You may be wondering if you should be doing yoga for IBS?
In this article, we will discuss what yoga is, if and how it can help with IBS and what types of yoga and poses are most beneficial.
Can yoga help with IBS?
Yes! It can help to reduce some of the symptoms that are associated with IBS, such as pain, bloating and anxiety (1).
One study showed that yoga helped both physical IBS symptoms and psychological symptoms. It was associated with improvements in gastric motility, reduction in symptom severity, physical function and mental health (2).
Another study showed that doing yoga twice a week for 12 weeks can be as effective as following the low FODMAP diet in reducing gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, and depression (3).
How does yoga help manage IBS?
It is not clear how yoga helps improve IBS symptoms. It is thought that deep breathing and stress reduction have a part to play. These factors are linked to the gut brain axis which has a direct impact on the gut.
The relaxing and calming effects of yoga and breathing help to reduce stress in the body and create positive physiological changes through modulating the nervous system (4).
Yoga is a form of gentle exercise. One trial showed that gentle exercise can reduce the severity of IBS symptoms and anxiety. Read more about how exercise can improve gut health here.
How long does it take to see a benefit?
Although one trial demonstrated a reduction in gut symptoms and anxiety levels after just 4 weeks of a daily hourly yoga session (5).
The time it takes to see a difference from yoga may also vary from person to person.
Which type of yoga is best for IBS?
There is no current research comparing specific types of yoga and their impact on IBS.
All yoga encompasses relaxation and deep breathing which are thought to be the key components needed to receive benefit from yoga (6).
Which yoga posts are best for IBS?
Similarly to the type of yoga, there is no research to suggest which yoga poses are best for IBS
Is it important to enjoy exercise, so finding what yoga poses you like the most is important for long term commitment to practicing yoga and to see the benefits.
Can hot yoga trigger IBS?
Hot yoga, also known as bikram yoga, is a style of yoga which is performed in a heated environment (40.6°C, 40% humidity) (7).
There is no research on hot yoga and IBS specifically. However, one study showed that those with IBS are more sensitive to heat, showing lower heat pain threshold and heat pain tolerance levels (8).
This could explain why hotter temperatures can increase gut symptoms and symptom severity. So hot yoga could trigger symptoms if you are sensitive to heat. However, more research is needed on this.
Diaphragmatic breathing and IBS
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as abdominal breathing. It is a technique of using breath work that encourages full oxygen exchange (9).
Diaphragmatic breathing can help to relieve stress as focusing on the breath is an effective way for the body to relax. This has a positive direct impact on the gut brain axis, reducing IBS symptoms related to stress and anxiety (10).
An example of diaphragmatic breathing is:
- Lying on your back on a flat surface with knees bent or sat on a chair with knees bent and head neck and shoulders relaxed.
- Placing one hand on your upper chest and one just below your rib cage.
- Breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your pursed lips. Your hand on your stomach should rise and your hand on your chest should remain still.
Yoga for IBS can be effective and can help to reduce symptoms. It does this by reducing stress, breathing and calming the gut brain axis.
Yoga is also a form of gentle exercise which is beneficial for our gut health. However, there are no specific types of yoga or yoga poses that are proven to be more beneficial for IBS.
There is no harm in incorporating yoga into your daily routine to see if it helps with your IBS symptoms. However, remember everyone is different, so it is important to find what works for you.
Written by Maiya Bahra Student Dietitian, reviewed by Serena Bansal Registered Dietitian BSc Hons and Kirsten Jackson Constulant Dietitian BSc Hons, RD, PG Cert
Serena is a UK HCPC Registered Dietitian with a keen interest in IBS and gut health. Serena graduated from Coventry University in 2021 with an upper second class in Dietetics and Human Nutrition.