Yoga for the Innards

Dear Yogini: Are there any asanas that help out the smooth involuntary muscle, particularly the pyloric valve between stomach and esophagus. For a lot of people if they could just keep that puppy tight and working as designed (as a one way valve) they would have a lot less trouble. I prefer sanskrit names because there's less ambiguity about what it is. --- Belly Aches

Dear Belly Aches,
First a definition for those who are not familiar with the anatomical words, the pyloric valve is the control valve at the lower end of the stomach. Food passes from the stomach, through the pyloric valve into the first section of the small intestine. Food should pass just one way through your digestive system. When food backs up it brings with it digestive chemicals that will irritate the higher parts of the system. The most common complaint is acid reflux or heart burn which happens when partially digested food backs into the esophagus. When food mixed with bile in the duodenum (upper small intestine) backs into the stomach it causes gastritis.

While I know of no asana or yoga practice specifically focused on the pyloric valve, there are many practices focused on digestive and organ health. Uddiyanda Bandha and Nauli are said to aid digestion. Uddiyanda Bandha is a deep engagement of the abdominal muscles, ‘flying up,’ timed with breathing. To practice Uddiyanda Bandha, come into a easy high squat, knees bent and hands on knees, or you can sit forward on a chair seat with your hands on your knees. Lift your heart and take a big deep breath, then exhale completely, drop your chin toward your sternum, and hollow your belly up and under your ribs. Hold the exhale for about 4 counts, then take a long smooth inhale while you lift your head and heart. Repeat 5 to 10 times and then rest. As you are comfortable with this move, you can begin to add a stomach pump: while you are holding the exhalation engage your stomach muscles more strongly in small pulses. Effectively squeezing your anatomical stomach with your abdominal muscles with a short count of 2 or 3 squeezes per second. Squeeze the stomach 4 to 10 times and then take your next inhalation. Again, repeat the complete cycle up to 10 times and rest either sitting or standing when you are done. Practice Uddiyanda Bandha only with an empty stomach. Uddiyanda Bandha should not be practiced during pregnancy. If you become light headed or anxious while practicing Uddiyanda Bandha stop and rest in savasana.

More yoga for the innards tomorrow ☺