While Eastern traditions have long been demonstrating the connection between the emotional and physical body, it has now been shown in research that some inability to express emotions correlates to heart disease. I first became familiar with the work of Dr. Dean Ornish while attending my Yoga Therapy program in California. Dr. Ornish’s program for reversing heart disease consists of things that are traditionally prescribed in Western medicine, such as diet change and exercise, but also includes yoga, meditation, and interestingly enough, individual and group psychotherapy. His program is the first of its kind to be approved by Medicare, because he saw such vast improvements in his patients. Through the therapy sessions, Dr. Ornish saw that an emotional “closing off” off the heart led to the physical heart’s deterioration.
Just as the relationship between the physical and emotional heart (ability to share emotions with others) has been shown, I believe that the imbalance of self-love can lead to many mystery or difficult to treat illnesses that we see. In Chinese medicine, the stomach channel is related to empathy—just as the physical stomach receives nourishment for the body, the emotional equivalent of deficiency in this meridian would be to continue to give to others without receiving in return—a lack of nourishment for the emotional body. Similarly, in Ayurveda, the manipura (or third energy center, located at the navel) governs power and control. This is why we often feel our stomachs drop when we hear bad news, or experience anxiety (related to situations we can’t control) in our stomach. When we are continually giving of ourselves to others, we are giving up some of our power. Under normal conditions, we gain more power by giving, but when we give so much that we deplete ourselves, we can lose some of our vital energy and power.
After battling with mystery illness myself for the last few months, and starting on treatment for Lyme’s disease (which initially comes from a tick bite, but can turn into an autoimmune illness if left unnoticed/untreated), I realize how much of these illnesses relate to the stomach/manipura/self-love center. A big part of treatment for autoimmune illnesses is diet (avoiding triggers such as gluten, casein, and sugar), which would make sense since we must eat foods that are easier for our stomachs to process, and eat foods that are recognizable, so the body won’t mistakenly attack itself. A big part of treatment for autoimmunity is self-care. We must retrain the body to let it know that it is safe. One of the most common denominators in autoimmunity and chronic illness is debilitating fatigue. It’s as if the body is forcing you to slow down, to literally do less for others so you can just focus on yourself. These days I am practicing a lot less doing, and a lot more receiving.
If you ever take a class with me, you’ll notice that I always end with 3 simple reminders: that you always be guided in truth and love (third eye), that you always speak words of love and truth (throat), and that you always feel love and know that you are love (heart). Let us always fill up our cup first, and realize that we don’t need to seek for love outside of ourselves, for it always was, and always is, right within our very own hearts.