“I did something to my finger.  Can you help me straighten it?” one of my twin uncles would say, trying to alter the “Pull my finger” bit so we would fall for it.  It worked 80% of the time.  But does that mean their digestive systems were not working to full capacity?  I wonder.

Apparently, irritable bowel syndrome plagues about 30 percent of the world’s population, where women are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from the digestive disorder.  But do you have to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome to have problems with gas, bloating, constipation or other digestive problems that we don’t like to discuss?  Of course not. 

The mouth is where digestion actually begins.  When food or liquid enters your mouth the brain (your hypothalamus to be exact) tells your digestive system to “LOOK ALIVE!  FOOD IS COMING YOUR WAY!”  Saliva is released in your mouth with enzymes to help break down and lubricate the food.  The food goes down your esophagus to your stomach where muscles contract, further breaking down the food.  Now the story gets good.  Hydrochloric acid in the stomach gets rid of bacteria in the food.  Resulting from this process is a product that is thick and pasty, called chyme. 

Be thankful for your amazing body and it's infinite wisdom

Chyme goes through the duodenum where muscle contractions help the food travel to the small intestine.  That’s where the nutrients are absorbed, right into the lining of the small intestine.  For this to happen, the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas make a delivery of bile and more enzymes to the small intestine to help further break down the food particles into “usable molecules”, ridding the particles of toxic or useless chemicals.  Leftovers are sent to the large intestine, which takes a bit more of whatever it needs and then pushes the rest out through your rectum, and voila!  Poop!

  According to Linda Sparrowe, author of The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health, from where I simplified the above explanation, THINGS DO GO WRONG.  Gastrointestinal problems could be driving you crazy because your central brain is “ignoring or overstimulating your gut brain.”  So if your brain malfunctions in this digestive process and not enough or too much of the signals are sent to the various digestive organs, the process is affected along the way. 

Sparrowe says “If your brain is preoccupied by stress, nerves, and fear, it may “forget” to send the right signals to your gut brain that food is on its way.  Similarly, a sluggish thyroid can mean a sluggish digestive system.  If your liver is weakened or on overload because of stress, drugs, alcohol, environmental toxins, or unhealthy foods, it may not produce enough bile to break down food particles.  Undigested food particles, according to the ayurvedic system, cause myriad problems.”   The Ayurvedic approach to health is a philosophy and healing system which is a product of thousands of years of development in India. 

Although many of us look to certain foods as the culprit to our inability to digest properly, ayurvedic medicine says what we eat isn’t as important as how you eat and digest food.  Negative emotions like anger and resentment can offset the balance needed for digestive organs to function well.  Sure, food allergies are totally possible, but imagine another possibility that can be hard to believe at first:  Western ideals of women’s flat bellies. 

While western ideals of women’s bellies are flat six packs, other places in the world sees a woman’s belly as the center of “creativity, power, and intuition.”  Sparrowe says “[a] bloated belly, chronic constipation, or excessive tension in the abdomen may signal a woman’s inability to assert herself, to establish her voice i the world.”  Holding your tummy in and hiding it under tight clothes can actually keep the blood in your digestive tract and reproductive organs from flowing!  Hence, disorders.

What I will call “flat belly syndrome,” can be emotionally damaging resulting in a body image struggle that put stress on your systems.  “It becomes a vicious cycle – you struggle to hold your stomach in; it reacts by bloating, cramping, and distending; you punish it even more by withholding nourishment, in the form of either food or soothing, healing breath; and your stomach rebels even more, making sure it gets your attention,” Sparrowe contends.  I’ve had “flat belly syndrome” and thought that was the way we should be and the only way we can fit into tight shirts.  Now that I don’t have that option, I’ve let go of the ideal.   

Besides a whole new mind-set, which takes time to come into, what can be done for gastrointestinal problems?  Here are some ideas from Sparrowe and the ayurvedic tradition.

Love your tummy

For constipation:  Lay off the bread and cheese, processed food, partially hydrogenated oils in food, white flour and white sugar foods.  DO Eat more fresh fruits, green leafy veggies, fiber-rich grains and cereals, seaweed, essential fatty acids like flaxseed or flaxseed oil.  Drink lots of liquids, particularly warm water. 

For gas:  Watch the breads and dairy products.  Don’t eat simple sugar or starches which encourage intestinal yeast.  Restore your body’s GOOD bacteria with probiotic supplements as that’s the only way to replenish them, particularly acidophilus and bifidobacterium.   Especially for foods you think you can’t tolerate, add spicy, carminative herbs to your food, like ginger, fennel, cumin, garlic, rosemary, and cardamom.

For Spastic Colon or IBS:  In general, herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, and hops help release tension and a spastic colon and can be made into a tea to sip before bed to calm your stomach and aid sleep.   Five to ten drops of peppermint oil and caraway seed oil in an 8 oz glass of warm water helps relive IBS symptoms in 90 percent of sufferers according to a German study.  Siberian ginseng can help nervous exhaustion or stress-related digestive problems, it works to balance your body, both stimulating and relaxing as your body needs.

There are also sequences for IMPROVING DIGESTION, RELIEVING DIARRHEA, and IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME.  Stay tuned for a full list on the poses that Sparrowe details in her book.  If you can’t wait, contact me!

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not take some pharmaceutical that a medical doctor may prescribe.  The symptoms, if not diseases like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis which require medical attention, most likely have underlying causes that in the end, we can control with our MINDS AND BODIES.

Conclusion: Dear Uncles, I think we pulled your fingers way too many times. 

***The author takes no responsibilities of the information above.  Most of this information was extracted from Linda Sparrowe’s “The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health.”  ***