Yoga On a Full Stomach: Is It Safe?

Yoga On a Full Stomach: Is It Safe?

Yoga is surging in popularity lately, but is it safe to practice yoga after just eating a meal? Yoga can involve intense periods of stretching and exercise, and some poses can really put strain on your belly. Many of us have heard we should not swim or run after eating due to the risk of getting a cramp or worse. Should we have the same worry about yoga?

Yoga On a Full Stomach: Is It Safe? Practicing yoga on a full stomach is safe, but it may affect your energy levels or your ability to comfortably hold poses. Usually, it is best to eat a small, easily digestible snack a few hours before practicing yoga.

Some dedicated yoga practitioners will insist that yoga should only be performed on an empty stomach, but for some of us, our schedules and lifestyles do not permit us to fast for four hours or more before a yoga class.

Most yoga enthusiasts and medical professionals agree that while it is safe to exercise after eating, including practicing yoga, there are some general tips to keep in mind to help make for a more comfortable, more effective work out. Read on to find out more information to help you decide what will work best for your routine and your body.

» MORE: Here’s Why You Feel Sick After Yoga (And How to Fix It)

What Are the Reasons For Practicing Yoga On an Empty Stomach?

Some sources and yoga enthusiasts firmly believe that you should only practice yoga on an empty stomach, waiting at least four hours after eating anything. This often means practicing yoga first thing after you wake up, before you even have your morning coffee. Many dedicated yogis claim that this is the best and only way to properly practice yoga.

What is the logic behind this stance? First of all, there is a scientific reason some people support the idea of yoga only on an empty stomach. Digesting food requires a large amount of energy, especially right after you have just eaten. This means that most of your body’s energy supply is being shunted towards your digestive system. More energy towards your gut means less energy to maintain proper poses and stretches.

Another reason that some people recommend practicing yoga on an empty stomach is simply that it is more comfortable. Some yoga poses can be particularly complicated, involving fairly extreme twists in the torso or backbends that can easily result in discomfort if trying to work with a full stomach. Some positions require inversion, such as headstands, and this can cause acid reflux and discomfort if your stomach is full.

If your stomach is empty, it might be much easier and more comfortable for you to hold these poses. However, a completely empty stomach can also work against you in a workout if your body does not have enough energy to function properly.

Finally, it is important to remember that yoga finds its roots in the Hindu ceremonial practices of India. For some, fasting before yoga is part of the spiritual component of the exercises. Most Western approaches to yoga do not adhere as strictly to these traditional disciplines, but it is worth acknowledging the significance of this for some dedicated yoga practitioners.

» MORE: 11 Foods To Eat Before Yoga Class

How Much Time After Eating Can You Do Yoga?

For many of us, practicing yoga first thing after we awake might not be an option. As such, we might not be able to have a completely empty stomach at the time we go to perform our first pose. So what can we do to achieve the best yoga routine but not make ourselves feel sick from a full stomach? Most experts recommend eating no less than a half hour before you intend to workout.

Ideally, with any exercise it is best not to have a large amount of food in the stomach because the process of digestion requires a lot of energy. Blood will be diverted to the gut in order to supply it with necessary nutrients and oxygen, meaning less available nutrients and oxygen for the rest of our body, such as our muscles. 

When the body requires energy to be pulled away from the gut, such as to workout, it also hinders the absorption of nutrients from the food we just consumed. This means that even if we ate a perfectly healthy meal, we won’t reap the full benefits of it.

If you can’t practice on an empty stomach, or practicing on an empty stomach makes you feel weak or lacking in energy, eat a small portion of easily digestible food forty-five minutes to an hour before your practice. These foods should be high in carbohydrates for the best energy boost, such as fresh fruits, oatmeal, or a bagel.

Please note, if you have health conditions that affect your blood sugar, such as diabetes or hypoglycemia, you should consider consulting your primary care physician to determine how to maintain your blood sugar levels properly during yoga exercises by eating the right things at the right time.

Can You Do Yoga On a Full Stomach?

While yes, it is generally safe to practice yoga on a full stomach, there are some reasons why it may not be the best idea for everyone.

First of all, eating a big meal before exercise can be hard on the body. Most people wouldn’t consider going on a run after just consuming a large meal, and yoga shouldn’t be approached differently. After eating a large meal, your body needs a bit of time to rest and digest. Most of your body’s energy reserves will be focused on the stomach and gut, and so there will not be much energy available for a workout.

Some foods only take a few hours to digest, but other foods, such as fatty, protein rich foods like meat or fish, may take up to eight hours before they even leave your stomach! This means that if you rush to yoga just after scarfing down a full portion of salmon and rice, you might find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed during the workout.

Sometimes, due to our busy lives and work schedules, the only time available to practice yoga might be during a lunch break or right after a meal. If that is the case, then you can rest assured that it is perfectly safe to still practice yoga. If you find yourself feeling a little nauseous in a class due to your full stomach, it is always fine to take a short break and lay on your back or in child’s pose until you feel like joining back in. 

Remember, it is important to listen to your body when exercising and don’t push yourself to the point of injury or sickness. If you feel unwell or dizzy, then it is absolutely fine to sit back and relax for a bit. Find out the right balance of eating and working out that works best for your body.

» MORE: Will Yoga Give You Abs?

What Sort of Foods Are Good to Eat Before Yoga?

If you have decided you do need to eat before your yoga class, there are certain foods that are better to consume than others in order to achieve the best energy levels and less risk of digestive discomfort. 

First, it is helpful to determine how much energy you plan to expend during your yoga class in order to determine how much of and what sort of things you should consider eating beforehand. If you are planning a longer, more intense endurance routine that may last an hour or longer, then you will expend more energy than if you are just planning on a quick twenty minute routine.

Remember, it is generally advised to wait at least a half hour after eating in order to give your body a chance to digest the food. The closer you are to starting your workout, the less quantity you should eat. Aim for eating no more than the size of your fist.

If you are several hours away from starting your yoga routine, consider a meal that is high in carbohydrates and eat to digest. This includes oatmeal, pasta, fruits, breads, and energy bars. Refined grains will give a quicker rise in blood sugar, which can be helpful for intense, short-term workouts, while whole grains will give a more steady glucose level more ideal for endurance workouts.

If you only have an hour or so before working out, consider grabbing fresh fruit or a bagel, or eating a little bit of yogurt. Be sure to also drink plenty of water. If you plan to start your yoga class in less than an hour, stick to lighter fare that won’t sit heavy in your stomach, like fresh fruit, an energy gel, or a sports drink.

What Sort of Foods Should I Avoid Before Yoga?

Foods that are high in fiber or fat are both not a good decision before exercise of any kind, as these tend to be slower to digest. It is also best to avoid anything that is low in nutrient value, such as candy.

High fiber foods may seem like a good decision because nutritionally they tend to be a very solid choice, but since they take a long time for the body to digest they are not good to eat before a workout. The body will be forced to divert energy to the digestive system for a much longer period and this can result in nausea and cramping during a workout.

High fiber foods include beans, broccoli, lentils, and popcorn. High fiber foods can also cause gas, which can mean uncomfortable bloating during your workout and potentially embarrassing situations. High fat foods such as red meat, potato chips, and fried food will also take more time to digest and as a rule should be avoided.

Caffeine is also generally a good idea to avoid. While a cup of coffee might give us a momentary perk of energy, this energy is due to the stimulating effect of caffeine on the nervous system and not because it is actually fueling your muscles. As such, it can give a misleading initial burst of energy which quickly fades to give way to fatigue. 

Caffeine can also cause dehydration, which can result in further fatigue and headaches.

» MORE: These 14 Poses Help With Digestion Issues

I Just Ate a Meal But Want to Do Yoga: Are There Any Yoga Poses That Are Better For Me?

People can have different reactions to exercising on a full stomach. Many times, it will depend upon how strenuous the exercise is and what was eaten. A tough workout right after eating can result in hiccups, acid reflux, and even vomiting. So it is usually best to take things slow and listen to your body. Even easier poses might not be suitable if you don’t feel well.

Some poses can be better if you feel a little full but still want to try to work in a bit of yoga. Perhaps you just have a bit of a bloated belly or you just indulged a little too close to your workout, but whatever the case there are some poses that might still be comfortable and possibly help relieve some of the bloat in the process.

First, the Seated Cat-Cow is a good choice because it allows for stretching the spine while gently stretching your abdomen. Start seated in the Cow Pose, with shoulders back and belly forward, hips above the knees. With an exhale, shift to the Cat Pose, with belly tucking backward and shoulders rolling forward. Inhale and return to Cow Pose. Repeat.

The Reclined Cobbler’s Pose, or Reclined Bound Angle Pose, can also help open up your hips and abdomen, even after a meal. Lie on your back with your neck elongated. Bend your legs and place the soles of your feet together, letting your knees fall away from each other to stretch as wide as you can comfortably. Hold this position as long as necessary, concentrating on your breathing. 

Finally, the Child’s Pose can be a great option if you’re just too full to do much of anything. Kneeling on the ground, bring your torso forward and stretch your arms straight over your head to rest on the ground. Try setting your knees wider apart to allow your bloated stomach to rest between your legs. Close your eyes and concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing while holding the position.

Do People Who Practice Yoga Follow Different Diets?

Practicing yoga often comes with a connotation of a healthy lifestyle and a particular mindfulness when it comes to daily life. This expectation isn’t always accurate, but if you are practicing yoga or any form of exercise, it is important to keep the body nourished. As far as specific dietary restrictions for yoga, there are no official foods listed in traditional yogic texts.

According to Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, there are foods that are better for the diet of a yogi. Certain ingredients can encourage physical and mental lightness and keep the mind clear but still provide enough nutritional value to keep us energized.

Foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and ghee (clarified butter) are considered sattvic by the Ayurvedic tradition. These foods are beneficial and encouraged in the diet. Alternatively, foods such as onions, meat, and garlic (considered tamasic) and coffee, hot peppers, and salt (considered rajasic) are considered negative. Consumption can result in lethargy and distraction.

It is important to maintain a balance of these elements, with emphasis on the healthier items and only limited quantities of the unhealthier fats and salts.

Many yogi practice vegetarianism or veganism due to the yogic ideals of no harm and the principles given in specific subsets of yoga practice. Different yoga values resonate in a variety of ways with various people. It is important to determine what principles are important to you and also to listen to your body and make sure you are consuming a balanced, nutritional diet that provides you with the energy and nutrients you need.

I Practice Yoga: How Can I Be More Mindful of My Eating?

Sometimes, even when eating a relatively healthy diet, it can feel like our eating is out of harmony with our yoga practices and ideals. Some of the ethical overarching themes of yoga, such as restraints, observances, and the aversion to greed, can all be applied when a yogi approaches the dinner table.

Many cultures can foster an undercurrent of poverty mentality, leaving everyone feeling like they don’t have enough. Perspectives are warped by the media-dominated society and it leads us to wanting more, even if we could be satisfied with what we already have. This can be seen in the ever increasing portion sizes for menus, the shifting of sizing over the decades to cater to a demand for more. 

Overindulgence can impact us negatively, both by yogic principles but also from a health standpoint. Even eating too large quantities of healthy food will lead to weight gain and discomfort. One shouldn’t select food quantities or types based on habit. Instead, one should listen to what the body actually needs and feed it appropriately.

Being aware of your meal and what you are consuming can lead to satiation without bloating, discomfort, or nutritional waste. A little knowledge can go a long way, and soon you can start to see what makes up an appropriate meal and apply this knowledge from one day to the next.

The key to a healthy yoga diet is balance and moderation, without self-denial, so the body and mind can be satiated and content. If you overindulge and have an extra helping of dessert, there’s no reason to obsess about it and punish yourself. Instead, realize that your diet is a balance that needs to remain in harmony, so balance the extra dessert serving by eating less later or eating healthier at the next meals.


Yoga have been a part of Dakota's life for 10+ years. Her practice has helped her grow stronger, more flexible and fearless. Dakota encourages her students to be creative and challenge the body. She seeks to inspire every student to feel refreshed, nourished and balanced both on and off the mat.

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