When I turned 30, my digestive system started to go wacko! Not wanting to be graphic, let me just say there was a lot of bloating and constant pressure in my colon and on my bladder. But let me focus on the colon for a moment. In case you are not sure, that’s the large intestine running down the left side of your lower belly. Anyway there was a near constant sensation of having to have a bowel movement. After using the toilet, usually within an hour I would have to go again. And I will not go into details but my elimination was very abnormal. It was quite scary. This situation went on for months. I had no idea what was causing it. My first line of defense was to see an MD. I still remember her name – Dr. Wanger – and this was almost 30 years ago!
You might say the situation was acute. My life felt completely out of control due to these crazy digestive symptoms which were occurring 24/7 with no breaks. I was totally at the mercy of Dr. Wanger. I remember my surprise and a bit of fear when I first saw her in her office. She was significantly overweight which made me uncomfortable. I was mildly overweight at the time and I wondered if there was a correlation between my over eating and these digestive symptoms. Anyway she gave me every possible test and finally concluded that I had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and she prescribed some drugs. I remember being completely shocked that this MD had not asked me what I was eating on a daily basis. I’ve always been skeptical of drugs. I was into yoga and holistic health and so her treatment plan seemed somehow wrong to me. But like I said, I felt like I was at her mercy, so I took the drugs for about 2 days and said ” NO! I can’t do this!” The drug, Belladonna, which I later found out was in the barbiturate family, gave me a severely dry mouth. The dry mouth made me very uncomfortable and I instinctively knew to stop taking this drug.
This was the mid 80′s and there was no Internet. But I just Googled the term “Belladonna” and found out it contains phenobarbital. Apparently they are still prescribing it to patients complaining of digestive symptoms. Since I had refused to take the drug, I was now on my own to seek a solution to my problem. The symptoms showed no signs of letting up. I did some research and learned about colonic hydrotherapy. I also sought out a holistic physician. There was a very new holistic medical center that had recently opened in Cambridge, MA (This later became the Marino Center) and I became a patient of Dr. Michael Janson. Unlike Dr. Wanger, Dr. Janson was very personable and caring. He got to know me as a person and asked me many questions about my lifestyle. He eventually put me on a yeast free diet, which turned out not to be the answer either but at least it was a step in the right direction. Trying to follow this very strict diet, I was forced to eat less food and this had a beneficial effect but still did not solve my problem.
I eventually gave up the yeast free diet because it was too limiting and I had a lot of difficulty sticking to it. Next I sought the help of Brenda Albee, colonic therapist. The colonics were the first thing I found that would alleviate my symptoms but the relief was unfortunately only temporary. Over the years, I began to pay more attention to my diet and gradually transitioned to a healthier vegetarian diet, but I continued to eat cheese and eggs. I also began to deal with the compulsive overeating which was clearly contributing to my IBS. I was an emotional eater and I believe this was the main contributing factor to the IBS. In I discovered Laura Douglas an Ayurvedic Counselor and Yoga Teacher who took me on as a client in her Ayurveda practice. It was her counseling that really got me motivated to take the necessary steps to overcome the debilitating symptoms of the IBS. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. It is an ancient Indian naturopathic healing system which shares many of the same philosophical beliefs with yoga. According to Ayurveda, our lifestyle and daily habits are the greatest contributors to our state of health or disease.
Therefore by adopting healthy daily habits we can overcome most chronic illnesses. There is one thing that Laura shared with me, which has become the mainstay of my healing journey. She told me that my agni was weak (agni = digestive fire) and that the time of day and size of meals is a critical component of health. According to Ayurveda the digestive fire is strongest between the hours of this is when we should eat our largest meal of the day. Dinner should be a very small meal. And for optimal digestion, one should eat nothing after. Obviously, refraining from eating after 6 PM is not practical for most people. I can’t say that I am sticking to this routine to the letter of the law. But I do know that if I eat late at night, I always suffer the consequences. There is much intelligence behind the Ayurvedic system. And so for the past 9 years, I have attempted to integrate the Ayurvedic teachings into my lifetstyle as much as possible.
I will now outline some of the steps I have taken that have helped to minimize the IBS symptoms.
- Mainly vegan diet – I eat fish usually once per month.
- I do not eat bread and stick to a mainly gluten free diet
- No dairy
- I do not over eat
- I do not eat heavy foods after 8 PM
- I eat my largest meal as early in the day as possible
- I avoid fried foods as much as possible
- I add a lot of flax meal to my diet
- I avoid most raw vegetables and fruits
- I eat a lot of vegan protein smoothies
- Pureed fruit is generally better than whole fruit
- Strawberries are great in smoothies
- Whole apples can be problematic but in smoothies they are OK
- Never mix whole fruit with other foods
- I make gluten free pancakes with buckwheat flour
- I avoid stress as much as possible
- I practice yoga breathing daily
- I practice yoga daily
- I run 3 times per week for 20 minutes
- I watch my weight and stay physically fit
- I eat slowly and practice conscious eating
- No junk food or highly processed foods
This post is not meant to prescribe anything for the general public. Everyone’s situation is unique.However the practice of yoga will go a long way towards giving you the tools for introspection which is so necessary to get at the root of any chronic illness. I believe we must look deeply inside ourselves for answers and trust the native intelligence that resides within each one of us. Yoga encourages us and helps us to access this potent source of intelligence within.It was as a result of practicing daily yoga that I was able to overcome the debilitating IBS symptoms and today I remain mainly symptom free.