Is downward dog the way to treat IBS?

If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to get a handle on your IBS and find ways to reduce your symptoms. So is yoga one of these ways to help you?

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “yuj”, to unite the mind, body and spirit. Yoga includes pranayama (controlled breathing), dhyana (meditation) and asanas (physical posture)(1).

Who can practice yoga?

The great thing about yoga is that anyone can practice yoga. It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you never exercise. There are loads of classes and lessons targeted at complete beginners all the way to those who have been practicing for years. You can do various forms of yoga sitting or standing, using your hands or no hands at all. Find what works for you.

Studies have found that yoga is a safe treatment method for those who have IBS and can be done by most people(2). As with all forms of exercise, it is important to not strain yourself and start at a level that is appropriate to you so as not to cause injury.

Does yoga count as my 150 minutes of activity?

Unfortunately not, as yoga is not a cardiovascular intense form of exercise. But don’t let that put you off. It counts as a strengthening exercise, which is important for maintaining your health, flexibility and muscle tone(3). It is vital to maintain mobility as we age to prevent falls.

How can it help my IBS?

IBS can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, bloating and nausea and has related co-morbidities such as stress, anxiety and depression. . Since IBS is an illness of both physical and psychological symptoms it makes sense to treat it by addressing both the mind and body.  Yoga helps with the following:

  • Yoga reduces stress – IBS tends to worsen when we are stressed and yoga can work to counteract the(4).  In yoga you take slow and deep breaths which can increase the parasympathetic response and reduce the physiologic responses on stress(5). The parasympathetic nervous system aids in digestion and relaxation.
  • Reduces levels of depression and anxiety – similarly to yogas effect on stress, yoga has also been shown to reduce the co-morbidities associated with IBS(5). It is also believed to help depression and anxiety as yoga practice encourages you to be mindful and focus on the here and now instead of the past or future which can increase anxiety(6).
  • Improves the ability to cope with your illness – one study showed that yoga lead to less emotion focused coping and to feelings of accomplishment and competence. In turn, this lead to feelings of self efficacy and better psychological and psychical functioning for people with chronic illnesses, including IBS(5).
  • Internal massage – Asana (physical posture) practice means you massage your internal organs which can improve gut motility and enhance blood circulation. This has the potential to help with the physical symptoms of IBS(5). If you have IBS-D, start with less twisted movements and build towards those as the internal massage may actually aggravate symptoms until you have built strength.
  • Alternative to conventional treatments and the FODMAP diet – Yoga offers an alternative to pharmacological treatments, which can be handy for people who are sensitive to medication(7). Other studies have found that yoga can be as effective at reducing symptoms as following the low FODMAP diet(2). Yoga can also raise bodily awareness, which in some instances can lessen the occurrence of disordered eating(2). This isn’t to say the low FODMAP diet should not be followed but for some people who have disordered eating patterns this could be a good alternative as a method to decrease symptoms in a way that is not food focused*.
  • Low risk activity – As mentioned earlier, most studies highlighted that this is a low risk activity for most people and has a multitude of benefits.

While some studies do show benefits of yoga as a treatment for IBS and it’s co-morbidities, many of these point out there are limitations to the research, such as small sample sizes or the study being conducted for a short period of time.

However, this does not mean you should write off yoga as a way to reduce IBS symptoms. There are definitely positives to the practice and many agree that yoga can definitely improve your IBS symptoms. It is definitely something that is worth trying if you are able to, alongside other methods of treatment.

Recommendations

If you have never participated in yoga before, I suggest heading to a class first so that you can learn proper technique and posture from a qualified.

At the moment most of us are stuck at home, but thankfully youtube means you can practice yoga at home. My current favourite youtube yoga teachers are:

Yoga with Adriene: https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene

Yoga with Kassandra: https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithkassandra

There are also hundreds of yoga sessions specifically targeting digestion and gut health. Have a browse and find one that really clicks with you.

References

  1. Chong, C.S., Tsunaka, M. and Chan, E.P., 2011. Effects of yoga on stress management in healthy adults: a systematic review. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 17(1), p.32.
  2. Schumann, D., Anheyer, D., Lauche, R., Dobos, G., Langhorst, J. and Cramer, H., 2016. Effect of yoga in the therapy of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 14(12), pp.1720-1731.
  3. NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/guide-to-yoga/
  4. Kavuri, V., Raghuram, N., Malamud, A. and Selvan, S.R., 2015. Irritable bowel syndrome: yoga as remedial therapy. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015.
  5. Evans, S., Cousins, L., Tsao, J.C., Sternlieb, B. and Zeltzer, L.K., 2011. Protocol for a randomized controlled study of Iyengar yoga for youth with irritable bowel syndrome. Trials, 12(1), p.15.
  6. Broughton, M.K., 2016. Yoga for depression and anxiety: A review of published research and implications for healthcare providers. Rhode Island Medical Journal, 99(3), p.20.
  7. Patel, N. and Lacy, B., 2016. Does yoga help patients with irritable bowel syndrome?. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 14(12), pp.1732-1734

 

*The FODMAP diet should be started under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist/dietitian or your doctor. If you feel that you have disordered eating behaviours or feel overwhelmed by the FODMAP diet please speak to a professional. There are lots of mental health services to help you and your GP can refer you to the appropriate people. Also if you are currently on any medications do not suddenly stop taking them! Speak to your doctor about your medication and finding alternatives. 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor/medical professional – if you feel ill, have concerns about your health or IBS please contact your healthcare provider or in an emergency – the emergency services.

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