Yoga Practice for IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a very common affliction. It is estimated that 20-30 percent of the population in the USA is suffering from it.

Actually, IBS is a broad name for many kinds of symptoms and unpleasant sensations of the guts: bloating, cramps, pains, nausea, constipation or diarrhea (sometimes both together) and many more. A typical feature of IBS is that the symptoms mostly unfelt during sleep. Another interesting feature is those symptoms are mostly coming in addition with psychological sensations, mainly anxiety and depression which is why it's sometimes called 'sensitive bowel syndrome’.

The main causes of the syndrome still are unknown, but the assumption is that it is connected to the gut peristaltica, gut muscles cramps and movements, that become irregular - sometime too fast, too slow or both. Some scholars explain the syndrome as oversensitivity to sensation at the guts. In one study [1], a special balloon was inserted in the guts of IBS diagnosed and other healthy volunteers. This balloon was blown up to different levels to make pressure on the side walls of the guts. Then the researchers compare the reaction to pain a sensation between those with IBS and the others. As expected, the IBS group reacted worse to the same amount of pressure.

Other theories relate IBS to a problem at our serotonin receptor at the guts [2] that are similar to those in our brain. The digestive system is known as our second brain, the brain that is connected to the emotions. It is where we are “digesting” our feelings. Those two brains have a large effect on each other. Serotonin is one of the main hormones that related to our moods and feelings. It may be a chemical explanation of how feelings affect our guts. IBS is a fascinating example of it. There are many other theories about IBS cause. For example parasite infection as a trigger, food intolerance and many more…

So far we have mentioned some topics that can help us understand why yoga practice is so effective and important for IBS. Oversensitivity, over reaction and irregular rhythms are familiar concepts we observe at our practice.

From the Ayurvedic point of view, IBS has interesting similarities to a syndrome called Grahani. Grahani is described as a dysfunction of the guts paths, mainly a result of a poor lifestyle, poor diet, and unhealthy rhythm and habits of eating. It can be associated with imbalanced at each type of the Tridosha. It is commonly a result of Vata imbalance (conception, anxiety, bloating etc.) or Vata-Pitta imbalance (diarrhoea, heartburn, irritability). In both cases there is a strong need of grounding – the Kapha quality.

The general necessary treatment from both a naturopathic and even from the western medicine point of view is first of all to stick to a proper diet, healthy eating habits, and stress management. As a naturopath I usually customize a personal diet for each of my patients, but some common principles can fit almost all. Like the FODMAPs diet – abstaing from short-chain carbohydrates like wheat, milk, and others – canreally decrease the symptoms [3] but it’s definitely not enough.

For a holistic treatment there is a strong need for daily healthy patterns and a full restoration of the natural rhythm of the body. Daily Yoga Asana practice creates a routine for the body and mind. That routine is one of the best ways to ground and settle those fast Vata movements. Grounding is one of the main needs. Good Yoga Practice must have earth quality. Standing poses provide this quality powerfully, as well as good long relaxation poses.

In my daily life, whenever I feel stress and Vata and the guts sensation that is related to it, I practice Supta Baddha Konasana, even if it is for just few moments before or after eating. It is an amazing pose for observing and calming those movements of the mind and the guts. The space that is created in the abdominal area is allowing the breath to move freely and release the tension and tendency to ‘hold’ there.

Of course there are many more Yoga poses that can help locally with IBS symptoms; for example Pawanmuktasana helps to release gas and constipation. Yoga twists & backbends improve the digestive system fast and well. They are very beneficial but it is just a part of the puzzle.

There are some researches that checked this subject of Yoga for IBS and reported many people that benefit from regular Yoga Asana Practice [4,5]. Yoga practitioners reported about the significant change in the level of anxiety [6] and depression [7] that are closely related to the syndrome. Some researches even checked the benefits of recommend specific poses for IBS [8] But again, it is only an extra part. It can help but it will be much more holistic and helpful to do a full practice, daily.

A Yoga Practice weekly should include inversions, standing poses, forward bends, twists, beck bends and relaxations in the right way, right order and with right props and adjustments. Good Yoga Practice and a matched lifestyle, including proper diet will provide grounding and help us to discover balance. Balance between fast and slow, between doing and not doing, effort and letting go. When practiced correctly, it will develop an attitude of non-reaction or an awareness of one’s responses and reaction to whatever comes. At least for me as I found it on myself, in my personal journey with IBS and Yoga.

Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Itamar Barel, Naturopath & Yoga Practitioner

[1]Bradette, M., Delvaux, M., Staumont, G. et al. Digest Dis Sci (1994) 39: 449

[2] Sikander A, Rana SV, Prasad KK

Clinica chimica acta; international journal of clinical chemistry [2009

[3] http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(13)01407-8/abstract

[4]Subhadra Evans, Kirsten C. Lung, Laura C. Seidman, Beth Sternlieb, Lonnie K. Zeltzer, and Jennie C.I. Tsao Iyengar Yoga for Adolescents and Young Adults With Irritable Bowel Syndrome, J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Aug; 59(2): 244–253.

doi:  10.1097/MPG.0000000000000366

[5] Kuttner L1, Chambers CT, Hardial J, Israel DM, Jacobson K, Evans K .A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome. Pain Res Manag. 2006 Winter;11(4):217-23.

[6]Pailoor Subramanya and Shirley Telles, BioPsychoSocial MedicineThe official journal of the Japanese Society of Psychosomatic Medicine20093:8

[7] Prathikanti S1, Rivera R2, Cochran A3, Tungol JG4, Fayazmanesh N5, Weinmann E6. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 16;12(3):e0173869. doi:

[8] Taneja I1, Deepak KK, Poojary G, Acharya IN, Pandey RM, Sharma MP. Yogic versus conventional treatment in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized control study.Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2004 Mar;29(1):19-33.

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