There’s nothing like the kind of bloat you get around Christmas..This year, it’s not just eating a load of sprouts and mince pies while sitting on the sofa for hours that’s causing the problem – Omicron stress is wreaking havoc on our digestive systems. Here’s how to beat it.  

After weeks of mainlining mince pies and moving every little, you might be feeling a little grey. Some of us are bloated all year round, but there’s a special kind of ballooning that happens around the festive season. This year, thanks to the stress of having PCR tests/trying not to get locked down for Christmas/getting boosters – combined with inactivity (if you’ve been in isolation) and festive food, the bloat is bigger and more disruptive than ever.

There’s an established link between stress and bloating. The NHS explains that stress can cause havoc on our digestive systems, with some people’s digestion slowing down – causing bloating, pain and constipation – while others’ speed up up (resulting in diarrhoea). If you’ve got IBS, worry only makes it worse. 

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If you are stressed, then you want to make sure that you don’t eat too fast, that you’re drinking plenty of water and that you eat regularly (better to eat smaller but more frequent meals).

That all can help to reduce the chances of discomfort, but what if you’re already bloated? Well, some simple yoga stretches may help. “Yoga can help address many of the root causes of bloating and related issues,” says Vanessa Michielon, movement specialist and founder of the Transformative Movement Method.

“On the purely physical level, specific poses help us stimulate our digestion, release muscular abdominal tension and move the air trapped in the intestine. But what yoga also offers (and what is arguably more important) are specific strategies to reduce the symptoms of stress,” she explains.

She points to research that has shown a properly designed yoga practice (“a combination of mindful moving and calming breathing techniques”) allows the belly to expand and soften, helping us tone the vagus nerve and shift to the parasympathetic state of the autonomic nervous system (the rest and digest state). And it’s then, Michielon claims, that we can create “the best conditions to restore the optimal functioning of our digestive system”. 

How to stretch to beat bloating

So, what kinds of poses are most effective? Well, it depends on what’s causing your bloat. If stress is to blame, you want to move slower, focusing on calming the body rather than challenging it with dynamic movements and gymnastic feats.

Back bends

“A combination of pressure and expansion around the stomach/intestine area is ideal to release tension in the abdominal area and stimulate digestion,” says Michielon.

To create pressure, try gentle, prone (lying on your stomach) back bends like sphinx or cobra, which Michielon explains “lengthen the abdominal wall and create a connection between your belly and the ground”.

Wind-relieving poses

Stretches that connect the thighs and stomach can help to relieve trapped gas, so try:

  1. Lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest
  2. Gently rock side-to-side

Malasana, or ‘yogic squat’ can be great for applying pressure to the sides of the torso:

  1. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart
  2. Sit back into a deep squat – so that your bum drops towards the floor
  3. Use the elbows to push out the knees. 

Try a gentle standing forward fold with bent knees to get your torso resting over your thighs:

  1. Bending the knees, fold forwards from the hips
  2. Let the arms go floppy and the neck relax
  3. Hang there for a few breaths before slowly rolling back up

Expanding moves

Michielon also recommends practising gentle seated chest openings or lateral arms reaches. A classic cat-cow classical sequence can be useful for mobilising the back and front body too.

Twisting stretches

“Twisting stretches are also key to massaging the digestive organs, especially if performed by twisting first towards the right side, then the left, as this pattern facilitates the natural flow of the stool through the intestine,” Michielon explains.

“For a passive twist, lieon your back and let your knees drop to one side while maintaining your shoulders anchored on the floor. For an active twist, you can come up to seated, lengthen your spine and rotate it towards the right to a place of comfort drawing your abdominals gently in and repeat slowly to the opposite side.”

How soon after eating should you stretch?

Given that many of us will be feeling at our most bloated an hour or two after lunch or dinner, it’s worth thinking about when you want to stretch or do a yoga flow. Michielon says that how long you should wait after eating before practising really depends both on the intensity of the practice you choose and your personal preferences.

“I personally can jump on my mat right after breakfast, and I know students who like having a small, nutritious bite to get enough energy to go through their session, especially during pregnancy to avoid sugar dropping. However, the general indication is to wait one or two hours after a light meal, or three-to-four hours after a heavier one to give your body the time to digest.”

Check out our range of stretchy How-To videos over on the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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