People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) receive a lot of advice on how to manage their disease. It’s my belief that most people mean well and they really do want to help. However, unless they’ve been with you every step of the way, they may not know all the things you’ve done to try to get a handle on the signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or indeterminate colitis.
It has become a running joke in the chronic illness community and in the IBD community itself, that people often recommend yoga to manage IBD symptoms. This could be partially because of the reputation yoga has as being a type of almost magical practice (a concept that’s beyond the scope of this article).
What Do Patients Think?
This made me wonder: what do patients think about using yoga to help manage their IBD? That’s why I decided to ask people who follow About IBD on Twitter and Instagram if they’d ever tried the practice of yoga.
“Have you tried yoga for managing your #IBD?”
- Yes: It helped
- Yes: Didn’t seem to help
- Yes: Not sure it helped
Here’s what people answered in my poll:
- Yes: It helped — 38%
- Yes: Didn’t seem to help — 12%
- Yes: Not sure it helped — 31%
- No — 19%
- Yes: It helped — 18.6%
- Yes: Didn’t seem to help — 8.8%
- Yes: Not sure it helped — 17.7%
- No — 54.9%
More Context from Responses
The responses to the poll via direct messages on Instagram gave some context:
“It did help my back and sciatic nerve issues, and I sleep better after. I’ve been in remission for 2 years, so it’s hard to say what helps now other than just keeping the stress low and the meds on their prescribed schedule.”
“I use certain poses especially if I’m feeling like my food isn’t passing through and I may have an blockage. The seated spinal twist is awesome for that. Also it stimulates the vagus nerve.”
“It really does help me! And I’m super sad to not be able to do it after surgery for a while.”
“As a Crohnie, yoga has been one of the best things I could do for my health. I feel the difference if I don’t do it.”
“I can say I notice a difference with my mobility and my fatigue…yoga in the morning (in the bed) helps get out those kinks so I don’t feel sluggish.. if I don’t do it in the morning I will be so exhausted.”
Interestingly, there were fewer responses on Twitter with this poll. Usually, Twitter lends itself to more back and forth but it is also a public platform (for most), so that may lead to less people feeling like sharing. In addition, the poll response there showed that fewer people had tried yoga overall.
There was one response, however, that was telling.
“When I first got sick, I found an interesting study from India that found the cohort of IBD patients who continued with a particular vinyasa set + meditation were more likely to stay in remission, something like 7 months later. I found it to be an x-factor toward my own remission.”
Any poll has limitations. This poll is less than scientific because it’s only from people who follow About IBD and then further segmented by those who were shown the question via the algorithm and then who decided to engage with it.
I have previously written a review of some of the evidence of yoga being tried in IBD patients for Verywell Health. There are some interesting results from these studies which shows that there might be a positive effect.
However, a review study that looked at the evidence gathered so far pointed out that there aren’t any guidelines. What kind of practice and how often to engage with it for IBD is not known. (Kaur)
Further, this review pointed out that there are clear barriers in just being able to access and engage with a yoga class. (Kaur) There are many, and this is not a complete list, but some of the potential reasons people might not be able to practice yoga (or another type of exercise) could include:
- Lack of transportation
- Lack of a practitioner who understands chronic illness
- Lack of time due to work, school, family schedules
- Negative perception of yoga by self, peers, family
In general, being active in some way is helpful for IBD. (I’m not providing a source here because I think it’s reasonable to say that moving one’s body is key to health: even in people with IBD.) What we know less about is exactly which kind of exercise, how much of it, and how often we should engage in it.
We do a poor job of providing people ways to take part in intentional movement. If it were seen as a key part of our health, we’d have more guidance and help. For most of us: we’re on our own to figure it out.
What I will say is that we should be talking about mental health, exercise, and stress-relieving practices with our healthcare providers. If you’ve never asked your doctor or nurse what kind of exercise might be good for you, now might be a good time to start.
There could be programs in your community available to help with accessibility. Not only with yoga but also with other ways to care for physical and mental health. Once again, it’s on us to find them, because no one is going to put them in front of us, and that’s a problem. But while this is the healthcare system that we have, doing some legwork is going to be a thing that we will need to do.
In the meantime, dig into the research, check out the resources I’ve listed below, listen to the accompanying About IBD podcast episode, and most important of all: take a minute to breathe.
Kaur S, D’Silva A, Shaheen AA, Raman M. Yoga in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Narrative Review. Crohns Colitis 360. 2022;4(2):otac014. doi:10.1093/crocol/otac014.
Kizhakkeveettil A, Whedon J, Schmalzl L, Hurwitz EL. Yoga for Quality of Life in Individuals With Chronic Disease: A Systematic Review. Altern Ther Health Med. 2019 Jan;25:36-43.
Sharma P, Poojary G, Dwivedi SN, Deepak KK. Effect of Yoga-Based Intervention in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Int J Yoga Therap. 2015;25:101-112. doi:10.17761/1531-2054-25.1.101.
Arruda JM, Bogetz AL, Vellanki S, Wren A, Yeh AM. Yoga as adjunct therapy for adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease: A pilot clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2018;41:99-104. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.09.007.
Cramer H, Schäfer M, Schöls M, et al. Randomised clinical trial: yoga vs written self-care advice for ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2017;45(11):1379-1389. doi:10.1111/apt.14062.