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On a good day you probably fart between 8 and 14 times, but up to 25 times is within the normal range. It’s something we all do—sometimes discreetly and sometimes not-so-secretly (talking about you, super-bendy person in my yoga class). Farting is awesome—it’s how your body gets rid of excess air swirling around your insides.
Occasionally, however, that gas can get stuck and cause your belly to feel bloated, crampy, and uncomfortable. In serious cases, where there’s a shit ton (sorry) of air stuck in your stomach, it can be downright painful. Trapped gas is usually a relatively benign problem—but it still sucks.
Anytime you open your mouth, you’re essentially welcoming gas inside your body—it happens when you swallow air when you eat or drink, laugh, and talk. Bacteria also produce gas when they break down food in your intestines, especially anything high in fiber, dairy, starch, or sugar. Food intolerances and digestive disorders won’t necessarily make it harder to fart, but they can make you an exceptionally gassy person generally speaking, Lisa Ganjhu, DO, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF.
Whether you’ve got a bit of air you’re desperate to get rid of or full-blown indigestion, the problem is the same: “Eventually, that gas has to come out,” Dr. Ganjhu says. Thankfully, there are ways to kickstart things. Here’s how to get tooting.
Why you might have trouble farting
You have two sphincters, or the muscles that open and close passages in your body, located in your lower GI tract: There’s the internal sphincter, which your body automatically and involuntarily regulates, and the external sphincter, which you have voluntary control over. (If, for example, you ever held in a fart because, say, you were worried about stinking up your bedroom, you were voluntarily contracting your external sphincter, Dr. Ganjhu says.)
Your internal sphincter acts as an intestinal gas barometer. It tells your body, “Hey, there’s a lot of hot air in here—you need to fart,” and sends a signal to the external sphincter that it’s time to open up and bid adieu to the gas. So you let it rip.
Or not. If you can’t fart right away, you might just need to give things time. It takes gas a long time to travel down and out of your body (most people’s intestines are at least 15 feet long!), so it’s not always going to happen immediately. Most of the time, however, your external sphincter is to blame. When it’s not relaxed—a problem that often occurs when you’re stressed out, for example—it clenches up and prevents air from escaping your body, says Dr. Ganjhu.
She likens this dilemma to an expanding balloon (picture it with me). At some point, the balloon won’t be able to take in any more air and will pop or sputter out air. Fortunately, nothing inside your body’s going to pop, but it will hit a tipping point, since your body can only carry so much air, and you fart (phew!). “Ultimately, all air just lets go in some way, shape, or form,” Dr. Ganjhu says.
What to do to make it easier to fart
Move your body.
Moving your body is one of the best ways to clear gas from your digestive tract, evidence suggests. When your colon contracts, as it does when you move, it pushes stool, fluids, and gas toward the rectum, where it’s then liberated into the free world. “When you’re moving, your GI tract is moving,” says Dr. Ganjhu.
There’s no exact science for how much physical activity you should aim for to clear air from your intestines—it varies, depending on how gassy you are—but a safe bet is 30 minutes. Dr. Ganjhu’s advice: Go for a walk, march in place, or twist, bend, or stretch out your body. Yoga may also help you toot, research suggests. Yoga poses like downward dog, child’s pose, happy baby, or the aptly named wind-relieving pose compress your internal organs and relax your pelvic floor, giving your trapped flatulence a little much-needed push, she says.
Try to relax.
Easier said than done in this hyperproductive, always-tuned-in-and-turned-on society, but it’s worth trying to get into a calm state of mind. The more relaxed you are, the more at ease your external sphincter will be, which, again, is crucial for farting purposes. Dr. Ganjhu recommends practicing deep breathing exercises because they can relax your entire body and stimulate the GI tract. There are plenty of ways to practice deep breathing, but a common approach is the 4-2-6 method: Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for two seconds, and slowly exhale for six seconds. Repeat for 5 to 15 minutes.
If breathing exercises aren’t your thing, you can meditate or just put on some chill music or a low-key podcast. If these relaxation techniques aren’t doing the trick, know that your body (and all its taut anal muscles hoarding gas) fully relaxes when you’re asleep. That is, after all, when you do some of your best farting.
Massage your stomach.
Another option: Give yourself a belly massage. This can break up stuck gas and relieve abdominal discomfort, Dr. Ganjhu says. Start with gentle circular pushes around the right, lower side of your belly, near your pelvis bone. Slowly work your hands up toward your rib bones and continue massaging straight across your abdomen and down to the left hip bone. Make your way to your belly button and massage the center of your stomach for a couple of minutes. Repeat until you feel relief. All in all, your massage should last about 10 minutes—but feel free to scale up (or down!) depending on how intense your symptoms are.
Consider using medication.
Simethicone, which you can pick up over the counter at a grocery or drugstore, may provide relief when gas is causing pressure and tension across your abdomen. It’s typically used for gas that’s swirling around your upper GI system—like the stomach or small bowel—so it may not be quite as useful for flatulence, according to Dr. Ganjhu, but it might be worth giving it a shot. The lower and deeper your gas is, the longer it’ll take for the medication to work, but, eventually, it will reach the lower end of your digestive tract and potentially help break up the gas bubbles, Dr. Ganjhu says. If meds don’t help and the discomfort is intolerable, it might be time to visit a health care provider. In rare cases, pent-up gas can be a sign of a bowel obstruction that’s blocking the air from passing, according to Dr. Ganjhu.
Finally, try to be patient. It takes time for intestinal gas to chug through your entire colon (for reference, it takes roughly 36 hours for food to make the trek through your GI tract). Sometimes, the very best thing to do is wait it out, Dr. Ganjhu says. Her promise to you: Eventually, you will fart. We believe in you.
Originally Appeared on SELF