts- nutrients and goodness.
- Prasarita Padottonasana (wide legged forward fold)
- Parsvottonasana (pyramid pose)
- Uttanasana (intense forward fold)
- Malasana (Garland pose)
- Baddha Konasana (Cobbler’s pose)
- Paschimottanasana (intense west stretching pose)
Once you have assimilated and taken what you need to nourish and restore you are ready to eliminate what you no longer need.
This is where forward folds come in.
Forward folds are a vital essence in the practice of yoga.
Forward folds are any asanas that put flection into your spine, think of folding your spine over your legs.
Sequenced specifically to regulate the nervous system and decrease mental chatter, anxiety and fatigue. AKA hello PNS. This group of asanas help to ease tension and soothe the nerves.
Traditional and even modern uses of forward folds are to instil a sense of grounding and letting go.
This movement and letting go can also be manifested into the physical realm. Once you are calm and soothed your body is well prepped to digest and eliminate, which as we all know is the final phase of digestion.
Common Forward Folds
- Parvrtta Prasarita Padottonasana (revolved wide stance forward fold)
- Parvrtta Parsvottonasana (revolved pyramid)
- Parvrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose)
- Jathara Parivritasana (revolved stomach twist)
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Lord of the fish pose)
- Marichiasana (Marichi’s Pose)
The Holy Grail of Asana.
Literally known as corpse pose. But not in the morbid sense. In the sense that your entire state of being in consumed in rest. Heart, body, mind, soul- everything. The ultimate relaxation. The ultimate state of assimilation, digestion and rest.
This is arguably the most peaceful asana as it requires you to do absolutely nothing.
Complete stillness and yet endless possibilities both in the emotional and physical realm.
By Sam Hardes
Colonic Hydrotherapist + Yoga Teacher.