These gentle, beginner-friendly movements can help ease discomfort.
If you already practice yoga, you’re probably aware of its many benefits, from improving balance to reducing stress.
But you may not know that certain poses can feel especially helpful for relieving some of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like gas, bloating, stress and fatigue.
In fact, a small 2015 study found that people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis who practiced yoga for an hour a day for 8 weeks reported less stress and anxiety and less joint pain than before the study began, and less intestinal pain compared with the control group. While additional studies need to be done, researchers believe yoga also may help improve IBD-related fatigue and depression, as well as the overall quality of life.
If you’ve never tried yoga, you might believe that you need to be super flexible, or skinny, or spiritual to do it right. Nothing could be further from the truth. The poses below are all simple for most body types and, dare I say, relaxing for even brand-new beginners. And as someone with Crohn’s disease who’s been practicing yoga for nearly a decade, I can tell you that they really help!
Try some or all of these the next time your IBD is giving you grief. And of course, always check with your healthcare professional before beginning a new exercise routine. Be especially careful, too, if you have any neck, back, hip or knee injuries.
Before you begin, make sure you have a yoga mat or other cushioned, stable surface. You may also want a blanket and a pillow or other cushion.
Cat-Cow is a key posture for relieving bloating and trapped gas or to help move constipated bowels. Not only will you feel a great lengthening in your back, but it’s traditionally believed that this pose helps move whatever is stagnant in your digestive tract.
Begin on your mat in a Tabletop Pose (on your hands and knees, with your back flat). Line up your wrists under your shoulders, pushing firmly on the ground so you can feel a bit of lengthening through your shoulders and neck. Keep your knees on the ground directly below your hips.
On an inhalation, lift your chin and chest upward and drop your belly toward the mat. Your back will create a “U” shape. (That’s the “cow” part.) Focus on feeling the lengthening of your spine and openness of your chest.
Next, as you exhale, draw your neck back and drop your head so that your chin is pointing toward your chest; at the same time, draw your belly back toward your spine and round your back, like a cat. Alternate between the cow and cat movements several times to feel the best results.
For extra oomph, I like to turn my head back toward my hips on each side during the cow phase. That way I am getting a “massage” through my side body.
Dealing with abdominal pain? Try this simple pose, which gives a lot of love to the belly. By folding at your mid-section, you can add some pressure (the good kind, similar to holding a pillow against your abdomen) to help alleviate your discomfort.
Just be sure to move into this position slowly so you don’t cause any additional pain. If you do experience pain, ease back out of the posture and fold only to the degree you can tolerate.
Stand up straight with your feet together or a few inches apart, with your arms at your side.
Keeping your spine straight, slowly hinge forward from the hips, allowing your belly to rest on your thighs and your head to hang down. Keep a soft bend in the knees to protect your lower back. Rest your hands next to your feet or in front of them. As you inhale, try to lengthen your spine. As you exhale, try to go deeper into the posture.
You may want to hold your elbows with opposite hands while rocking gently from side to side. If you can’t reach the floor with your hands, place a yoga block in front of you and rest your hands on that.
Happy Baby is an incredibly effective pose for relieving gas. Maybe babies know this instinctively, and that’s why they naturally initiate this position. This pose applies gentle pressure against your abdomen, so gas has nowhere to go but out. You may end up loving this pose for bringing out your inner child!
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
Keeping your knees bent, draw them toward your abdomen. Grab either the inside or outside edges of your feet (or your ankles if you cannot reach your feet comfortably). Add some movement that feels good, such as gently rocking back and forth or side to side.
You can also experiment with pulling your feet closer to your chest, and then extending your legs straight in the air.
Feeling fatigued or needing a little soul nourishment? Child’s Pose is here for you! The tightness of this posture feels safe and comforting, much like curling up in a fetal position. I like to get into Child’s Pose anytime I’m feeling physically or emotionally exhausted or need a dose of self-love. For even more comfort, bring a blanket with you to the mat and cover yourself with it. You just might find yourself dozing off!
Kneel on the mat.
Gently lean forward so your butt is resting on your heels, and your forehead is resting on the mat. Keep your arms by your sides with your hands resting next to your feet, palms facing up. Focus on maintaining long, slow inhalations and steady exhalations.
If it’s difficult for you to get your forehead all the way to the floor, widen the space between your knees, and fold your arms in front of you; then rest your head on your arms. Another option is to place a pillow or folded blanket behind your knees to add support.
If you need to relieve trapped gas or bloat, the gentle twisting action and pressure in this pose provide a nice abdominal massage.
Lie on your back with your arms stretched out in a straight line near your head, like a capital T.
Bend your knees, and on an inhalation, pull them toward your chest. Keeping your knees together as much as possible, exhale while slowly moving your bent legs all the way to one side across your body. See if you can rest your legs for a moment on the floor. Feel free to move through a few rounds of breathing here.
On an inhalation, bring your legs back to the center and slowly move them to the other side while exhaling.
If it’s uncomfortable or difficult to get your legs onto the floor, feel free to support them with a block or cushion.
Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose can help you feel more relaxed and will support your circulation, too. With your legs pointed upward, your blood can move from your feet to your mid and upper body, and even up to your brain. This may make you feel more relaxed and give you more energy in the long run.
Sit on your bottom facing a wall.
Scoot yourself as close to the wall as you can get, and begin to walk your feet up the wall, letting your legs rest against it. Aim for a 90-degree position but know that however close you can come is OK. You can either let your arms fall beside you or place one or both hands over your heart. Stay in this position for as long as you’d like.
It may feel good to support your lower back and/or head with a folded blanket or cushion.
Corpse Pose is traditionally done at the end of a yoga practice to integrate all the other movements, release tension and simply be in the present moment before leaving the mat and carrying on with your day. I always love this point in yoga because it gives us the “permission” we often feel we need to just relax without the intention of accomplishing something.
IBD can heighten stress and anxiety, and corpse pose is a great way to alleviate that. Whenever you’re feeling the weight of it all, give yourself permission to lay in Corpse Pose and release it to the mat.
Lie on your back with your head on the ground and your legs stretched far apart — as wide as your mat. Lay your arms beside you, palms facing up.
None. Take slow inhalations. On the exhalations, try to release any tension you’re holding.
If it’s uncomfortable for you to lie flat, try placing a pillow under your knees. You can also bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the mat.
You don’t have to be an experienced yogi to practice these postures and feel some IBD relief. Yoga is all about the experience you’re having in the moment, and not about achieving perfection. You can use these poses on a regular basis or anytime you’re having IBD symptoms and need some relief.
Medically reviewed on July 28, 2022
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