In my last post I talked about the role of the vagus nerve in reducing systemic inflammation and introduced the idea that abdominal massage might be a powerful tool for the many people suffering from autoimmune disorders. In this post, I will continue to expand on the science and theory behind this groundbreaking idea, as well as to introduce some at-home exercises and techniques which you can do yourself to help control inflammation.

Many of you are probably familiar with the work of Dr. Datis Kharrazian, whose books on thyroid and brain health are very popular among those of us interested in holistic health and functional medicine as it relates to autoimmune conditions. In Dr. K.’s book, “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” he establishes the connection between gut and brain health and the vagus nerve’s important role in that connection. In fact, he asserts that digestive issues, such as slow motility, are often a sign of neurodegenerative issues. He recommends various techniques people can use to stimulate the vagus nerve, such as gargling, inducing the gag reflex, and singing loudly to improve the brain-gut axis. [1]

I raise this issue not to confuse my point about quelling inflammation, but to highlight the link between leaky gut, autoimmune issues, and vagal tone, and to mention the benefits of abdominal massage on the digestive system. Rolling really helps get things moving along in the digestive tract.  This is due in part to the manual aspect of massage, but also highlights again the role of the vagus nerve on the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic response increases cardiac activity and decreases digestion (when you need to run away from a tiger, your body won’t waste energy on digesting your lunch, it gets your heart pumping and sends blood to your extremities so you can run fast!); the parasympathetic system decreases heart rate (but increases heart rate variability) and increases digestion.

So, rolling right along, let’s circle back to the idea of abdominal self massage as a potential treatment for reducing the inflammation seen in autoimmune conditions. While there are no studies that I have found that either support or refute this claim, since it is a non-invasive technique that could potentially have a very positive impact on your health, it stands to reason that it is worth a try if you are attempting to heal or manage an autoimmune condition. It is very inexpensive and convenient, since it can be done in the privacy of your own home.

So how does it work?

It works on different levels. First, as already mentioned, the vagus nerve runs from your brainstem to your abdomen, so it is possible that it may work on one level by directly massaging the vagus nerve in the abdomen.

It also works by untacking the diaphragm, that parachute-shaped, deep muscle of respiration that separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity. By the way, the vagus nerve runs through the diaphragm. The more the diaphragm moves, the more stimulation it provides to the vagus nerve, which is why deep breathing in itself is an effective way to improve vagal tone.

Most people breathe very shallowly and higher in their chests than in their abdomens. Abdominal breathing helps to stimulate the vagus nerve. Lying prone with the Coregeous® ball under your abdomen increases this effect. The diaphragm, in addition to its dome of muscle, also has little “tails” that come down and attach onto the lumbar spine (think of the pull cords of the parachute). Abdominal massage with the Coregeous® ball, helps to relieve tension in these “tails” and in the rest of the diaphragm, allowing it to move more freely during respiration. This effect is especially noticeable to those who have suffered from respiratory problems, such as asthma, who might have even more constriction in these areas. (An additional benefit can be reduced low back pain, due to those attachments on the lumbar spine and their close relationship to the psoas and quadratus lumborum muscles, often culprits in low back issues.)

Conducting abdominal massage with the Coregeous® ball also mobilizes fascia (the connective tissue of the body) and breaks up adhesions. The fascia is rich with Ruffini endings, which also help to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, inducing the relaxation response, and decreasing inflammation. Double whammy! The grippy texture of the Coregeous® ball helps in this process, as it has the ability to grab the skin and underlying fascia, helping to mobilize it. Having the ball directly against your skin makes it more effective.

Anyone who has had abdominal or bowel surgery will have additional benefits from rolling, as it can help to soften scar tissue in the region.

Finally, another benefit to abdominal massage can be a confusing one for those of us with autoimmune illnesses. The gut is home to a large number of lymph nodes. Massage can help to move the lymph and rid the body of toxins, stimulating the immune system. The question exists of whether stimulating the immune system in this way can increase an autoimmune response. I personally haven’t found that to be the case, probably because of the immune modulating effects of the vagus nerve stimulation, and I feel it is important to keep the lymphatic system running well for good health. However, I recommend that you start any new treatment (including self-massage with the Coregeous® ball) slowly, allowing time for you to evaluate how your system is reacting. (Remember, we are all different and might have different results.)

Now let’s get to the details of how to conduct abdominal massage on yourself.

I recommend the Coregeous® ball as it is inexpensive and may be more effective than other types of balls. It has been specifically designed for this use, whereas other balls might not be appropriate and could possibly cause harm. Proceed with caution if you choose not to follow this advice.

Inflate the ball to about 85%, although you can begin with less air if you experience too much pressure in your abdomen. This is particularly important to note if you have had surgery or any type of physical or emotional trauma that has impacted your gut.

You will want to do this practice on an empty stomach, a few hours after eating. If your stomach is full, the food could back up into your esophagus, which won’t be pleasant! I actually enjoy rolling my abdomen before breakfast as part of my morning ritual. Rolling at bedtime is another wonderful option, due to its relaxing effect on the body and mind.

Lie down on the floor on your belly with the ball underneath your abdomen (under your belly button). Begin by breathing in through your nose, sending the breath into your belly. Feel your belly press into the ball on the inhale, and feel the ball expanding into your abdomen as your exhale through your nose. Continue here for several breaths to several minutes, as you get used to the feeling. If the pressure is too intense, follow my suggestion for modifying below.

You want to be able to take full abdominal breaths throughout this practice. If you can’t due to pain, then you need to modify, or your efforts will be counterproductive. If the body senses pain, it reverts to survival mode; in other words, you are turning on the sympathetic – or fight or flight – nervous system, not the parasympathetic or relaxation response that you want.

However, you may find abdominal massage to be uncomfortable at first. Learn to listen to your body to determine the difference between discomfort and pain. Usually your breath will be a good indicator. If you can’t take a full breath, modify or back off. If you can still breathe fully, despite some discomfort, continue.

The next technique you can try is called Contract Relax Breathing. See this video for a more complete explanation. Basically, you will continue with the ball under your belly button, inhale and inflate your belly, pressing it into the ball, then retain your breath for a couple seconds (breath retention is not advisable if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or glaucoma), contracting the muscles of your core and spine, before exhaling fully through your nose, relaxing your muscles and allowing the ball to excavate deeply into your abdomen. Again, continue this for a several breaths.

You can then return to regular abdominal breathing while slowly rolling around on the ball, allowing the ball to explore all the areas of your abdomen, as if on a search and rescue mission for hidden tensions. If you find a spot where there is greater tension, you might want to linger there while breathing deeply into the area.

How to modify if the pressure is too intense:

The first thing you can try is to decrease amount of air in the ball. Experiment to find the right amount of air for you. You can add more air later when you are ready. Another way to modify your practice is that instead of lying on the ball, you can stand and lean against a wall, pinning the ball under your belly. If even that is too much (which might be the case if you have significant scarring or trauma), lie on your back, and just use your hands to roll the ball on your abdomen. Build up to deeper work slowly.

My recommendation is to start slowly, with just a couple minutes for the entire practice, as you see how your body responds. If there are no negative reactions, continue to gradually build the time you spend rolling on the Coregeous® ball. There is no hard and fast rule for how long you should do it. Use your body as a guide, rolling for as long as feels good to you. Practicing daily will yield the greatest results.

Decreased stress, improved digestion, better detoxification, reduced inflammation and decreased pain are the rewards that await you. Best of all, it is a practice that you control yourself.

Self-care is truly healthcare at its best!

Links:

  1. [1] http://www.elderandsage.com/1/post/2014/11/train-your-brain-for-gut-health.html A review of Dr. Kharrazian’s brain book and the link between the brain and the gut.
  2. “Soothing Stress with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls.” http://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2014/10/03/the-immune-response-and-deep-breathing/ with link to Youtube video featuring Jill Miller demonstrating “Gut Smash” with the Coregeous® ball. An article that explains why deep pressure massage with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls helps to relieve pain.
Enjoyed this article? Read Change Your Breath, Change Your Health: Lee’s Must-Do YTU Moves for the Diaphragm and Core.
Meredith Hutter Chamorro

Meredith’s mission is to help people to feel better in their bodies! She began her hatha yoga teacher training in 2009, after yoga helped her to heal from anxiety that stemmed from her youngest child’s health crises. She now uses yoga and lifestyle upgrades to manage Rheumatoid Disease. Meredith is also a certified Yoga Tune Up teacher, trained by Jill Miller in 2015. She currently teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up® classes in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and leads Yoga Tune Up® workshops throughout the region. Meredith has done additional trainings and certifications in Yoga Therapy, Restorative Yoga, Yoga for the Special Child, Reiki, Anusara Yoga, and Lifestyle Design Coaching. In addition to teaching yoga, she works as a life coach, specializing in working with women with autoimmune conditions and chronic pain. Visit Meredith online at www.sheswingsonastar.com or her facebook page: www.facebook.com/sheswingsonastar.

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Sierra

Thank you for the detailed explanation of how breathing impacts other systems of the body and the detailed sequence to try!

Katrina

I’ve recently started using these techniques with clients, who are now completely hooked. Some clients have seen results in digestion in as little as one 15 minute session using the coregeous ball.
It has also had a great impact on my own breathing and well-being.

Jolie Mosser

Love this article as I can relate and have an autoimmune disorder. The corgeous ball has been a beneficial tool in my self-care in maintaining a healthy and balanced gut.

Jamilah

Thank you so much for writing out these guidelines for self-treatment of the abdomen. I will be sharing this with my myofascial release clients. I really appreciate having this clear explanation to send to them so that they can further their own healing. And, I look forward to checking out Dr. Kharrazian’s work as I am not familiar with it.

Poirsha

What a well written article! My obsession with the vagus nerve is warranted! I cannot believe this glittery purple ball can do so much for my body! I feel like we should all learn from babies! They love it when their belly’s are rubbed! I will start adding this abdominal to my daily bustle!

Alyssa

I often integrate abdominal rolling with Coregeous Balls into the final minutes of my classes as a way to wind-down before relaxation. I loved this more in-depth look a why this approach is so effective.

Jamie Walsh

I enjoy rolling with the coregeous ball just before bed as well. Bit uncomfortable but always worth it.

Jamie Walsh

I enjoy using the coregeous ball right before bed as well. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable thing in the world but always enjoy using it. 🙂

Jeanette Johnsson

saving this post since it is so rich with information and benefits of rolling with the coregeous ball so I can go back and read it again. I love the connection to the Vagus Nerve that you touch on in this article and I would love to learn more about abdominal massage and the vagus nerve.

Genevieve

Going to start doing this more regularly, probably will help my sleep too! Thank you.

Jenni Everard

This is fantastic! I have bookmarked this article to read again later. I had not considered the role of abdominal massage to help autoimmune conditions and inflammation. I spent most of my 30’s dealing with these issues and have a number of people around me struggling in this area. Thank you for such great teaching. Another tool for my toolbox..

Jenny Lim

It was interesting that you posed a question about how stimulating the lymph nodes and immune system of the abdomen could potentially increase an autoimmune response. I do regular abdominal massage as well and I have noticed tremendous freedom in my lower back muscles and diaphragm. It also helps my posture tremendously and helps me go after the adhesions between and around my ribcage. High stress periods can cause my core to collapse or get tense so physiologically changing my posture and breath also helps me create a healthy immune system response to stress.

Susan

This is so great. When people reach out to me with these concerns, I don’t have a lot to offer. This work looks great!

Bree

Yes, thank you for posting this! I’ve just started my level 1 YTU cert and am so interested in this belly rolling.

Bree

Yes! Gut brain is where it’s at! I’m so interested by all this belly rolling. Thank you for posting.

bee pallomina

Thank you so much for this post. I have been dealing some autoimmune issues over the past 10 years (including a celiac diagnosis and possibly RA which I managed through a major dietary shift). I am always in search of alternate ways to decrease inflammation and autoimmune response. I will definitely give this a shot!

Petia Botcheva

Thank you for the detailed and informative post. I have learned something new.

Petia Botcheva

Thank you for this useful and detailed information. Will try the recommended modification.

sarah

Thank you for the coregeous lesson! I want to help someone I know who suffers from nerve damage, degenerative disc and arthritis. I think I should buy the coregeous ball for her, since it is the most gentle, and see how this mini lesson resonates with her. If there is any relief, I believe it may motivate her to explore what else therapy balls have to offer.

Katy Forline

I had recently learned of the “gut brain” and then that it has many more neurons than the central nervous system (thanks to YTU Integrated Anatomy) and was aware of the effect of breath on the parasympathetic response, but this article was helpful in pulling it all together. The possibility that stimulating our gut awareness, mobility, and circulation via the Coregeous massage may impact immune response seems obvious now, but I had not heard it articulated before. My clients and I thank you for that new insight.

Regina Varos

First of thank you for this information. Now I will have to read up on Dr. Kharrazian. I have an autoimmune disease and I’m willing to try out this abdominal work to see if it helps me. I figured that I will work on my own body to what results I get. This blog gave me lots of food for thought and has given me more information to research.

michelle

So interesting! Having seen many friends affected by auto-immune as well as being symptomatic myself, I’m always looking to better understand the causes as well as non-pharmacological solutions. Learning here about the role of the vegus nerve in inflammation and how a relatively simple abdominal massage could yield results is exciting. Can’t wait to learn the technique; both for myself and others.

Carly

Thank you for sharing. I’m excited to try some ball rolling on the abdomen to try and reduce anxiety and symptoms of auto immune desease.

Tam

Appreciate your gentle and cautious guidance; backed with quality research, explanation and written in easy to understand languaging.

Beth

Thank you for me introducing me to the idea that using the techniques for self-abdominal massage may benefit people who experience autoimmune disorders. I will be reading more of your blogs!

Janine Watson

I too have some sort of inflammation in and around my abdominal organs and if this will help, I”ll be eternally grateful.

Ariane Fournier

Je vais essayer cette pratique certainement! Je trouve très intéressant de voir tout ce que les balles peuvent avoir comme effets sur notre corps. Je les découvre un peu plus a chaque utilisation et je suis toujours très impressionnée par la sensation qu’elles m’apportent!

Rena

I’ve practiced this before. It can be uncomfortable and even strange at first, but you get used to it like anything else.
The benefits listed are amazing!

Erika Belanger

I suffer from endometriosis and I had tried the coregeous ball before but it made my symptoms worsts… maybe ill try with a lot less air and see how that goes.

Michelle Pitman

Thank you for the suggested modifications. I had not considered taking the Coregeous ball to the wall or lying down on floor and moving the ball around from a supine position as a gentler way of getting the same benefits. I will remember to use them in future for friends, family and clients. Thanks again!

Swami Maheshwarananda

This blog amazing and all time provide me some useful information. I really need some this kinds of blog now today i get it.

Mandy

This post is jam-packed with information! All good stuff. I just somewhat recently started rolling on the Coregeous ball regularly, and now I look forward to it every morning.

Loretta Zedella

Thank you so much for this great explanation, Meredith. I do not have an autoimmune disease, but do enjoy the benefits you list here.

Lisa Elliott

This subject always catches my eye, and I’m intrigued by the idea that what is essentially a form of self-manual therapy is thought to alter vagal tone. It’s clear that breathing techniques, with their link to heart rate variability and the sympathetic/parasympathetic balance, can affect the CNS. It’s also clear that stimulation of the vagus nerve has remarkable effects on inflammatory diseases (including rheumatoid arthritis and depression). What I haven’t heard is that direction pressure on the nerve at it’s insertion through the diaphragm has an impact on the vagus itself. I think it’s more likely it has an impact… Read more »

Claudia Muehlenweg

This is really interesting, i had no idea of the connection of brain and gut through the vagus nerve. I often have a tight stomach and have slowly gotten arthritis in my fingers in the last few years but never thought this could be related. Will start doing this ball move daily and report back. Thank you!

Lita Remsen

I have been meaning to roll with the coregeous ball. I have the video and hae tried it once or twice, but with your detailed and informative article I will give it a go again. I have scar tissue from a C-section 23 years ago and I know the scar tissue effects muscle functioning at time. It’s dysfunctional pairing with the transverse abdominis has come up in NKT (NeuroKinetic Therapy.) Rolling the scar seems to help. And now I will go farther with the abdominal rolling.

Juliana Attilio

I love the coregeous ball. The first time I used it I had to go very slow and light, but with time I was able to go deeper. I found such relief pinning the ball and spinning it. Winding up my tissues helped release some scar tissue from a previous surgery. Now I try to use it each night before bed to help down regulate! Such a great tool!

Lisa Federicob

Thank you Meredith for a very informative blog. I work with individuals challenged with MS, Lupus, RA and Lyme disease. I will encourage those I gave not yet to follow your recommendations with gut crushing. I was unaware of many of the details you provided and look forward to reading Dr. K’s book as its a topic I have much interest in. Differentiating btwn discomfort and pain is so important as it is so subjective. Thanks for the reminder to emphasize this with my clients.

Susan Jaffee

Informative article on gut health and inflammation. Will pass along to those who will benefit.

Willow

Loved this! I like the modifications you’ve explained as I have tried to dive into using the coregeous ball with scar tissue from surgery in my abdomen with a fair amount of pain. These directions to take it slow, makes me feel encouraged to try again to activate my parasympathetic nervous system instead of fight or flight. I find that rolling in that area releases a lot of stored emotion in the abdomen as well. Did you experience this at first Meredith?

Kathy Shaul

Thanks Meredith for this great, informative article on the benefits of abdominal rolling and such a clear “how to”. Will be sharing (and doing)!

Heidi Schaul-Yoder

Thank you, this is a wonderful explanation of the benefits of abdominal massage! The gut-brain connection is incredible and many-layered…it is fascinating to learn about the relationships between digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, immune system issues, and mental/emotional health.

Audrey Ventura

I would have never thought of relating the gut and the vagus nerve together for autoimmune inflammation. This will be a great tool for use with many people. Thank you for the modifications as I think about my students with autoimmune disorders I know many of them wouldn’t be able to lay on the ball.

Kate Colette

Thank you for this beautifully detailed post! As the mother of a child with autoimmune disease, I am keen to try this with my son to see if he can benefit from this technique, as we have had limited success with diet and medication.

Heather Longoria

I recently started rolling out my abdomen. Last week I felt something release while I was rolling, and my abdomen felt so much more relaxed. I’ve been studying Move Your DNA, and realized that I am constantly sucking everything in, but it’s hard to overcome that reflex! Rolling definitely helps. 🙂

Sometimes when I roll, I feel tension in my shoulders and neck. Any idea what could be causing that?

Tiffany

Interesting read! “Decreased stress, improved digestion, better detoxification, reduced inflammation and decreased pain are the rewards that await you. Best of all, it is a practice that you control yourself.” – Not to mention it’s cheap to give it a try yourself.

Christine Phillips

Thank you for the step by step how to use the Coregeous ball to perform self abdominal massage. It is amazing how interconnected our brains and guts are, but how little we do to manage that connection. I am intrigued with the body’s autoimmune response and inflammation and I appreciate your addition of other’s research to further look into the topic!

Katy Haldiman, MS, RN

Autoimmunity is my area of focus as a functional health practitioner, and as I’m currently undergoing Yoga Tuneup® Teacher Training, this is a timely and pertinent article. Many of my patients suffer with digestive symptoms (“All disease begins in the gut”) and I love the idea of using the Coregeous® ball for abdominal self-massage and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is a technique that I will definitely be recommending for my patients! Thank you for the great article.

Katy

Wow what an informative, in depth descriptive article about gut health! I had heard of leaky gut and was aware of the Vegas nerve but hadn’t thought of rolling to help!

Carol Anderson

My daughter has PCOS. Using the coregeous ball for self abdominal massage has been great. It is one of the tools she has used along with exercise and diet to help decrease inflammation. The abdominal massage helps bringing fresh blood to the organs and tissues, improves circulation, improves digestion, and has enhanced her abdominal breathing leading her toward deeper relaxation. What an inexpensive way to take care of YOURSELF.