Most of the clients I work with have some form of underlying digestive issues. Gut issues are so common these days, and from my experience most doctors don’t even bat an eye when you tell them of your symptoms, or they don’t ask (it’s one of the first things ayurvedic practitioners look at). I remember years ago thinking I had some issues as I experienced irregular bowel motions. [Warning: Overshare ahead…]. They were either too loose or really dry and I had major discomfort with elimination.
I was told nothing was wrong and since I was still going ‘regularly’ every day or 2, and that it was okay. I also had other symptoms like depression and anxiety and thought it could have been thyroid related, but my bloods didn’t fall into the levels that flagged an issue. At the time I was undergoing huge levels of stress, and not once did they suggest any holistic ways of dealing with it. I don’t think anything came of it now that I think back…
I am sensitive to how I feel. Always have been. Although I used to drink to mask a lot of what I felt because it was too painful, and I thought I was having ‘fun’ and didn’t put the two together till much later on (that’s a story for whole other day!). I’m a person who likes to find out answers and knew there had to be more to it. I’ve always been into natural therapies and collected books on herbs for healing since I was around 10 years old, so took myself to a naturopath when I didn’t get answers from the doctors or relief I desired. After thousands of dollars spent on tests and herbs, and changing over to an all organic, preservative and additive free, gluten and dairy free diet, including all the gut healing stuff – kombucha, ferments and bone broths. I still didn’t feel much better.
Note: Turns out I did have underlying thyroid issues; they surfaced (or came to a range that the doctors agreed with me) a few years after these symptoms and only got picked up when I started seeing a new doctor. It got to the point that the depression was so bad that I was lying in a ball on the floor crying uncontrollably, the fog and heaviness were so thick that I knew I needed something major to help. Thankfully for me, the thyroid medication helped to stabilise my moods within a few days to a level that was tolerable. It still didn’t fix my digestive issues. During the time I spent with this one naturopath, he mentioned he could see a lot of stress in my eyes when he did iridology. I didn’t feel stressed at the time but realise now that I lived in constant stress and it wasn’t till, I learned how to relax that I noticed just how stressed I was before. I was prescribed herbs and he spoke about yoga but never other forms of stress reduction like what ayurveda promotes. It didn’t seem truly holistic or get to the underlying issues.
A few years later, I wanted to learn more about natural therapies as I knew there had to be more to life than feeling the way I was. This is when things finally started to ease. I was drawn towards ayurveda as it is one of the modalities that it truly holistic and it takes an individualised approach. I loved the way it aligned with yogic philosophy and that it looks at the spiritual side of healing. The more I learn about this ancient science (yes, it is a science), the more I am so grateful that I chose this path. I still see benefit in the other professions and sometimes still see them myself, but for me I’ve had the most improvement with my health and well being since living an ayurvedic lifestyle. I was even able to start eating and tolerating gluten and dairy again! Recently, I have realised that it isn’t these things that caused the issues, but the qualities or energies of those foods that gave me the symptoms. I can still have reactions to some foods I eat, however its more to do with the energetics, quality and way the foods are prepared that make all of the difference.
Ayurveda is the most holistic health system I know. It dates back thousands of years and is unchanged, not a fad like most of the diets around today. It looks at the whole person as an individual and seeks to restore balance based on a person’s unique nature. It is a system that focuses on the mind, body and soul. Its premise is, when digestion is good, all of our other systems are working, we feel balanced and thrive. Treatments range from massage to meditation, diet, lifestyle and giving herbs to help aid digestion, build strength and immunity and cleanse the channels, to balance the mind, body and soul.
What is a gut issue?
‘Gut issue’ is quite a broad statement. From an ayurvedic perspective, it is when someone has an impairment, compromised or dis-functioning digestive system or imbalance in their natural make up. People generally notice physical discomfort, often not realising they have underlying issues because to them, it is ‘normal’ or not a big deal. The range of symptoms are vast. People may experience pain, gas, bloating, irregular bowel motions, constipation, loose stools, leaky gut, issues with absorption of vitamins and minerals, feelings of fatigue, depression or a range of emotional issues.
What does a healthy digestive system look like?
When our digestion is working at its best you will not experience any pain, gas or bloating. Things will be smooth and pain-free. You do not need the use of stimulants like caffeine to help with elimination and you eliminate before eating any food. Your stools will be regular, and when I say regular, I mean you will eliminate prior to each meal, 3 times per day is the ideal. The consistency of your stool is such that it is formed so that it easily evacuates and there is no pressure, strain, pain or discomfort. You eat 2-3 meals at regular times during the day without snacking and hunger is there prior to eating, only eating enough that you are satisfied and not over or under consume. You will not crave any sugar, excess salt, oily or junk foods, or caffeine or alcohol. Your mood will be bright, and you will feel comfortable in your body. You won’t have afternoon sugar cravings or energy slumps.
What causes gut/digestive issues?
Dis-functioning digestive fire is the main cause of gut issues. Although, the reasons are also extensive. From a diet perspective, things such as eating processed foods, foods that are out of season, foods that are too heavy or too dry, cold, and not in accordance with your true nature are all possible causes. Then there are environmental factors such as pesticides, chemicals and preservatives on our foods to help crops grow, extend shelf life or help with processing. There are also the emotional factors such as underlying issues or unprocessed emotions caused by past experiences that may cause anxiety, depression, PTSD and stress. Eating too much or too little is another factor. The way to learn about the right things to eat for you is by working with an ayurvedic practitioner. They take into account your unique make up and current imbalance, they can also suggest foods to avoid, the way to eat and when to eat so that your digestive fire is functioning optimally.
Stress is a major lifestyle factor leading to gut issues. When we are in constant states of stress, our fight, flight or freeze (FFF) response sends out signals to the brain to produce chemicals that either stop digesting foods or store deposits as fat to use when it is safe again. Here’s the kicker, our bodies can’t differentiate between real life-threatening situations, like being confronted with death from an accident, or between simulated ones like we see in movies or on the news. Our bodies sense the stress from thoughts and visions and sends out a signal to shut down. The issue with this is, in our daily lives we are presented with these situations over and over again, it’s not just through the things we see on TV. It can be the phone ringing, a car horn beeping, or a child crying that can signal it. We also have repetitive thoughts, not realising that they are on loop which means we can be constantly reliving stress or threats throughout the day, not allowing our system a break. The longer we live in a stressed state, the more difficult it is for it to come back to equilibrium and even the smallest of things can set it off. We then have difficulty relaxing because we are not used to it and the stress becomes a new norm but our bodies start to break down because it is not normal for them.
Why do unprocessed emotions cause gut issues?
Fear activates the FFF response. Underlying emotional issues fuel fear. Safety and security are two of the major proponents to fear. Take for example if you had an experience of being hit or teased by a bully as a child, not knowing what you have done to cause it (you did nothing by the way!). Each time a bully comes into your life, this could be a boss, partner, friend or family member, this memory, if not processed and healed properly will activate the fear that is held on the subconscious levels. Every time a similar situation confronts you, your body switches the signal on. Anyone that experiences anxiety or PTSD knows what I’m talking about. Often, we have no control over the response happening because it is held in our automatic nervous system. There are ways you can reduce the stress and the likelihood of a trigger sending your system into FFF. One thing you can do is to be wary of the things you choose to see or the environment that you are in! If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If it feels irrational, look deeper and see what is underlying. Your fear always has something to tell you, you just need to lean into it and learn to listen to what it is saying.
Can our behaviours have anything to do with unprocessed emotions?
You bet! As a stress and emotion release specialist, I believe the cause for most issues in the body are due to unprocessed emotions. We often use things to mask our issues on subconscious levels like turning to sugar, junk foods, alcohol or under and overeating to self-pacify and make us feel better. Numbing can also happen by using sex, exercise or watching TV. No one likes to feel pain. The thing with this is, we often have our own default or go to behaviours based on our natural makeup and the emotions or past experiences we hold. Often, we have more than one.
Can anything else impact our digestion?
Everything we do, see, eat, or think has an energy or quality. Ayurveda looks at foods in terms of its qualities, tastes and actions on subtle levels which impacts digestion. There are 6 tastes in ayurveda – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter. Often the things we are drawn to are due to an imbalance in our bodies or an emotion. It’s all well and good if you know how to counteract this but if things are not taken into accordance with ayurvedic principles, they cause an imbalance.
In ayurveda, we say that like increases like. This means that habitually the thing we feel the most, we crave more of. This may seem to not make sense, please allow me to explain. Say you are feeling depressed. The qualities of depression are dark, cold, lonely, heavy, dull, slow etc. Often when people are feeling depressed or unloved, they will turn to sweet foods. We do this because we are craving sweetness, love or comfort. Sweet qualities for example are heavy, grounding, comfort, love, nourishment and stability. Sweet if taken at the wrong time, wrong way or in excess causes the channels in the body to become blocked, making you feel heavy, dull and lethargic or tired. Perpetuating or increasing the feelings of sluggishness, feeling heavy, foggy or depressed and getting the opposite result to what you had intended. I’m sure you’ve at one time thought you might have something sweet to pick you up, only to feel lower afterwards. Or if you have dessert after eating dinner, you often feel tired and heavy. It’s the energy of sweet that is doing what it is ‘meant’ to.
When we eat all the tastes in a meal, at the right time, our digestion is happy. When we don’t, the channels get blocked, it messes with our ability to digest foods correctly and throws all of our systems out. Food will either digest too quickly leading to absorption issues; think vitamin and mineral deficiency. Or the food does not digest quickly enough causing stagnation in the bowels resulting in slow elimination of waste; think leaky gut from the toxins siting in the colon and reabsorbing into our gut lining; or food rotting causing gas and bloating. Not so good when it’s put that way, huh? This is why it is so important to make sure we deal with our emotions, process our food properly and eat correctly.
What are unprocessed emotions and how do I know if I have any?
Chances are, if you’ve got gut issues and have made it this far in the article, you have unprocessed emotions. Most of us do on one level or another. Unprocessed emotions are those beliefs, programs or underlying thoughts that block you from being your true nature. They are often the ones that are formed in your early years, from conception to around 10 years old. They are those negative thoughts of not being good enough or not feeling safe, not speaking up and playing small, hiding the true you from shining. Unprocessed emotions are stress and anxiety, outbursts of emotion at inappropriate times due to little prompting or minor things. It’s when we are doing too much and not taking time to tune in. It’s the inability to understand who we are and what we need, listening to others and not valuing or understanding our own needs and feelings.
How do I heal my emotions?
We want to be able to process all experiences so that our health and well being are not impacted. When we start dealing with our emotions, you’ll start noticing an improvement in all aspects of your life. You will start choosing different foods, stop choosing unhealthy behaviours or using things as crutches and start valuing yourself. Relationships will flourish, especially the one with yourself. At the end of the day, it all comes down to loving yourself enough to value and choose you. Choose you! Start by allowing whatever experience that presents itself to be. Sit with it. Feel it. Listen to your heart and what the pain is trying to tell you. Everything we need for healing is inside of us. We just need to learn how to listen. What are you not digesting in life?