The Power of Yoga for IBD

There are so many positives to practicing yoga. For me, short-term it changes my mood, my level of anxiety and relaxation and it seems to actually help calm down my gut a little bit. I find as I hone in on my body, instead of my surroundings and environment, I am able to better focus with a clear state of mind.

After I complete my routine, I feel refreshed, renewed and like I’ve changed my batteries.

According to Yoga International, “Yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue in people living with chronic illness, and it can improve immune function. Yoga can also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that helps you to rest and heal) and increase GABA levels in your body (GABA—gamma-amino butyric acid—is a neurotransmitter which can help calm the brain. Low levels of GABA have been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia).”

Yoga has helped many people physically, mentally & psychosocially recover after traumatic events such as surgery, long hospital stays and overall well-being (1). For me personally, if I don’t do yoga twice a day, I find myself more irritable and much more sore than if I had done my practice. Without yoga, I find my arthritis is much more obvious to me in the way I walk, the way I handle objects and my overall coordination.

I have been religiously practicing mindfulness and meditative yoga twice a day for the last two months using the App “Daily Burn.”  There is a short quiz in the beginning about what type of classes you’d like to take and yoga is included in many categories. There are a ton of classes to pick from that are beneficial to specific groups of people. I picked strength training and one of the classes is meditative yoga; I do this once when I wake up and once before bed. I’ve been sleeping better and my anxiety has reduced before bed, which is when it’s at it’s peak. When I feel like I’m having a down, depressing day, I’ve made a point to “press my restart button” and do some yoga, whether it’s in a chair, standing up, sitting on the porch, or on my bed.

My endorphins kick in which helps as a form of short-term therapy for me.

Because my arthritis impacts me in different ways, every day when I first get on my mat, there are certain adaptive devices I use to help me get into a better rhythm. I use blocks, a yoga wheel, towels, pillows and other props. Sometimes sitting in one position during meditative yoga can be painful not only for my bottom, but also my spine. I am currently using a gel cushion to sit on to make things a little more comfortable when sitting for long periods of time. 

As an athlete dealing with pretty consistent Crohn’s flares, it’s hard to just get back on the road and start running again. Yoga has provided me avenues to explore abilities of each body part. The mindfulness of yoga is a very important aspect. It lets my body “melt” and stretch as far as possible, letting go of the stress in my joints. Just like many people use foam rollers to help their recovery process, I look at yoga like my recovery tool when I’ve physically had a very bad day. Because of flares and being unable to participate in endurance events, at least when I practice yoga, it feels like I’m a bigger part of something.

Doing yoga in a studio with an Instructor, friends and an appropriate environment can make a world of a difference. There are often many free local events that you could check out in your town, especially in summer. Where I’m located, we have Yoga in the Park every week in different locations, as well as Yoga on the Deck located downtown where all the action is happening. Yoga has helped me to be a bit more social. So that, for me, is huge!

Do you practice yoga? How do you think it positively affects you short & long-term?

New to yoga? Try searching for free classes on YouTube to get started!

view references
  1. Buffart, L. M., Van Uffelen, J. G., Riphagen, I. I., Brug, J., van Mechelen, W., Brown, W. J., & Chinapaw, M. J. (2012). Physical and psychosocial benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC cancer, 12(1), 559.
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