Different Levels of Healing
For me, healing has to happen on multiple levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I’ve often found that I have to address all of these – if I don’t, the issue isn’t fully resolved.
Physical healing for IBS
Whenever something is out of balance with my health, I usually start with the physical aspects. If my body is experiencing a flare of symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), I’ll consider what I’ve been eating, ensure I’m drinking enough water and drinks with electrolytes, and reflect on what might be going on with my hormones.
Emotional and mental healing
I’ve also learned the importance of taking the emotional and mental realms into account. Thoughts and emotions often go together, with one influencing the other. One of the approaches I learned as a life coach comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT teaches there are two kinds of emotional pain: clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is felt when we lose something or someone, grief and a feeling of loss. Dirty pain is related to all the thoughts we have about the loss. For example, when I went through my divorce, I had to grieve the loss of the relationship and companionship, the loss of the dream of what I had hoped for the marriage (clean pain), but I also had thoughts of "what if I never marry again?" or "what if no one ever loves me again?" (dirty pain). Clean pain must be felt – we need to cry, yell, or hit a pillow. (After my divorce, I found boxing to be very effective.) Dirty pain needs to be disbelieved. Dirty pain thoughts are nasty and definitely painful, but they can be dismantled. I’ve learned a couple approaches that I use personally and with my clients for dismantling dirty pain thoughts. One of my favorite methods for dissolving is using The Work by Byron Katie.1 Using her effective approach, I question my painful thoughts and come to find that while some may be true some of the time, the opposite is often just as likely to be true. Finding this wiggle room between these different potential “truths” sets me free, and I can see that I am more than my thoughts.
Spiritual healing for IBS
After working through the physical, mental, and emotional layers, I turn to the spiritual side. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I like to remember that we are both – spiritual and human – and not to get too wrapped up in either to the exclusion of the other. The spiritual part, for me, is closely tied to the energetic level. Everything we are made up of is energy, at the most basic levels. To facilitate healing on the spiritual level, I use a combination of approaches. One of the concepts that resonates for me is the chakras, the energy centers in the body as defined by Indian tradition. “Chakra” derives from the Sanskrit word of wheel, and the chakras are often described as wheels of energy where matter and consciousness meet. While there are many chakras throughout the body, there are seven major ones that run from the bottom of the spine (at the tailbone) to the top of the skull, or crown. Each of the major chakras contains bundles of nerves and is connected to major organs as well as psychological, emotional, and spiritual states of being. If a chakra gets blocked, the energy, called prana, that usually flows between the chakras and throughout the body becomes impeded. Blockages in any of the lower three chakras can interfere with digestion, leading to nausea, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Blockages can be caused by a number of factors, including past trauma, repressed emotions that haven’t been processed, or energy that you pick up from others. There are many different ways to clear and balance the chakras, including meditation, yoga, Reiki, acupuncture, smudging (a Native American practice using smoke from sacred herbs), toning (the use of sound), or using essential oils. 2
IBS is multi-factorial: it has many contributing factors, including diet, genetics, gastrointestinal infections, stress, and anxiety. Treatment approaches should also address multiple areas, and I’ve found, for my health and well-being, I have to consider not just the physical and psychological, but also the spiritual.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?