Yoga Poses for Very Full Bellies

I came across this article last week in the Sydney Morning Herald: Yoga Poses to Help When You've Eaten Too Much. “Perfect,” I thought, and filed it away for Christmas Day.

Anyone that knows my Mum knows she cooks for an army and Christmas Day was no exception. There was tons of food (and plenty of leftovers), which left me feeling a little full when I got home.

It's not really a good idea to practise too soon after a heavy meal but yoga poses can help to stimulate the digestive system. If you do decide to hit the yoga mat it is important to go slowly and be aware of your body and thoughts. Only you know what is best for you!

I didn't think I had eaten too much and it had been a couple of hours since dessert. So I rolled out my mat to try the suggested poses. However, I'm not as lithe or flexible as the yogi in the photos and with a fuller belly than I thought, tight hip flexors and a bad back, I needed to modify. And as much as I wanted to share the SMH article, I realised that there would be others who would also have to modify.

So this post describes some modifications and alternative poses to each of the poses suggested in the article. The poses, modifications and alternatives are summarised in the following table:

Pose in the article Modifications Alternative poses
Balanasana - Child's Pose
Supta Virasana - Hero Pose
Pandangusthasana - Standing Forward Fold
Trikonasana - Triangle Pose
Parvritta Vishvavajrasana - Double Diamond Twist
Viparita Kirani Legs up the Wall (gentle inversion) or Sirsasana Headstand (advanced inversion)

Child's Pose

I include this extended version of child's pose in most of my classes. It is a great relaxation pose and provides a nice stretch through the back. So, how can this pose be a problem?

The pressure of the thighs against a full belly was very uncomfortable!

Modifications

These modifications to child's pose place less pressure on the abdomen whilst retaining the calming effects of a relaxation pose.

  • Wide-legged pose of the child

    Reference: “Curvy Child's Pose”, Curvy Yoga

    Bring the toes together, take the knees out wide, and gently lower your torso between the thighs.

  • Supported pose of the child

    Reference: “Curvy Child's Pose”, Curvy Yoga

    1. Use a bolster or blankets to make a roll slightly longer than your torso.
    2. Place the roll between your thighs and lower your torso and head onto it. Turn your head to one side.
  • Chair version of pose of the child

    Reference: “Restorative Yoga: Exploring Supported Child’s Pose In-depth”, The Yoga Lunchbox

    This variation relieves pressure on the knees.

    You need two chairs, or a chair placed near a table or bench that you can easily rest your arms on.

    1. Sit in the chair about torso's length away from the seat or back of the other chair, or from the table or bench. Ensure your feet are flat on the floor. Move forward in your chair or place support under your feet if needed.
    2. Lean forward; cross the arms and place them on the other chair, table or bench; and then lower your forehead onto your arms.

      One of my students commented that this was like the brace position in an aeroplane. It's exactly like that! And if your host doesn't mind, you can practise this at the dining table as soon as you've finished your meal. ;-)

Alternative poses

Unlike child's pose, most of the alternative poses tend to be stimulating instead of relaxing.

Caution These poses are not suitable for people with hernia or who have had recent abdominal surgery because they apply pressure to the abdominal area.
  • Crocodile

    Reference: “Crocodile pose”, Yoga Point

    The crocodile is a relaxation pose.

    1. Lay face down on the floor.
    2. Place one hand on top of the other and let the elbows come out to the side. Rest your forehead on your hands.
    3. Spread the legs as wide as you can and let the heels fall towards each other.
  • Leg lock pose
    Caution
    • The leg lock pose can aggravate slipped disc and sciatic problems.
    • If you have osteoporosis or neck problems, do not raise the head.
    • If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, do not hold your breath during the pose. Ensure you are breathing normally while performing the pose.

    Reference: “Leg Lock Pose”, Satya Live Yoga

    1. Lay down on your back on the floor.
    2. Inhale and hug your right knee into the chest.

      If you don't have back or neck issues, lift your head and bring your nose towards your knee.

    3. Exhale. Lower your head and extend your leg.
    4. Repeat with the left knee.
    5. Do 3-5 times on each side in time with your breath.

    Want something stronger? Bring both knees to the chest on the inhalation.

  • Chair version of the leg lock pose
    Caution The cautions for the leg lock pose also apply to the chair version. This pose can be unsuitable for those with slipped disc, sciatica or other back problems; neck problems; osteoporosis; high blood pressure and heart conditions.
    1. Sit tall in the chair and place your feet flat on the ground.
    2. Inhale and hug your right knee into the chest.

      If you don't have back or neck issues, bring your nose towards your knee.

    3. Exhale, lower your leg and sit upright.
    4. Repeat with the left knee.
    5. Do 3-5 times on each side in time with your breath.

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Hero Pose

The reclining or supine hero pose helps to open the front of the body but it can be uncomfortable if you have tight hip flexors, tight thighs or knee problems.

Modifications

  • Half reclining hero pose

    The half recling hero pose involves bending one knee back whilst keeping the other leg extended.

  • Supported half or full reclining hero pose

    Reference: “Supported Reclining Hero's Pose ~ Supta Virasana”, Do Restorative Yoga

    For a supported version of half or full reclining hero pose, try one or both of the following:

    • Straddle a bolster or blanket to relieve pressure on the knees.
    • Use blankets, cushions or bolsters to build an incline onto which you can lay back.

Alternative poses

These alternative poses also open up the front of the body and can be a little kinder on the back and knees.

  • Towel stretch to open chest

    Reference: “Towel Stretch”, The Osteopaths of Heidelburg & Blackburn

    1. Roll up your yoga mat, or a towel or blanket lengthways.
    2. Sit off the edge of the roll and lay your spine along it. Ensure that your neck is long and your head is supported.
    3. Allow the hands to relax beside your body and have the palms face up.
    4. If your back feels uncomfortable, bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor.
  • Bridge and supported bridge

    References:

    For the bridge:

    1. Lay down on the floor on your back.
    2. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor about hip width apart.
    3. Place the hands beside your body with the palms face down.
    4. Inhale, press into the hands and feet and slowly raise the buttocks and the spine off the ground, coming to rest on the shoulder blades.
    5. Hold the pose for as long as comfortable, and then slowly lower the spine back down onto the ground.

    For the supported version of the bridge:

    1. Place a block, bolster or rolled up blanket within arm's reach, and lay down on the floor on your back.
    2. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor.
    3. Raise your buttocks off the floor and place your block, bolster or blankets under your sacrum (the large triangular bone at the base of your spine), not the lower back.
    4. Lower your sacrum onto the support. If you feel no discomfort or strain in your lower back, extend one or both legs. Let the hands relax beside you and have the palms face up.
    5. Hold the position for as long as comfortable.

    To come out of the pose, bend the knees, raise the buttocks off the support, remove the support and then slowly lower the spine back onto the ground.

  • Palm tree pose

    Reference: “Palm Tree Pose - Tadasana”, Satya Live Yoga

    1. Stand with the feet about hip width apart. Interlock your fingers in front of you.
    2. Inhale and raise the arms above your head, pushing the palms towards the sky.
    3. Exhale and lower the back of the hands to the top of the head.
    4. Inhale. Focus on a steady point and stretch the arms up coming onto the toes.
    5. Hold the balance for a couple of breaths, and then on an exhalation, lower the hands to the front.
    6. Repeat 5-10 times.
  • Twisting sphinx/cobra and cobra up the wall

    References:

    For twisting sphinx or cobra:

    1. Lay face down on the floor.
      • Sphinx: Place the hands so the thumbs are about level with the eyes and the elbows are resting out to the sides.
      • Cobra: Place the hands under the shoulders and keep the elbows close to the body.
    2. Inhale and slowly bring the nose along the floor, then the chin, and then gently peel the torso off the floor.
      • Sphinx: Let the elbows come in and adjust the position so that the elbows are below or slightly forward of the shoulders. Rest on your forearms and lengthen up through the spine.
      • Cobra: Push into the hands to raise the torso. If there is any pinching in the lower back, lower yourself or come into sphinx. Ensure that the elbows are close to the body and the shoulders are not hunched.
    3. Exhale and look over one shoulder. On an inhalation bring the head back to centre.
    4. Repeat on the other side.
    5. Exhale and lower the torso and head back to the floor.

    Do you find it uncomfortable being on the ground? The cobra up the wall variation relieves pressure on the wrists, shoulders and abdomen.

    1. Stand close to the wall, facing the wall.
    2. Place the hands on the wall about shoulder height. Let the elbows come in against the body.
    3. Press the pelvis towards the wall and tighten the buttocks.
    4. Inhale and gently move the nose, the chin and the breast bone up and away from the wall. Ensure that the shoulders are not hunched.
    5. Hold for a couple of breaths, and then on an exhalation gently bring the torso and head back against the wall.

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Standing Forward Fold

Caution Forward folds are not recommended for people with osteoporosis, and they can aggravate problems related to back conditions such as slipped disc and sciatica.

The standing forward fold provides an inversion and stimulates the digestive system. For alternative poses, see the alternative poses for child's pose and hero pose, and the section on inversions.

Modification

The chair version of the forward fold is a partial inversion so precautions for inversions need to be considered.

Caution If you have high blood pressure, heart conditions, or any condition where you do not want to feel fluid pressure in the head such as sinus problems or glaucoma, ensure that you do not drop the head down. Aim to keep your head above or level with the heart.

If you have low blood pressure or suffer from vertigo, ensure that you move slowly as you raise and lower the head.

Reference: “8 Seated Yoga Poses You Can Do From a Chair”, Spark People

  1. Sit tall towards the front of the chair. Have your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart.
  2. Staying seated, exhale and lay your body across your thighs bringing the hands towards the floor. Let yourself relax.

    If the pressure against the abdomen is uncomfortable, bring the legs a little further apart.

  3. Hold the position for as long as comfortable, and then on an inhalation roll up through the spine coming back to your seated position.

Alternative poses

  • Head-to-knee-pose

    Reference: “Head to Knee Pose”, Satya Live Yoga

    1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front.

      If you're rounding through your upper back or need to lean back to keep yourself upright, sit on a block or the edge of a blanket.

    2. Bend the left knee and place the sole of your left foot against the inside of your right leg. Let the left knee fall out to the side and, if needed, place a cushion or blanket under the knee to support it.
    3. Bend the right knee and bring it towards the chest. Interlock your hands behind the thigh.
    4. Exhale and slowly straighten the right leg ensuring that your abdomen remains glued to your thigh. If your abdomen starts to come away from the thigh, you've gone too far.
    5. If you're very flexible and your hands are touching the ground, release the hands, hold the lower leg or foot, and continue to extend the leg.
    6. Rest in the final position for 5-10 breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
  • Seated forward fold

    Reference: “Back Stretching Pose”, Satya Live Yoga

    1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front.

      If you're rounding through your upper back or need to lean back to keep yourself upright, sit on a block or the edge of a blanket.

    2. Bend both knees and bring them towards the chest. Interlock your hands behind the thighs.
    3. Exhale and slowly straighten the legs ensuring that your abdomen remains glued to your thighs. If your abdomen starts to come away from the thighs, you've gone too far.
    4. If you're very flexible and your hands are touching the ground, release the hands, hold the lower legs or feet, and continue to extend the legs.
    5. Rest in the final position for 5-10 breaths, then slowly release the position.

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Triangle

Caution Strong lateral (side) bends are not recommended for people with osteoporosis and can aggravate some back conditions. Instead, consider poses that lengthen the body such as the swaying palm tree pose, which is listed as an alternative to the triangle.

Modification

The side bend is a gentler, more dynamic version of triangle.

Caution If you have low blood pressure or suffer from vertigo, move slowly as you raise and lower the body.
  1. Stand with the feet a little wider than the shoulders. Ensure the outsides of the feet are parallel (so the feet are turned a little towards each other).
  2. Place the hands on the sides of the thighs.
  3. Exhale and slide the left hand down the left leg as you bend sideways. The right hands slides up the body.

    Ensure that you don't roll forward to get lower. Imagine you're standing with your back against the wall and as you bend over, the back remains against the wall.

    Better still! Find a wall to practise against. ;-)

  4. Inhale and come back up.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Do 5-10 rounds on each side.

Want something stronger? Do the side bends with your arms extended out at shoulder height. Have the palms facing forward and the fingers spread wide.

Alternative pose

The swaying palm tree pose stretches the sides of the trunk and the abdominal area, stimulating the digestive system. If you have shoulder problems, keep the hands by the side.

Reference: “Swaying palm tree pose - Tiryaka tadasana”, Satya Live Yoga

  1. Stand with the feet wider than shoulders.
  2. Interlock the fingers in front of the body.
  3. Inhale and raise the arms above the head, palms facing towards the sky.
  4. Exhale and bend to the left.

    Ensure that you don't roll forward to get lower. Imagine you're standing with your back against the wall and as you bend, the back remains against the wall.

    As you come to the side, think about lengthening the spine at the same time.

  5. Inhale and come back up.
  6. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Do 5-10 rounds on each side. Then,on an exhalation, lower the hands and release them.

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Double diamond twist

Caution Strong twists are not recommended for people with osteoporosis and can aggravate some back conditions.

I'd never see the double diamond twist before but it's a fun pose. I struggled to get into it on one side and just couldn't relax, and on the other side I couldn't reach my foot! Definitely a pose that required modification.

Modification

The double diamond twist seems to be a variation on the universal spinal twist. Instead of having one leg extended, both legs are bent in the double diamond twist.

Reference: “Universal spinal twist”, Satya Live Yoga

  1. Lay down on your back.
  2. Bend the knees and place the feet on the floor.
  3. Lift your bottom off the ground, move it a couple of centimetres to the left, and then lower yourself back to the ground.

    You'll feel that you're starting to turn a little towards the right.

  4. Extend the right leg along the ground and place the left foot on the right knee.
  5. Place your right hand on the outside of the left knee. Extend your left arm out at shoulder level and have the palm face down into the floor.
  6. Exhale and guide the left knee over the right leg towards the floor. Turn your head to look out over your ourstretched arm.

    Aim to keep the shoulders on the ground.

  7. Hold for up to 5 minutes, and then come back up on an inhalation.
  8. Bend the knees, place both feet on the ground, raise your bottom off the floor and centre yourself. Then extend both legs out.
  9. When you feel ready, repeat on the other side.

Alternative poses

  • Half Lord of the Fishes variation and chair version

    References:

    For the half Lord of the Fishes variation:

    1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front.

      If you're rounding through your upper back or need to lean back to keep yourself upright, sit on a block or the edge of a blanket.

    2. Squeeze the legs together, pushing out through the heels.
    3. Bend the left knee and place the left foot on the outside of the right leg, near the right knee.

      In the variation I teach the right leg remains extended. To come into the half Lord of the Fishes poses, bend the right leg and bring the right foot next to the left buttock.

    4. Do one of the following:
      • Hug the left knee to your body with your right arm
      • Bring the right elbow to the outside of the left knee and extend the right arm along the outside of the left leg
      • Bring the right elbow to the outside of the left knee, bend the arm and have the palm of the hand facing towards the left
    5. Place the left hand on the floor behind your left buttock.
    6. Inhale and lengthen up through the spine.
    7. Exhale and slowly turn from the base of the spine towards the left.
    8. Hold the position for 5-10 breaths, and on an inhalation return to centre.
    9. Release the pose and repeat on the other side.

    For the chair version of this pose:

    1. Sit on the chair, legs together and feet flat on the ground. If your feet do not touch the ground, roll up a blanket or mat and place it under your feet.
    2. If it's comfortable, cross your left leg over your right.
    3. Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee or thigh. Use your left hand to hold the seat of the chair near your left buttock. If this is not comfortable, try draping your arm over the back of the chair.
    4. Inhale and lengthen up through the spine.
    5. Exhale and slowly turn from the base of the spine towards the left.

      For a stronger stretch, press your right hand into your thigh or use your left hand against the chair to level yourself around.

    6. Hold the stretch for 5-10 breaths, and then on an inhalation slowly turn back.
    7. Release the pose and repeat on the other side.
  • Swinging twist

    Reference: “Yoga for Athletes - Warm Up - Coby Langford”, 3:22, Dru Yoga Online

    1. Stand with the legs about hip width apart and the arms relaxed by the side.
    2. Gently twist from side to side.

      This twist works into the sacrum, the lower part of the spine.

    3. Slowly raise the arms to around waist level.

      Feel how the twist moves up the spine, into the waist and abdominal area.

    4. Raise the arms up to shoulder level and step the feet a little wider apart.

      Feel the twist moving up between the shoulder blades.

    5. Slowly move the arms up and down as you twist, loosening along the spine.

      Step the feet closer as you lower the arms below shoulder level, wider as your bring the arms up to shoulder level.

      If there is an area that feels a little tight, keep the arms at that level.

    6. To end, slowly lower the arms and slow the movement.

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Legs up the wall, and Headstand

Caution Inversions are not recommended for those with very high blood pressure, heart condition, or any condition where you need to avoid additional pressure in the head such as glaucoma.

Legs up the wall is a gentle inversion that is suitable for most people. However, if you feel uncomfortable or nauseous, come out of the pose.

Modification

Reference: “Lying Down for Back Pain Relief”, Imogen Ragone

Legs up the wall can be performed by placing the calves or ankles on a chair. The chair versions can be a more comfortable to legs up the wall, especially if you have tight hamstrings.

Alternative poses

If inversions are not suitable for you, a relaxation pose will help to relax and calm you.

  • Shavasana

    Reference: “Corpse Pose”, Satya Live Yoga

    The classic relaxation pose!

    1. Lay down on your back with the feet about hip width apart and let the feet fall out naturally.
    2. Have the hands by the side with the palms face up.
    3. Ensure the neck is long by bringing the chin a little towards the chest. If your head comes away from the floor then place a cushion below the head.
    4. If your lower back feels like it's arching off the floor, bend the knees, place the feet flat on the floor and let the knees fall together. Alternatively, place some cushions or blankets underneath your thighs to relax your lower back.
    5. Rest in this pose for as long as you need.
  • Chair relaxation
    1. Sit in the chair with the feet flat on the floor. If needed, place a blanket or some other support underneath your feet.
    2. Lengthen up through the spine, feel the crown extending towards the sky.
    3. Relax through the shoulders and place your hands in your lap or on your thighs.
    4. Close the eyes and focus on the breath. Feel the body lifting and lengthening on every inhalation, grounding and stabilising with every exhalation.
    5. Rest in this pose for as long as you need.

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