According to The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not uncommon. It affects nearly twenty percent of the population. This disorder results from problems with the structure of the intestines, such that they are often overtly sensitive to the stretching and movement required to eliminate waste effectively. It is a different disorder than inflammatory bowel disease.
There is no known singular cause for IBS, but it seems to come on usually after some sort of intestinal infection such as from traveling sickness or parasitic troubles, however, there are other triggers, which cause IBS symptoms. People with IBS are usually referred to a gastroenterologist, but it is known that stress is one of the largest causes of the disorder. Instead of visiting a doctor, yoga can do quite a bit to alleviate stress. Additionally, there are several other yogic tools which can help to alleviate the symptoms of IBS before they ever arise.
Many people do not realize that the body reacts to stress in a number of purely physical ways. Stress is a form of energy, after all, and it must be processed by the body somehow. The autonomic nervous system and brain work in tandem with the colon to release waste products form the body. It is thought that nearly two thirds of all diseases are caused from improper digestion. When the body is over-stressed, the nerves may become over-sensitive to messages from the brain coming from the nerves in the colon. This can cause gas, a feeling of uncomfortable fullness, and bloating, sometimes even acute pain. These symptoms usually lessen after a bowel movement, and often come and go without logical sense. Most people with IBS will go back and forth from constipation to diarrhea, and almost all patients have infrequent bowel movements. Although you should consult with your doctor, and perhaps even have a colonoscopy to make sure there are not more serious issues, such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colon, or some other obstruction to the bowels, yoga can help significantly.
Let us begin with why IBS happens from a yogic point of view, instead of an allopathic one. In people with IBS some psychological disturbance is usually there, which may exist in the form of suppressed anger, anxiety, depression, fear, sorrow or an urge for sex. These emotional ups and downs disturb these complex networks of the body in the same way as they affect the brain. Because of these disturbances, the lining of the large intestine becomes more sensitive and it starts behaving in such a way as to perceive the regular contents of its lumen as abnormal. Ayurvedic doctors have called this ailment Atissar, and it arises from grief, fear and sorrow. It is as if the tears created by ruminating over one’s sorrows or grief become too much for the body to handle, and the ‘heat’ of lacrimation causes excess activity in the bowels. The ancient seers seemed to clue in on the hypersensitivity of a special cell in the blood called IgC and CD4+. These are said to be the prime cause of IBS. There are numerous ways to help this, though.
To begin, yoga suggests a clean and healthy diet. Sometimes just changing dietary habits will make a world of difference from IBS sufferers. Stimulants such as caffeine and tea are suggested to be Pita-enhancing foods according to Ayurvedic and yogic science and should not be consumed by people with digestive ailments. They tend overly stimulate the adrenals and the autonomic nervous system and brain and can also cause an over stimulation of the bowels.
Yogis usually eat light meals. They do not like to become too Sattvic – meaning they don’t want to be weighed down. They realize that too much food consumption can slow the metabolism, slow the digestive process and make one’s mind sluggish and tired. This can be exaggerated in IBS patients. Instead of taking heavy meals 2-3 times, take in less food more frequently. Also avoid overly spicey foods or artificial sweetners like sorbitol and preservatives. Although not always suggested in a yogic diet, you may want to try abstaining from wheat rye, barley and milk products as well as alcohol, and increase vegetables and fruits which have lots of Prana and life-giving qualities as well as fiber to keep the pipes below the belt running smoothly. Indian butter milk, or clarified ghee is considered nectar for the abdominals. This is different than most other dairy products as the enzymes are harder to break down, so if you don’t have access to clarified butter, you can add probiotics instead. Also drinks lots of purified water for the same reason.
There are also natural herbs used by Ayurvedic doctors for centuries that can help with IBS. Some helpful herbs for IBS are Mulethi (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus pleuricaulis), Gudushi (Tinospora cordifolia) and Brahmi (Centella asiatica).
The next thing to add to your daily practice is pranayama and meditation. Youa re trying to calm not only the overly-sensitive lining of the large intestine, but also the hyper-busy mind. Do not practice breath of fire or other heat building pranayama, but slow, deep breaths such as Alterante Nostril Breathing (Nadi Sodhana) or the Victorious breath (Ujjayi) will increase the vital capacity of the lungs, calms the mind, oxygenate every single cell in the body and purify the blood. These pranayama practices will massage abdominal viscera and ease IBS symptoms.
By adding meditation to pranayama practice you can start to de-stress the mind. The Hearthmath Institute, and Harvard Medical School have over 20 years of research on the positive affects of meditation on the body, for almost any and all disease. By quieting the mind you can release deeply-held patterns of guilt, fear, sadness, or anger which you may not eve understand the original causes for. There are literally thousands of meditation techniques, but just starting on listening to the sound of the breath in a seat position such as Padmasana or Sukkhasana just five to ten minutes a day will drastically reduce symptoms.
Finally, you can practice many seated and forward folding asana to help massage the internal digestive organs, help to support the liver, pancreas and kidneys, and help to alleviate cramping and gas. Seated Forward Fold (Pashimottanasana) and Standing Forward Fold (Uttansana) are great places to start in an asana practice to help alleviate IBS discomfort. Be sure to always follow with a corresponding, yet gentle backbend such as Bridge Pose (Setu Bhandasana) or Camel Pose (Ustrasana) to bring the body back to balance and keep the spine healthy while you are trying to correct IBS.
Irritable bowel syndrome. NIH Publication No. 07-693. September 2007.
About The Author:
Christina Sarich runs http://www.yogaforthenewworld.blogspot.com