Feeling gassy and bloated? According to Ayurveda, gas and bloating are imbalances that shouldn’t be ignored. This ancient holistic science and yoga offer postures and practices to reduce these uncomfortable symptoms.
Any vitiation in digestion demands immediate attention before it leads to further imbalance. Ayurveda considers digestion to be the cornerstone of health; the physical body is, after all, literally made up of food.
Even yoga calls the physical sheath the annamaya kosha, meaning ‘food body’. We really are what we eat! If our food isn’t properly digested, assimilated, and waste products properly excreted, then the physical body and even mind can eventually suffer.
These methods from Ayurveda and yoga reduce gas and bloating to get digestion back on track.
Eliminate foods that cause gas.
Ayurveda explains that certain foods aggravate the vata dosha (one of the three vital energies that support the body). When vata is imbalanced, gas and bloating can ensue.
First to blame are cruciferous vegetables. Ayurveda classifies foods partially according to their elemental makeup, and cruciferous vegetables have a lot of the air element. Because like increases like (and opposites balance; a law of nature and basis for ayurvedic treatment theory), airy vegetables aggravate an airy digestive system (i.e., one with flatulence).
Other foods that are classically vata-aggravating are beans (with the exception of mung and lentils), raw vegetables, dry foods (like chips and crackers), and cold food.
Simply removing these from the diet can make a world of a difference.
Make food more digestible with spices.
Although those with gas and bloating are better off eliminating certain vegetables, they can also mitigate the gas-producing effect of even the worse culprits by cooking with digestive spices.
Spices have subtle medicinal effects. They’re used in Ayurvedic cooking not just for flavor, but to support the process of digestion, toxin elimination, and overall wellbeing. A combination of cumin, coriander, and fennel is well-balanced and supports all body types. Saute the seeds and toss them over vegetables, soups, and beans; or add powdered spices during the last 30 seconds of cooking.
Turmeric, rock salt, and asafoetida are excellent for mitigating a food’s gassy aftermath. Asafoetida, called hing in Sanskrit, is difficult to find and stinky, but it adds a subtle truffle flavor and is the best antidote to cruciferous vegetables. Look for it in Indian markets and add a small pinch when cooking.
Keep the bowels moving.
Gas and bloating are often secondary symptoms of constipation. While bowel movements are given very little attention in Western medicine, they’re a major source of concern in Ayurveda. Once the body has separated food into nourishment and waste, that waste must be eliminated properly. If it stays around, it’s considered a toxin.
To keep the bowels moving, consume plenty of healthy fiber from vegetables and whole grains. But remember, raw and cruciferous vegetables can aggravate constipation. Avoid both and steam or saute vegetables rather than eating them as salads.
Drink plenty of warm water, add moderate amounts of healthy oils (like ghee, coconut, and olive) to meals, and make time to eliminate in the morning. Never suppress urges.
For extra support, soak 2-3 figs or dates during the day, blend them with warm water and drink before bed. Or drink a glass of hot water with a teaspoon of ghee in the morning on an empty stomach (unless the tongue is heavily coated; this may aggravate the problem).
Sprinkle some flax seed powder over meals, or try drinking 1 oz. of aloe vera juice in the morning on an empty stomach.
Choose one of these remedies and try it for a few days. If it doesn’t help, try another, or combine a few methods.
Massage the belly.
Massaging the belly with warm castor or sesame oil helps to calm aggravated vata in the belly. Heat about a tablespoon in a hot water bath. Then gently massage the abdomen with oil using slow, gentle, rhythmic circles. Do this daily on an empty stomach.
The colon ascends on the right side of the body and descends on the left side of the body. For this reason, massage in clockwise circles to follow this natural movement. It helps to move feces and flatus out.
Manage stress and anxiety.
The body and mind are intertwined, and given enough time, an imbalance in one will eventually affect the other. Too much stress and anxiety in the mind aggravates the vata of the body. As a result, constipation, gas or bloating may manifest physically.
Yoga is one of the best tools to combat an overactive, frazzled mind. An asana practice has a nearly instantly stress-relieving effect. Even better, though, is pranayama.
Pranayama means ‘breath expansion. It’s the yogic technique of manipulating the breath to influence the mind. Pranayama exercises teach the mind to focus and concentrate while either soothing or invigorating the mind.
For gas and bloating related to stress and anxiety, two of the best pranayama techniques are alternate nostril breathing and bee breathing. These are simple practices but they should nonetheless be learned from a yoga teacher. Pranayama done incorrectly can strain the lungs.
To practice alternate nostril breathing (called nadi shodhana in Sanskrit), sit tall in a comfortable position. Rest the left hand on the left thigh. Close the eyes.
Using the right hand, gently rest the index and middle fingers at the third eye (the space in between and just above the eyebrows). Close the right nostril with the thumb. Gently and smoothly inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right. Close the right and exhale through the left. Inhale through the left.
Repeat this pattern—exhaling and inhaling through one nostril, then the other—for 3-5 minutes. Release the hand and sit quietly, observing the tranquility that this practice brings.
To practice bee breathing (called bhramari pranayama in Sanskrit), sit tall in a comfortable position. Close the eyes. Gently cup the hands over the ears. Inhale slowly and fully through the nose. With the lips closed, exhale and make a smooth, long humming sound. Imagine mimicking a bumble bee—the inspiration for this practice’s name. Again inhale slowly and fully, then exhale and make a long, slow humming sound.
With each exhalation, concentrate on the vibration felt in the lips, throat, or chest. Repeat around 10 rounds. Then release the hands and marinate in the soothing vibrations of this practice.
Either of these pranayama exercises can be practiced at any time of day. Whether in the morning after rising, just before bed, or in times of work stress, they bring balance to the mind and vata dosha; acting on the root cause of gas and bloating.
Use yoga to balance digestion.
Unlike most forms of exercise, yoga compresses, massages, and twists the digestive organs. This makes it an excellent method for combatting gas and bloating. Any well-balanced yoga practice is helpful, but there are specific asanas that can provide immediate relief.
Pawanmuktasana actually means wind-relieving pose. To practice, lie on the back with the legs together. Exhale and bend the right leg, drawing the knee toward the chest. Interlace the fingers around the upper shin. Draw the leg as close to the abdomen as possible, keeping the left leg flat on the ground.
Inhale deeply into the belly so that it expands. Hold the breath and lift the head and shoulders from the floor to touch the nose to the knee (or close to it). Pause here for a moment, then exhale and lower. Repeat two more times. Release the right leg, then practice the same movement with the left leg bent and right leg on the floor.
Squat and rise pose also helps to eliminate flatulence but should be avoided by those with knee issues. The Bihar School of Yoga calls this one utthanasana—although it’s not the standing forward bend utthanasana that we’re used to in the Western world.
To practice, begin standing with the feet about 2 ½ feet wide. Turn the toes slightly outward. Interlace the fingers and let the arms hang. Bend the knees and slowly lower with an exhalation into garland pose (malasana) until the hands are resting on the floor. Then slowly rise with an inhalation. Practice 5 rounds.
Other yoga poses that help to correct an imbalanced digestive process are twists like half lord of the fishes (ardha matsyendrasana), universal spinal twist (shava udarakarshanasana), and rocking and rolling side to side in a little ball; poses that put gentle pressure on the abdomen like bow (dhanurasana) and crocodile (makarasana); and backbends that stretch the abdominal region like bridge (setubandhasana) and camel (ustrasana).
Ayurveda and yoga aren’t a quick cover up for gas and bloating, but target the root cause of this uncomfortable imbalance. It’s best to take care of these symptoms right away so that they don’t manifest as something deeper. The right diet, state of mind, and movement support the digestive system to mitigate flatulence and prevent its return.