We all know that exercise is important for stretching and strengthening our muscles, including the heart muscle and that it increases the circulation of blood and lymph, and therefore of nutrients and oxygen, throughout the body. Exercise also improves the function of our brain, lungs and bowels and aids in the building of new bone and the maintenance of healthy joints.
Why is exercise and movement important for healing IC?
When you are trying to heal from interstitial cystitis, proper circulation is especially important because you want to make sure there is adequate blood flow to the bladder. If there is chronic inflammation, scarring or shrinkage of the bladder, blood flow can be compromised, so exercise plays a significant role in enhancing blood flow where we need it the most. Having flexible and strong muscles around your bladder and pelvic region also helps to protect and support these organs.
Things to consider when choosing the type of exercise for IC
When selecting what exercise you would like to incorporate into your healing plan, remember that any movements that are jarring, or involve excessive straining or stretching, are likely to lead to an increase in bladder symptoms, also known as a flare. Running and step classes can be too high impact for IC and riding a bike can put too much pressure on the bladder, not to mention the vibrations caused by the bike seat can be irritating.
It’s best to select lower-impact activities like walking, tai chi, or the elliptical machine. Swimming can be great too, but make sure the pool is chlorine-free, as chemicals are a notorious IC irritant. Lakes and oceans are great options for swimming too!
Why yoga for IC?
My absolute favourite type of exercise for IC is yoga and that is what I will be delving into today.
Yoga is excellent for stretching, strength building and promoting an increase in circulation without excessive intensity. The mind-body component is also addressed through a regular yoga practice, which is of utmost importance when it comes to the healing of any chronic disease, IC included.
However, there are SO many styles of yoga out there now and not all of them are appropriate or helpful for those with IC. As with any form of exercise you choose to partake in, you want to start out slowly and listen to what your body is telling you.
Some yoga practices, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa flow and hot yoga, can be very strenuous. This is not suitable for IC for two reasons. The first is that high intensity activity can irritate the bladder by putting pressure on it and second, in terms of energetics or Chinese medicine, IC can indicate that you have excessive heat, so you don’t want to be doing exercise that is going to exacerbate this and make the imbalance worse.
My top 3 yoga styles for IC
My top 3 yoga styles for IC are Hatha, Iyengar and restorative. Let’s take a closer look at each of these types.
Hatha is a gentle form of yoga that focuses on basic poses, making it a great choice for beginners and those that require a slower-paced practice. There is a lot of focus on stretching and breathing, making it a rejuvenating and meditative experience. Hatha yoga is well-known for promoting relaxation and stress reduction, two important components of any IC healing plan.
Iyengar is a school of hatha yoga that is alignment-based. In order to maintain proper alignment for the poses, props like wooden blocks, harnesses, cushions and straps are used. Iyengar focuses on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) and the poses are often held for a longer period of time. It’s suited towards people that have a physical ailment and are in need of physical therapy. Proponents of this type of yoga believe that regular practice integrates the body, mind and emotions, which is great for the healing.
Restorative yoga is the ultimate way to achieve deep relaxation on the physical, mental and emotional levels. It stems from the Iyengar yoga tradition and involves the use of props, such as bolsters, pillows, blankets, chairs, straps and blocks. The main purpose of props is to provide support for your body and allow for proper alignment when you are stretching or relaxing in a particular pose. Of particular importance to healing IC, restorative yoga helps to put your nervous system into its relaxed state, parasympathetic mode. This state is also known as “rest and digest” and the more we stay in this mode, the greater our rate of healing.
Be sure to choose a yoga instructor that you feel comfortable being around, has a teaching style that you vibe with and has a positive, healing energy about them. You will also want to make sure you tell your instructor that you have IC and that you may need help adjusting some of the poses to make sure you are safe and comfortable.
Now, it’s your turn! I’d like to hear about your experiences with IC and exercise and especially with the practice of yoga.
Leave a comment below or get in touch!