The Benefits of Yoga for IBS

Yoga certainly seems like a natural fit for a person who has IBS. Here is a brief overview of the benefits of yoga and what research has to say about any possible benefit in terms of reducing IBS symptoms.

Woman on a yoga mat doing upward facing dog pose
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Why Yoga for IBS?

Yoga offers some advantages over other forms of exercise.

  • Yoga has a well-documented helpful effect on the autonomic nervous system thus addressing the IBS brain-gut connection.
  • It has also been shown that yoga counteracts the effects of stress, a major contributor to IBS symptoms.
  • Yoga may reduce the likelihood of weight gain — reassuring if food sensitivities prevent you from following a specific diet.
  • Yoga's slow pace may remove the risk of triggering runners' diarrhea.

What the Research Says

There are two studies that looked at yoga as a direct treatment for IBS.

The first study measured the effects of four weeks of yoga on GI-related symptoms in adolescents with IBS. The yoga intervention consisted of a one-hour instructional class, which included a demonstration as well as student practice, followed by a video to be used for daily home practice. Although the study size was small (only 25 participants), the results were promising. The lucky teenagers who were placed in the yoga group experienced less anxiety, avoidance behavior, and disability than those in the waitlist control group. The teenagers who were originally on the waiting list were then given the same four-week treatment. The researchers combined the two groups and compared their symptoms before and after the yoga treatment. The yoga treatment resulted in significantly fewer GI symptoms and less anxious avoidance, suggesting that yoga may be helpful for people with IBS.

The second study studied the effects of yoga treatment on a small group of men who suffered from diarrhea-predominant IBS. The group was split into two: the conventional treatment subjects received the medication loperamide, while the rest were placed in the yoga group. The yoga intervention consisted of 12 yoga poses and a specific breathing practice, which the patients were instructed to practice twice a day. Again, the results were promising. After a two-month period of time, both groups showed a significant decrease in GI symptoms and anxiety. The loperamide group experienced an increase in GI activity, while the yoga group experienced greater activation of the part of the nervous system that is involved with calming the body. The researchers conclude that yoga may be more beneficial for patients with IBS-D than traditional loperamide treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Although these are some promising results, it is way too early in the game to conclude that yoga is an effective treatment for IBS. Hopefully, additional, larger research studies will be conducted to further answer the question as to whether yoga helps IBS, as well as pinpointing which practices are most effective for symptom relief. In the meantime, since yoga does have many demonstrated health benefits, it may be a good idea to grab a mat and start to soothe your spirit.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Taneja, I., Deepak, K., Poojary, G., Archaya, N., Pandey, R. &Sharma, M. “Yogic versus conventional treatment in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized control study.” Applied Physiology and Biofeedback 2004 19:33.

  • Bhargava, R., Gogate, M. & Mascarena, J. “Autonomic responses to breath holding and its variations following pranayama.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 2004:115-121.
  • Kristal, A., Littman, A., Benitez, D. & White, E. “Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2005:28-33.
  • Kuttner, L., Chambers, C., Hardial, J., Israel, D., Jacobson, K. & Evans, K. “A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome.” Pain Research & Management 2006:217-223.
  • Pal, G., Velkumary, S. & Mananmohan. “Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers” Indian Journal of Medical Research 2004 120:115-121.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.