How Can Yoga Therapy Help with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative colitis)?

Feb 28, 2023 | Other, Research, Yoga Therapy

Autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis, affect so many of us, in different ways for each individual person. Since there are no known causes of autoimmune diseases, it can be difficult to approach these illnesses. Yoga therapy can help manage the stress of experiencing symptoms of Crohn’s disease, as well as Ulcerative colitis. 

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), affecting most of the body. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include: 

DiarrheaFeverLow energy and fatigueConstipation, which can lead to bowel obstructionMouth sores
Blood in stoolKidney stonesAbdominal pain and crampingLoss of normal menstrual cycleIron deficiency (anemia)
Inflammation of skin, eyes and jointsUrgent need to move bowelsReduced appetite and weight lossPain or drainage near or around the anus due to inflammation from a tunnel into the skin (fistula)Osteoporosis
Delayed growth and development in childrenNight sweatsInflammation of the liver or bile ductsRare liver complications, including primary sclerosing cholangitis and cirrhosisKidney stones
Urinary tract complicationsJoint pain or sorenessSensation of incomplete bowel evacuationTender, red bumps (nodules) under the skin, which may turn into skin ulcersSwollen gums
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

What is the difference between Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is another type of IBD that causes inflammation and ulcers (open sores) in the digestive tract. The symptoms are very similar to Crohn’s disease, but there are two main differences between the two autoimmune diseases: 

  1. UC is limited to a specific area (the colon), whereas Crohn’s disease can affect many areas of the body. 
  2. The other difference is that Ulcerative colitis is characterized by inflammation throughout the entire digestive tract continuously. Crohn’s disease only affects parts of the colon, whereas other parts are healthy. 

What are the causes of Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis?

Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis, are thought of as psychosomatic disorders. The root of these illnesses is inflammation, which usually needs to be managed with medication. Causes are unknown, but an article recently came out that links red food dye (Red 40) to colitis in mice. 

What yoga therapy can do for Crohn’s disease & Ulcerative colitis

Yoga therapy can provide support for people suffering from IBD like Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis in three big ways.

1. Yoga therapy provides consistent support during medication selection. 

Selecting a medication can be challenging for many reasons. First, because every person reacts differently to certain medications, you may have some unexpected reactions to each medication you try. One size most definitely does not fit all. Yoga therapy can provide a consistent practice on which you can rely as you go through this process. 

Second, you most likely will need to try multiple medications before finding the right one, which can feel unsettling and uncertain. It can be stressful to go through the medication selection process, and yoga therapy can offer a much-needed grounding experience during the medication slog. 

Lastly, many medications have not-so-nice side effects. The techniques you learn and practice in yoga therapy will help you regulate your body as you experience physical changes. 

The structure and practices of yoga therapy are conducive to supporting you as you try to find a medication that works well for you. After our initial intake session (up to 90 minutes in duration), I develop a plan for each of the following sessions, and always check in with you to see if any modifications need to be made. 

2. Yoga therapy facilitates integrated wellbeing, including stress management and increased awareness.

As a yoga therapist, I work with people on all aspects of body-related wellbeing, including: 

  • Mindfulness practices like breathwork and meditation
  • Stress management
  • Increasing awareness
  • Grounding techniques in physical postures
  • Body strengthening and flexibility 

Yoga therapy targets a key aspect of IBD, which is that stress majorly affects IBD. According to a study released in 2019 by Tianjin Medical University, stress affects IBD “via impaired intestinal barrier function, disturbance of the gut microbiota, intestinal dysmotility, and immune and neuroendocrine dysfunction.”

Although yoga therapy by itself is a great tool to manage stress, I often refer clients struggling with IBD to a psychotherapist in addition to their regular yoga therapy sessions. That way, a nurturing cycle of care is created; yoga therapy increases your awareness, thus facilitating a more impactful experience in psychotherapy. 

Like many illnesses, IBD doesn’t just affect your physical body, but also has a real impact on your mental and emotional state. Some of my clients have made major life changes due to their experience with yoga therapy alongside psychotherapy.

For example, I have a client who, after yoga therapy and psychotherapy, discovered that they were holding an immense amount of anger and resentment in their relationships. After realizing that they weren’t standing up for themselves or expressing their anger enough, they began setting appropriate boundaries and prioritizing self-care. 

Yoga therapy practices complement the work that is done in psychotherapy. Many times clients working in tandem with a psychotherapist experience shifts in their mental states and outlook much faster than when using yoga therapy or psychotherapy alone.

3. Yoga therapy provides a long-term support system for Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis symptoms,

Through yoga therapy, clients develop a home practice that helps manage stress, keep them in balance so symptoms are managed, and mitigate fatigue. When working with clients with Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative colitis, symptom management is a big focus. There are many symptoms that show up at different times, with varying degrees of intensity, that require a specialized, individualized care plan. 

In yoga therapy sessions, not only will we work on mitigating fatigue, as well as managing stress and body pain, but I also provide support for navigating diet change to facilitate healing. This can include co-developing a plan for a more intentional diet, as well as assisting clients in identifying potential trigger foods.

For most IBD clients, I recommend a longer-term commitment to yoga therapy. This can be anywhere from  6 months to 2 years, or longer if necessary. At the beginning of our work together, yoga therapy sessions will be more frequent. As we go deeper into the practice, sessions will be less frequent – once a month versus multiple times per month. 

The true strength of yoga therapy is that you will learn tools that you can use long after the session is over. My goal with my clients is to ensure that they have agency in their own healing, which is why yoga therapy can provide long-term support for managing IBD symptoms. 

What is special about using yoga therapy to manage Crohn’s disease symptoms? 

As a yoga therapist, I honor the fact that each individual body is different. I develop a yoga practice tailored to you, while keeping in mind movements and practices that might aggravate your condition. Where in a group yoga class you might not get the individual attention you need, in my yoga therapy sessions it’s all about individualized attention and care. 

The consistent practice you do outside of sessions is what makes yoga therapy most effective. As always, yoga therapy requires an initial consultation and follow-up sessions; this long-term format is crafted specifically to deal with autoimmune diseases like IBD. 

Interested in learning more? You can book an initial consultation here.

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