Trust Your Gut

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Many ancient cultures, notably in Asia, have called the belly the “second brain” and the “second heart” because it is so sensitive to our thoughts, emotions, and lifestyles. It holds much wisdom and awareness. We have many phrases in our culture that reflect this…

“Butterflies in my stomach”

“I can’t stomach this.”

“My gut is telling me…”

As is often the case, modern science is catching up with this folk knowledge. The new field of neurogastroenterology reflects this shift in that it acknowledges its significance. It and other sciences are recognizing how much the health of our bellies impact our mental states as well as many diseases in our bodies. Always trust your gut.

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This “second brain”, otherwise known as the enteric nervous system, is made of sheaths of neurons that line our gut from the esophagus to the anus. This second brain contains about 100 neurons. MORE THAN THE SPINAL CORD OR THE PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM. The vagus is the major visceral nerve and it primarily carries information from the gut to the brain, not the other way around which means it can work independently of the brain. So our state of being in our belly strongly informs our moods.

Medications that regulate mood such as the anti-depressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRI’s) often cause GI issues. Our bowels already contain 95% of our body’s natural serotonin so these medications introduce an excessive amount of serotonin. More than 2 million Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which is often a side effect. Scientists have suggested that this could be considered a “mental illness” of the second brain.

This is why digestive health, belly breathing to calm and balance the nerves, and belly massage (especially self-massage) to break up emotional and physical blockages and scar tissue are so crucial to both our physical and mental health.

Chi Nei TsangChi Nei Tsang (pronounced “chee-nay-tsahng”) or CNT is an ancient Taoist Chinese form of bodywork and healing art combining abdominal massage with breath and energy work to clear the organs of toxins, toxic emotions, and energy blocks. It can gently work on the surface of the belly as well as working deep into the internal organs all the while promoting deep, centering breathing. Sessions include relaxing instruction on self-care (breath work and self-massage).
One session is beneficial but at least 2-6 sessions are highly recommended.

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What are the benefits of CNT?

  • excellent for digestive issues
  • breaks down scar tissue from various causes such as surgery (including cesarean section birth) and injuries
  • detoxifies the internal organs
  • clears away emotional trauma and blockage
  • activates lymphatic flow
  • soothes tension in the belly
  • improves mood and mental clarity
  • supports a strong immune system
  • NOT for pregnant or menstruating women

I was introduced to and studied CNT in Tucson, Arizona with Allison Post who (along with Stephen Cavaliere) wrote the book, “Unwinding the Belly: Healing with Gentle Touch”. It is based on the principles of CNT but she created her own style in a very user-friendly interpretation that makes for easy comprehension and application for self-care. I’ve maintained this self-care practice for 20 years.

We can enjoy greater health, peace of mind, and the many gifts that come with self-love when we embrace, value, and care for our bellies. Listen to your gut; it will always have your back.

The Mysterious Psoas

female-hip“It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips. I’m a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.”

-Maya Angelou

Most people haven’t heard of the iliopsoas muscle, generally called the psoas (“so’ az”), much less know where it is. The largest and thickest muscle in the body, the psoas connects our trunk to the legs, connecting along the lower back (T12-L5) and involves movement of the back, pelvis, legs, and indirectly, the arms. It is deeply buried under the abdominal muscles and down into the pelvis. Think of the psoas when you enjoy that swing in your hips!

Two Fascinating Facts:
1. It’s the first muscle that forms in the human fetus.
2. When a woman is giving birth the psoas helps to push the baby out.

It’s quite common for postnatal women to report “pain in the buttocks, sacrum and along the crest of the hips in the back”. This is the path of the psoas so it’s often the culpit when it becomes tight and contracted, including the hip flexors.

AREAS WITH SIGNS OF PAIN:
low back, hips, thighs, abdomen during bowel movements, while standing or hanging, even difficulty breathing

CAUSES INCLUDE:

  • “Sucking” in the tummy (yes, allow your belly to breath!)
  • Over training
  • Sitting too long
  • Poor posture
  • Poor muscle alignment
  • Impact of childbirth
  • Scar tissue adhesions after surgery (including c-section birth)

You might call it a “deep feminine” muscle as it can also hold deeply buried emotions and tension, just like the pelvic floor.  Alexander Lowen, MD, creator of BioEnergetic therapy, wrote: ”There is a bottom to our despair. It is the pelvic floor.” Though it’s not technically a pelvic floor muscle, it is a vital part of the same web of connective tissues (known as “fascia”) and also helps create stability in our core and trunk so one invariably affects the other. As children, many of us learn to tighten our pelvic floor as a way of shutting down or repressing fearful emotions and trauma. This is a common response of “flight or fight” by the nervous system as a coping mechanism.

Other spiritual and emotional solutions may be:

  • grounding with the Earth,
  • monitoring stress levels
  • assessing whether you’re feeling supported or not

Connecting with the psoas can open up painful emotions and memories but on the other side is the healing, reclaiming our freedom of movement, vitality, dreams, creativity, and sexuality.

Standard psoas massage tends to be a harsh, painful, and even shocking experience. Therapists may dig down deep into the area without allowing the tissue layers to warm and melt so the body can open up beforehand.

Though not necessarily comfortable, I practice the approach called “Muscle Swimming”, developed by Peggy Lamb, which is a more thorough and gentle method of systematically locating and releasing the psoas, abdominal, and secondary hip flexor muscles; these all impact the health and alignment of the psoas itself. This can help alleviate stubborn low back and hip pain.

We do a simple assessment first to find out if the psoas is out of alignment and can check after each session to monitor progress.

Bellydance movement is also extremely healing for the psoas and pelvis, back, abdominals, and core in general. As a dance therapist, I incorporate these healing movements and stretches in addition to massage to bring the psoas back into health and alignment.

It’s important to develop a strong core through proper breath work and exercise but rigorous exercise can be dangerous before the psoas is back in basic alignment. Think SAFE and EFFECTIVE exercise. As with all movement, listen to your body and avoid anything that doesn’t feel right (sharp pain, cramping, etc.) Meet your body where it’s at in the moment.

Here are some basic psoas stretches. Remember to breathe…

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Healing After C-Section Birth: Dry Skin Brushing

Healing After C-Section

Dry skin brushing is an effective tool for self-care and recovery after c-section birth. It can increase circulation, remove dead skin, decrease infection, and assist healing by protecting an incision from developing ingrown hairs.

Healing After C-Section dry-skin-brushingBenefits of dry skin brushing include:

  • Moves the lymph which flows down in the deep skin layer.
  • Helps prevent or reduce ingrown hairs on or around the incision.
  • Stimulates the skin’s oil glands maintaining healthy, functional skin.
  • Stimulates circulation which helps remove toxins, tightens the skin, and accelerates healing.
  • Improves the function of the nervous system.
  • Tones the muscles.

LYMPH is a major component of our IMMUNE SYSTEM. In fact, our bodies contain more lymph than blood. Lymph brings our cells nutrients and removes their waste through white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Dry skin brushing moves the LYMPH when it can get clogged with large proteins and particulate matter. Lymph is the only way they can be transported back into the circulatory system. When these proteins are not removed, they attract other fluid which results in swelling. This is called lymphedema.

Consistent skin brushing will reduce and eliminate INGROWN HAIRS around the incision. If not treated, these hairs can create blemishes and lead to more scarring.

The skin is your body’s largest organ and vital to proper ELIMINATION OF WASTE PRODUCTS. If the skin is not maintained, the kidneys will take over this duty and be put under great strain.

Dry skin brushing removes the old top layer of skin, allowing the clean new layer to come to the surface. Our bodies make a new top layer of skin every 24 hours thus producing a softer smoother scar and skin in general. The old, neglected outer layer of skin has been tested and found to contain uric acid, which is highly toxic.

Our skin actually BREATHES when unclogged! It is designed to be a major route of detoxification but cannot function properly when clogged with dead skin cells and the waste excreted through perspiration. Dry skin brushing increases circulation to skin, encouraging our bodies’ natural capacity for discharge of metabolic wastes.

Many women report that their scars feel numb. Dry brushing rejuvenates the nervous system by stimulating nerve endings in the skin. This stimulation causes the individual muscle fibers to activate and move which also helps muscle tone. This benefit greatly contributes to the recovery of the abdominal muscles as well.

The combination of dry skin brushing with daily cesarean scar self-massage (see “Healing After C-Section Birth: Scar Massage”) is a great combination in your toolbox for healing.

C-section birth recovery and postpartum recovery in general, can be a multilayered and sometimes delicate process. Your commitment, consistent effort, patience, and perseverance will pay off! It takes strength to ask for help when you need it.

Remember to have compassion and give yourself major credit for doing the amazing and hard work of being a mother!

Sacred Body: Helping Ourselves

Helping Ourselves - Nang Talinee, the Lao Earth GoddessSuppose… the body is a God in its own right, a teacher, a mentor, a certified guide? Then what? …. Are we strong enough to refute the party line and listen deep, listen true to the body as a powerful and holy being?”

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run with the Wolves)

Our bodies are a sacred gift that, when cared for, are a vital part of our ability to live life to the fullest and be our truest selves. The body has great intelligence and is capable of profound healing and amazing feats as well as the little things that give us so much pleasure. It will also tell us when something is wrong.

Our job is to listen and respond accordingly.

Developing this relationship with our bodies is a skill that takes practice and support to develop because we are generally taught to do the opposite. The conscious connection between our minds and bodies has, in many cases, been weakened or even severed. We may walk around numb to the signals and signs as well as our emotions and feelings. We often feel guilty when we give priority and take the time to listen to our intuition.

But there is a big difference between thoughtful listening and responding and being selfish.

I find that one of the greatest challenges for us as women is valuing ourselves enough to focus our attention upon our own needs to an effective level.

Our bodies love to be loved and we are each the only person who can ultimately give that love. Movement, fitness, proper breathing, nourishing foods, plenty of water (dehydration is epidemic in this country), and the cultivation of a positive mindset can form the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. This is extremely powerful medicine. It can help us find our strength and balance in these times.

Reclaiming Ancient Feminine Wisdom

In our culture, postpartum is generally considered to be the first 6-8 weeks after giving birth. In some traditional cultures, the mother and baby are secluded, sheltered, protected, and nurtured for the first 40 days postpartum. This is to ensure that the mother’s womb and belly heal properly and that her full health and vigor is restored before she takes on the full-time job of childrearing.

What a humane and logical way to prepare mothers for perhaps the most challenging job they will ever undertake.

But in the modern world, without the family, community, and “village” structures in place, the health of families and often the postpartum mother is “falling through the cracks” of public health. It is alarming to me to see how many mothers have never received any support or education about postnatal recovery, including women with grown children. Many issues will not go away without proper care.

I’m witnessing how women beyond the socially acceptable period of 6-8 weeks, are often ashamed that they couldn’t “get it together and recover” during this short period. Sometimes they just give up or beat themselves up, adding to their sense of being burdened.

The true definition of postpartum is simply “following childbirth or the birth of young.” How can we accept that the term “postpartum” is now automatically synonymous with “depression” in our culture??

Helping Ourselves

I’ve heard many stories of mothers whose health concerns such as diastasis recti (split in the belly muscles), inability to rebuild the core (aka “mommy tummy”), incontinence, constipation, depression, numbness around cesarean scar incision, and birth trauma are disregarded. Without proper education and support, women may not know what solution to pursue, or if a solution exists at all. These issues are often brushed aside, never to be addressed as the demands of parenting take hold. They may last a lifetime, causing further pain and complications.

Finding your voice in the face of being disregarded and owning the fact that you need help or to take action can be the biggest stumbling block. This is exactly why proper postnatal recovery support, education, and services are so important and necessary for mothers at any stage. Whether it’s a network of mothers, women, family, community, and/or women’s health and fitness professionals, mothers deserve to be respected and acknowledged for the priceless contributions they make.

The well-being of our children and our planet ultimately depends on the health of mothers.