Nobody knows how Irritable Bowel Syndrome starts, but there’s no doubt that stress can worsen the uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms of IBS. For one thing, stress can make the colon contract, leading to stomach pain and reduced digestion.
Common triggers for IBS
The body uses as much energy as possible to solve the current problem, diverting circulation away from vital processes like the digestive system in order to supply more blood to the muscles. Feelings of stress or anxiety can mess with your digestive system precisely because of this connection between brain and stomach. IBS can flare up over everyday annoyances, especially those that make a person feel tense, angry, or overwhelmed. But IBS – like other chronic conditions – is even more sensitive to the stress that comes from major life changes, such as the loss of a job. Let's dive in to try and understand how Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you deal with the symptoms of IBS.
Chinese medicine treatment of IBS
Emotions and diet are considered to be opposite sides of the same coin in Chinese Medicine. Some say, “We are what we eat” but Chinese Medicine also considers that we are what we cannot digest – whether that’s food or an emotional state. We develop a form of ‘mental obesity’ where these undigested emotions clog us up and we effectively lose our capacity to make decisions and choices.
Chinese medicine believes that good circulation is key to good health. The stress response disrupts the smooth flow of Qi (energy channels in the body) and blood by diverting it away from peripheral organs (including the digestion) and into the muscles. This impedes the efficiency of the digestive system. Moreover, the stress response produces heat and inflammation.
Chinese Medicine would view IBS symptoms as the body trying to eliminate this heat out through a digestive tract that is overwhelmed and undernourished due to lack of blood and nutrients. So, the stomach is weakened and overloaded simultaneously.
Breathing techniques for IBS
We may all be living longer but are often suffering from conditions including stress, pain, low energy, headaches, anxiety and depression, poor skin, low fertility, bad digestion and have trouble with lack of sleep. Along with a good and varied diet, we need to encourage a good flow of circulation to support the digestive system and stimulate the vagus nerve to strengthen the mind/gut connection and clear the body of symptoms related to IBS (1).
The Hayo’u Method is one way that can help you let go of stress naturally, with the aim of decreasing inflammation in the body. Hayo’u is a self-treatment method inspired by Chinese Medicine that works to help relax the body, enable free-flow of circulation and clear inflammation. They are simple exercises that when practiced daily can make a profound difference.
In the morning, use the shower to its maximum effect to awaken fully and start the day in a relaxed yet energised state. Then, use the evening bath or shower to clear stagnation, help restore circulation, relax, unwind and prepare for a deep, restorative sleep. Then, try to incorporate these one-minute rituals daily that can have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing.
1. Rescue Breath Ritual
This simple technique stimulates the Vagus nerve, which connects your brain and your stomach and is responsible for engaging the rest phase of your nervous system (PNS) rather than the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight state). Once the PNS becomes active, the individual’s body can start properly digesting food. The PNS also enables the body to heal wounds and generate cell restoration processes (2).
When our nervous system is relaxed, this enables the stomach to relax, which in turn allows our digestive enzymes to start working optimally. These sharp exhalations are designed to expel toxicity rather than sending it downwards into the digestive tract.
2. Body Restorer Ritual
Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of Gua sha both in activating the rest phase of the nervous system, as a powerful anti-inflammatory technique and for its ability to improve microcirculation – all of which will help alleviate the symptoms of IBS (3). Chinese Medicine holds that Gua sha clears heat via the skin (the largest excretory organ in the body) rather than the digestive tract.
3. Mineral Bathing
Bathing is used the world over to relieve stress, simply because hot water relaxes your muscles. Relaxed muscles send a message to the alarm centers in the brain that there’s no threat, thus immediately engaging your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Chinese Medicine believes that the slightly raised body temperature unblocks energy channels in the body. Simple soaking can be surprisingly effective. Six meridians (liver, gall bladder, kidney, spleen and stomach) reach the feet, each of which has more than 60 acupuncture points. The feet have points that correspond to many parts and organs of the body, so soaking in hot water activate blood and energy throughout the body (4).
Please note that the Hayo’u Method can and should sit alongside any Western advice. Adding these practices to a clean, balanced diet and ongoing care should start to bring back balance to the whole body.
Also, bear in mind that Gua sha is a treatment designed to relieve muscular pain and tension and improve circulation. Results vary according to age, strength of body, skin type and medical conditions. If you are under the age of 16 and over the age of 60 or suffering specific medical conditions we do not recommend using the Body Restorer. At no point should treatment feel painful. Always start gently, observing the reaction to your skin and proceed with caution. This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.
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1. Wiley Online Library: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2010.02321.x/full#js-feedback
2. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21158977
3. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17905355
4. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine: https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/press-releases/2015/05/05/science-gua-sha