The gut-brain connection
(the following is an excerpt from Harvard Medical School Health Publishing)
Have you ever had a "gut-wrenching" experience? Do certain situations make you "feel nauseous"? Have you ever felt "butterflies" in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
This is especially true in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no obvious physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, it is difficult to try to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion.
Stress and the functional GI disorders
Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation, or feel intestinal pain during times of stress. That doesn't mean, however, that functional gastrointestinal conditions are imagined or "all in your head." Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract, make inflammation worse, or perhaps make you more susceptible to infection.
In addition, research suggests that some people with functional GI disorders perceive pain more acutely than other people do because their brains do not properly regulate pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.
Based on these observations, you might expect that at least some patients with functional GI conditions might improve with therapy to reduce stress or treat anxiety or depression. And sure enough, a review of 13 studies showed that patients who tried psychologically based approaches had greater improvement in their digestive symptoms compared with patients who received only conventional medical treatment.
Is stress causing your symptoms?
Are your stomach problems — such as heartburn, abdominal cramps, or loose stools — related to stress? Watch for these other common symptoms of stress and discuss them with your doctor. Together you can come up with strategies to help you deal with the stressors in your life, and also ease your digestive discomforts.
Treating the belly with bodywork
In America, we hold a lot of shame and pain around our bellies, our eating habits and our entire pelvic region in general. This area is extremely tender, a very common place where stress resides, and often subject to a lot of trauma from daily life, childbirth/miscarriage/abortion, surgery, and trauma and abuse. Thai belly work is gentle massage with warm herbal compresses that releases tension in the abdomen layer by layer. Clients often feel very sleepy, and deeply relaxed as emotions and stress that has been stored in the area is released.
This work is highly recommended for everyone at least once or twice a year-- a 'cleansing detox' if you will. If you've experienced any kind of trauma to your lower body or feel a deficiency in your lower chakras, this work can be incredibly rejuvenating. When working with clients with any kind of gas, bloating or digestive issues, I have specific protocols, foods and techniques to try at home to continue the healing after your bodywork session that are tailored to what your body is presenting.
Benefits of Belly Massage
Massaging the muscles of the body feels wonderful. Massaging the vital organs in the abdomen not only feels lovely but has significant health benefits as well. Clients have experienced a decrease in pain in the lower back, shoulders, and hips; better digestion and elimination; lower levels of anxiety and depression; release of emotional trauma; integration and feelings of being grounded; clearer thinking and increased confidence in their internal compass amongst many more things.
Try Abdominal Massage with Kaiya Healing Arts
Belly work is best done in three to four 90-120 minute sessions several days in a row, or within two weeks of each other. Each session aims to open up more layers to get deeper into the fascia and musculature, but of course it depends on what your body is ready for and what you are needing. Ask Katie any questions you might have, or if this treatment would be beneficial for you, or book a session and try it out for yourself!