Correcting a Hiatal Hernia

This article is a continuation of Hiatal Hernia: Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness

A hiatal hernia is a mechanical problem. You can't fix it just by taking nutritional supplements. You have to mechanically manipulate the stomach downward from the diaphragm. The handout on the facing page offers several suggestions on how this can be done. All of the listed techniques actually work. Feel free to duplicate and share this handout.

In addition to the techniques listed in the handout, let me offer a few additional ideas. First, I have found dandelion flower essence to be very helpful in relaxing the muscle tension at the solar plexus that accompanies a hiatal hernia. There is often a noticeable relaxing of the area and a deepened breathing after just one dose.

Massaging the abdomen will also help this problem. Concentrate on massaging downward from below the rib cage. This can be done from a standing position or while lying down.

Practicing deep breathing will also help fix a hiatal hernia. I often have to coach clients on how to breathe. Concentrate on pushing your belly out as you breathe in. As you exhale, suck in your belly and pull your diaphragm upward. Exhale as deeply as you can. This helps release the diaphragm and make the next breath fuller and deeper. It may even help release the hiatal hernia. Exhaling fully may also help the stomach to slide back down into place. Since practicing exhaling more deeply my lung capacity has greatly increased. This is another trick I learned from DeAnna Hansen (developer of the Love Your Body Beautiful self-massage techniques).

Dealing with Causes

The question naturally arises, what causes a hiatal hernia? The problem is typically attributed to physical issues, such as excess weight, pregnancy, lifting heavy objects, constipation and frequent coughing. I've observed that a large percentage of women in their 8-9th month of pregnancy develop this problem. Many obese people also have this problem. However, those who seem to have it the worst are usually very thin, not pregnant or overweight, which suggests other causes.

Jack Ritchason and other natural healers often attribute the problem to intestinal gas and bloating putting pressure on the stomach, but I think that this gas and bloating are not primary causes of the problem. They may aggravate it, but they aren't the cause.

Stress, however, is a big factor. I read once that people with hiatal hernias often have a hard time expressing anger. They “swallow” it instead of expressing it or finding constructive ways of dealing with it. I believe this is getting closer to the real cause of a hiatal hernia, since I have found that doing anger release work will often relax the stomach immediately.

The Hiatal Hernia and Gut Instincts

For a long time I accepted that idea that the hiatal hernia was linked with suppressed anger, but I discovered that there is a deeper problem at work—not paying attention to one's guts. In other words, not listening to one's instincts.

You've probably heard the phrase “gut instinct.” Well we all have gut instincts because we have a “gut brain.” The nervous system and the digestive system develop from the same embryonic tissue and the guts produce neurotransmitters just like the brain. There are also more nerves sending messages from the intestines to the brain than there are nerves sending messages from the brain to the intestines.

Most people in modern Western society don't pay much attention to the messages their guts are sending. But, guts can and do “speak” to us, and we can learn to listen by paying attention to the solar plexus.

The solar plexus is the soft area just underneath the breastbone and above the stomach. This area marks the place where a network of nerves radiating outward in all directions like the rays of the sun, hence, the term solar plexus. At the Las Vegas exhibition Bodies (which displays actually bodies and organs preserved through a special plastic) I got a chance to see the solar plexus nerves and it really is a fascinating nervous structure.

In muscle testing, a muscle weakens when something is “wrong” and tests strong when things are “good” or “right.” The solar plexus is an internal system of muscle testing that is constantly responding to the same subtle influences one picks up with muscle testing. The solar plexus tenses when something is wrong and relaxes when something is all right. The tension makes us hold our breath and the relaxation helps us breathe deeply.

Native people learned to depend on this “knot” in the stomach to warn them of danger and guide them to safety. Soldiers in war often report that learning to pay attention to this has saved their lives by warning them of danger.

You can observe the solar plexus response at work by doing an experiment with essential oils. Get a variety of essential oils and find a “test” subject. Have the person stand up straight and close their eyes. Then, pass an open bottle of some essential oil under their nose so they can smell it.

If the oil has a positive effect, you'll see them relax a bit, breathe more deeply and lean forward slightly. If the oil has a negative effect on them, you'll see them tense a bit, breathe more shallowly and lean slightly backwards. This observable reaction will center on the response of the solar plexus to the oil. Try several different oils to observe different reactions.

Body versus Brain

Most people in Western society live primarily in their heads. In fact, nearly all of us have received the message since childhood that the body and its feelings or emotions are not to be trusted. As a result of this training, we learn to live in our heads, believing the things we have been taught and ignoring the messages we receive from our body and our emotions.

In fact, Western society places the mind as pre-eminent and the body and heart as secondary. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” and Western civilization has considered thinking to be the seat of being ever since. Traditional Christianity generally considers the body to be evil and the soul (or mind) to be pure. This is true even in “new age” circles, where people are taught that we are “mind” and the body is an illusion.

Even in the human potential movement, the body and its feelings are given a “second place” rating. Those who talk about the “Law of Attraction” (as discussed in the DVD, The Secret and the movie What the Bleep?) typically say that thoughts create feelings and feelings create actions. In other words, feelings and the physical body are just effects—mind is cause. Even in modern science, which teaches that mind or soul are just chemical processes in the physical body, the idea that the body and its feelings have something to tell us is scoffed at.

Wherever we look there appears to be a universal bias against the body and emotions. Culturally, then, we live in our heads and trust “book knowledge” over subjective experience. No wonder we don't listen to our “guts.”

I'd like to make the case that body, mind and spirit are equally important, completely interactive, and that the mind is not the only source of “knowing.” Yes, we can learn and do things through our mind, but the guts (which represent the body) and the heart (which represents the spirit or soul), know things the head does not.

There is emerging scientific evidence for this viewpoint. Research is showing that we have a “gut brain” and that every part of our body “thinks” or has intelligence. However, rather than talking about the science, let me give you a practical example from my own life about the value of listening to one's guts.

A Personal Experience with Listening to My Guts

About a year or two after I first learned about the solar plexus response I was driving back to Roosevelt from Salt Lake City here in Utah. It was late at night and I was traveling in a friend's car. Right after leaving Heber City, my solar plexus knotted up. I knew this meant that something was wrong, but I didn't know what.

I started asking questions mentally, “Is it this? Is it that?” The knot in my stomach just kept getting tighter and tighter, and I was getting more and more concerned. What was wrong? After about five minutes of trying to figure it out, I suddenly saw the ‘real' gas gauge. What I thought was the gas gauge was actually the temperature gauge. The gas gauge was on empty.

As soon as I realized I was nearly out of gas, the knot in my stomach relaxed and I breathed a “sigh” of relief. (That's how your solar plexus lets you know you've got it right.) I turned the car around and went back to Heber City to fill up the tank.

It's about 80 miles from Heber City to Roosevelt, and there is only one gas station on that entire stretch of road—and it isn't open at night. I would have run out of gas on a lonely stretch of road in the middle of nowhere late at night if my solar plexus hadn't alerted me to the fact that something was wrong.

Since that experience, I've learned to “pay attention” to my solar plexus more and it has helped me out in many situations. I believe the solar plexus is the body's way of “talking” to you. As with muscle testing, the body is sensing the vibrations of influences around you and picking up information through the various senses. When the body senses vibrations or inputs that are dangerous, it responds through the solar nerve plexus and we “feel” something in our abdomen.

Besides listening to the solar plexus, where the body talks to us, I also believe that we should listen to the heart, where our emotions talk to us. The heart also produces hormones and neurotransmitters and thus, “thinks.” My heart has told me things many times that my head couldn't understand, but things have always turned out better when I've listened to my heart and not allowed my head to override it.

Both the heart and the body are able to sense things that the physical brain doesn't know how to process into words. Words are secondary to experience, simply being a representation of experience. We should trust experience over words and the subjective experience of our own heart and gut instincts over the word-based knowledge that we were programmed with since childhood.

Gut Knowing and the Hiatal Hernia

It's time to wrap this all up and explain what I believe to be the underlying cause of the hiatal hernia and why it appears to be universally present in chronic illness. Let's just suppose for a moment that I am correct when I say that the solar plexus response is our internal “muscle testing” sensor that is designed to tell us what is good for us and what we should avoid.

Every time we go to do something that is harmful to our body (and thus to our health) the solar plexus is going to tense up. This pulls the stomach upward and tenses it against the diaphragm. If we were listening, we would look around and try to figure out where the harmful influence was. As soon as we identified the source of harm or danger, the solar plexus would relax again.

However, we don't listen. We just ignore the message. Thus, day after day we are doing things that cause our solar plexus to tense up. Over time, this builds into a chronic tension that interferes with breathing and digestion. At the least, we develop chronic tension in the solar plexus. At worst, we develop a hiatal hernia and its attending problems. The constant harm we do to the body also leads to chronic illness.

If we were paying attention to what the body is trying to tell us, we would be able to avoid most harmful influences. However, we have been taught to override the wisdom of the body and replace it with the “learning” of the brain. Few people, even in the natural health movement, actually try to listen to their body. It's all about “head” knowledge.

It takes courage to follow your instincts. It takes real courage to chose to not do something that everyone else says is “perfectly safe” when your instinct tells you it's not. It takes courage to not fall in with the group—family, friends, religion, societyčand make choices that are different because of what your instincts and heart are telling you. This is especially true when you can't logically justify why you are making those choices, when it's just a “feeling” you have.

That's why they call it “guts.” Courage takes “guts.” Do you have the “guts” to listen to the wisdom of your body and heart? Do you have the courage to make a choice that you can't logically justify because something simply “feels” right or wrong? That's really having guts. I encourage you to stop ignoring the tension in your solar plexus and start doing the things that allow it to relax. I guarantee that both your digestion and your health will improve.

Make sure to read the final part of this series Self-Help Corrections for a Hiatal Hernia