Can You Practice Yoga to Treat Acid Reflux?

Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D, MSN, RN, CRNA on May 23, 2016Written by Ashley Marcin on May 23, 2016

What is acid reflux?

The backward flow of acid from your stomach into your esophagus causes acid reflux. This is also called gastroesophageal reflux (GER). The acids may give you heartburn and taste unpleasant in the back of your throat.

Acid reflux is a common condition. Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population has had acid reflux, either occasionally or regularly.

If you have acid reflux more than twice per week or if it starts to affect your everyday life, you may have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition may lead to damage of your esophagus or other serious health issues if you don’t get treatment for it.

What are the symptoms of acid reflux?

The first symptom you’re likely to experience with acid reflux is a burning in your esophagus. This sensation happens when the acids wash back up from your stomach through the lower esophageal sphincter. Your symptoms may worsen when you lay down too quickly after eating or if you bend over.

Other symptoms include:

  • heartburn
  • chest pain
  • difficulty swallowing
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a sensation of a lump in your throat

Having certain conditions may increase your risk of developing GERD, including:

  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • diabetes
  • asthma

Acid reflux can cause a lot of discomfort if you don’t get treatment for it.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They may also ask you to keep a food diary to track your symptoms.

Your doctor may also run some tests:

  • They can perform an ambulatory acid probe test to measure the amount of acid in your esophagus over a 24-hour period.
  • They can perform an X-ray or endoscopy to assess any damage to your esophagus.
  • They can perform esophageal motility testing to determine the movement of your esophagus and the pressure inside of it.

Yoga and GERD

In a study on GERD, 45.6 percent of the people researchers surveyed identified stress as a lifestyle factor that impacted their reflux symptoms. Another study found that an increase in stress leads to an increase in how much acid the stomach secretes. More acid may mean more opportunity for reflux to cause symptoms.

Researchers went on to explore the relationship between yoga and stress, and they found that yoga might help lower the body’s stress response. They found some evidence that yoga may be an effective treatment for GERD and even peptic ulcers.

Researchers for this study didn’t look at yoga as a standalone treatment but rather as part of treatment plan. More studies are necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga as a standalone treatment.

Here are some tips if you’d like to incorporate yoga into your treatment plan for acid reflux or GERD:

Positions to try

If you want to try yoga to see if it helps your acid reflux symptoms but you’re not sure where to start, the internet has variety of free yoga videos. Yoga with Adriene offers a 12-minute routine for acid reflux. The purpose of the sequence is to help you relieve tension in your neck. She also instructs you to focus on your breathing, which can help relieve stress and balance your whole body. This video also covers seated breath work and some other poses, including Dancer, Mountain, and Chair.

This video doesn’t include strenuous moves or inverted poses, like Downward Dog, that might cause acid to flow up. Even with Shavasana at the end, Adriene suggests elevating your head using a block for added security.

Yoga and meditation expert Barbara Kaplan Herring explains that you may be able to help the symptoms of many digestive issues by practicing yoga. She suggests the following yoga poses to help to reduce acidity:

  • Supta Baddha Konasana, or Reclining Bound Angle
  • Supported Supta Sukhasana, or Reclining Easy Cross-Legged
  • Parsvottanasana, or Side Stretch with Upright Modification
  • Virabhadrasana I, or Warrior I
  • Trikonasana, or Triangle
  • Parivrtta Trikonasana, or Revolved Triangle

Everyone responds differently to yoga. If a move doesn’t feel comfortable or if it makes your acid reflux worse, you don’t need to keep doing it. Adding yoga to your treatment plan should help relieve stress and improve your condition.

Other treatments

Over-the-counter (OTC) antacids

In addition to yoga, you may want to try some more conventional treatments for your acid reflux. Some antacids are available without a prescription, and they may give you relief from occasional acid reflux. They work by neutralizing your stomach acid.

Prescription drugs

If you’ve found little relief from OTC antacids, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor. Stronger drugs are available by prescription. You may be able to use one or more of them.

These drugs include:

Baclofen is for more advanced GERD cases and has some significant side effects like fatigue and confusion. Prescription drugs increase your risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency and bone fracture.

Surgery

Surgery is another option if drugs don’t help or if you want to avoid potential side effects. Your surgeon can perform LINX surgery to strengthen the esophageal sphincter using a device made from magnetic titanium beads. Nissen fundoplication is another surgery they can perform to reinforce the esophageal sphincter. This involves wrapping the top of the stomach around the lower esophagus.

When to see your doctor

Frequent reflux may weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. In this case, you’ll likely experience reflux and heartburn more regularly, and your symptoms may worsen. GERD can lead to serious complications if you don’t get treatment for it.

The complications of GERD include:

  • inflammation of the esophagus, or esophagitis
  • bleeding of the esophagus
  • narrowing of the esophagus
  • Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precancerous condition

Sometimes, GERD symptoms may mimic heart attack symptoms. See your doctor immediately if you have reflux symptoms along with any of the following:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • jaw pain
  • arm pain

What you can do today

A link may exist between stress and acid reflux. Practicing yoga may help you reduce the effects of both of them. You can do the following to help reduce your symptoms:

Try yoga at a studio

If you think yoga might help your acid reflux, contact a local studio today. Talk to the teacher about the symptoms you’re experiencing and whether or not the classes offered might be for you. The teacher may be able to provide modifications during class for positions that aggravate symptoms or meet with you privately for a personalized routine.

Try yoga at home

You can also try yoga in the comfort of your living room. Before you get on the mat, remember to keep your routine gentle and slow. You should avoid postures that stress or put pressure on your stomach or are inverted, allowing acid to enter the esophagus. Otherwise, take this quiet time for yourself and remember to breathe.

Make other lifestyle changes

You can also make other lifestyle changes to lessen your occasional reflux or even prevent it without the use of medication.

  • Try keeping a food diary to track which foods make your reflux worse. Some foods that might exacerbate symptoms include chocolate, peppermint, tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, and onions.
  • Drink extra water with meals to help dilute your stomach acids. Beverages you should avoid include fruit juice, tea, alcohol, or anything fizzy.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Added pounds may put pressure on your stomach and push acid into your esophagus.
  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Sop eating in the hours before bedtime.
  • When you lay down, the stomach acids can more easily wash up and irritate your esophagus. You can raise the top of your bed with blocks to create an incline if that brings you relief.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing to reduce pressure on your abdomen and prevent reflux.
  • If you sign up for that yoga class, wear something comfortable and flowing for your practice.
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