No Yoke! Yoga Can Really Help
IBS, Digestive Health, Whole-body Health
There is a therapeutic tug-of-war that is going on constantly in our culture. The tension exists between whether we focus on narrow and specific treatments to problems or choose to focus on broader and more universal solutions that may not be designed for our specific problem, but are really helpful anyway. One example is getting a good night’s sleep. Let’s say that you have one of the following conditions: anxiety, migraine, depression, hypertension, arthritis, or IBS. The narrow treatment focus would say each of these problems requires its own unique solution. The broad focus would argue that sleep is a universal therapeutic solution that is helpful with each of these different conditions.
Sleep is a universal medicine. New studies show that yoga is another example of a universally beneficial “medicine” and one I strongly recommend IBS sufferers consider. Yoga was not designed as an IBS-specific treatment. In fact, yoga was not developed as a treatment at all. Yoga, which means to unite or “yoke” together mind, body, and other aspects of experience so we can glimpse the interconnectedness of everything in nature and the larger universe, is originally a spiritual discipline from the Hindu tradition. The amazing popularity of yoga has resulted in numerous studies highlighting the many benefits that the practice of yoga offers to regular yogic practitioners.
IBS is Not Just in Your Gut
The practice of yoga extends beyond benefiting the gut. This should not be that surprising. IBS itself is not a condition isolated to the digestive tract alone. IBS involves numerous intersecting body, brain, and lifestyle systems. The IBS Relief Now program I designed recognizes the constant interplay between these many systems. The program is designed to re-integrate or “yoke together” (like in yoga) the interactions between these different systems so that the many of the factors that operate to maintain active IBS symptoms can finally quiet down. In my experience, taking this multi-system approach to IBS self-management works so well because it takes advantage of the feedback loops that operate within us and that help us to function each day.
Yoga’s IBS-Specific Benefits
Yoga works with these feedback loops, as well. So, the wide-ranging benefits it confers on those who practice yoga make sense. Here are some of them:
- Yoga releases tension from body tissues, which results in the release of chemicals that quiet the mind and settle the gut.
- Yoga requires mental focus, which occurs when executive brain networks are engaged. Those networks inhibit or tamp down anxiety, which would others exacerbate IBS reactivity.
- Yoga conditions and tones the body, which increases our physical and mental resilience in the face of life stressors. Stress management is an effective means of reducing IBS activity.
- Yoga conditions the mind, which allows us to discharge worries and concerns we might otherwise carry to bed with us. In turn, we are more likely to obtain a good night’s sleep. Regular sleep is a great reboot for body and mind and effective at reducing IBS sensitivity.
I encourage those of you who have not yet experienced a yoga session to explore one. There are many different types of yoga (e.g., Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram, or Iyengar). I have personally benefited from Vinyasa yoga, but you can inquire at your local gym, community center, or yoga studio about which may fit best with your current age, level of conditioning, and where you are with your IBS symptom pattern. As with undertaking any vigorous activity, you may find it beneficial to consult your health professional before embarking on this journey. Nevertheless, I assure you, there is a class that is suitable for you and is just awaiting your arrival. I hope you enjoy the benefits you’ll discover.
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While IBS is common among people in the US, traditional medicine has little to offer in terms of effective, lasting treatment. Medication only works some of the time and often causes even more disruptions to one’s life. To fully treat IBS symptoms, it is critical to understand the unique causes of each person's IBS.
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