Yoga for Digestive Health and IBS Yoga is considered a form of moving meditation. It's a term that encompasses over one hundred different disciplines, but yoga (the Sanskrit word for "union") as it is commonly understood refers to hatha yoga, a system of physical and mental exercises. Hatha yoga rests on three foundations - exercise, breathing, and meditation - with the goal of joining together the body and mind into a state of balance and harmony.
Yoga has been proven to provide a wide variety of significant health benefits, both physical and mental, including the alleviation and even prevention of digestive distress.
In particular, yoga is an excellent (and enjoyable!) way to manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, and relieve symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea.
Yoga Basics & Breathing
Most current American hatha yoga practitioners follow a system of eight steps, consisting of:
3. physical exercises
4. breathing techniques
5. preparation for meditation
The focus of hatha yoga is typically concentrated on steps 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
The physical exercises (step 3) are actually series of prescribed postures, and often the series will flow smoothly from one posture to the next. These poses stretch and strengthen muscles, improve posture and the flexibility of the skeletal system, and compress then relax organs and nerves. The intent is to increase the body's physical efficiency and overall health. Typically, each pose will be held for a set period of time, ranging from a few seconds to several minutes. Some postures may be repeated, while others will be performed just once.
Many yoga exercises might seem like familiar stretches, while others will be much more complicated. To maintain physical balance and harmony among the muscle groups, the exercises will follow a set order, and will alternate between the left and right sides of the body as well as between the front and the back. As you progress through the various postures, you'll move gently and smoothly, without any bouncing or jerking. There will be resting poses after every few postures, and most postures have several degrees of difficulty, making yoga practice suitable for a wide range of fitness levels.
From the simplest to the most difficult poses, the goal remains the same: to easily but thoroughly stretch all of the muscles in the body while gently contracting, releasing, and stimulating the internal organs. Above all else in yoga, however, the focus is on the breath. It is always more important to maintain the breath instead of a pose.
Breathing is slow, deep, and controlled. Yoga breathing techniques are based on the belief that breath is the source of life in the body, and breath control is intended to improve the health and function of both body and mind. Shallow or hurried breathing is considered to have negative physical and mental consequences. During yoga practice you will focus on your breathing, and work through several breathing exercises. You may inhale during certain postures and exhale for others.
You prepare for meditation through the exercises and controlled breathing. Meditation supplements and reinforces the exercise and breathing disciplines, by relaxing the physical body and focusing the mind. The goal is to achieve a quiet, tranquil state of awareness, and the result is reduced stress and increased energy.
Yoga, like meditation, has traditionally been associated with Eastern religious practices. However, any spiritual aspects of yoga are strictly individual, do not require any specific beliefs or faiths, and do not interfere with a person's religious traditions or lack thereof. Yoga is suitable for adults of any age or physical condition, as its approach is non-strenuous in nature. There are even routines offering special techniques for those with health limitations due to illness, injury, obesity, or inactivity.
However, yoga as practiced by adults is not always considered appropriate for children under age 16 as their bodies are still growing, and the effect of yoga exercises on the glandular and other bodily systems may interfere with their natural development. Many yoga schools offer special classes for teens and/or children, and if you are considering this option I would urge you to find a good local instructor and ask for recommendations. The more strenuous yoga exercises are not recommended for menstruating women, pregnant women in their first trimester, or nursing mothers.
Yoga Poses & Postures for Digestive Health
There are specific yoga poses and also full sequences of postures for relieving and preventing all IBS symptoms, as well as other digestive problems. Try any of the choices below to help stablize your GI tract and start feeling better immediately.
Poses can be practiced individually as needed, or you can follow the full sequences on a daily basis to maintain digestive stability. Try to breathe as slowly and deeply as you can, breathing in and out through your nose, as you hold each pose and move through the sequences.
Yoga Poses for Specific IBS Symptoms
Yoga Pose (Click on name for picture)
Bow, Corpse Pose, Fish Pose, On your Back With Knees to Chest, Seated Forward Bend, Uddiyana, Forward Bend, Plow
Breath of Fire, Spinal Twists, Triangle, Seated Forward Bend
On Your Back With Knees to Chest, Wind Relieving Posture, Gentle Inversion Poses
Gentle Inversion Poses, Wind Relieving Posture, Seated Wide Angle Pose
Locust or Half Locust Pose
Corpse Pose, Mountain, Locust, Seated Forward Bend, Cobra or Upward Facing Dog, Forward and Backward Bends
Overall GI Function
Spinal twists, Peacock, Triangle, Bow, Cobra or Upward Facing Dog, Forward Bend, Plow, Camel
Corpse Pose, Locust, On Your Back with Knees to Chest.
Yoga Posture Sequence for Improving Overall Digestion
2-Reclining bound angle pose
3-Downward facing dog pose
(Caution, do not do this pose if you are nauseous or vomiting)
4-Head to knee pose
(helps sympathetic nervous system, twisting tones kidneys and bladder function) (Avoid if you have diarrhea or feel nauseous at the time)
5-Seated forward bend
(helps warm belly and calm nerves, relieves gas and constipation) (do not do if you are suffering from diarhea or acid indigestion at the time)
(twisting pose is good for toning and improving circulation to kidneys and abdominal organs) (Do not do if you have diarrhea at the time, or feel nauseous)
(Avoid if you have acid indigestion, period, headache at the time, or if you have high blood pressure)
(helps relieve constipation, bloating and gas) (Avoid forward-bend poses if you suffer from acid indigestion)
9-Inverted staff position
(helps relieve acidic stomach abdominal cramping, gas) (Avoid if you have neck problems, current migraine, headache, diarrhea)
(helps with hemorrhoids, chronic constipation, colitis) (Avoid if you have headache at the time, period, or high blood pressure)
(helps calm digestion, relieve a bloated, crampy stomach, and increase blood flow to organs and improve digestion overall)
12-Legs up the wall pose
(helps diarrhea and nausea)
Yoga Posture Sequence for IBS
(Click on name for pictures)
2-Reclining bound angle pose
(helps relieve stomach acidity, flatulence, abdominal cramping)
4-Reclining easy seated pose
(helps relieve indigestion, flatulence, and abdominal cramping)
5-Inverted staff pose (helps relieve diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal cramping, indigestion) (Caution, don't do if you have neck problems, migraine/headache, or current diarrhea)
6-Bound angle pose
(helps improve digestion and blood circulation to abdomen & pelvis)
7-Wide-angle seated pose
(improves circulation to abdomen/pelvis, digestion overall)
8-Downward facing dog
(helps calm nervous system, relieve constipation and indigestion)
(helps relieve spastic colon, and stabilize digestive tract) (Caution: Only do this if already part of your regular practice. Don't do it if have high blood pressure, period, neck/back problems, or migraines)
(helps IBS, colitis, chronic constipation, or hemorrhoids) (Caution, avoid this if you have neck/shoulder problems, high blood pressure, period, or migraine/headache)
(helps soothe nerves and relax mind, and digestive complaints associated with anxiety) (Avoid if you have neck/shoulder problems or period)
(helps with overall digestion, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping)
13-Legs up the wall pose
(helps soothe sympathetic nervous system, relieve anxiety-associated diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea)