A hiatal hernia, which occurs when the stomach presses up into the diaphragm, can vary in severity of pain and symptoms. Large hernias often require surgery, but smaller ones may go unnoticed. While a hernia can appear under many conditions, certain exercises and life choices can severely diminish the chances of suffering from one.
Food travels down the tube-like esophagus and passes through the hiatus, which is the opening to the diaphragm on the way to the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes through the hiatus. Small hernias often go unnoticed, but larger ones can cause food and stomach acid to be pushed back into the esophagus. Symptoms of a hernia include acid reflux, indigestion and chest pain. While exercises can help relieve the pain and limit further risk of a hernia, a doctor should be consulted if you believe you have such a condition.
Many yoga poses are specifically designed to strengthen the diaphragm and the stomach. One example is the Chair Pose, done while standing with arms perpendicular to the ground. Move your arms above your head and press your palms together. Exhale and bend your knees, pushing them out over your feet. The goal is to bring your thighs as close to parallel with the ground as possible. Press your shoulder blades to your back and lower your tailbone in the direction of the floor. Hold the pose for at least 30 seconds before straightening up.
Strengthening Stomach Muscles
Strengthening the stomach muscles can help reduce the risk of a hiatal hernia. One simple exercise that requires no equipment can be done by lying flat on your back and bending your knees so your feet touch the floor. Lift your lower back and buttocks off the ground so that only your shoulders and feet are on the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower yourself back to the ground. Repeat the move 10 times per day. When you first attempt this, you may feel some tightness in your stomach as your muscles contract.
Strengthening the Diaphragm
A strong diaphragm can keep the stomach from encroaching and reduce the risk of hiatal hernia. A simple breathing exercise can be done while lying on your back with a pillow under your head and another under your knees. Put one hand on your upper chest and the other below your rib cage and breathe in slowly through your nose. The hand on your rib cage should move out with your stomach while the hand on your chest stays still. Tighten your stomach muscles while you exhale through your mouth, again keeping the hand on the chest motionless.
While exercise plays a large role in maintaining a healthy body, there are other changes you can make to avoid the risk of hiatal hernia. Stop eating at least three hours before going to bed to cut down on acid reflux caused by hiatal hernia, and don't lie down soon after eating. Elevating the head of the bed about six inches also will keep food and acid down.