Ok, first things first. I need to clarify what it means for myself as each and every person may experience similar symptoms along with very different results.
IBS is basically an array of symptoms that some researchers think is linked to improper motor-sensory neurological signals sent from the brain to the stomach. Instead of telling the stomach to process food as it normally would, these signals will tell the stomach and intestines to process food NOW. The typical peristalsis (squeeze-push through) muscle movements are changed to sporadic and intense muscle spasms. The opposite is also true, at times inhibiting food digestion.
Sounds wonderful eh? There are many possible triggers for IBS, from certain foods, lifestyles, antibiotics to hormone fluctuation. The management of IBS is equally as vague and unique to each individual.
For myself, I can say that for as long as I can remember I have struggled with digestion. As far back as clutching my belly on the way home from elementary school. I was a picky eater (still am) and from my clinical experience and education (SLP's work with individuals who have eating and swallowing difficulties) I can confidently say that my food anxieties most likely stemmed from digestive struggles as early as infancy. Eating has always been painful.
My main triggers are stress and dairy. But honestly anything under the sun could do it if my stomach was 'in the state'. During my undergrad and graduate degrees the stress was high and I lost a *lot* of weight coupled with a few trips to emergency. (Side note, breads with whole grains and seeds are NOT a good idea).
Practicing Yoga with IBS poses some pretty significant challenges and benefits. First the good stuff:
Yoga has become my main source of stress management (along with music). Although I have been pretty fantastic at pranayama and correct breathing since I was 13 (singing lessons), Yoga has allowed me to focus and calm my anxiety ridden mind. It wasn't an overnight miracle, or lightbulb moment (far from it!) but after 5 years of practice I can firmly say that Yoga keeps my stress under control. The journey has slowly allowed myself to explore ways to peace, acceptance and letting go. And continues to do so.
Yoga has also allowed me to find physical activity in relative safety. Planning events and sport activities can be stressful for individuals with IBS. Planning the yoga class around MY schedule allows some sense of control. Also, I could simply take a class in the safety of my home.
Staying physically active also helps with body health and ultimately digestion of food. Although the 'twists' and such to help improve digestion really have no relevance for me (as I have doubts they would for most sufferers, if my stomach is hurting twists are NOT going to help), simply being active helps.
The tricky parts of Yoga and IBS:
Attending class can be ridiculously stressful. Although I am now at a point that I'm managing my IBS, flare ups happen and often without prediction. Going to yoga classes is an anxious event for me. Showing up, hoping the teacher will be good, trying not to let the whole 'lulu' atmosphere of the other yogis affect me, what if I can't find a spot? What if the teacher makes me have a panic attack (like last time?)... All internal to my own issues, but all pretty effective at worsening an already delicate balance.
Cuz once you're in that class, running full out to the bathroom while clutching your stomach WILL get noticed. It's really a pretty big etiquette no-no.
Many Yoga postures can actually be painful and counter productive for IBS. Such as any sort of chest opener or back bend. Stretching out and moving around when all you want to do is curl up in a ball really isn't ideal.
Not eating before yoga class is actually the best way I can stave away any risk of 'bad times'. However, we do need to eat and sometimes 2-3 hours digestion time, for someone with IBS, doesn't cut it. The doshas are great guidance systems, but really were not created for an individual with IBS in mind. I say this because I would have some serious health consequences. This isn't to say they aren't appropriate for others, I would simply caution anyone with digestive concerns from taking on an Ayurvedic diet without first consulting their medical doctor AND more importantly Dietitian-Nutritionist.
Here are some things that I have learned that work for me. (please note the 'me', they may not be best for you. Please consult your doctor and Dietitian).
Vegetables: essential for good health but dangerous suckers. Eating raw vegetables may be tasty (I *hate* cooked vegetables) but our stomachs are not geared to digest and break down plant cell walls. Steam your vegetables- this will break down the cells while retaining most of the nutritional value. I once had a Dietitian tell me that if I wasn't steaming my vegetables than I shouldn't complain about stomach pain and bloating.... (right).
AVOID whole grain bread, sharp seed-y things, granola with whole flax seeds etc in your regular diet. Remember the spastic muscle thingys?? Imaging a sharp seed ripping through there. Yeah. Not so great. Imagine where the bleeding would end up.... Whole wheat bread is fine. Really.
Certain fruits definitely contain a LOT of acid and can cause a lot of pain. Like strawberries and apples (ok strawberries are berries, but ya know). I still eat them, cuz eating local means eating apples, but I deal with the pain. If you have alternatives, research them.
Probiotics are great, but in the form of Yogurt can be scary (ahem, dairy). I have slowly accustomed my stomach to Yogurt and have felt better from my homemade live cultured yogurt than ever before. Honestly not fool proof though... :S caution is warranted.
Eating smaller portion sizes, regularly. This one is really hard to accomplish with my work, and has slipped. But I notice a definite improvement when I eat more often in smaller portions. This allows me to eat more sketchy veggies (ie that cause pain and bloating) in smaller bits, getting nutrients without shocking my belly.
Please avoid 'restrictive' diets such as internal 'cleansings'. Your intestinal and digestive system is sensitive (and we know that fruits and vegetables can be harsh on your stomach). Changes should occur gradually and in a manner that they can be incorporated into your life. Not a two week 'cleanse' that may upset an already unbalanced system. Should you really want to try a system cleanse- please please consult a Dietitian. Eating healthy isn't about restriction.
My favourite soothing remedy is definitely not Yoga but Peppermint tea. Yoga is preventative and not remedial to symptoms. But Peppermint tea? THAT can help keep my belly calm.
Coffee and alcohol are bad. Coffee especially. I love coffee. Each season around this time I start drinking iced mochas. My stomach rebels for the first... oh... four. And then succumbs by sheer WILL I tell you. Or brute force. Not sure which one. For myself coffee is worth the pain. But trust me, there is pain.
Andrew's birthday present from friends H. and K.: his favourite book ever. Although I don't tell him about my poo, is it weird that he wishes I did?? lolIf you're having a bad 'stomach' day, maybe a public yoga class isn't the best idea for you today. And that's ok. Acceptance is key in letting go of expectations of what you 'should' do and how you 'should' be. Simply ignoring your IBS won't make it go away. Your friends, family and partner will still love you (if they are of any value) and have accepted you for who you are.
Manage your stress. This is the number one issue. I use Yoga and music. Find what works for you and that will be the single most momentous realization of your life. Seriously.
And to end with my friend Margaret's book title quoted to me many moons ago: 'Lisa, Everybody Poops'.
article copyright of EcoYogini at EcoYogini.blogspot.com