If you are lucky enough to have been offered the screening for Bowel Cancer in your Fifties, that uncomfortable camera tube may have shone a light on a few little bulges which you have not been necessarily aware of in your Sigmoid Colon. You may even have been shown one or two of them on the screen after the camera goes around that ouch bend… The bowel wall just weakens a little, causing little herniated sacks and the incidence of this condition is very high as we age, to the point that if we reach our 80s, we will almost all have it (50% of 60-year-olds and 10% of 40-year-olds, just in case you aren’t 80 and think you are safe)!
These pesky little pockets may cause you no bother for the rest of your life if you treat them right. This is where Yoga, Lifestyle Choices, especially Dietary Choices make a really big difference to the outcome of the disease. I usually like carrots to motivate me to change, but when it comes to diet, I need a few sticks. In case you give in to temptation as easily as me, let’s start with the place you don’t want to go – with the progression of the disease in which those little bulges get focal matter embedded in them and a nasty, pussy mess arises. This is Diverticulitis (‘itis’ being inflammation and infection of an area). At their very worst, these infected pouches can lead to an abscess or even rupture of the bowel! We don’t want to go here because of the pain and discomfort involved and the pretty hefty treatment required!
So what causes the Diverticula to form; how do you know if you’ve got it, why do we all have it and what can be done to halt the progression of the dis-ease?
Well… generally speaking, it’s our Western diet of course. Not enough fibre, and not enough water intake (and too much caffeine and carbonated drinks) and far too much constipation-causing food (including Dairy products). If you are Hypothyroid, have Parkinsons Disease or Multiple sclerosis and /or you are on certain medications, you’re adding some potent poo hardening properties into the mix. Hard stools mean a bit of straining – and we all know what that does for your pelvic floor….yes indeed….to be avoided at all costs! How do you know if you are constipated? Well, the webmd.com definition is this:
“you are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:
- Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
- Hard stools more than 25% of the time
- Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
- Two or fewer bowel movements in a week.”
Don’t be fooled however if you produce marvellous “Super Poo’s” (thank you to our class member Liz Fairclough for this marvellous definition of a beautiful big poop that lands with one big dollop into the bowl, requiring only one swift wipe). You still may be vulnerable, especially if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome as this is co-morbid with the condition. Incidentally, according to our super special class member, Linda Bulliman (Pelvic Floor specialist until her retirement 2 years ago) :
“ if you are wiping and wiping after a poo, it’s a sign of incomplete evacuation”.
….just so’s you know!
The other problem is our propensity in the West for sitting down too much and not moving enough which causes stasis of the bowel content. We don’t normally do twisting movements much in everyday life and this is where the physical aspects of Yoga postures, poses and flows come in. Gently drawing the side body, and the digestive elements in and out of twisting positions is like a spa holiday for the bowel and this week in Yoga we will focus our practice on these sometimes really releasing poses. Throw in a bit of side bending and bob’s your Uncle – or at least Mr Super Poo is back in town. Twists and side bends can be done stood, sat, sat on a chair, kneeling, kneeling up or lying down, even on your belly and we will be trying all sorts in class this week. Not only that but the kind of Pranayama (breathing exercises) that uses abdominal muscles WITHOUT the over breathing that can instigate anxiety (which of course is even worse for your bowel). Just as a little tip, make sure you leave 3 – 4 hours between eating and taking this week’s Yoga classes because we are going to give your bowel a gentle work out!
On top of this, we can add our tendency psychologically to “not let go” of hurts and disappointments in life. This is chronically bad for the psyche and for our body as we are developing a tendency to hold on to things, to avoid “letting go” and to surrender to what life brings. It’s a tall order to let go of our fear of facing feelings and to move on from past mistakes (our own and others) but it’s worth seeking some support, especially if you are presenting with some “holding on” in the bowel department…
Just to complicate things, you may not know you have Diverticula disease (though you would certainly know if you have it’s infective cousin, Diverticulitis because of the pain on the left side of the abdomen, near the rib cage, in an acute attack). You may just have a little tenderness over the affected area or the odd abdominal cramp which you shouldn’t ignore. However, since the incidence in the West is so high, it won’t hurt to take on board a few of these Lifestyle tips in order to prevent this seemingly inevitable disease from progressing.
Here is where Yoga provided by a qualified mental health professional can help. From a psychological point of view, our classes are structured by me. I am a Retired Senior Lecturer in Psychology and know a thing or two about how to release stuck emotions. For instance, how to release disappointments, grief and sadness and learn to let go by controlling the monkey mind that is determined to hold on to old patterns of thinking. Each week in Yoga classes we practice together and learn tips of letting go of long-held resentments and a natural resistance to accepting life exactly the way it is! We create a safe space to let go of tensions and allow any emotions to come up in a very safe environment. We don’t allow any walk-ins to our classes and each person has a long consult with me before they can join one of our groups so that the environment for everybody stays extremely safe and confidential.
Don’t worry if you suffer from Diarrhoea-predominant IBS. The class won’t make you worse. In fact, the gentle twisting movements we will be doing are super soothing for your bowel. I am also qualified to teach you nutrition and we will have a chat in class about how to make Mr SuperPoo and wave goodbye to your nutrient-sucking condition! It’s the usual culprits in the Western diet that contribute to all things unsatisfactory in the Poo department – Gluten, Wheat, Dairy – all irritants for the bowel but present in our everyday food plate. At one time, people with Diverticula disease were told to avoid nuts and seeds so that they didn’t easily become stuck in the pockets. Now though, the consumption of these fibre rich foods are encouraged unless the disease has developed into Diverticulitis, in which case, whilst the gut recovers from the onslaught, a low fibre diet will be advised by your physician.
Of course, I would also encourage you to mix and match our timetable and get some cracking fun exercise too doing our Dance Fitness for Older Adult classes. So before you slip on to your trusty couch, clutching a hot water bottle, have a word with one of the team about adding more activity from our timetable to yours! The movements are all safe and we demonstrate high and low impact options using a team of demonstrators at every class. You’ll be safe, you’ll have fun and you will help keep this common condition at bay.