“The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. It means union, integration, or wholeness. It is an approach to health that promotes the harmonious collaboration of the human being’s three components: body, mind, and spirit.” – Stella Weller
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder with worldwide prevalence rates ranging from 9–23% and U.S. rates generally in the area of 10–15% affecting between 25 and 45 million people. IBS is not life threatening but it is very uncomfortable producing changes in bowel movement patterns, bloating and excess gas, and pain in the lower belly. It is also a major source of absenteeism both at work and in school. At present there are no known cures for IBS and treatments involve symptomatic relief, often with fairly radical dietary changes.
It has been shown that meditation can help relieve IBS symptoms but there is a need to find more and better treatments. Yoga practice can involve particular postures that are directed at affecting the GI tract. It is also a meditative practice. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether yoga practice may be useful in treating IBS. In today’s Research News article “Iyengar Yoga for Adolescents and Young Adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome”
Evans and colleagues compared 6-weeks of yoga practice to care as usual for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in adolescents (14-17 yrs.) and young adults (18-26 yrs.).
They found that the yoga practice had a much greater impact in the young adults than in the adolescents. Yoga practice produced significant improvement in physical functioning in the adolescents but the young adults who practiced yoga showed significant improvements in IBS symptoms, global improvement, psychological distress, functional disability, fatigue, and sleep quality. These improvements were still significant 2 months after the end of yoga practice.
IBS is usually not diagnosed until adulthood. But there are a group of adolescents who also suffer from IBS. It is interesting that yoga practice for the most part did not significantly help them. This may indicate that early onset IBS may in some ways be different or more difficult to treat than adult onset IBS. It could also indicate that adolescents are not particularly good patients and due to non-compliance do not respond to otherwise effective treatments.
The effectiveness for the young adults is striking and potentially very significant. This raises the question, however, of how yoga practice might be affective with IBS symptoms. As mentioned above, there are yoga postures that target and manipulate the GI tract and these were emphasized in the yoga taught in the study. It is possible that these manipulations of the GI tract have a positive effect on regularizing GI transit. It was also mentioned above that meditation has been shown to be helpful for IBS and meditation is a component of yoga practice.
In addition, research has demonstrated that yoga decreases the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/11/reduce-inflammation-with-yoga/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/27/control-inflammation-with-mind-body-practices/). Since IBS involves inflammation of the GI tract it is possible that yoga is effective for IBS by reducing bowel inflammation. Future research is needed to clarify and test these ideas.
Regardless, it is clear that practicing yoga can be very beneficial for the treatment of IBS in adults. Since, yoga practice is generally safe, with few if any side effects, is generally a healthful practice for both the body and mind, and can be implemented at low cost, it would appear to be an excellent choice for the treatment of IBS.
So, practice yoga to make Irritable Bowel Syndrome less irritating.
“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” – Mr. Yoga
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies