Wednesday, 13 January 2016
How Shiatsu can help individuals affected by IBS improve their perceived Quality of Life?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has long been a public health issue with more individuals - adults and children - affected every day, with more women than men.
Some people say IBS is a disease of industrialization and urbanization; but is this true? What the today science has to say about it? Has the western medicine been able to tackle it so far? How Complementary and Alternative Therapies (CAMs) have been involved in treating it?
The first challenge was to define a common way of diagnosing IBS as a wide and complex range of signs & symptoms seems to be associated directly and indirectly to this disease. This is how the Rome Diagnostic Criteria came into place allowing the “global health watch dog” to measure uniformly the evolution of this disease and provide GPs with an appropriate set of tools to confirm individual diagnosis.
The second challenge was and still is to understand what causes IBS whether we are talking about “genetics, immune factors, environmental influences, inflammatory and infective agents, neurological and psychological factors, hypersensitivity to food and to bile salts and altered intestinal microbiota and permeability; all of them influencing the brain-gut axis, leading to abnormal Gastrointestinal function and motility”. Reference http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4112881/
The third challenge and consequence of the first two was and still is the definition of a successful treatment protocol whether we are talking about pharmacological, psychological, nutritional and body therapies. None of these therapies individually provides 100% resolution of this health issue but there may be an opportunity here to investigate a patient-customised and integrated therapy protocol.
As a Shiatsu Therapist, the emphasis of this article is about understanding how TCM-based Body Therapy can help individuals affected by IBS improve their perceived Quality of Life.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), irritable bowel syndrome is understood to be mainly a disorder of the Liver and Spleen energy or Qi.
In the case of Liver Qi Stagnation, the physical symptoms include abdominal pain and distention, constipation, and the emotional symptoms consist of frustration, high stress level, and irritability.
In the case of Spleen Qi Deficiency the physical symptoms include abdominal distention and discomfort, diarrhoea or loose stools, and the emotional symptoms consist of tendency to worry, fatigue, and poor appetite.
In Zen Shiatsu Therapy, irritable bowel syndrome energetically involves also Liver and Spleen, but Stomach, Large and Small intestines imbalances can also occur. We also believe that the emotional and mental component of IBS often reflects a lifestyle which does not accommodate the client’s own natural rhythm.
In the case of Stomach Qi imbalance, signs of no appetite, over eating, eating quickly, craving for sweets may occur, as well as difficulty to give and receive support from oneself and others.
Large Intestine Qi imbalance may be understood by a poor circulation in the lower abdomen (Hara) resulting from congestion and stagnation, the difficulty of grieving and letting go of the past, depression or social isolation.
As for Small Intestine Qi imbalance, it may relates to low energy, nervousness and anxiety, as well as difficulty to assimilate new ideas or to accept unpleasant memories.
What intrigues me is that there are currently scientific studies investigating the “gut-brain axis” and what they say about it, resonates with my experience so far in seeing clients diagnosed with IBS.
“The brain-gut axis links emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral functioning of the Gastrointestinal tract. The digestive tract and the brain develop from closely related parts of the embryo, and as a result they communicate extensively via nerves such as the Vagus nerve, and share similar nerve endings and chemicals that relay signals and messages (neurotransmitters). This is how stress, thought, emotion, and psychological problems can affect gut sensation, feeling, motility, and secretion. Conversely, sensations arising in the gut can affect the central brain, leading to pain or to changes in mood and behaviour.” Reference http://www.gastroparesisclinic.org/causes.php?pageId=1162&moduleId=202
Indeed, what we do with Shiatsu is working with the parasympathetic mode of the nervous system, which in return signals the brain to relax and open up the body, hence giving space for the energy, blood and fluids to flow freely and overcome physiological and psychological blockages.
By unlocking these blockages we create an opportunity for the body systems to selfheal and reconnect the body as a whole with the mind, which consequently changes the perception of pain and discomfort into a positive awareness of the natural regulating function of the body.
This body/mind awareness is key in the healing process as it allows the individual to understand oneself holistically, to perceive what is physiologically and psychologically healthy for oneself and eventually make the necessary adjustment in one’s own life for the benefit of a sustainable change.
The clients with IBS who I have seen so far, have been benefiting from Shiatsu physically as the pain lowered, emotionally as they realised they could take an active role in getting better and mentally as they were shifting the focus of their life towards something more positive and constructive.