Breath of Fire relieved my hiatal hernia symptoms

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, just someone interested in self-care, anatomy, physiology, and wellness who is relating her personal experience working on her own issues. If you are in a similar situation, the techniques described below may or may not be helpful. Always pay attention to your body’s yes and no, and seek medical care when needed.

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A couple of years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain. I didn’t know what it was. I sat up, just feeling it, trying to figure out what was causing it and whether I needed to call an ambulance. That I was having a heart attack was my big fear. From the top of my solar plexus, the pain ran up through the middle of my chest underneath my sternum and up my throat. It was very unpleasant.

It went away, and I went back to sleep. I woke up feeling fine. Although scary, it didn’t seem to be any kind of an emergency. I put it out of my mind and went about my business.

Then it happened again a couple of times. This seemingly random chest pain sent me to the doctor, who through testing was able to rule out heart disease, possibly pancreatic cancer, and stomach ulcer. She wanted me to go to a gastroenterologist and do a barium swallow with x-rays.

I didn’t want to do that procedure, and by then, being the curious researcher that I am, I had figured out that it was very likely a hiatal hernia. See the images below.

So I began self-treating, starting with reading online. I learned:

  • hiatal hernias are more common in older people
  • obesity can be a factor
  • acid reflux can be a factor
  • overeating can make it worse
  • you can avoid symptoms by not eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • posture plays a role

Yes, even though I’m a yogi and usually have pretty decent posture, I was sitting on my sofa using my laptop all hunched over for a few hours several times a week. My fix for that was to sit cross-legged with my back straight, with my laptop on a thick pillow.

I am 64, and although not obese, I’ve put on a few pounds in the last few years. I’ve been guilty of eating late after a busy day and occasional overeating. I haven’t felt any symptoms of acid reflux, though, but learned you can have acid reflux without symptoms.

I learned more about the anatomy of a hiatal hernia. Simply put, the diaphragm separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity and moves when you breathe. The hiatus is an opening in your diaphragm where your esophagus passes through to your stomach.

When the hole is enlarged, a little bit of your stomach can protrude upward through the hole, crowding your chest cavity. Thus…lying down or bending over with a full stomach brings the pain on.

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 8.23.19 AM

Copyright 2004 MedicineNet Inc.

There is reportedly no cure, and in severe cases, drugs or surgery may be needed.

My favorite quick relief for hiatal hernia pain? Drink a glass of water, 8 to 12 ounces. Then stand on your tiptoes and quickly drop your heels, repeating this several times. The weight of the water in your stomach combined with the quick downward motion will jostle your stomach back down into its proper place beneath the diaphragm. Here’s a video showing the technique.

I also read about yoga poses to avoid: cobra, inversions like downward facing dog, and other poses I was doing every day. This was a drag. I wasn’t liking this at all.

I still had occasional esophageal spasms and finally did get the barium swallow. The diagnosis confirmed my intuition: I have a small “sliding hiatal hernia”.

Not long after, I was meditating, and I suddenly had an insight that a yogic breathing practice I’d learned decades ago called Breath of Fire (Sanskrit kapalabati or “skull shining breath”) might be helpful. I hadn’t practiced it in years. This technique pumps the diaphragm through rapid breathing, and since the diaphragm is a muscle, it can be strengthened through training.

Watch this video if Breath of Fire is new to you. Actual instruction starts at 2:50.

I started doing Breath of Fire for a minute a day. It was hard at first to breath rapidly in a steady rhythm, but it got easier. I worked up to 3, then 5, and then 10 minutes a day, building strength and stamina while maintaining a steady rhythm.

The diaphragm is a muscle that can be strengthened like any other muscle. At first, I felt some muscle soreness around the bottom of my rib cage, front, sides, and back, where the diaphragm attaches. After a few days, the soreness went away.

Not only does Breath of Fire strengthen your diaphragm, it also floods your body with oxygen, massages your organs, pumps your lymphatic system, and has other benefits. Since I started doing this three months ago, I’ve noticed a gradual increase in energy, mental clarity, positivity, and motivation. I feel more on top of things and happier.

I now do Breath of Fire for 3 minutes every morning for maintenance, and I haven’t had any hiatal hernia discomfort since I started. (I avoid eating near bedtime and lying down after eating.)

I do the yoga poses I want to do without any problems. I’ve long been a hatha yogini, but now I’m interested in learning more kundalini, where this practice originates, as far as I know.

It would take a truly open-minded, yoga-trained Western doctor to tell you to do this very simple technique, so I’m sharing. If you have a hiatal hernia and try these techniques, please share your experience in the comments.

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Addition, April 11, 2018. If you have a hiatal hernia, it’s important to know that you may have acid reflux, where you don’t produce enough stomach acid to break down the protein in food and to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. You may burp, have gas, and/or feel bloated. You may also have acid reflux without any symptoms.

Low stomach acid signals the lower esophageal sphincter to stay open, making it more likely for a hiatal hernia to develop, and the stomach acid you do produce can splash up into the esophagus and possibly cause scarring and thickening. Not good.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 8.39.27 AMThe remedy for low stomach acid — which becomes more common with age — is to take a supplement containing Betaine HCl and pepsin. It helps you digest protein and absorb amino acids from food. Protein is in all animal-derived food sources — meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy — and legumes, including soy, tofu, and tempeh, and other foods. Protein helps your body build and repair tissues, especially important in building muscle, bone, blood, cartilage and skin. You definitely want to assimilate the protein you eat.

HCl also helps kill off pathogens in food.

There are some cautions about taking this. I found this article very helpful in explaining who should not take HCl and why.

It also explains how to find out how much you need to take, so as not to take too little to be effective or too much and experience discomfort. (If that happens, take 1/2 tsp of baking soda in water to neutralize the excess acid, and then cut back on the amount you’re taking.)

If you can’t take Betaine HCl before eating protein, drink a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (shoot or dilute) to help acidify your stomach. These won’t help you break down the protein but may prevent acid reflux.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 9.10.39 AMYou can also take digestive bitters. Bitter tastes stimulate digestion. Our ancestors knew this and ate bitter foods every day — such as citrus, greens, cruciferous veggies, artichokes, ginger and other herbs, pepper, chocolate, and red wine.

Herbalists have been making bitter elixirs since at least the Middle Ages. I like this brand and carry it in my purse for those times when I forget to refill my little pill container with Betaine HCl and digestive enzymes.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 9.45.17 AMYou may also want to take digestive enzymes to help your stomach break down substances in food into molecules that you can absorb. If you are eating a healthful diet, you want your body to actually absorb the nutrients in that healthy (and possibly expensive or laborious-to-grow) food. Enzymes help further break down protein and also fats and carbohydrates. Low stomach acid goes hand-in-hand with low digestive enzymes.

A note on the timing: my doctor, who is working with me on my digestive issues, recommends taking 3 digestive enzymes at the beginning of meals and 3 Betaine HCl capsules after. I aim at taking the latter about 20 minutes after I finish eating so the HCl won’t deactivate the digestive enzymes.

You can take a dropperful of bitters before, during, or after meals.

Let me know in the comments what your experience is with any of this, please.

 

Sacroiliac joint healed!

Way back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot, and Pelvic rehab update: getting bodywork, exercises, kinesiotaping). I haven’t had much to add since then: getting the belt and wearing it nearly 24/7, using the insoles, continuing to gather information, get bodywork, etc., it just takes time.

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect, but it is strong and tight enough that the joint stays in place. Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out. Continue reading

Relieving forward head posture: full body myofascial release (aka Deep Massage)

This is the fourth post in a series about Cate and me partnering in bodywork to relieve her forward head posture. Click here to read the first post, here for the second, here for the third, and here for a special post about the Still Point Inducer.

by Cate Radebaugh

Since I was in Austin for several days early this week, I opted to go to MaryAnn’s on Wednesday instead of Friday. She told me that it was time for a full body myofascial massage and gave me the familiar intake paper with four sketches of a human body — front, back, and both sides — and instructions to circle where I feel discomfort, pain, tension, etc.

It’s always the same for me: neck and shoulders, lower back, and feet — so that’s where I made my circles.

Then MaryAnn went out while I undressed, got on the table, and under the sheets. I’ve had massages before, so I knew about putting my face in the little face holder, but she also had a special pillow with holes in it that I could put my breasts in, and that was wonderful, because typically, they get smooshed between me and the table, which is not so great. With my breasts in a safe space, I felt completely comfortable for the first time ever laying prone on a massage table.

Continue reading

Relieving forward head posture: integrating bodywork techniques, plus, a still point

This is the third post in a series about my bodywork sessions with Cate to relieve forward head posture. Go here for the first post, here for the second.

by Cate Radebaugh

This session on September 30 is hard to write about because it was so fluid. I’d like to start, though, with something I left out of my last post, which is, I have a hard time figuring out where I am on the table. I’m supposed to lay centered on it, but I’m either too far to the left or right at my shoulders and too far the other direction at my hips, and sometimes, the direction I think I’m going in is not the direction I’m actually going in. This is an issue with proprioception*, and probably explains why I bump into things a lot. I don’t know where my body is in space or where my parts are relative to each other.

Anyway, our first task every session is getting me aligned on that table. I keep waiting for MaryAnn to say “goodgodamighty, get straight, Cate,” but so far she hasn’t even sighed.

I don’t know what modalities MaryAnn used in the session*, and I couldn’t recall the sequence of things after I left because the session felt so fluid. One discrete experience flowed into another, except for the first one, which was me on my back while MA held my heels in her hands and pulled on both my legs at the same time. It really does feel like my legs get longer as she pulls on them. Continue reading

Working with forward head: myofascial release

Read the first post in this series here. My notes are at the end of this post, along with a link to the following post. ~ MaryAnn

by Cate Radebaugh

So, I had another ‘forward head position’ appointment with Mary Ann. She is very excited about the new Zero Balancing work she’s learned and briefly contemplated adding that to this session, but decided against it. Myofascial release it was.

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Notice that Cate’s ear is in front of the middle of her shoulder. The SCM runs from behind her ear to her chest.

First, she took a picture of my neck so we can all track my progress.

Then, because this is “take some of your clothes off and cover up with a sheet” work, that’s what I did. (Those sheets are so soft. They’re made of microfiber. I suggest you get some for yourself. Or go do work with Mary Ann, because they’re part of the treat. Now back to the forward head thingy.)

One of the advantages of working with Mary Ann is she shares her knowledge about bodies with her clients as she’s working on them. I feel on speaking terms with some of my muscles now.

Two big ones are the sternocleidomastoids, SCMs for short. They run from my mastoid processes – the two bumps behind my ears at the base of my skull – down my neck and attach to my collarbones and sternum, and are what turn and nod my head. Continue reading

Working with forward head posture: Zero Balancing and more

Note from MaryAnn: This is a guest post by someone I’ve known for nearly a decade. Years have gone by without us seeing each other, and then we reconnect, and it’s a happy occasion. She is a wonderful writer with a fascinating and fascinated mind, a perceptive presence, and a wicked sense of humor.

We initially did a 90-minute craniosacral therapy session with Zero Balancing. Then we did a 30-minute Zero Balancing session that she writes about here. This is the first in a series of posts about her experience receiving bodywork from me to help relieve her forward head posture (and the pain and tension that accompany it) and work with anything else that arises.

Forward head posture is becoming more common with our sedentary, screen-gazing habits. Several of the modalities which I’ve trained in and practiced are very effective at relieving forward head posture, including Zero Balancing, myofascial release/Deep Massage, and craniosacral therapy. And Cate will have homework to do as well.

I hope you enjoy reading these posts as we progress. The bottom of the post contains a link to the following post if you wish to read them consecutively.

by Cate Radebaugh

Over the years, I’ve developed forward head posture. Some of it comes from many hours in front of a computer screen, and obesity and self-image issues haven’t helped any. I recently became aware, though, that carrying my head out so far in front of my body is exhausting, and my neck, shoulders, and upper back are so constricted from the constant weight that they never really relax or rest, even in sleep.

So … I went to see my friend MaryAnn Reynolds to find out if she might be able to help. I’ve already said a little about my first visit* and my second was just as interesting. It was a Zero Balancing session. I think Zero Balancing is a really funny name and an even funnier intent, because I already experience moments of what I think of as zero balance and would just as soon not. MaryAnn’s Zero Balancing is different from that. In fact, it seems to be something of antidote. Continue reading

Therapeutica pillow aids back and side sleeping postures

Even though I’ve had expensive chiropractic work done on my neck and have been told I need to sleep on my back, I’ve always found it difficult to do so. I feel so much more comfortable sleeping on my side and on my stomach, which really puts strain on my neck.

I’m not sure why this is. It just is. I get to sleep well, and I stay asleep well, but I toss and turn a lot trying to get comfortable.

Also, I know from experience and education that the atlanto-occipital joint and the upper cervical area where the neck and head converge is a critical juncture in the body that affects movement, including eye movement. My current chiropractor has actually helped my vision improve. She practices SOT, sacral-occipital technique, which is not mainstream chiropractic but works on the nervous system as much as on the bones.

When I mentioned my difficulty with sleep postures yesterday to Dr. Mary, she showed me a pillow especially designed to help people sleep on their backs and on either side while keeping their necks and heads properly aligned with their spines.

I took a look, read the packaging, tried it, and decided that even though I’m in a frugal phase, I couldn’t afford to not buy one. Back sleeping is so much better for the body, especially the head and neck, but also the internal organs. Not to mention preventing (more) wrinkles.

The packaging also says it helps reduce snoring by keeping critical air passages open.

For back sleeping, the pillow supports the curves of the upper back and cervical vertebrae and has an indention for the back of the head that helps keep it stable.

For side sleeping, it has blocky “wings” that keep the head aligned with the neck. It even apparently has a little “give” to it in just the right places for people who suffer from TMJ pain to sleep more comfortably.

Best of all, these wings come in different heights, depending on the width of your shoulders. Between child-size, petite, average, large, and extra large, there’s a size that fits everyone.

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Average and smaller pillows fit into regular pillowcases; large and extra-large need king pillowcases.

Here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 10.46.34 AMCrazy-looking, huh?

The Therapeutica sleeping pillow was designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic designer. It currently sells for $71 on Amazon. There’s also a travel pillow without the wings that currently sells for $58 that would be good for people who only sleep on their backs.

These prices may change, of course, and if you’re on a budget, you may be able to find these selling for less through other Amazon third-party retailers.

You’re probably waiting to hear what it was like to sleep with it! I’ve only done it one night so far, but here’s my report.

I shifted from my back to each side numerous times, spending more time sleeping on my sides because it felt so darn comfortable. This is new, having my head supported at the right height.

I did sleep on my back occasionally but did not automatically become a back sleeper. I imagine that over time, I’ll become more comfortable back-sleeping.

And I’m extremely happy to say that I did not sleep on my stomach at all.

Today I can get rid of some of the many pillows I had on my bed to attempt to accommodate my various sleep postures. I am really grateful for this find.

Your body language influences your experience

In yoga, we learn that forward bends are calming (think fetal position, child’s pose), while backbends are stimulating. In a yoga class, after backbends, students usually start chattering!

Imagine holding your body upright in a relaxed manner, with the weight appropriately divided between front and back. Let your shoulders surrender to gravity. Imagine doing this with ease and breathing freely.

This is such a simple point that it’s easy to overlook how easy, and powerful, a tool this is to keep in mind. When you’re depressed, make an effort to sit up, and relax. When you’re excited, make an effort to breathe.

Buddhism: 50% of your State of Mind is dependent on your Posture. | elephant journal

For more on how body language influences experience, here’s a TED Talk on the subject. Amy Cuddy is a researcher at the Harvard Business School who shares some fascinating findings and her own story.

I particularly like “fake it ’til you become it” and “tiny tweaks —> BIG CHANGES.

Plus, two minutes. That’s all. Two minutes is all it takes to change your state.

The simplest way to improve your posture

If you’re at all familiar with this blog, I bet you think I’m going to say meditation. Guess what? Ha ha, I’m not!

It’s way simpler than that:

Whenever you’re doing something that does not require use of your hands, turn them so that they’re palm-side up (see the picture above). You also can do it while standing or walking, leaving your arms down at your sides and turning your palms so that they face outward in the direction you’re facing.

This palms-up position may be familiar to committed meditators and yogis who practice shavasana, but it’s foreign to those of us who spend a lot of time at a computer, behind the wheel of a car, holding babies, making lattes, or doing pretty much anything else that requires constant hand use. Even when we’re not using our hands, it’s just habit to sit, walk or stand with our hands facing down or behind us.

Wait for it — there’s a meridian connection: 

In acupuncture, the meridians that run along the inside of the arm, from the chest/underarm to the palm, are Heart, Pericardium and Lung….

Here is just a smattering of the functions each meridian is involved in (there are many more):

  • Heart: breathing, cardiac function, sleep, emotional balance and heat regulation.
  • Pericardium: breathing, blood circulation and upper digestive function.
  • Lung: breathing, immune function, perspiration, body temperature and urination.

…our lifestyles force our hands and arms into an almost constant downward/backward position, creating a tendency to slouch forward. This causes us to cave our upper bodies inward, crunching the Heart, Pericardium and Lung meridians.

Allowing these meridians to flow more freely optimizes their ability to perform their respective functions.

These three meridians are all yin meridians, flowing from the torso to the fingertips.

This is a mudra (energetic gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism). The palms-up mudra, you might have guessed, has to do with receiving energy from spirit or the universe, with allowing. It has to do with being open and surrendering yourself to the Mystery.

Try it when you think about it. Let one or both palms rest facing up, or outward if you’re on your feet. Notice the subtle but significant changes in posture.

Then make it a habit.

Thanks to Sara Calabro for this article.

Self-soothing activities that involve reclining

I just had a brainstorm. What do these things have in common?

  • Lying in a hammock.
  • Soaking in the bathtub.
  • Floating on a raft in a pool or natural body of water.
  • Star-gazing.
  • Watching clouds.
  • Taking a nap.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Sunbathing.
  • Doing restorative yoga poses.

All of them are done either lying down or reclining, and all of them are restful, restorative, self-soothing activities.

Lying down/reclining probably activates our neurology and chemistry to induce relaxation and create a natural high.

I spent some time this past weekend out in nature, lying on my yoga mat with my head propped enough to see and hear my teacher teach, yet able to gaze up into the gorgeous fresh green canopy overhead.

I found it so much more relaxing than sitting.

If you are really in need of shedding some stress, plan on doing some of these things!