Farting and Yoga: Why It Happens and What to Do About It
Farting and Yoga: Why It Happens and What to Do About It
Since I’m a yoga teacher, people often share with me their fears around going to their first class. Many ask, “What if I’m not flexible enough?” or “How will I know what to do?” And more often than not, someone asks, “What if I fart?”
Everyone farts. Even the most refined people on the planet, like kings and queens, fart. In fact, some doctors estimate that the average person passes gas 5–15 times in a day (1).
Farting is one of two ways your body expels excess gas — the other is burping. Farting is both normal and natural, and because of the nature of yoga asana (the physical poses), some experts say that it should be expected.
Is it normal to fart in yoga class?
Let’s get that out of the way immediately. Not only is it normal to fart in yoga, but it may also be good for us.
Melanie Salvatore-August, author of “Yoga to Support Immunity: Mind, Body, Breathing Guide to Whole Health,” calls farts and other bodily emissions that occur during yoga practice “natural releases” and strongly encourages people to let them flow.
In her book she explains that when “mental-emotional tensions leave the body, there may be a natural release that happens, possibly including tears, laughter, salivation, sweating, belches, hiccups, flatulence, coughing, sneezing, and the like. Do not repress these natural releases.”
Salvatore-August acknowledges that many of us have been conditioned to see these releases as uncivilized but suggests we reframe them as the body’s way of releasing toxins.
However, farts may be worrisome if they suddenly become excessive or extremely malodorous. This may indicate an underlying digestive disorder.
Bay area-based pelvic floor therapist Alicia Roberts says that involuntary farting is another concern.
Roberts explains that we should have “control over our pelvic floor muscles and sphincters” — what she calls an ability to keep the “doors closed.” She also warns against feeling as though you are “bearing down” in your pelvis or sphincter whenever activating your core. Ideally, when your core is engaged, you should feel a pull in and up, rather than forceful pressure downward, like you might have during a bowel movement.
What causes yoga farts?
Passing gas is not always simply related to what you’ve just eaten. There are actually a variety of additional causes.
Let’s begin with the reminder that toots serve a function. Besides being a great source of entertainment for younger children (and my husband), farts expel excess gas that builds up in the intestines, either from swallowing air or in response to bacteria digesting food.
For a deeper dive into which foods may lead to more farting and some considerations about eating and yoga, see below.
One of the benefits that yogis have been touting for centuries — since even before the existence of peer-reviewed articles and research — is that yoga aids digestion.
This is evident in the names of some poses, like Wind-Relieving Pose, called Apanasana in Sanskrit, in which you bring your knees into your chest while lying down.
Roberts says that one of the reasons yoga is likely to cause farts is that it creates pressure on the abdomen, which moves the gas “down and out more easily.” She also finds that twisting, in combination with spreading the legs apart, contributes.
As Roberts explains, “The twisting moves the gas down and out (which is why yoga can be a great way to stimulate the GI system), and then when we move one leg out, the pelvic floor and anal sphincters are stretched open and therefore the gas has an easier escape route.”
Positions where the bum is in the air, like Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), can cause excess air to enter the anus, which may lead to farting. For women, this may also happen vaginally, leading to vaginal gas, or “queefing.”
Pregnancy and postpartum recovery
One of the many hormonal changes that occur in the body during pregnancy is an increase in progesterone and relaxin. These lead to a loosening of the connective tissue throughout to accommodate the growing uterus and assist in birth.
But the digestive system also becomes “relaxed” and slows way down, which leads to an increase in gas, burping, and heartburn. One study conducted in pregnant mice found that digestion slows down significantly because of relaxin’s effect on smooth muscle tissue (2).
Another cause of farting during pregnancy is the weight of the uterus on the digestive organs.
Having the baby doesn’t mean the farts go away, either! A number of people experience excessive postpartum gas.
There are many potential causes, such as residual hormones (especially if breastfeeding, which may cause the body to continue to produce relaxin), pelvic floor injuries at birth, antibiotics (which some people take after cesarean deliveries or sutures), and constipation.
Pelvic floor dysfunction
The pelvic floor muscles span the base of the pelvis and support the bowels, bladder, and uterus. They are involved in elimination, gas, childbirth, and sexual functions.
Roberts explains that dysfunction happens when “the muscles are not doing their job effectively and cause a variety of symptoms, such as leaking urine/gas/stool, constipation, pelvic pain, pelvic/spinal instability, chronic pelvic/hip/back tightness, and sexual impairments.”
Roberts emphasizes that, like any other muscle, “the pelvic floor needs to be able to contract fully and relax fully.”
People can experience pelvic floor dysfunction even when they have not been pregnant nor given birth — including men, which Roberts says may be a lot more common than is perhaps discussed.
When farts leak out involuntarily, it is referred to as flatus incontinence. Roberts says this is often caused by an inefficient anal sphincter. It occurs in an estimated 33% of the population (3).
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Gas and bloating can also be common symptoms of IBS. Recent research estimates that IBS affects 10% of the world’s population, though those rates likely vary among countries and cultures (4).
Jesse Schein has been teaching yoga for 20 years. She is very open with her students about her own struggles with IBS symptoms, particularly on the mat. Schein reassures her students often that whether one has IBS or not, farting is very normal.
You’re really relaxed
Karly Treacy created the KT Method, a pelvic floor reprogramming system aimed at strengthening the whole body, mind, and spirit.
Stress can cause constipation or bloating from retained gasses. Treacy explains that when we do yoga or other mindfulness practices, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is aptly nicknamed the rest-and-digest system because it “gets everything moving!”
Should you hold it in?
You don’t need to.
Scientific evidence of long-term damage from holding in gas is quite limited. However, doing so may make your farts more audible in the moment and has been linked to abdominal distention, discomfort, and heartburn.
Remember, there are only two ways that gas leaves our body. What doesn’t go down must come up.
There is also potential for mental stress from fighting your body’s natural urges and fearing embarrassment, which may lead to even more gas.
Treacy calls resisting the flow of our natural releases “instant karma.” Karma is the law of cause and effect. Not listening to your body’s signals may lead to discomfort.
If it’s just too much to let it flow, feel free to excuse yourself at any point during class to use the restroom.
Is it something you ate?
Farting has many causes, and food is definitely one of the main culprits. Some gas-producing foods you may want to avoid before class are:
- carbonated drinks
- processed foods
What can I do to stop yoga farts?
Besides what you eat, you may want to pay attention to when and how you’re eating.
Be mindful of size and speed
Taking large bites and chewing with your mouth open may cause you to take in more air, which then leads to more air down there. Eating too quickly can also contribute to excessive gas.
Make your meal an extension of your yoga practice: Eat slowly and mindfully, savoring every bite.
Avoid sugar-free gums and candies
Sorbitol and xylitol are used as alternative sweeteners in many sugar-free products, such as gum and candy. They are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and can even have laxative effects (5).
It may not be what you ate but with whom
One study that examined the prevention and treatment of excessive gas from a traditional Persian medicine perspective suggests that good conversation and laughter may actually help reduce flatulence (6).
However, be aware that in addition to causing laughter, farting may also be caused by laughter — especially in those who are pregnant, postpartum, or experiencing any pelvic floor dysfunction.
Still, the idea of letting go of stress and enjoying your meal may be worth noting.
Take an early morning class
Roberts observes that attending earlier classes may help limit farting because your system tends to be emptier at that time. She also recommends trying to have a bowel movement before class.
“Oh man, what does my teacher think when I fart in yoga?”
Treacy once had someone have a “gaseous expulsion,” as she called it, during a hands-on adjustment. She usually tells her students that “a fart is just an exhale from the bottom,” often adding, “better out than in.”
Salvatore-August has more than 30 years’ experience teaching fitness classes and teaches for YogaWorks. She says, “When there is a natural release, I think it is mutually beneficial for us all to have the next most natural release response: laughter!”
Similarly to Salvatore-August, in addition to embracing the body’s biological processes, Schein recommends embracing the levity of the situation.
She says that when it happens in her classes, she says something along the lines of “That was very human and healthy” and then refocuses the class’s attention on the practice.
The bottom line
There are many reasons why yoga may trigger flatulence, but the main reason is that everyone farts.
It becomes concerning only when it is no longer voluntary.
The same way you feel the urge to yawn or sigh throughout the day, see what happens if you let your body’s natural releases flow in class. At the very least, you may help encourage another natural release: laughter.
Written by Sarah Ezrin on August 31, 2021 — medically reviewed by Courtney Sullivan, Certified Yoga Instructor