Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Got Acid Reflux? Here's 3 Tips to Keep Your Yoga Practice Comfortable

Yoga causes heartburn? Must be all of those heart-opening asanas, right? Unfortunately, no, it might actually be causing you or your students heartburn if you come to class with pre-existing acid reflux. Here's what you need to know to work around it and ensure a comfortable practice.

What is it? 

Acid reflux occurs when the muscle that prevents stomach contents from re-entering the esophagus is weak or fails to close tightly enough. Stomach acid and contents can leak up into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation in the chest (commonly known as heartburn), nausea and the feeling that something is stuck in the throat. If left untreated, it can cause damage to the esophagus.

Acid reflux is especially common in pregnant women and individuals who are over their healthy weight. Doctors generally treat it by recommending lifestyle changes, like avoiding problem foods or activities, and with over-the-counter medications.

If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above during your yoga practice, or if you're a teacher and a student reports these symptoms to you, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor if you don't already know you have acid reflux. If you already know you have it, but love your yoga and don't want to give it up completely, then here's a few tips for making it more comfortable.

1) Don't eat for at least one-hour before you practice.

Most yoga teachers believe that students shouldn't eat for at least one hour prior to class for several reasons - energy will be diverted from practice and towards digestion, you can't breathe as deeply on a full stomach as you can on an empty one are two reasons I've heard given often. If you have acid reflux, then it's a rule. The less you have in your stomach, the less contents there are to leak back into your esophagus. So time your practice around your meals and make sure you practice fully digested.

2) Figure out which asanas bring on symptoms, and avoid them.

Not eating before class will help reduce the symptoms of nausea and feeling that something is stuck in your throat, but even when the stomach is empty, there's still stomach acid inside of it that can leak out. The stomach acid is what causes long term damage and students must be cautious not to put their bodies in positions that encourage the acid to escape.

Students with acid reflux should avoid inversions and any asanas in which the head is lower than the stomach. They should also modify all poses that require them to lie flat on the back by elevating the upper body slightly. Acid reflux is not a life-threatening condition, and so trial and error of most poses is ok, but if one of them consistently causes symptoms, then it's best to avoid it.
Contraindicated poses for Acid Reflux: Bridge, Dolphin, Downward Facing Dog, Extended Puppy, Feathered Peacock, Forearm Stand, Handstand, Head Stand, Knew Down Twist, Legs Up the Wall, Plow, Rabbit, Shoulder Stand, Thread the Needle, Wheel, Wide Legged Forward Bend

3) Add comfort to your practice with props 

Students with acid reflux can find comfort in most supine asanas by modifying them with simple props. When an asana requires you to lie flat on your back you can use a prop to raise your upper body slightly. If you practice in a studio, you should have access to the props below or to a stack of blankets that you can roll and stack in a pinch. Anything that maintains the authenticity of the pose while keeping your upper body higher than your stomach should do the trick.

Yoga Bolsters

Yoga bolsters come in different shapes, stuffings and firmness. They also range in price. This standard cotton bolster from YogaAccessories runs about $20. The Manduka airCORE Bolster is designed to be lighter than traditional filled bolsters and also comes in a rectangular shape.

Wedge Pillows

Wedge pillows are recommended by doctors for folks suffering from acid reflux symptoms when lying down. They range in price from about $35 up to $80 for deluxe memory foam versions. Try the Core Products Foam Wedge. There's also an inflatable version manufactured by Soymedical if your studio doesn't offer wedges and you want to bring it to class.

Remember, even when you go to a yoga class at a studio or gym, it's your practice. The teacher and the students around you can't feel what's going on in your body, only you can, so listen to it and respond accordingly. Never feel embarrassed or judged for using a prop or an aid or skipping an asana altogether, if that's what you need to do. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own yoga safety. Take care of yourself. 

Do you practice yoga with acid reflux or have you experienced symptoms after class? Know of another asana to be careful of? Tried and loved (or hated) a prop or aid mentioned (or not mentioned) above? Please tell us about your experiences in the comments section.


Victoria McColm is a consultant, connector and entrepreneur with a passion for yoga - and making it safer. She founded Prevent Yoga Injury and serves as Editor. She is the author of The Contraindication Index for Yoga Asanas - an essential reference guide to injuries, ailments, and medical conditions that can be exacerbated by certain yoga postures. 

Victoria entered teacher training with a consultant's mindset and immediately saw gaps in available yoga resources, as well as disconnects in the yoga community and industry at large. A problem solver by nature, she set out to fill these gaps and facilitate a needed dialogue on the issues of yoga safety. Her vision is to build Prevent Yoga Injury into a one-stop-shop for reliable and pragmatic information on best practice, yoga safety, injury prevention and contraindications. She is a registered yoga teacher with 200 hours of training and is a member of the Yoga Alliance Standards Committee Advisory Group.


  1. Victoria, I wanted to bring to your attention a wedge that is more comfortable then the on depicted in this article. Reflux Guard the web site; www.RefluxGuard.com

  2. Thanks Tom for the suggestion! I'm sure the audience will appreciate feedback on a prop you've used successfully. ;-)

  3. It's great to see this article. About 10 years ago I had a regular yoga practice, attending weekly classes and practising at home. I found it was really helping me manage my CFS. Unfortunately I began to experience reflux during and after practice, and basically gave it up completely for about 8 years. It's a pity because I have lost a lot of ground with my health in that time. Now I have a fairly regular home practice but I can only manage 10-15 minutes without overdoing it. Nevertheless, I find a little is better than none.