When your stomach is feeling unsettled in the throes of IBS, going to a workout class might be the last thing on your mind. But you might be surprised to learn that gentle exercises like yoga are actually helpful for IBS symptoms.

Yoga is a good choice if you’re living with IBS because it can help lower your stress levels. It’s also not an aerobic exercise, so you won’t be jumping around and jarring your intestines. Beyond that, certain poses can help relieve certain symptoms of IBS like gas and bloating.

Note: Before jumping into the routine below, read the instructions. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, certain poses may worsen your symptoms.

1. Downward-Facing Dog

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Downward-Facing Dog can be a great start for any yoga practice because it energizes the body. If you have IBS, the benefits Downward-Facing Dog include spine lengthening and toning of the abdominal muscles.

Note: If you’re currently experiencing diarrhea as part of your IBS symptoms, skip this pose.

Muscles worked: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, quadriceps

  1. Start on all fours, with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Keep your feet flat (toes not tucked).
  2. Walk your hands out a few inches in front of your shoulders and curl your toes under.
  3. As you inhale, press into your hands and straighten your legs, leading with your tailbone; it should be the highest point of your body and lead you into making a triangle with your body and the floor.
  4. Widen your upper back while keeping your arms straight and firmly in your shoulder sockets.
  5. Pull the front of your rib cage in as you press down into all 10 fingers and extend your heels toward the floor. (Your feet may not be flat on the floor, and that’s okay; simply press them as if you’re trying to get them flat.) Pedal your feet out if your legs feel tight.
  6. Take 5 deep and even breaths as you hold this pose.

2. Cobra

Cobra tones the abdomen, helps relieve stress and fatigue, improves blood circulation, and stimulates your abdominal organs.

Muscles worked: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, serratus anterior

  1. From Downward-Facing Dog, you can lower your knees to the ground gently, and then extend your body so you’re lying face down on the floor. Rest your face to the side, on one cheek.
  2. Press your hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and hug your elbows in, keeping them close to the sides of your body. Press the tops of your thighs, feet, and pelvis firmly into the floor.
  3. As you inhale, press your hands into the floor and slowly straighten your arms, but only go as far as you can while maintaining your pelvis and legs pressing into the floor. You don’t necessarily want to have straight arms.
  4. This is a backbend pose, so you want to stay here for 5 slow and even breaths as you engage your glutes and firm your shoulder blades on your back.
  5. As you exhale, slowly release your belly, then your ribs, and head back to the ground by lowering yourself in a controlled manner.
  6. Rest your face on the opposite cheek as before. Take a few deep breaths before repeating the pose for another 3 to 5 breaths.

3. Bow pose

Bow pose is another backbend, but this one is a bit deeper. It helps with fatigue, anxiety, as well as constipation. You may not want to hold this pose for long if it makes your intestines feel too active while you’re in it.

Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, pectoralis major

  1. Lie belly down on the floor, with your hands alongside your body, palms up.
  2. Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels to your glutes and reaching back to grab your ankles.
  3. As you inhale, lift your heels away from your glutes as you lift your thighs from the floor.
  4. This motion will press your belly against the floor and pull your head and upper torso off the floor.
  5. Hold for 3 deep, calm breaths before slowly releasing as you exhale to fully lying down.
  6. Repeat 2 more times.

4. Wind-Relieving pose

Yes, wind-relieving (or wind-releasing) pose is known for releasing gas in your intestines. This means, if you’re feeling particularly gassy and bloated, you may want to do this pose immediately. And you may want to do it alone, depending on your comfort level releasing gas in front of others!

It’s worth it though, and not just for comfort. Releasing this gas improves the quality and efficacy of your digestive system. It can help relieve indigestion, flatulence, bloating, and constipation.

Muscles worked: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, serratus anterior

  1. Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended.
  2. As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest and clasp your hands around them and give them a slight hug.
  3. Keeping hold of your right leg, release your left back down to the ground and extend it out long.
  4. Hold this pose as you breathe slowly and deeply. Remember to keep your leg to the side of your torso, running alongside your upper body, as opposed to letting your knee slide across your body at an angle.
  5. Bend your left knee to your chest and give both knees another hug before switching sides and releasing your right leg along the ground.
  6. When you’ve held the pose with your left leg bent, pull both legs in again and give them a hug before releasing them both down.

5. Half Lord of the Fishes pose

Half Lord of the Fishes is a great twisting pose. Twists are known for helping detoxify and improve digestive function. This twist helps with stimulating the liver and kidneys in particular.

Note: With any twist, you want to be very gentle if you’re experiencing diarrhea. There’s no need to skip it completely, but you may not want to go as deeply into the twist if things are feeling rumbly.

Muscles worked: rhomboids, serratus anterior, erector spinae

  1. From the previous pose, press back onto all fours and then find your way to a seat, with your legs out in front of you.
  2. Bend your knees with your feet still on the floor and slide your right leg under your left until your right foot is by your left hip. The outside of your right leg will be resting on the floor.
  3. Step your left foot to the outside of your right thigh.
  4. Inhale and feel your spine grow longer as you sit up straight. Reach your right hand to the sky and plant your left behind your tailbone, on the ground.
  5. As you exhale, anchor your tailbone and twist, tucking your right elbow to the outside of your left knee, or simply holding your left knee as you twist.
  6. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply 3 to 5 times while here, extending through your spine as you inhale and twisting deeper as you exhale.
  7. When you release this side, do so slowly and controlled. Switch sides.

Takeaway

Many people who live IBS find that staying active and lowering their stress levels can help reduce their symptoms. Luckily yoga does both.

As always, check with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen if you are new to yoga. 

Gretchen began her yoga journey after she realized she loved working as an editor and writer who sat at her computer all day, but she didn’t love what it was doing for her health or general wellness. Six months after finishing her 200-hour RYT in 2013, she went through hip surgery, suddenly giving her an entire new perspective on movement, pain, and yoga, and informing her teaching approach.