Easy Yoga Poses for IBS Symptom Relief

Stretches to Ease Your Tummy Troubles

Anyone who's ever experienced symptoms of an IBS flare-up knows that the gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea are not fun to deal with. You also know you'll try just about anything to manage your symptoms.

The good news is, yoga appears to be a relatively easy way to help manage symptoms naturally, and while it shouldn't be considered a treatment for IBS without further research, it certainly doesn't hurt to try the poses. To get started at home, try the following nine yoga poses for IBS symptom relief.

Alternate Knee to Nose Pose

alternate knee to nose
Katrina Love Senn

When you're feeling gassy, hit the floor for the alternate knee to nose pose, which, according to Katrina Love Senn, an International Yoga Teacher and author, is also known as the wind-relieving pose. "It helps to relieve gas and bloating, as well as strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles," she says.

Luckily, it's simple and accessible for just about everyone. Lie on your back on your mat, your legs extended. Draw your right knee up toward your chest, and use your arms to pull it closer to your body. Take several deep breaths here before releasing your leg to the floor and repeating on the other side. Complete three to five stretches per leg.

Boat Pose

boat pose
Alex Samet

To beat the bloat so common with IBS, the boat pose might help you out." This pose helps engage your core, toning and tightening the abdomen." says Alex Samet, a Registered Yoga Teacher specializing in vinyasa yoga. "This is a perfect pose for eliminating belly bloat."

If you're unfamiliar with the pose, Samet offers these steps for setting up correctly:

  • Sit tall with your knees bent, your feet flat on the ground. Rock backward and shift your weight so you're balanced on your "sit bones," lifting your feet from the floor as you do.
  • Bringing your palms to the backs of your thighs, lift and open up through your chest. Push your thighs into your palms to rise up a little taller.
  • To play with your balance, bring your arms alongside your body in this pose. If you find yourself collapsing through the lower back (hunching forward), return to the initial position.
  • To work even more on your balance, keep your legs together and slowly begin to straighten them. Make sure you don't lock your knees. If you're unable to straighten your legs without losing your balance, don't worry—keep your knees bent if it feels better.

Breathe deeply as you hold the pose, focusing on keeping your abdomen engaged and strong. Hold for as long as you can with good posture and balance, then release your feet to the floor. Repeat three to five times.

Knees to Chest Pose

The knees to chest pose, also known as "tuck pose," is another great option when you're feeling bloated or gassy. "This soothing pose targets the belly area and digestive organs. It helps allow internal healing of the entire tummy area through encouraging your digestive system to fully relax and release," Senn says.

Simply lie supine on your mat, your low back in contact with your floor, and your neck relaxed. Bend both knees and draw them in toward your chest, using your hands to pull your knees closer to your torso. While still relaxed, take a deep breath in, then as you exhale, tighten your abdomen and draw your shoulders from the ground, curling your head up to your knees. Hold for a count of three, then release your head and shoulders back to the floor. Continue the sequence three to five times.

Wide-Legged Forward Bend C

If you're experiencing gas pain related to stress, Samet suggests the wide-legged forward bend pose as an option to relieve tension while "squeezing your belly to help move things along."

To perform the exercise, stand tall with your feet wider than shoulder-distance apart, your toes pointing slightly outward. Lace your fingers together behind your back. Take a deep breath in to prepare yourself, then as you exhale, fold forward from the hips, drawing your arms up behind you, then overhead, using their forward movement to help guide your head closer to the mat.

Take several deep breaths here, trying to release your body closer to the mat with each exhale, then when you're ready to release the pose, inhale, press through the balls of your feet and as Samet says, "scoop yourself up to stand." Shake it out, then repeat the exercise two more times.

Cat-Cow Pose

The cat-cow pose sequence is an awesome series that should be incorporated into just about everyone's self-care routine. "Done together, these two rhythmical yoga poses internally massage all the way through the digestive system and spinal column, aiding and supporting healthy and efficient digestion," Senn says. So if you're dealing with a bout of IBS-related constipation, it may be time to hit the deck for a little cat-cow routine.

Start in a table-top position so you're kneeling on your knees and hands. Check to make sure your palms are aligned under your shoulders, your knees under your hips. On an inhale, look up toward the ceiling, pressing through your palms as you open through the chest, simultaneously pressing your hips up toward the ceiling, articulating through your sit bones. This is cow pose.

On your next exhale, round your shoulders forward, relaxing your head between your arms as you tuck your pelvis under, really stretching through your entire spine. This is cat pose.

Continue alternating between cow and cat pose with each inhale and exhale, respectively. Perform at least three to five sequences.

Shoulder Stand Pose

If you have IBS-D, or diarrhea, the shoulder stand may be the help you're looking for. "Poses where the abdomen is inverted slows bowel mobility and promotes the absorption of fluid," Samet says. At any rate, it's certainly worth a shot.

It is a slightly more advanced movement, so if you can't perform a shoulder stand, try the easy plow pose, with your knees bent throughout the exercise, instead. Samet offers these tips for performing the exercise correctly:

  • Lie on your back and bend your knees, your feet flat on the floor. Gently kick your legs overhead, or if you're a beginner, lift your feet from the floor so your lower legs are parallel to the ground, then use your abs to roll your pelvis up and away from the floor as you bring your knees toward your head. Use your hands if your need to to help guide this movement.
  • Bring your hands to your lower back, with your fingers pointing upward, your upper arms and elbows touching the ground. On your next inhale, try to lift your legs (together, or one at a time), so they are extended and perpendicular to the ground. Take a series of deep breaths, and on each inhale, try to move your elbows closer together to support your low back as you lift your legs a little higher.

When you're ready to release the pose, return to plow or easy plow, with your feet dropping behind your head, then slowly and carefully roll your hips back to the floor, allowing your knees and feet to follow.

Cobra Pose

"Cobra pose stretches all the way through the front and back parts of the center of the body, relieving constipation and intestinal gas," Senn says, adding, "There are also benefits for the spine, and the abdominal and back muscles, which together help promote healthy digestion."

Cobra is another accessible pose, appropriate for most individuals. Lie on your stomach and place your palms on the ground, just below, but aligned with, your shoulders. Take a deep breath in, and as you inhale press through your palms and use your core muscles to lift your shoulders and chest away from the floor as you look forward. On an exhale, release slightly, and on your next inhale, deepen the stretch as you rise up taller. The goal here is to really use your core muscles to initiate and deepen the movement, rather than relying on your arms, chest, or shoulders. To check your form, draw your shoulders away and back from your ears with each inhale. Repeat three to five times.

Seated Spinal Twist

The seated spinal twist (and really, just about any twisting yoga pose), helps encourage blood flow, reduces bloating, and aids in digestion, according to Samet. "My favorite way to get into this pose is to start in a sated position and move into cow-facing legs by bringing the right knee on top of the left knee, so your feet are by opposite hips," she says.

Once your legs are in cow-facing position, press your right foot down into the ground outside of your left thigh so your right knee lifts away from the ground, then hook your left elbow outside your right thigh, and turn to look past your right shoulder. If this position feels good, hold the pose here.

If you want to deepen the pose, Samet says you should bring your left elbow over your right knee and thread your left hand through your right leg. Bring your right arm behind your body and reach around your torso to grasp your left hand. It all sounds very complicated, but once you try it, you'll see it's easier than it sounds.

On each inhale, rise up through your torso to find length, and on each exhale, try to twist a little more as you look over your right shoulder. Continue for three to five deep breaths before your slowly release and repeat the exercise to the opposite side.

Child's Pose

Last, but certainly not least, is the wonderful child's pose. Senn touts this relaxing position as one that increases energy through the digestive system, basically offering a general assist for all your IBS symptoms.

Kneel on the ground and sit back on your heels. Keep your knees together so that when you lean forward, your thighs provide a soft massage for your digestive organs. Take a deep breath in, and on the exhale, fold forward, reaching your arms over your head, simply relaxing into the pose as you try to press your hips back into your heels. Take long, slow breaths, and with each exhale, try to deepen the stretch, further reaching your arms forward, your forehead toward the floor, and your hips back. Remain in this position for 30 to 60 seconds.

Sources:

Kuttner, L, et al. “A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome.” Pain Research & Management. 2006:217-223.

Taneja, I., et al. “Yogic versus conventional treatment in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized control study." Applied Physiology and Biofeedback. 2004;19:33.

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