3 Breathing exercises that help with digestion and IBS

Many people, when diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), think that they have to change the diet and start eating healthy. IBS is a condition that affects GI tract resulting in bloating, abdominal pain and alteration in bowel movements. It can be very uncomfortable for some people because you never know when the flare up may occur. Fear of food is very common among people with IBS because it is uncertain if you are going to have adverse reaction after a meal.  Many people have increased anxiety before eating due to the possible symptoms onset, especially if they are eating out of their house.

People look for various therapies that can help to prevent and control their symptoms. Since IBS affects the GI tract, it is a common thought that we should be healing the gut. People try eliminating many healthful foods and restricting the diet in hopes of finding a food trigger.

Even though there are some foods that may triggers your IBS symptoms, some people may not find a complete relief. This is because IBS has other factors that can play a role in triggering the symptoms. Did you know that stress is a major contributor to GI distress? Managing stress and anxiety could be one of the strategies in reducing the IBS symptoms.

We have an autonomic nervous system that regulates functions that we don’t have a control of, such as heart beat, breathing, digestion and others. ⁠When we are under fight or flight response, simply put when we are under stress, digestion begins to slow down, because the body tries to deal with imminent threat, perceived as stress. This can lead to food indigestion resulting in adverse symptoms. ⁠ Therefore, conditions, such as stress, anxiety, or depression may contribute to the development of GI symptoms, such as in IBS.

1. Box Breathing

Stress and anxiety can be prevented and controlled by various relaxation techniques, for example, practicing breathing exercises regularly. Here are some breathing exercises that you can perform daily to help you with lowering stress and anxiety. You can do it several times throughout the day or right before your meal.

Box breathing is a technique that has been shown to relieve stress. People with stressful professions, such as soldiers, navy seals, police officers, fire fighters, or nurses use this method of breathing at times when the stress level is very high, but they need to stay focused. ⁠

Box breathing doesn’t take much time and can be performed several times throughout the day anywhere, whether you are at home, work or on an airplane.

  • Sit still in a chair with your back supported⁠
  • Place both feet on the floor and close your eyes ⁠
  • Exhale air slowly through your mouth⁠
  • Hold your breath to the count of 4⁠
  • Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4
  • Hold your breath to the count of 4⁠
  • Exhale through the mouth to the count of 4⁠⁠

Repeat it 4 times. ⁠

2. Progressive muscle relaxation.

This is where you tighten or tense each muscle group for 5-10 seconds and then relax it suddenly. Breathe out and relax the tension in these muscles right away, do not do it slowly. Keep muscles relaxed for 10-20 seconds and pay attention to how you feel.

Start with lower extremities.

  • Point your toes toward your face and then away from your face. Count to 5-10 seconds and suddenly relax
  • Curl your toes downward for 5-10 seconds and relax
  • Clench your thighs for 5-10 seconds and relax  
  • Press your buttocks together for 5-10 seconds and relax

Move up to the mid body 

  • Tighten your stomach in for 5-10 seconds and relax
  • Arch your back, tighten the muscles for 5-10 seconds and relax
  • Inhale deeply,  hold it for 5-10seconds and relax
  • Shrug your shoulders, hold for 5-10 seconds and relax

Move up to the upper body 

  • Touch your chin to your chest, hold for 5-10 seconds and relax
  • Press back of your head tightly against the floor, hold for 5-10 seconds and relax
  • Make a fist and flex your biceps bending at elbow, hold for 5-10 seconds and relax
  • Extend your forearms and bend your hands back at the writs, hold for 5-10 seconds and relax

Move up to the face

  • Frown so that your forehead is wrinkled and relax
  • Close your eyes tightly and relax
  • Make a big smile and relax
  • Press your lips tightly and relax

3.  4-7-8 Breathing

This technique was created to help with the sleep and can also be used in calming the anxiety.

Sit comfortably in a chair with a straight back and place the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper teeth.

  • Exhale through your mouth completely making a sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale for 4 seconds through your nose.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds or count to 7.
  • Exhale through your mouth making a sound for 8 seconds or count to 8.

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