IBS and Yoga

Ho Hui Lin 200hr Weekend class Jan to May 2014

For those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or if you feel that your stomach bloats up quite often and there is flatulence (causing you to fart or burp quite frequently), this post is for you.

IBS affects the colon (large intestine), and systems include discomfort, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Doctors have said that there is no known cure for IBS, but it can be managed according to the individual’s condition and by paying attention to trigger points like certain food. Stress is also known to aggravate IBS, so the individual can try to manage stress by doing certain exercises to massage the stomach gently and relieve tension. This is where yoga comes in.

How yoga can help

Few may know this, but the colon and brain are deeply connected. When the body and mind is under high stress, the million of nerve cells in the intestines will receive signals from the brain, and this may affect the digestive system. This is especially the case for people with IBS, as they may have more sensitive intestines to begin with.

Other than helping to relieve stress, yoga can help those with IBS by gently massaging the abdominal organs, and releasing tension at the stomach area. Yoga can also raise one’s body awareness, enabling the person to be more aware of what is good for his or her well-being.

Agni Sara

One useful exercise to strengthen and detoxify the digestive system is Agni Sara. Agni means “fire”, and Agni Sara is a practice of heating up the body from within. This is done by contracting all muscles from the floor of the pelvis to the diaphragm after exhaling completely, like in Uddiyana Bandha. After exhaling and bending over with an erect spine, suck the belly upwards into the rib cage. Then pump the stomach by pulling it in and out 4-6 times without inhaling. After that, inhale and come back up. This is one set.

A few things to note for this exercise: The recommended practice is 5-10 sets on an empty stomach. And if you are pregnant, have menses, heart or respiratory issues, or ulcers in the stomach, do not practice Agni Sara. This pose also requires some practice before it can be done with greater effectiveness.

Basic Yoga Poses

2 useful and simple yoga poses for IBS are:

1)      Jathara parivritti (reclining abdominal twist)

This is a very gentle stretch done on the back, which helps to massage the intestines. Bend your right knee and bring it across the body to the left, and repeat on the opposite side. Use your breath to stretch the lower belly, as well as side waist and chest. Personally, I do this pose every night before I sleep as it helps me to relax as well.

2)      Salamba setu bandhasana (supporting bridge pose)

Place a bolster, block or thick blanket below your hips for support and lie on your back. You can stay in this posture for minimum 10 breaths, and up to 5min. Be aware of the rise and fall of your belly while breathing, breathe deeply into any tension areas, and exhale. This posture also helps you to relax. A good alternative would be viparita karani (legs up the wall pose).

Knowing your body type

Lastly, there are 3 major body constituents (doshas) – Pitta (hot), Kapha (space) and Vata (air). Illnesses can be a result of an imbalance of these 3 doshas. Each body type digests differently, hence it is important to understand your body type and how it digests food when planning your meals. People who are Vata are known to have a higher tendency to have IBS due to more air in their body. In this case, they can try to avoid food that produces more air e.g. raw vegetables.

In summary, for those with IBS, yoga helps to create greater body awareness, and relieve tension. Hopefully with these tips, you can manage the condition better and reduce the likelihood of discomfort in the tummy. 

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