‘I tried a stomach massage to help my digestion and bloating, here’s what went down’
There was a lot of tummy rumbles.
Can an ancient Mayan massage technique help with IBS? We put it to the test.
When you think of gut health what comes to mind? Is it irritable bowel syndrome, bloating or constipation? What about gas, allergies, leaky or itchy gut? It all sounds pretty dire but it’s not all probiotics, fermented foods and good digestion for most of us. In fact, one in five Australians suffer from IBS, including me.
Thankfully gut health has never been more relatable or talked about. Which means there’s an array of new, improved and traditional cures accessible to everyone – and I’ve tried most of them. I hacked my diet, tried reducing my stress levels and switched up my workout routine. But the best solution I’ve found so far is through Traditional Chinese Medicine, which you can read about here. It’s an ongoing process and something I need to keep on top of. I am partial to a cheese platter and a good glug of wine on the weekend, where I end up so bloated, gassy and sore. But nonetheless the week starts over and you get back on track.
The Mayan massage
It was after one of these weekend indulgences, where I was typing ‘digestion-boosting tricks and treatments’ into Google’s search bar when I came across Arvigo Maya Abdominal Therapy Massage. As a big fan of alternative therapies and holistic treatments I was intrigued – the ancient Mayan abdominal massage techniques were developed by Dr. Rosita Arvigo based on her time with a Mayan healer. It’s used to address organ position and helps restore the body back to it’s natural balance by increasing blood, lymph, nerve and chi energy flow and is said to help remove congestion. So I decided to give it a go.
I book in for the Arvigo Maya Abdominal Therapy (at BodyBright) where owner and massage therapist Mel Clare advises me to limit coffee to one or none the day of treatment as well as keeping lunch light. I go for avocado on toast and a coffee (obviously). Before our treatment Mel gets to know me, my digestive patterns, hormonal fluctuations and even what’s going on in my life. She tells me that our core is where we hold a lot of emotion so if I feel overcome during the treatment I should be open to letting it go. Mostly used for fertility, endometriosis and even period or pelvic pain, it makes sense that these are all connected. “The massage also helps hormone regulation and the endocrine system,” explains Mel. “Hormones are chemical substances which require good ‘flow’ to be transported around the body. The Maya massage is very effective treatment for improving the menstrual cycle, pelvic pain, position of the uterus and fertility concerns.”
When I ask her how to massage works she explains, “It assists the bodies inherent ability to heal itself. The abdominal sacral treatment can help realign organs, particularly the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems by releasing congestion and removing adhesions. This facilitates optimal blood flow, lymphatic flow and healthy organ function.”
Here’s what happened
After a dash to the bathroom I lay face down on the bed and she gets to work on my sacral and lower back, opening up and releasing the tension around my pelvis. She then moves to my sit bones and tail bones – really getting right up in there to loosen the muscles. From here, I switch over to lay face up and start to hear my stomach rumble. Mel uses the towels I’m lying on to lift up each side of my body and gently shakes me to “jiggle” and relax my organs before starting on my diaphragm.
“Where there is restriction, there is loss of function,” explains Mel. “Restriction might occur post-surgery (scar tissue), through injury or chronic stress. With our busy lives, we spend a fair amount of time in a state of ‘fight or flight’ and put very simply, this stress and emotion tightens the diaphragm, putting a squeeze on our aorta and vena cava, restricting the natural flow of blood to our entire body. Once the diaphragm relaxes, we improve the five systems of flow.”
Then, she uses a combination of long clock-wise strokes and shorter vertical strokes on and around my tummy. At first it’s a little weird, especially if you’ve never had an abdominal massage (or colonic, for that matter). Our stomachs aren’t used to being touched and are usually not out on display but after the relaxation kicks in you begin to let go. In some areas where pressure is applied on certain organs – like my stomach and intestine I feel a short burst of nausea but otherwise I’m constantly dipping in and out of meditative relaxation – with more stomach grumbling.
At the end of the massage Mel uses a technique called ‘closing of the bones’, a healing Mexican tradition where soft cloths gently wrap feet, hands, torso and head to cocoon your body and mimic feeling in the womb. It was so yummy. And snug.
Find your flow
I wasn’t expecting the treatment to be so spiritual or grounding but afterwards I felt really reset. Later that night I had a bowel movement, too! I woke up the next day after a really good, deep sleep and my usual morning bloat was gone. I felt light, airy and clear. It was like the ultimate self-care treatment – both relaxing and health boosting.
Mel even mentioned my cold feet! Which in TCM shows that poor blood flow and qi energy stagnation lead to indigestion. By opening up and nourishing from the diaphragm to the pelvis it allows blood to flow more freely and gets everything moving. It makes sense!