Dealing with digestive issues can be stressful and at times we might be willing to do anything to feel better. Making changes to your diet is a great place to start AND did you know that practicing yoga can help your gut too? Yoga is a practice for every body and no, you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga.
So, What is Yoga for Digestion?
Yoga is a spiritual practice that originated in India thousands of years ago that focuses on cultivating harmony between mind and body through a variety of methods. Yoga in the West is recognized as poses that are performed with breathing techniques and is often accompanied with meditation. It is a practice that is central to Ayurveda or traditional Indian medicine. Yoga goes far beyond the physical body and explores philosophy, mantra, mudras, and ultimately aims to overcome suffering in order to achieve freedom.
How does yoga support digestion?
Irritable bowel syndrome is known as a disorder of the gut-brain axis. The gut has its own nervous system known as the enteric nervous system, that communicates with the central nervous system (our brain) to regulate digestion. When we experience stress, this can cause the gut-brain axis to alter digestion and cause IBS symptoms. Because of this, researchers are keen to study methods of stress reduction and its impact on IBS symptoms.
Yoga is an effective stress reliever as the practice focuses on long, slow breathing to calm the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight response) and bring the practitioner into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). In particular, breathing into the abdomen, known as full yogic breathing, helps to relax the gut and assist in digestion. It also helps to relax the diaphragm and pelvic floor, helping to facilitate normal bowel movements.
Particular poses to help improve digestion are gentle twists, wind-relieving pose or apanasana, (laying on your back, bring one knee into your chest-great for bloating and gas), and happy baby (laying on back, knees up and wide, holding onto shins or feet).
One study compared a 12 week intervention for IBS sufferers of either 2x/week yoga practice or nutrition counselling on the low FODMAP diet (Shumann et al, 2017). The results showed that BOTH interventions were effective at improving IBS symptoms and quality of life. In this study, the low FODMAP diet was more effective at reducing the amount of distention compared to the yoga group, while the low FODMAP diet increased anxiety in the study participants.
Therefore, working with your dietitian through the elimination and reintroduction phase of the low FODMAP diet AND practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, and yoga can improve IBS symptoms and overall quality of life.