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The more I prescribe this technique and observe the results, the more convinced I am that everyone should be doing it, as the causes of upward-moving vata are so ubiquitous in our culture today.
In Ayurveda, there is a condition called upward-moving vata or udvarta. There are many reasons for this condition, including stress and various forms of indigestion.What is interesting about this condition is that when vata goes up from the pelvis instead of down, it brings with it toxins from the liver and large intestines to the head and neck that were ear-marked for the toilet.
What’s worse is that the upward-moving vata can cause the stomach to adhere itself to the underside of the diaphragm, rendering the stomach unable to digest hard-to-digest foods like wheat, dairy and fatty foods.
The short list of digestive related issues from this upward-moving vata are:
- Hay fever
- Occasional headaches
- Brain fog
- Sore throats
- Occasional heartburn
- Occasional constipation
- Weight gain
- Gluten intolerance
- Dairy intolerance
- Achy neck and shoulders
- Issues with the eyes, ears, nose and throat
To remedy this, there is a simple home therapy I call “stomach pulling,” in which the stomach is pulled down away from the diaphragm, freeing the stomach to digest optimally once again.
The Stomach – An Organ that Likes to Hang
The diaphragm is a big flat muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdomen and regulates breathing depth and patterns. The stomach is designed to hang underneath the diaphragm. But after years of:
- upward-moving vata
- shallow breathing (through the mouth)
- lack of exercise
- lack of yoga, and
… the diaphragm can begin to tighten and pull the stomach up towards itself.
If the stomach presses up on the diaphragm, over time it can cause a condition called a hiatal hernia, which is when the stomach actually pushes up on the diaphragm with steady pressure and part of the stomach herniates through the diaphragm.
Before the esophagus becomes the stomach, the esophagus travels through the diaphragm. Right where the esophagus passes through the diaphragm, there is a sphincter called the lower esophageal sphincter, which opens and closes to allow food through and keep the digestive acids from refluxing up into the esophagus, which can burn or irritate the esophageal lining. When the stomach adheres to the underside of the diaphragm, a small part of the stomach can eventually slip through the lower esophageal sphincter, which not only allows acid to reflux into the esophagus by altering the function of the lower esophageal sphincter, it also compromises the total function of the stomach.
But years before the stomach herniates through the diaphragm, in the case of upward-moving vata, the upward moving pressure of the stomach on the diaphragm can cause the diaphragm to tighten and the top side of the stomach to adhere to the lower side of the diaphragmatic wall. When this happens, instead of the stomach hanging freely to contract and digest food completely, half of it is stuck to the wall of the diaphragm, rendering the stomach unable to contract and digest efficiently (in a healthy digestion process, the stomach must contract to empty itself of food and liquid).
If half of the stomach is bound to the diaphragm and is unable to hang freely, the stomach simply will not produce the acid it needs to digest hard-to-digest foods and proteins like wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and nuts, among others.
The stomach acid production process sends a critical message to the pancreas, liver and gallbladder to secrete pancreatic enzymes and bile to get ready to digest. Bile also neutralizes the acids getting ready to be dumped into the small intestine by the stomach. If there is insufficient acid production in the stomach, there will not be sufficient bile and pancreatic enzyme secreted into the small intestine, which are required for digestion, assimilation and detox. This will further dial down digestive strength to the point where a host of digestive concerns will eventually ensue.
Trouble at the Junction Point
As illustrated above, with half of the stomach stuck to the diaphragmatic wall, the stomach cannot contract to move the foods through the stomach and out into the small intestine for the next phase of digestion. This can result in foods, fats and acids lingering in the stomach, causing irritation to the stomach wall and further signaling the stomach not to produce the needed amount of acid to digest the food efficiently.
How to Tell if Your Stomach is Stuck
To determine if you have this condition, take your thumb and press deeply under the left side of your ribcage and see if it is tender to touch. If you feel sore in this area you might have a stomach that is beginning to adhere to the diaphragmatic wall and it may responsible for many of the digestive or upward-moving vata health concerns that I have mentioned above. You may also want to poke under the right side of the ribcage as well and see if that area is sore. The liver hangs closely to the diaphragmatic surface on the right side; if it is sore, you may need to treat the right side as well.
Stomach Pulling Self-Corrective Technique
For years, I only gave this technique to folks with severe heartburn or a hiatal hernia. Now, I realize that due to stress, poor diet, eating on the run, and poor breathing habits, most people have a stomach that is functioning inefficiently due to this upward-moving vata.
I think everyone should know how to do this very simple at-home procedure to maintain the strength of your digestion. Many folks spend years avoiding certain foods and the list of “do not eat” foods just keeps growing. Stomach pulling gives you an incredible digestive boost. It take a little while to master this technique but I encourage everyone to learn it. If you do not digest wheat, dairy or fatty foods well, this is a must.
Stomach pulling will actually pull the stomach down and break up the adhesions between the diaphragm and the stomach. In the video included in Part II of my series on Acidic Digestion, I demonstrated a lying down version of Stomach pulling.
Today, I want to demonstrate (in the video above) and explain a simpler version of stomach pulling done while seated. Please watch the associated video to see how to practice this technique. Here is a simple description to help you understand the video instruction.
Step 1. Sit in a chair with a back rest, so your stomach muscles can relax. Take your left thumb and poke just under the ribcage on your left side. Use your right hand on top of your left to help put more pressure of the left thumb to push in more deeply. Soreness is an indication that you need this and that you are in the correct spot.
Step 2. With your thumb pressing into your stomach just under the ribcage, begin to lean forward. This will soften the tummy and allow you to push more deeply into the abdomen and stomach.
Step 3. While your right hand and your right thumb are pushing in just below the ribcage, begin to pull down towards your navel, in effect pulling your stomach downwards and separating it from the diaphragm.
Step 4. At the beginning of an inhale, as you continue pulling down on your stomach with your thumbs, begin to lean back in your chair. (A rocker works best. Be sure the stomach muscles do not contract while you lean back). This will extend your back, leveraging the ribcage upwards as you pull the stomach downwards in the direction of the navel.
Step 5. At the end of the inhale, lean forward again in your chair and exhale as you go all the way forward. Press your left thumb in as deeply in as possible, back it up with the right thumb and reinstate the motion of pulling down. Continue alternating leaning forward and back, coordinating the exhale with flexion and the inhale with extension.
Why the breath: As you inhale, the diaphragm is contracting, the ribcage is moving upwards and the stomach is naturally being pulled down away from the diaphragm, supporting your action.
Step 6. Continue this exercise as you work your way across the left (and right, if you felt soreness there) side of the ribcage.
Do this for 2 minutes twice a day until soreness is gone.
As I mentioned above, I really believe that everyone should be doing this technique, or at least try it periodically to make sure there isn’t soreness that you are unaware of above the stomach, liver and gallbladder. Doing so will break up all kinds of adhesions and free up space in the abdominal cavity, helping you feel lighter and less dense.
NOTE: While this is a valuable exercise for anyone who feels soreness in the stomach (on the left side) or liver/gallbladder area (on the right side), be cautious to never overdo it. Use pressure that is easily tolerated. Too much pressure can bruise the area and cause it to become even sorer over time.
Stop Stomach Adhesion Before It Happens:
A few simple and deceptively effective tools can help keep your stomach hanging the way it likes to:
- Nasal Breathing Exercise: Deep nasal breathing during exercise is one of the best ways to expand the diaphragm and create space in the abdominal cavity.
- Sun Salutations: This series of yoga asanas alternates extension and flexion, naturally stretching and massaging the region around the diaphragm and stomach junction.
- Relaxing When You Eat: Eating in a relaxed and spacious way is one of the most effective ways over time to redirect vata back downwards.
- Eating with the Seasons: Eating the appropriate foods for the season minimizes undue digestive strain, encourages healthy elimination and thereby keeps the vata moving down.
- 28-Day Ayurveda Challenge: Learn how to live a health-supportive lifestyle that naturally incorporates diet and lifestyle tips to help avoid stomach adhesion.