Peter Sterios, a hatha yoga teacher in California, and the founder of yoga-mat company Manduka, offers a practice to keep your digestive system moving. “If you’re sluggish in the belly, this sequence is a great jump-start,” says Sterios. According to the yoga tradition, by practising standing poses that alternately compress and release your abdominal region, you can increase circulation to your organs and stimulate your digestive system. After many years of practising and teaching, Sterios finds that the following sequence is just right for maintaining healthy digestion.
This physically and mentally demanding practice tones your belly. To help you reap the full benefits, breathe into the back body and soften your belly, which will encourage a receptive response to the strength-building process of the sequence. Take two to three slow, conscious breaths in each pose, and feel physical and psychological tension release. “The softer I can get in preparation for my practice, the more benefit the practice has for my metabolism,” says Sterios. “By the end of the sequence, Triangle feels like Savasana.” Finish your practice feeling relaxed and energised—isn’t that how we’d all like to feel after practising?
Redirect your breath. Begin in a Child’s Pose variation with your legs together and fists nestled between your thighs and belly. Redirect your breath to your back body, softening the muscles and internal organs. Next, sit cross-legged with your arms extended in front of you and fold forward until you meet resistance. Stay 1 to 2 minutes in each pose.
Feel the warmth. Take Downward-Facing Dog for 5 slow, conscious breaths, then move into Child’s Pose, with your arms beside you, for 2 to 3 minutes. Feel the warmth of your practice and the weight of your heart releasing.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Balance left to right, front to back. Slowly lift your arms up and hold your left wrist with your right hand. Pull your left arm straight and lean onto your right foot, sidebending to the right. On an inhalation, breathe into your left lung. On an exhalation, soften into the right ribs. Take 3 breaths. Come back up to centre and repeat on the left.
From standing, take your arms behind you and bring your palms together, fingers pointing up (or hold your wrists or forearms). Shift your hips forward, keeping your legs straight. Draw your chin in slightly and lean your head back, keeping the throat soft, collarbones dropping away from your ears. Stay for 2 to 3 breaths. On an inhalation, lift up to standing and release your arms.
Roll forward with a round spine, hands sliding down the backs of your legs. Avoid pushing or pulling; instead, use gravity to guide you as you fold. Let your torso lift slightly as you inhale. On an exhalation, soften the skin below your navel, feeling your abdominal organs release inward. Take 2 to 3 breaths and curl your spine back up to standing.
Step your right foot back, bend your left knee and place both hands on the floor in a lunge. Slide your hands forward, shift your weight onto your left foot, straighten your left leg and lift your right leg. You can use a block under your left hand for support. Rotate your right thigh externally, lift your right hip point away from the left and flex your right foot. Lift your right arm straight up, fingertips extending. Take 2 to 3 breaths here.
From Ardha Chandrasana, drop your right hip until your torso and pelvis are level. Keep your right leg parallel to the floor, toes pointing back. Slowly reach both arms forward, palms shoulder-distance apart and facing each other, or rest your hands on a block beneath your shoulders. Keep your torso and your shoulders parallel to the floor for 2 to 3 breaths.
From Virabhadrasana III, lower your right hand to the floor or to a block and lift your left arm. Keep your right leg parallel to the floor and reach back through your heel, flexing your foot. Open your navel and then your heart toward the left. Soften your diaphragm, feel your organs recede slightly and twist deeper. Stay here for 2 to 3 breaths.
Look down and use the stability of your standing leg to encourage a graceful transition as you bend your left knee and lower your right foot gently to the floor. Straighten both legs into Parivrtta Trikonasana. With each inhalation, allow your torso to unwind slightly. On each exhalation, soften your diaphragm and gently turn your waist deeper. Extend through your arms and keep your hips level, with your back leg strong and back heel grounded. Take 2 to 3 breaths here.
From Parivrtta Trikonasana, extend your torso and arms forward, parallel to the floor, with palms shoulder-distance apart. Draw your navel in slightly, soften your collarbones and release your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your hips level and square to the front of your mat. Build your stamina and the duration of your hold in this pose slowly. If your lower back is sensitive, start with 1 breath.
From Parsvottanasana, drop your left hand to a block or to your foot and lift your right arm. Extend through both arms, feeling your chest opening and upper back spreading. As you reach this last pose of the sequence, notice how your mental state becomes calm even as you retain the power in your legs. Stay for 2 to 3 breaths. Then, step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Repeat poses 4 through 9 on your right side.