I used to joke that I had an iron stomach. No allergies, no foods I could not tolerate. All of this despite the fact that I´d endured a long-term eating disorder in my youth. I felt so very lucky that I´d had no after effects… But, I was wrong. I found out a year ago that I have a hiatus hernia (this is when part of the stomach protrudes through the hiatus which is the opening in the diaphragm which separates the chest cavity from the abdomen). My late abuelita also had one, so it could also be hereditary.
The hernia, along with esophagitis, was discovered thanks to an endoscopy. It was performed along with a colonoscopy, which uncovered diverticulosis (pockets that form in the digestive tract) and an extremely large dysplastic (precancerous) polyp in the colon, which was removed. That finding helped me deal with with what I now know are symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). After all, the symptoms were what drove a battery of tests that may have saved my life, as precancerous and cancerous colorectal polyps are usually asymptomatic.
The gastroenterologist told me that, had the polyp not been discovered, down the line we’d have been discussing cancer and cancer treatments. Although he recommended a colon resection, I visited a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida, who told me I may not need surgery. I didn´t end up needing it. The rest of the polyp was once again removed via colonoscopy. Now I joke that I have a PhD getting colonoscopies (I´ve had four so far and I´m up for another soon), and even made a video about my experience to maybe help dispel the fear of undergoing one.
My particular IBS symptoms
So, what were the irritable bowel symptoms that led me to the above findings? Around two years ago, I developed bouts of severe (so severe that it didn’t respond to laxatives) constipation, bloating, gas and indigestion, followed by bouts of explosive diarrhea and all of the above as well. It was crippling both physically and emotionally. It made it hard to be in a good mood, to be productive, to travel … And it seemed unrelated to specific foods, to make matters worse. I became afraid to eat anything.
I will never forget how sick I felt during my first classes last September when I started my yoga teacher training. I truly thought I would not make it through the day. I did of course, but with much discomfort. My first meditation retreat was tough too because I had a flare-up that lasted all weekend and then some.
How I overcame my IBS symptoms
Almost a year later I am, for the most part, symptom-free. I do get flare-ups here and there but they are not as intense or long-lasting.
The biggest key to my controlling the symptoms has been to destress. I was already practicing asana yoga when the symptoms started, but I suppose my gut was just not relaxing along with the rest of me.
Meditation, yoga nidra, mindfulness, eating without doing anything else (no looking at phone or computer, nada), taking a daily probiotic and finding the right Ayurveda supplements for my specific body type have all played an important part in my recovery. Ayurveda is a lifestyle based on ancient Indian practices and is complementary to yoga. I learned about it in yoga teacher training and I was compelled to at least give it a try.
I took an online test to find out what my dosha or body type was, and found that my dosha is Vata-Kapha (mostly Vata). Shatavari and Triphala Guggulu by Banyan Botanicals (purchased with my own money), is what I’m on now and I swear by them (this works for me, you’d need to find out what your dosha is and try for yourself).
Anyhow, that’s my irritable bowel syndrome story so far. I hope it helps someone feel less alone. Being that my IBS was brought on by extreme stress during a tough time, I had to teach my gut to unlearn the stress response. I eventually went from a fight or flight feeling to a rest and digest attitude about life.
I´m in no way implying that stress is the trigger for everyone´s gut issues, or that you will get better by learning how to relax. But I do think it might help just a little.