Simple Yoga Poses to Treat IBS

Hannah Barrett: Yoga Instructor, Author and Postnatal Health & Fitness Specialist.

Hannah Barrett: Yoga Instructor, Author and Postnatal Health & Fitness Specialist.

By Yoga Girl London / Hannah Barrett

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a term most people, if not everyone, has heard of! In fact it’s the most common gastrointestinal disorder in Western society, and although it is not a medically dangerous condition, it can be seriously disruptive to quality of life.  If you suffer with IBS you know that it can be one of the most infuriating things to deal with. The problem is that stress just makes it worse, so it turns into a vicious cycle.

IBS can come in many different forms.  It basically describes a group of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort, and changes in bowel movement patterns and defecation, for which there is no underlying pathological cause.  IBS is also often associated with a number of secondary conditions such as anxiety, depression, headaches and fatigue.

According to research, almost 60% of IBS patients claim that certain foods trigger their symptoms however eliminating those foods can lead to only slight improvements in their symptoms. It’s suggested that psychological factors can also play a huge role in IBS.  Anxiety and stress results in an increase in the fight/flight response which means that digestion is not a priority for your brain.

Your digestive, or gastrointestinal (GI), tract is a long, muscular tube that runs from your mouth to your anus.  Peristalsis describes the wave-like contractions of the surrounding muscles which produce a ‘squeezing action’ pushing food through the gut. In IBS this does not work optimally for various reasons. 

Another important component for IBS is your pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor consists of muscles that help control defecation and you need to be able to relax these muscles to have normal bowel movements. In IBS and associated constipation, they contract rather than relax so it feels like you haven't completely emptied your bowels. Prolonged constipation in itself can then weaken and alter the pelvic floor musculature. 

For IBS sufferers there is also a change in ‘bowel transit time’, which is the time taken for food to pass through the GI tract (1-3 days). In IBS this is slower, so stool becomes dehydrated and more difficult to pass.  A high proportion of IBS patients tend to over-breathe and symptoms are aggravated by stress/anxiety.


Some small tips:

  • Pelvic floor exercises! Having a strong pelvic floor is important for controlling bowel movements but it's equally important to learn how to relax them. Deep abdominal breathing can help as encouraged in this flow, but also seeing a pelvic health physio can be helpful to teach you how to if you find you have difficulties. The POGP in the UK has a directory of physios, or speak to your GP for a referral.

  • Lean forward with your knees higher than your hip level if possible (pop your feet up onto a small step or anything you can find - paint pots have been reported in the past!) and don't hover above the toilet seat. It helps to relax the pelvic floor muscles.

  • Deep abdominal slow breaths, as included in this flow, help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest system) and dampen your fight/flight stress response.

  • Exercise and movement. These poses and movements help stimulate peristalsis, reduce bowel transit time, and relax the pelvic floor.


Practicing yoga is suggested to help correct the imbalance of your autonomic nervous system.  This improves the balance of the fight/flight response (sympathetic nervous system) and the rest/digest response (parasympathetic nervous system).  Through physical postures (Asana), breathing exercises (Pranayama) and meditation (Dhyana), yoga is suggested as an alternative treatment option for IBS. 

Including certain yoga poses and practicing breathing and meditation techniques can be a great addition to other forms of IBS treatment. Studies have found that yoga is effective at reducing stress and anxiety, and improving body image which is all positive for IBS sufferers. Try this flow daily or whenever you have symptoms as an adjunct to your usual IBS treatment.


IBS flow (Yoon et al)

Starting in child’s pose, take 10 rounds of the full yogic breath.  Inhaling throw the nose feeling the belly rise, the chest moving frontwards, backwards and to the sides and all the way up to the collarbones.  Exhale slowly and mindfully through the nose feeling everything melt back to centre.

Cat cow x 5 

Thread the needle x 3 each side

Child’s pose - 5 breaths

Crescent moon - 5 breaths

Marichyasana - 5 breaths

Cobra / Upward facing dog pose - 5 breaths

Child’s pose - 5 breaths

Side to side knee rolls x 3 each side

Knee hugs - 5 breaths

Savasana - 5 mins or as long as you have


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Barrett has a passion for helping people to transform their lives through yoga and enables her clients to find their strength and develop their own self practice, while breaking down complex poses to make them fun and accessible to all.

Hannah Barrett: Yoga Instructor, Author and Postnatal Health & Fitness Specialist. Strength Through Yoga is available for £39.99 at www.yogagirllondon.com

References
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.
Schumann, D., Langhorst, J., Dobos, G. and Cramer, H., 2018. Randomised clinical trial: yoga vs a low‐FODMAP diet in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 47(2), pp.203-211.
Yoon, S.L., Grundmann, O., Koepp, L. and Farrell, L., 2011. Management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in adults: conventional and complementary/alternative approaches. Alternative Medicine Review, 16(2), p.134.