Spilling your guts - the solar plexus and boundaries
Following on from my previous blog posting, the connection between ‘boundaries’ and the gut fascinates me. The gut, and our digestive health (agni – digestive fire), has been the focus of much of my Ayurvedic training thus far, but I am by no means an expert and I’m quite sure my Ayurvedic doctor would not consider me, at this stage in my studies, well placed to write about Ayurveda from an academic perspective, but I can certainly share from my personal experience.
You see, our gut is not only the place where we digest our foodstuffs on a physical level, but it is also the place where we digest our thoughts, emotions and feelings on a mental level too. Both, the digestion of foodstuff and the digestion of thoughts, emotions and feelings, will impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.
Thus our gut health is not simply about eating healthily, and it’s certainly not about just consuming gut enhancing pills and potions, and as much probiotic as you can get into it. It’s also about our mental health and the ability to digest and process our life experiences and integrate all parts of ourselves, especially our emotions and feelings.
I was made incredibly aware of this last year when I undertook a Panchakarma session at the Ayurvedic Clinic. I’ve always been a fan of Ayurveda because, like yoga, it works! Both are based on ancient knowledge that has been tried and tested over thousands of years. Ayurveda is the science of life, and is a holistic health care system that considers the root cause of any imbalance.
I presented with an imbalance in my solar plexus, following umbilical hernia surgery, and I knew that there was some healing work to be done. I attended the Ayurvedic Clinic in Purley Oaks, near Gatwick, last March, for the Panchakarma, this following a skype consultation with my Ayurvedic doctor.
Panchakarma means five actions, and is a cleansing and rejuvenating program for the body, mind and consciousness - basically put, a sublime three-hours of various massages and oil treatments. My Panchakarma was centred on helping to address and heal my solar plexus, and the treatment was followed up with herbs, which I took for a good few months afterwards.
The Panchakarma was as wonderful as ever, but it wasn’t until May, two months later, that I really felt the effect, and even then it wasn’t until the end of the summer, that I realised that what took place in May was in any way related to the Panchakarma. That’s the thing with Ayurveda, it’s powerful, and yet gentle in its unfolding, so it’s not until you look back that you notice the transformation.
Basically, during May, I felt an overwhelming need to write. Writing is my preferred and natural way of processing, and at that time I was involved in editing Namaste(my book about my trek to Everest Base Camp), so it caught me by surprise this need to write, in addition to the editing. The need was so strong that I would spend a couple of hours each evening and/or early morning writing. I just had to get what was in my head (or gut, as I later realised) onto paper; I had to get it out!
I was consumed for the entire month, and ended up writing a 90,000-word manuscript. I had no idea that I was still holding on to so much of my past, and that it was held in my gut, right in my solar plexus! This holding comprised years and years of thoughts, feelings and emotions, right back to childhood, that I had not processed or made sense of at the time.
All these feelings and emotions had sat there in my gut all those years, undigested and festering, much like foodstuff that isn’t digested. It is perhaps no surprise I had ended up with a hernia, right there, in the very centre of my solar plexus as I tried to keep everything tightly in! It didn’t help that I’d had my belly button pierced in my early twenties, disrupting the flow of subtle energy in this sensitive area of the body (my Ayurvedic doctor strongly discourages piercings here!).
While the writing gave me the opportunity to process and digest all the undigested stuff, I still found myself holding onto it. I didn’t realise I was doing this, but I had it in mind that I might turn my writings into something that others may read. It seemed that I wasn’t prepared to just let it go without giving it yet more energy. I felt that maybe my life experiences, or the sharing of my life experiences, may help others who may find themselves in similar life situations.
However, after setting my ‘manuscript’ aside from a few months, I started to have a few doubts. Was the solar plexus outpouring, poured out to be shared. Did I need to spill my guts to the world? And to what end anyway, did people need to know my every life experience, did I need to share to prove that healing had taken place? Did I need to give so much of myself away? And did I need to continue to inform my present by continuously talking about my past?
Fast forward another few months and I happened upon a yoga video on Yoga International, where the teacher talked about students having an awareness of drawing the tummy in during asana practice, to prevent the guts spilling out. This made me laugh, because I had been trying to teach this notion in class, and yet, I had been missing the point in my own life.
Rather than repeat my, “try not to stick your tummy out and give your power away” approach, I replaced this in class recently, with the “draw your tummy in so you don’t spill your guts” approach instead. Needless to say, this was met with much groaning and laughter. Those are powerful words!
‘Spilling our guts’ means to tell everything secret or private about our lives - one may ‘spill their guts’ and offload whatever is bothering them about their job or their relationship with their partner, for example. Essentially it means giving more of ourselves than we would ordinarily do, giving our power away and potentially leading to increased feelings of vulnerability and disempowering ourselves in the process – think poor boundaries.
I’m sure many have had the experience of drinking too much alcohol and offloading our inner-most truth to others, sometimes complete strangers, only to wake up the next day and almost cringe, wondering what we said and to whom, and questioning why we said it in the first place! There can follow an extremely uncomfortable few hours, or indeed day, and our solar plexus may feel decidedly unhappy, our gut filled with increased anxiety and paranoia - it’s those kind of feelings that may arise when we ‘spill our guts’.
However, for others, ‘spilling our guts’ can be a cathartic release, an opportunity to let go of what has been held onto, lightening the load so to speak. It can be an opportunity to let go of shame and any of those other horrible feelings that in themselves, eat away at us on the inside. But there is a fine line between healthy releasing and the sharing of our feelings, and unhealthy releasing which can lead to feelings of intense and gut-wrenching insecurity and vulnerability.
This leads me to the solar plexus, which is the energy centre that comprises the gut. Centred around the navel, the solar plexus, is an extremely complex chakra, and one that people often overlook in their quest to open their hearts and ground their feet, let alone those seeking spiritual expansion who focus solely on their crown chakra. It is my experience that to expand, we need to have an awareness of all our chakras, and we absolutely need to work with the solar plexus – it’s at our very core.
The Sanskrit name for the solar plexus means, ‘jewel in the city’ and the jewel it refers to is the mind. When the solar plexus is in balance, the mind is also in balance. We are in control of ourselves and the challenges and decisions that we face in life. Furthermore, a balanced solar plexus means that we are discerning, disciplined and assertive, and we face life’s challenges with courage and integrity.
Furthermore, our ego will no longer need continual gratification. We will discover a moderation in thought and action; we are able to listen to people without being overwhelmed by them. We instinctively find a comfortable relationship with the world. Our character becomes gemlike: solid, multifaceted, filed with life. I like to think of a ball of crystal clear quartz; clear about who it is and the qualities that it brings to the world, potentially like us.
As a comparison, an overly dominant solar plexus leads to bullying, egotistical and aggressive behaviour. These people believe they are always right and get angry easily, and seek to control others through their anger. A weak solar plexus, on the other hand, results in depression, guilt and lack of confidence; it becomes hard for us to see our life clearly, leading to feelings of heightened vulnerability.
I can certainly relate to all this from my own life experience and also from working with people through both Reiki and yoga. My mind – the jewel – was depressed for much of my twenties until I found yoga. As I shared in my previous blog posting, my boundaries were poor and my solar plexus weak. I lacked discernment and discipline – I had zero willpower, especially when it came to addictions (smoking!), and making positive life changes.
Furthermore, my gut was constantly challenged. I was often bloated and constipated, not digesting food properly. This was heightened due to poor diet choices as a result of an eating disorder which had plagued me since I was 17 years old - but I’ve no doubt it was also due to all the unprocessed ‘stuff’ I was carrying in my gut. It is only as I look back, I see so clearly the correlations between my mental state and my solar plexus. The fact I suffered with gallstones and had to have my gallbladder removed at the age of 21 only further illustrates this (the liver and gallbladder form part of the ‘solar plexus’).
I have worked with a number of people with Reiki, who have suffered with depression and anxiety and they shared a commonality – a big black hole in their solar plexus. It felt to me that they had had the life force sucked out of them, and their mind was suffering as a result of this. I see it showing up in yoga too; you can tell so much about someone’s mental state and the manner in which they are living their lives, by watching their bodies and how they move on their mats.
I have learned the hard way, that because the solar plexus is the centre of the intellect and decision-making, it is important for the health and development of this chakra that we make our own choices, rather than have them made for us. The development of the solar plexus is hindered if we have a feeling of powerlessness in life – and yet, the lack of development of the solar plexus will create a feeling of powerlessness, so it is tricky to make the changes!
One way we can work with the solar plexus is through our yoga practice. Even just noticing the solar plexus and the manner in which we relate to this area of our body during an asana practice can make a difference. Do we have an awareness of our centre, or do we allow it to almost flop out into the world? Or perhaps we hold onto it so tightly, that there’s no room for release and movement? Do we try to ignore our tummy, or do we embrace it, fat and all?
Can we breathe diaphragmatically, with awareness of the expansion of the tummy on each inhalation, and the release on each exhalation; can we both give and receive? We can take the awareness from our practice out into our day to day life. What people and situations are we attracting? Are our relationships healthy and nourishing? Can we say no when we don’t want to do something, and how does this make us feel? Do we feel guilty without any specific reason?
Of course it is very easy to try to overlook any imbalance, to drift off in a yoga class, for example, when reference is made to the tummy and our solar plexus. Sometimes it is easier to pretend that there isn’t any imbalance, than to begin the process of unravelling, of opening the can of worms, so to speak, and looking into the shadows in our gut, more honestly.
However, the more we ignore the solar plexus, the more we will continue to experience the symptoms of the imbalance, not only physically (think dodgy digestion, bloating, constipation, candida etc.) but also mentally (think unsettled mind, depression, sense of vulnerability, anxiety etc.), and thus the more the imbalance will impact on the quality of our relationships and the manner in which we interact with the world.
I’m biased but in addition to yoga, Reiki offers a marvellous way to release what might be unnecessarily held in this chakra. Ki massage (energetic shifting) too, can encourage us to look into the shadows and bring to light any denial (buried stuff), and the manner in which this is unconsciously impacting on our day to day life. It almost goes without saying that Ayurveda can be hugely helpful too.
The healing work I have undertaken on the solar plexus has certainly lightened the load and helped me to establish healthier boundaries. This has been key and I have become much more discerning as a consequence, which in itself has been liberating, and priorities have changed.
It’s not easy though. Working with the solar plexus demands courage. But then it can give us so much courage in the process of working with it. It’s a potentially life changing process, which positively impacts on all levels, giving us a greater sense of what is healthy, and the manner in which people may try to manipulate us and take our power away. Essentially, it helps us to learn not to take on anyone else’s crap leaving them deal with that, and just look after our own crap instead (quite literally, but that’s a whole other story!).