05/30/2017 10:57 EDT

What Is 'Alien Yoga' And Should You Try Practicing It?

Yet another fitness craze is spreading on Instagram, thanks to yoga devotees demonstrating a new exercise which involves contorting their stomach into a strange pose.

Dubbed "alien yoga" on Instagram because of how your stomach looks while doing the movement, the practice is traditionally known as "nauli". It was apparently first mentioned around 500 years ago, and in some yoga traditions, was among one of the first exercises taught to new students. It is still fairly uncommon in Western yoga — though that might be changing.

But what exactly is nauli, and is it a fitness trend we should be following?

According to, nauli is a yogic cleansing exercise, or "kriya", which cleanses the internal organs and strengthens the abdominal area. It involves rolling the abdominal muscles from side to side in a wave-like movement. It may look difficult, especially in some of the Instagram videos, but this movement can be practiced by most yogis and by any age group.

The nauli exercise comprises a series of four movements in total — and says you must master uddiyana bandha before attempting the next three:

  • uddiyana bandha: an abdominal lock accomplished by emptying your lungs and pulling the abdomen in and up under the rib cage
  • madhyana nauli (central nauli): the isolated contraction of the central abdominal muscles.
  • vama nauli (left side nauli): the isolated contraction of the left side of the abdominal muscles.
  • daksina nauli (right side nauli): the isolated contraction of the right side of the abdominal muscles.

The website cautions that nauli is considered an advanced practice, and recommends learning the technique from an experienced teacher.

Many advise that pregnant women, and those with hernias, hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, or various gastrointestinal ailments do not practice nauli. Even for a fit and healthy person, nauli should not be painful — it should always still be practiced with care and caution.

For those who would rather just follow this weird and wonderful fitness trend on social media, @aubrymarie, @kellygreenyoga, and @yellabella are some of the yogis who have been demonstrating their nauli moves on Instagram and YouTube.

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