Pilates for Digestive Health
If you’re feeling bloated and gassy, it’s common this time of year. The winter months are colder so you may not be moving as much, you’re eating heavier foods or you’re feeling stressed by all of the entertaining. As jolly as the season is, it can also wreak havoc on your digestion. Before you start popping pills or eliminating all of your favorite special seasonal treats, try doing some Pilates! Pilates can help stimulate the digestive system and force stale air and gas out.
Named after its founder, Joseph Pilates, the Pilates method is a series of low impact exercises done on a mat or using special equipment. It focuses on strengthening the body’s core, or “powerhouse,” which includes the abdominal muscles, lower back, inner and outer thighs, hips and buttocks.
But Pilates also stretches and lengthens the core. This in turn eases GI symptoms. Many of our daily activities tense our muscles, especially the all-important psoas muscle, which runs from the inner thigh, crosses the tummy and inserts in the low back. If the psoas is tight it compresses our entire abdominal region and can put major strain on the digestive track. Pilates relaxes this area. If you think of the body like a dish rag, Pilates helps wring everything out by working the core in multiple directions, it’s like a massage for those internal organs.
Grab a mat and try these exercises:
The Saw: This exercise massages the entire belly and as a bonus it recruits the transverse abdominal muscles and obliques, which don’t get used in traditional crunches and sit-ups. Sit tall with your legs wider than hip width. Stretch your arms out to your sides at shoulder height, twist to the right as far as you can go and imagine sawing off your right pinky toe with your left pinky finger (two pulses). Sit back up tall using your abdominals and repeat to the left side. Continue for 6-8 reps.
The Hundred: With its focus on breath, the hundred helps oxygenate the entire body, including the GI system, to keep it humming along. Start on your back, then keeping your shoulder blades anchored on the mat, lift your head and neck up off the mat. Extend your legs to a forty-five degree angle and stretch your arms at your sides. Hover the arms off the floor and start pumping them vigorously up and down five times on an inhale and five times on an exhale. Repeat 10 times for 100 pumps.
Spine Stretch Forward This exercise requires you to really pull the belly back toward the spine, forcing stale air—and gas–out. Sit up nice and tall and float your back ribs up off your hips, pull your abdominals in and round the top of the head up and over an imaginary beach ball. Tuck your chin in to your chest and hold for an exhalation, then inhale and stack your spine up tall again to starting position. Repeat 3-5 times.
Crisscross The twisting movement in the crisscross is like detox for the GI system. It rings everything out. Lie on your back, place your hands behind your head with your elbows wide, lift your shoulders up off the mat as you bring your legs in to table top position. Bend your right knee towards your left elbow as you extend your left leg long, repeat to the other side. Continue repeating back and forth for 16 reps.
Swan Dive Any exercise you do prone—on the belly–is a natural stomach massage. The added rocking in the Swan Dive really helps move gasses, too. Lie face down on the mat with arms overhead. On an inhalation, draw your navel to the spine and lift your torso up off the mat. Exhale, and lower back down. Repeat 5 times. If you don’t have any back discomfort, try rocking back and forth (3-5 times) in this position on the final rep keeping your toes and arms from touching the floor.
All exercise in general is great for getting our digestive system working top notch. Walking, running, cycling, dance and strength training can all help our circulation, metabolism and digestion. Pilates is one of my top choices because of the emphasis on the abdominals and it’s easy to do anywhere and this time of year. Give it a go and let me know your thoughts!
Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. She is currently teaching yoga with Peloton. She is the star of over 100 videos, seen in several magazines and tv shows and is a spokeswoman for many brands and causes she believes in. A proud mom to three, she sure keeps herself busy!