In addition to diet and medicine, yoga can help treat the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is when good bacteria, which is supposed to be in one part of the intestines, migrates up to the wrong place (the small intestine). This bacteria then propagates in the small intestine and can cause digestive problems, inflammation, brain fog, hives, and other issues. It’s often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome or exists alongside it. But unlike IBS, SIBO has specific causes and it can be cured.
There are a few reasons the bacteria from the large intestine may have traveled up to the small intestine. There’s a small valve between the two sections of the bowel that exists around the right side of the belly, between the belly button and the side of the body. This valve can be interrupted due to a long bout of vomiting (from sickness or an eating disorder).
Sometimes SIBO is caused by overuse of antibiotics or a lack of probiotic food in the diet. Stress, as usual, is a contributor, especially when it’s chronic, as is trauma and an overactive nervous system that is unable to calmly and consistently digest food.
[Read: “Can Probiotics Ease Your Anxiety?”]
Treatments for SIBO can include antibiotics, along with special diets that temporarily remove any foods that cause fermentation. If you have SIBO, it’s worth seeing a gastroenterologist and/or naturopath who can help you. While it is a specific illness that does have a treatment, it often takes a long time for the body to rebalance, and symptoms can become chronic.
Yoga for SIBO
In addition to diet and medicine, yoga can help treat the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. When we do a practice that helps to calm the nervous system and regulate digestion, we can encourage the repair and recovery of the digestive system. It can also be of great value to stretch and open the belly, but we want to be gentle as things are settling at the same time. Here are a few poses that may help. As always, check with your practitioner before you start to make sure these postures are safe for you.
SIBO is an imbalance in the digestive system, and often involves the mechanics of this system. Especially if we sit for long periods of time, the gut may not have enough space to do what it needs to do effectively. Side bends can help to open and gently massage these areas.
Sit comfortably on a cushion so that you are sitting on your sit bones and your lower back has a natural inward curve. Touch your fingertips lightly to the ground beside you, and then reach your right arm up and over to the left. Ground your right sit bone down into your support as you open your right side body. Experiment with gently lengthening the tailbone and turning your heart to the sky. Try holding the left side of your head with your right hand, which can add a shoulder stretch and help relax the neck. Hold for about five breaths, then switch sides.
This posture gently, passively stretches the psoas muscles, which can sometimes constrict the digestive system when they are tight—and they are often tight when we feel stressed. Do this one with deep breaths to help encourage the nervous system to calm.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Lift up your hips and slide a prop like a yoga brick, bolster, or rolled towel under your hips. The weight should be resting on the sacrum, the hard ridge at the back of the pelvis. You can walk your feet apart a bit and allow your knees to fall together. This should feel comfortable, if a little strange in the belly. If there’s any lower back pain, lower the height of your prop. Breathe deeply, allowing your belly to soften as much as you can. Stay for five to 20 minutes.
Restorative Babbling Brook Pose
This is another posture that will help open and soften the digestive area while encouraging the nervous system to relax.
Place a bolster or rolled towel horizontally across your mat, parallel to the short edge. You may need a soft pillow for under your head as well, and a bolster or rolled towel for under your knees. Lay back so that the bolster or towel is supporting your lower ribcage, ensuring that your shoulders can gently fall off the top edge of the prop. The idea here is to gently stretch the stomach and solar plexus open. It should feel easy to breathe into the belly. If this shape is uncomfortable, choose a lower/softer prop or lay it vertically behind you in line with your spine. Open your arms out to the sides as far as feels comfortable, and continue to focus breathing into the belly.
These postures should all feel calming and help to deepen the breath. Nothing should hurt or feel uncomfortable. If you practice one of these postures every day (or ideally all three) for five minutes or more, your nervous system may begin to settle, which goes a long way toward curing SIBO.
Consider the underlying basis for bacterial overgrowth in “The Spiritual Meaning of SIBO.”