Yoga as a tool for managing IBS

As we’re focused on exercise as an approach to managing IBS symptoms, it’s a good time to talk about yoga.

By Laura Tilt

Yoga for mental wellbeing

For centuries yoga has been used to help relax the mind and body, which makes it a helpful tool for managing stress and anxiety. And because stress and anxiety can aggravate IBS, building in a regular yoga practice could be a helpful way to manage symptoms.   

Is there any evidence yoga can improve symptoms?  

A few small studies have found yoga may be a helpful tool for managing IBS symptoms. Studies comparing a yoga programme with no treatment have found that yoga can improve IBS symptoms, quality of life and anxiety.  

In a different type of study published in 2017, researchers compared the effects of a yoga programme with a low-FODMAP diet. 

In the study, 59 people with IBS were allocated to one of two treatment groups – either a low FODMAP diet, or 2 weekly sessions of Hatha yoga. The yoga group was also encouraged to practise at home.   

After 12 weeks, researchers measured self-reported changes in symptoms and quality of life. They found that there were meaningful improvements in gut symptoms and quality of life in both groups.  

This was only a small study; we need more research to be confident about the impact of yoga on IBS. Still, this highlights the benefit of managing IBS using more than one approach.   

How might yoga improve IBS symptoms?  

Yoga practice encourages diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing).

This is a type of slow, deep breathing which activates the parasympathetic nervous system - or 'rest and digest' mode. This can increase blood flow to the gut and calm the nervous system. It’s these changes which may help to ease gut symptoms.  

There are many styles of yoga, but if you're looking for this 'rest and digest' benefit, then Hatha, restorative or yin yoga are ideal.

If you’ve never tried yoga before and you'd like to, set yourself a challenge to find a beginner's class this week. There are plenty available online if you want to try one from the comfort of your home.