IBS and Yoga

Of late I have had conversations with several students who currently suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Although the estimated prevalence of IBS is about 6% of the population here in Canada, with approximately 2/3 of the patients being women, the actual incidence (often unreported) is thought to be much higher. Certainly, in my teaching and nursing experience, the latter is the case.

The cause of IBS is unknown, although stress is apparent as an exacerbating factor. The diagnosis of IBS is made by ruling out other more serious conditions such as colitis, celiac disease, leaky gut syndrome, parasitic infection, bacterial infection, inflammatory bowel diseases, and a host of others. The symptoms of IBS are constipation, diarrhea (or both), cramping, bloating, headache, belching, excess flatulence, chronic fatigue, depression... and a general feeling of malaise.

Many sufferers or IBS turn to alternative therapies such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, herbal remedies and acupuncture...and others.

Interestingly, IBS has a definite mind-body connection.....a brain-gut interaction that is gaining increasing research attention. Briefly....a chemical called serotonin found principally in the gut is thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. .Approximately 90% of the human body's total serotonin is located in the enterochromaffin cells in the gut where it is used to regulate intestinal movements.

The remainder of the body's serotonin is synthesized in nerve cells of the central nervous system, where it has various functions. These include the regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep. Serotonin also has some cognitive functions, including memory and learning. Modulation of serotonin at synapses is thought to be a major action of several classes of pharmacological antidepressants.

Medication (especially serotonin reuptake inhibitors SRI's) which work in the nervous system to allow serotonin to spend more time in the gaps between nerve fibers, thus giving this chemical more time to do its work. Medication and/or psychotherapy have been found to significantly improve symptoms. Relaxation therapy as well provides relief.

It is well known that stress plays an incredibly important part in many conditions and diseases. Chronic levels of stress severely ramp up the sympathetic nervous system thus decreasing blood flow to the gut. Easy postures along with relaxing breath work provide relief, and an opportunity for the parasympathetic nervous system to get back to doing what it is meant to do....bring about balance and harmony to bodily and psychological systems.

Try these practices for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with Double Breath Arms. Take time to centre and ground in Mountain Pose. Breathe smoothly through the nose so that the inbreath is the same as the outbreath.....In volume, and in length of time that it takes to inhale and to exhale. Repeat a few times. Then, inhale and raise the arms to the sides and up overhead. Exhale and relax the arms back down by the sides. Coordinate the breath and the movement .

Moon Pose (Chandrasana) with easy breathing. From Mountain Pose, inhale the right arm up overhead, and exhale as you sway to the left. Inhale as you come up to tall spine, and exhale as you bring the arm back down by the side. Repeat on the other side. Repeat a few times more alternating sides. Relax for a few breaths in Mountain Pose and notice how you feel.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) from Mountain Pose, with your feet hip distance apart, ground down into your heels, bend your knees slightly. Breathe smoothly a few times. When you are ready, inhale both arms up overhead and as you exhale, hinge form the hips (keeping the knees bent) and fold forward. Hang out for a few breaths and release the arms and back of the neck. When you are ready to come up, draw your belly button gently back to the spine, inhale and come back up. Exhale and relax. Notice how you feel.

Standing Backbend from Mountain Pose with your feet hip distance apart, bring both hands to the back of your pelvis. Keep your hands wide open, and press your pelvis forward and down slightly. Keep your thighs vertical to the floor. Drawn your tail bone down toward the floor. As you inhale, draw your belly button back toward your spine and bend backward. Keep your chest up, your shoulders down your back, and breathe smoothly. Keep the back of the neck long. If you cannot breathe smoothly here, you are likely too far into the backbend. Come up a little. Be here for a few calming breaths. When you are ready to come out, breathe in, straighten up and exhale, relaxing the arms down by the side.

Locust Pose (Shalabhasana) Lie down on your belly. Have your legs comfortably apart, all of your toes touching the mat. Forehead to the floor to keep the back of the neck long and straight. Have your arms extended forward with your fingertips on the floor. Engage your shoulders into your back. As you breathe in, draw your belly button back to your spine. As you exhale lift the chest and shoulders away from the floor. If this is relatively comfortable, and your breathing is smooth, quietly lift your legs up off the floor. Keep your legs long. Breathe smoothly. When you are ready to come out, exhale, relaxing your legs and your upper body to the floor. Relax.

Push Knees Pose (Apanasana Wind Relieving Pose). Lie down on your back and bring both knees to your chest. Place your hands on your knees. As you inhale, gently press your knees forward, until your thighs vertical to the floor and as you exhale, allow your knees to quietly come back toward the chest. Repeat as many times as you like. This feels beautiful.

Always relax deeply in Savasana (Corpse Pose) or sit quietly for a while when you are done. Breathe quietly in and out through your nose. On the exhale, imagine there is a feather at the end of your nose, and you are trying not to disturb it.