I apologize for the bait and switch, but I had to get your attention somehow. This blog is about how I accidentally discovered my own immune-boosting powers deep within a gut that I hated. It’s about your inner medicine chest.
I am not a nutritionist, and I rarely give any advice on diet except “drink plenty of water.” Perhaps my own history of disordered eating is why I don’t. I can remember reading anything and everything that held the keys to weight loss and staying thin for way too many years. Those were years of tumult and inner conflict, and it wasn’t until I started truly sensing my own appetite, along with feeling my deeper feelings of craving, coping, loss and anger, that I was able to heal my feeding phobias. So I pledged to not contribute to the dietary information mayhem that is available.
Abdominal Massage and Healing What Hurts
But I do want to share with you something I learned during those years of starving and bingeing. If you’ve followed my blog for the past 6 years, you know that I am a huge fan of self-massage (in fact, I’m writing a book about it!). And my favorite area to explore is my core. I learned to reclaim my guts through abdominal massage. Unbeknownst to me, the gut massage that I experimented with in my dorm rooms during college to heal my inner pain was boosting my immune system and my sense of self-worth.
During my college years, when I was an active bulimic, I was also a dancer and yogini. I remember not really having a great sense of balance, and felt like my own core was missing. When I told my yoga teacher about not being able to sense my gut, she recommended that I lay my belly over a sandbag shaped like a hamburger bun that she had at her studio. It was exceedingly uncomfortable and brought me to tears. I knew that the discomfort I felt was in direct proportion to the trauma I was creating with bingeing and purging. I needed to address this pain on every level.
Back in my own dorm room, I rolled a towel into that same shape and began my yoga practice every day with deep breathing into the intense discomfort emanating from my belly. This practice helped me find a new sense of center and, happily, it helped me heal on many physical levels as well. Over the years, I experimented with different objects to help heal my gut, and ultimately settled on a grippy pliable air-filled ball that placed less pressure on my viscera than the rolled-up towel. Lying on a soft, pliable ball while breathing into it may seem like an awkward way to fight a cold, but lodging it into your core just might be better than your mom’s chicken soup.
The Immune Response and Deep Breathing
The gut area is the most abundant site in your body for lymph. Your lymph system stores the majority of your disease-fighting cells. Your lymphatic ducts and tubing create an odd, one-way highway; there is no upward movement out of the ducts and tubes other than being pressed and squeezed through motion, position, palpation or muscular contractions. Motion surrounding your lymph ducts helps propel those disease-fighting cells into your bloodstream, where they can then fight off infection.
Your abdominal lymph is loaded with immune-rich cells. The white blood cells within it have been highly sensitized by the gut’s bacterial environment and thus are the superheroes of your lymphatic system. Helping your gut lymph move north into the larger blood vessels is not the easiest proposition. You can do so by inverting your body or doing intense abdominal contractions and mobilizations, or you can use a squishy soft ball for self-massage.
Sources and More Information:
Lisa Hodge shared her breakthrough studies on rats at the 2012 International Fascia Research Congress. She infected rats with lung cancers [LT1] and then created a seven-day protocol of rhythmic massage on their bellies for four minutes at a time, with a break between rounds. She found that the rats that received the abdominal massage saw a decrease in the size of their lung tumors and contracted far fewer pneumonias.
Deep, deliberate abdominal breathing while lying belly-down on top of a ball, coupled with movement, is quite similar to the actions Dr. Hodge induced on the rats’ bellies. She claims that myofascial release, or traction and release of the diaphragm, helps remove restrictions to lymphatic vessels. The mobilization of white blood cells was done through deliberate motion and made a massive difference in these animals.
Your ability to affect your own immune system is not magical thinking; it is literally in the power of your own hands. So perhaps you can skip the antibiotics; just get down and roll.
And if your desire to get thin has blown apart your self-esteem and overwhelms your thoughts day and night as mine used to, please consider finding support and professional help.
 “Osteopathic lymphatic pump techniques to enhance immunity and treat pneumonia.” Lisa M. Hodge, PhD. International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, March 2012.
For more specifics on how to roll, please see my new video Treat While You Train.
Portions of this blog are excerpted from my new book The Roll Model.