Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of gastrointestinal symptoms that occur together, including repeated abdominal pain that is often accompanied by diarrhea and/or constipation. While the exact causes of IBS are unclear, researchers have linked strong emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression with the release of chemicals in the brain that signal certain physical reactions in the gut—For people with IBS, these reactions (e.g., pain, bloating, diarrhea/constipation) are very strong and can be debilitating.2
Yoga can help ease the pain and discomfort of IBS symptoms in two ways: by helping to manage the stress response through mindfulness and focused breathing, essential components of yoga practice, and by “massaging” the digestive system through motion and stretching.3 Regular daily practice of yoga has been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS in people of all ages. Yoga can also help the occasional occurrence of gas pains, bloating, and/or out-of-the ordinary bowel activity everyone experiences from time to time following sudden changes to daily routine (e.g., travel, diet, stress).4–6
Here are a few simple yoga poses that can aid in digestion and help relieve symptoms of IBS and other gastrointestinal disturbances.3,7
WIDE CHILD’S POSE
Benefits: Stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles; calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue; relieves back and neck pain when done with head and torso supported.
Start by sitting on the floor with your knees spread to a bit more than hip-distance apart and your feet tucked under you, big toes touching. Lean forward and place your hands in front of you, creeping forward until your forehead is touching the mat. Hold while breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, deeply and slowly. Hold this pose for a minute or longer.
SPINAL TWIST POSE
(Supta Jathara Parivartānāsana)
Benefits: Stretches the back muscles and spine; stimulates the kidneys, abdominal organs, bladder, and intestines; and releases stress
Lie flat on your back. Bend your left leg and cross it over to rest the knee on the outside of your right thigh. Use your right hand to apply slight pressure to the bent knee to push it down toward the floor, making sure to keep both shoulders squared and in contact with the ground. While holding this pose, extend your left arm out to the left of your body, resting it on the ground. Turn your head and look at your extended hand. Hold this pose for several seconds, remembering to breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Bring your left arm back in, release and straighten your left leg, and repeat the motions on the other side. Repeat several times on each side, making sure to do the same number on each side.
CRESCENT LUNGE ON KNEES POSE
Benefits: Lengthens and stretches the spine; creates flexibility in the rib cage; and stimulates the internal abdominal organs and kidneys
Standing straight, step the left leg forward, bending at the knee, so that the knee is directly above the left foot, forming a 90-degree angle between lower and
upper leg. The right leg is extended back behind you, straight with
no bend in the knee, and the weight is distributed backwards onto the toes as the right heel pushes back and down toward the floor. With hands in front of the chest in prayer position, slowly twist the spine to the left side, hooking the right elbow outside of the left knee. Stack the shoulders on top of each other and gaze up toward the sky. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth several times, sinking deeper into the stretch as you exhale. Then switch sides and repeat several times.
HALF LORD OF THE FISHES POSE
(Ardha Matsyendrasana )
Benefits: Lengthens and stretches the spine; creates flexibility in the rib cage; and stimulates digestive organs
Begin in a seated position. Bend your left leg and place your left foot on the ground over your right knee. Bend your right knee and tuck your right foot near your butt. Place your right elbow outside your left knee, and slowly twist your body to the left, looking over your left shoulder. Hold for several seconds, and then switch sides. Repeat several times, always remembering to breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth.
WIND RELIEVING POSE
Benefits: “Massages” abdominal organs, releasing tension in the belly area and low back, helping to relieve excess digestive gas (“wind”) from the stomach and intestines; helps with indigestion, bloating, acidity, and constipation
Begin by lying on your back, with your legs and arms extended. As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest and clasp your hands around them. While holding only your right knee, release your left leg and extend it along the floor. Hold this pose for up to one minute, breathing slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Draw your left knee back in toward your chest and clasp your hands around both knees again. While holding only your left knee, release your right leg and extend it along the floor. Hold this pose for the same amount of time, breathing slowly. Finally, draw both knees to your chest, and while exhaling, release and extend both legs along the floor.