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Reap the benefits inside and out with a yoga workout

Trying some twists and stretches can help to improve a sluggish gut, Abi Jackson reveals

From stretching and strengthening to de-stressing, there's a lot to love about yoga. But its benefits go much deeper than that - in fact, for Chris James, yoga instructor and author of new book Mind Body Cleanse, its effects are as much internal as external.

Alongside mindfulness tips, vegan recipes and juices, Chris explores how certain yoga poses can help stimulate digestion.

"There are many different poses that can help with your digestion," he says.

"Twists are quite remarkable because they not only massage, tone and rejuvenate your abdominal organs and promote digestion and peristalsis (the movement of food through the digestive tracts), but also improve the suppleness of the diaphragm. The spine also becomes more supple, allowing for correct spacing and alignment. This in turn improves blood-flow to the spinal nerves and increases energy levels."

Here, Chris shares three yoga poses and stretches that could help your digestion:

1. Ardha Matsyendrasana

(half lord of the fish)

Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, buttocks supported on a folded blanket or block. Slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip.

Lay the outside of the left leg on the floor. Exhale and twist toward the inside of the right thigh. Press the right hand against the floor just behind your right buttock, and set your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh together.

With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor to help. Twist more with every exhalation. Be sure to distribute the twist evenly throughout the entire length of the spine. Stay for 30 seconds to one minute, then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position, and repeat to the left.

2. Parivritta Trikonasana

(revolving three-angle or triangle posture)

From standing, turn your left foot in 45-60 degrees to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees.

Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward, so that the centre of the right kneecap is in line with the centre of the right ankle.

Square your hip points as much as possible with the front edge of your mat. As you bring the left hip to the right, resist the head of the left thigh bone back and firmly ground the left heel. Draw the left hand and arm as far forward as possible.

With an exhalation, turn your torso further to the right and extend forward over the front leg. Reach your left hand down, either to the floor (inside or outside the foot) or, if the floor is too far away, on to a block positioned against your inner right foot. Beginners should keep their head in a neutral position, looking straight forward or at the floor. Experienced students can turn the head and gaze up at the top thumb.

From the centre of the back, between the shoulder blades, press the arms away from the torso. Bring most of your weight to bear on the back heel and the front hand. Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute. Exhale, release the twist, and bring your torso back to upright with an inhalation. Repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed, twisting to the left.

3. Sarvangasana

(shoulder stand pose)

Fold two or more firm blankets into rectangles measuring one foot by two foot, and stack them one on top of the other. You can place a sticky mat over the blankets to help the upper arms stay in place while in the pose.

Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Lay the backs of your upper arms on the blanket and spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis over the shoulders, so that the torso is perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up your back toward the floor without letting the elbows slide too much wider than shoulder width. Inhale and lift your knees and straighten your legs toward the ceiling.

Beginners, stay in the pose for about 30 seconds. Gradually add five to 10 seconds to your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for three minutes. Then continue for three minutes each day until you feel comfortable.

Again, gradually add five to 10 seconds onto your stay every day until you can comfortably hold the pose for five minutes. To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again, and roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor, keeping the back of your head on the floor.

If you have existing health problems, always seek professional advice before embarking on any new exercise regime.

Mind Body Cleanse by Chris James is published by Vermilion, priced £14.99. Available now

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