In the world of yoga, Namaste means the Spirit within me honours and respects the Spirit within you. Isn’t that nice? I love it. Yoga has become a really popular past time for many and it’s no surprise. In our busy world, many people enjoy the escape to serenity and silence that yoga provides. Not to mention all the other benefits for your mind and body that yogis boast about. But did you know it can also affect your digestive health? Oh yes it can! And this is something we can all benefit from!
Much like our other body parts, the brain and digestive tract are strongly connected, and are constantly communicating. Our gut has thousands of nerve cells, and is always receiving signals from our brain about emotions, thoughts, and stress levels. No wonder stress management and digestive health go hand in hand! This is where yoga comes into play. Yoga practice has a large focus on meditation, and is known to reduce stress levels. Yoga’s ability to put people in a state of calm is what gives it the potential to reduce IBS symptoms. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? If you’d like to read more about managing stress, click here.
The physical act of yoga also benefits our digestive system as the poses often focus on deep breathing and “massaging” of our internal organs. A study published by the Journal of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition found that yoga reduced the symptoms of IBS in their young participants. Although there isn’t enough research so far to establish yoga as an effective treatment for IBS, there have been promising results from studies that demonstrate its health benefits on your gut. So grab your mat and let’s get posing.
Getting Started with Yoga for IBS
Much like any physical activity, getting your feet wet is the most challenging part. Don’t be intimidated by the myth that yoga is only for those who are young and flexible. It’s a highly individualized activity that focuses on your mind and body connection, and is suitable for everyone. People are motivated by different things, so find what encourages you the most.
Here are the essentials to get you started:
- Yoga mat (Walmart, Target, Winners, or Sports Store)
- Towel (especially for hot yoga)
- Reusable water bottle
- Yoga journal (log the frequency, length and types of poses from your yoga practice, and comment about how your digestive tract feels afterwards. It will help you keep track of how well your gut is responding to certain stretches
Simple Yoga Poses for IBS
Joining a yoga studio is a great option if it fits within your budget. Getting coaching from an expert in how to hold your poses properly is priceless, especially when you’re first starting out. In today’s post, we have my yoga instructor Kelly helping us explain some of the poses you can get started on in the comfort of your own home. Other options are to watch videos on YouTube or purchase a DVD with beginner yoga to get you started.
Start by standing up straight in mountain pose. Bend your knees softly to support the lower back, inhale and lift your arms above your head, as you exhale let your upper body fold forward over your knees. Ensure your hips are above your knees and ankles. Let your arms rest on your shins or touch the floor. If lower back strain persists, keep a straight spine, otherwise you can round into this pose. Relax your stomach muscles and focus on taking deep breaths. The more compression you have between belly and thighs the better the massage will be for your digestive organs. Take 2 to 3 breaths and then reach arms above head slowly rolling back up to get out of the pose
In a seated position, extend both legs towards the front of the room. Bend the left knee and pull your thigh in towards your chest. Place the left foot on the outside of your right thigh. Sitting nice and tall, place your left hand behind your back for support. Inhale the right arm up towards the sky and twist to the left. You can either hug your left knee, or hook your elbow on the outside of your left thigh. When you inhale, straighten your spine, and when you exhale, move deeper into the pose. The twist will come from the lower back and move upwards, the very last thing to twist is your neck and only if it’s comfortable and adds to your pose.
Reclined Spinal Twist
Like the seated spinal twist – the reclined twist is an excellent yoga pose one can do when suffering from digestive issues. These twists massage your abdominal organs including your stomach and is a great therapy for gas, bloating and constipation. To begin, start lying on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Release hold of your legs and bring your shins to touch and parallel with the sky. Extend your arms away from your body so hands are in line with shoulders in a letter T position. Slowly lower legs down to the floor. If your knees do not quite reach no need to worry, place a pillow, blanket or yoga block underneath your thigh so it rests comfortably. Hold for 5- 10 breaths and on an inhale bring legs back up to center then exhale to the other sideNOTE: Surprisingly, the direction in which you twist first affects the body differently. Twisting to the right first before the left will increase the movement of the bowels. Twisting to the left first before the right will slow down the movement of bowels.
Knee to Chest
Lie down on your back and place your legs straight out. Bend your right knee and pull your leg into your chest, clasp your hands on your shin and hold for 2 to 4 deep breaths. If this is not accessible hold on to the back of the thigh, or use a strap/towel/t-shirt around your shin. Rest your shoulders on your mat. As you inhale, feel the belly rise and touch your thigh, as you exhale pull the leg closer to your body. Alternate with your left leg.
Deep Belly Breathing
Deep belly breathing is also a great way to aid digestion. It allows us to use our entire lungs, taking more fresh oxygen into our cells. This breathing can be performed lying down, seated or standing. Take a deep breath in and fill the belly so that it expands. Hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale slowly pulling, your stomach towards your spine. Continue to breath like this for a count of 10 or 20 breaths – slowing the breath down each time and trying to match the length of the inhalations to the exhalations. Try to make time to do this each day at least once of twice. Perhaps during your coffee break or sometime during a busy day to help you cope better with stress.
The poses mentioned above are a great addition to your yoga practice to help with digestive issues. However, incorporating breath work and yoga poses into your daily routine will slow down the stress responses in the brain, creating a calming and relaxation response in the body where healing can occur much more easily.
Helpful Tips for Yoga with IBS
- Don’t overwork your body. Take your time getting in and out of each pose and move with your breath. I get that we want to constantly challenge ourselves and improve, but a common mistake people make is reaching for a pose their body isn’t ready for yet. Don’t be enamoured by the aesthetic aspect of yoga; remember this practice is all about your individual health. So take it nice and slow.
- Breathe deeply. It can be tough to remember this when you’re concentrated on holding a hard pose, but it’s important. As a general rule, think about inhaling to find length in your spine in each pose, and exhale as you go deeper into them.
- Don’t compare yourself to fellow classmates.
- Have fun and enjoy yourself!
The first step if you’re looking to improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or another digestive disorder or disease, is to understand more about the Low FODMAP diet and if it can help. Download my free eBook to help you better understand this diet and get started implementing simple steps to get rid of symptoms like gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea or constipation related to IBS. Click here to get a copy emailed to you right away.
Much love & good eating,
Stephanie & The Team