How mindfulness can help shut up your gut

When it comes to IBS, most treatments focus on medication, diet and exercise. Recently, though, some doctors have been looking at more non-traditional therapies to help in places modern medicine may not be able to.

One exciting treatment strategy is mindfulness, a type of meditation used to help people calmly center themselves. A study originally published by the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that those who practiced mindfulness daily can significantly reduce the severity of their IBS symptoms.

The word “exciting” might be a bit misleading: mindfulness is a promising treatment for IBS symptoms, but it’s all about cooling down, clearing your head, and being in the present. But what’s the point of dedicating time to intentionally doing nothing? Don’t we already live in the present?

Thanks to smart phones and computers, we’re able to keep in touch, stay informed, and chat with others across the globe, but it comes at a cost. Our society is always online, and solitude has become a scarcity. Mindfulness training has been growing in popularity as people have begun to realize the importance of disconnecting from our constantly-connected world.

Mindfulness means setting aside a little bit of time every day to experience the present and cut ourselves off from the digital hamster wheel that converts our mental resources to ad revenue. In practice, it’s the act of calmly focusing on what our brains are experiencing in the moment while keeping a short leash on wandering thoughts.

People experienced with mindfulness typically find that they are more conscious, aware, present, and relaxed in their daily life. By reducing stress and increasing body awareness, those suffering from IBS may also be able to significantly improve their symptoms and manage the condition. Dedicating a small amount of time to mindfulness each day can lead to a big improvement in both physical and mental well-being.

Anyone looking to manage his or her IBS symptoms should give mindfulness a shot—it’s easy to do, doesn’t take much time, and offers a variety of benefits—even for those without IBS (although the IBS-specific benefits are awesome!).

How to practice mindfulness

While the mental practice of being present can be difficult to master, it’s easy to pick up. There’s no special training or equipment needed, and the time investment required is small. Here are some steps that experts tell us are great starters to becoming more mindful.

  1. Pick a calm location. Sit in an isolated, comfortable place where you’ll be able to practice without being disturbed. Many people prefer to sit cross-legged, but it’s definitely not a requirement.

  2. Start a timer. Having a set end time helps to focus the mind for the full period, allowing the passage of time to be ignored while practicing mindfulness. Experts typically recommend starting with 5-10 minute sessions, but they can be extended as desired.

  3. Focus on your breathing. Because breathing is so consistent and rhythmic, zoning in on your breathing is a good way to quiet thoughts. Take deep breaths, feeling the air go in and out and listening to each inhalation and exhalation.

  4. Remain present. With your mind focused on breathing, pay attention to what each of your senses is experiencing. Focus only on what is going on in the moment, without getting lost in thought.

  5. Watch for a wandering mind. If you catch your mind wandering, try to return your focus to the present, going back to your breathing to quiet irrelevant thoughts.

  6. Avoid passing judgment. Try to simply observe your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judging them. Be present in the moment, accepting everything as it is.

These aren’t hard and fast rules. Everyone’s mind and body are unique, and, after practicing, you may find that different positions and lengths of time work better for your personal mindfulness training. While specific practices can vary from person to person, everyone can benefit from mindfulness training.