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Yoga for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

It is also called as functional bowel disorder, this is a condition characterized by disturbed motility of the large intestine leading to error of propulsion of its contents. As the word indicates, there is no damage to the intestine and hence is not a killer disease but it could be great nuisance to life. Normally the food that we consume passes through 30 feet length of the small intestine, wherein the digestion and absorption of all nutrients has been completed before it reaches the large intestine. Large intestine has one major function namely, to absorb the valuable water and salts and pass on the faeces into the waste bin, the rectum. From here the expulsion of faeces is subject to orders from the higher brain which decides to empty the bowel depending on the time, place and circumstances. A healthy cycle is to empty the bowel once a day early in the morning. Disturbances of this rhythm leads to irregularities of bowel habits termed IBS resulting in either constipation of diarrhea.

What is bowel motility and how is it controlled?

Large intestine has two types of movements :

Type 1: move the contents around within the intestine without moving them forward, known as segmental shuttle contractions. This aids in gaining times and contact with the lining of coon for absorption of the water and salt.

Type 2: a mass movement which squeezes the feaces onwards into the rectum called peristaltic contractions. This is activated early in the morning when you wake up or after breakfast. These movements caused by the contraction and relaxation of the thin layer of muscles in the large intestine are guided by the nerves from brain. The parasympathetic nerves stimulate the peristalsis and hence ensures emptying of the bowel whereas the sympathetic encourages the holding in of the contents. Further, near the terminal part of the rectum, the anus, there are sphincter muscles which are also supplied by nerves from the higher brain i.e., the voluntary nervous system.

Thus, an act of emptying of bowel is guided by increased peristaltic movements of the large intestine, which sends up a message to the brain. The brain (in turn the mind) senses this as an urge to empty the bowel. The mind now decides whether the time and place are congenial (availability of an acceptable clean toilet etc.), sends down the messages via parasympathetic and the voluntary nerves to the annual sphincters (which are normally held constantly contracted) to relax and the bowel is emptied.

The role of psyche is very important even in the normal daily emptying of the bowel. An example of persons like Mahatma Gandhi who could fast up to 21 days and still retain his regular bowel movements through specific exercises called yogasanas. Thus we have enormous capacity to control our basic reflexes. When the mind is disturbed or overworked of speeded up, it leads to erratic functioning of the nervous system. The surges from the emotional cortex working through over stimulations of hypothalamus, passes down the sympathetic and parasympathetic channels similar to what happened in the upper part of digestive system (the stomach). This imbalance manifests as irritability of the bowel.

A regular practice of yoga has helped a large number of subjects to help themselves and be free from their Irritable bowel syndrome.

The asanas used under special techniques for GID either stretch, compress, or twist the abdominal area, so that to bring a awareness to the part, focus and then defocus to give very deep rest to intra-abdominal structures.
Persons with IBS and ulcerative colitis have to avoid many of the brisk loosening practices in standing position and emphasize inverted posture to achieve balance the excess of Apana and Udana.


Jathara means the stomach, the belly. Parivartana means turning or rolling about, turning around.


  1. Lie flat on the back on the floor.

  2. Stretch out both arms sideways in line with the shoulders, so that the body resembles a cross.

  3. Exhale; raise both legs together until they are perpendicular to the floor. They should remain poker stiff, so do not bend them at the knees.

  4. Remain in the position for a few breaths. Then exhale, and move both the legs sideways down towards the floor to the left until the toes of the left foot almost touch the finger-tips of the out-stretched left hand. Try and keep the back well on the floor. In the initial stages, the right shoulder will be lifted off the floor. To prevent this ask a friend to press it down, or catch hold of a heavy piece of furniture with the right hand when the legs are turned sideways to the left.

  5. Both legs should go down together, the knees being kept tight throughout. As far as possible keep the lumbar portion of the back on the floor and turn the legs only from the hips. When the legs are near the outstretched left hand, move the abdomen to the right.

  6. Stay in the pose for about 20 seconds, keeping the legs stiff though out. Then move the still stiffened legs slowly back to the perpendicular with an exhalation.

  7. Remain with the legs perpendicular for a few breaths and then repeat the movements by lowering the legs to the right and turning the abdomen to the left. Stay here also for a the same length time and with an exhalation, come back to the perpendicular legs position and then gently lower the legs to the floor and relax.


This asana is good for reducing excess fat. It tones and eradicates sluggishness of the liver, spleen and pancreas. It also cures gastritis and strengthens the intestine. By its regular practice all the abdominal organs are kept in trim. It helps to relieves sprains and catches in the lower back and the hip region.

This article has been written by Dr. R. Nagarathna, Dean, Division of Yoga & Life-sciences, SVYASA
This article is published online courtesy
and Arogyadhama

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