Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a global problem that affects 7-15% of the population with greater frequency in women and people under the age of fifty (Altobelli, Negro, Angeletti, & Latella, 2017; Mckenzie et al., 2016). In essence, it is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort associated with altered bowel function, while no organic disease is present (Mckenzie et al., 2016). In addition to abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea are observed, all of which end up affecting the patients' quality of life and leading to increased rates of psychological stress (Altobelli et al., 2017).
Currently, treatments involve lifestyle changes, dietary changes, alternative treatments with herbs, probiotics and specific drugs as well as psychologically based treatments and yoga (Camilleri, 2018).
Yoga is a traditional “mind-body-breath” discipline. The word Yoga, in Sanskrit, is “yuj” meaning to unite the mind, body, and spirit. With such mental and physical discipline yoga helps in personal transformation that leads to health as envisioned by WHO (World Health Organization) (Kavuri V, 2015).
D’Silva et all, (2020), in their article: “Yoga as a Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome” support the effectiveness of yoga for patients with IBS. Specifically, according to several scientific trials yoga has been identified as more effective compared to pharmacological treatment and equally effective as dietary interventions or moderate-intensity walking. Improvements were seen in both physical health such as IBS symptom severity and mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal-specific anxiety, and quality of life.
Articles suggest that Yoga postures that target the lower abdomen would help in relieving the symptoms of IBS by enhancing bioenergy circulation in and around the intestines. In addition, Yoga practices can reduce inappropriate activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and that’s important as clinical trials on IBS patients have shown abnormalities in autonomic function and psychological profiles. Let’s take Savasana (total relaxation) and pranayama (breath control) as examples. Their relaxing effects provide a short-term release from stress and create positive physiological changes in the whole body by modulating the nervous system.
A two-month study of 21 male IBS patients (Yoga group = 9; conventional group =12), with Yoga intervention of a few postures and “voluntary” regulated right-nostril breathing, to be practiced at home, showed that despite that both groups had positive changes over time, the Yoga group showed significant improvements in autonomic symptom score, bowel symptom score, anxiety, and physical flexibility.
IBS is closely related to brain-gut axis dysregulation and scientific literature supports the practice of Yoga as a remedial therapy of IBS mainly by reducing stress, by enhancing bioenergy circulation in and around the intestines and by modulating nervous system (Kavuri V, 2015).
· Altobelli, E., Negro, V. Del, Angeletti, P. M., & Latella, G. (2017). Low-FODMAP Diet Improves Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms : A Meta-Analysis, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9090940
· Mckenzie, Y. A., Bowyer, R. K., Leach, H., Gulia, P., Horobin, J., Sullivan, N. A. O., … Guideline, I. B. S. D. (2016). British Dietetic Association systematic review and evidence- based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults ( 2016 update ), 549–575. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12385
· Camilleri, M. (2018). Management Options for Irritable Bowel. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 93(12), 1858–1872.
· D'Silva A, MacQueen G, Nasser Y, Taylor LM, Vallance JK, Raman M. Yoga as a Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Dig Dis Sci. 2020 Sep;65(9):2503-2514. doi: 10.1007/s10620-019-05989-6. Epub 2019 Dec 12. PMID: 31832970.
· Kavuri V, Raghuram N, Malamud A, Selvan SR. Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Yoga as Remedial Therapy. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:398156. doi: 10.1155/2015/398156. Epub 2015 May 6. PMID: 26064164; PMCID: PMC4438173.