How did I end up calling my blog Buddha Belly? Well, get ready for story time! After a surgery to diagnose and remove my Endometriosis growths, a fibroid, two cysts and fix a hernia my pelvic area was a mess. I started in pelvic physical therapy 6 weeks after surgery when my scars had finally healed and my belly button was now somewhat belly button shaped again. I had done my research in the Endo communities and knew how important PT is after surgery for a health recovery so I had asked my surgeon for a referral.
I had heard about pelvic PT before I got sick, but it was always in magazines like Cosmo and it was always targeted towards women who wanted to strengthen their “vaginal muscles” through a ton of kegels, but pelvic PT does so much more! Believe it or not having high-tone pelvic floor issues is just as common as having low-tone issues. High-tone just means that everything down there is basically too tight. People are always amazed when I describe to them what pelvic therapy can involve and that it’s actually legal, but just like any other physical therapy…..they have to get right up in there to treat the pain and tightness….and I mean right up in there.
My first pt session was more exciting for me than fear provoking because I was hoping it was another piece to my pain relief puzzle and Bertha was very kind with explaining to me each step of what she was doing. She had me undress from the waist down and did a vaginal examination marking the areas of tightness and restrictions. She described my muscles as guitar strings when they should be a nice flat surface. Uh-oh! Everything on my right side was tight which we attributed to a previous hip surgery 6 years ago and I had scar tissue where my abdominal surgery had been done at. She also did an exterior exam and moved my legs around to measure my hip flexion and those sorts of things. I had very limited hip flexion on my right side which was of course no surprise.
Time continued to march forward as it does and yet I was feeling no better despite two appointments a week for pelvic PT and a birth control that was supposed to control my cycle better, but left me feeling like a bloated balloon. Each day I’d wake up to constant cramps and each night I’d welcome sleep as an escape from the pain that invaded every. single. breath. I was terrified for my future; The surgery I had undergone in hopes to make me feel better had actually left me worse off. My gyno surgeon seemed at a loss for how to treat me and just kept throwing medications at me. He’d say “here have a new birth control”, “let’s try this new pain medication” or “maybe we should reconsider Lupron?” Do a little research and you will see why I am admittedly against Lupron and why you should be too, but that’s a different topic for a different post. The fact that he was suggesting Lupron right after he did surgery on me meant that he was not the doctor for me. This was my first time essentially firing a doctor, let alone one that had operated on me, but we were not the best fit.
Fast forward a bit and now I’m working with a great gastrointestinal specialist, pelvic pain specialist, new pelvic physical therapist and gyno specialist. After 40+ doctors in the last 2 years this is my dream team and I don’t regret letting go of my old doctor at all! They talk to one another, get feedback from each other and determine what my next step in treatment will be. By talking with one another they realized that my hip surgery from 6 years ago had been the primary cause of pain. I did have Endometriosis, but that was not what was causing trigger point after trigger point in my abdominals, constant cramping and pelvic pain that would not quit. The scar tissue from my hip surgery had hardened over time, despite being in physical therapy for 6 months post hip surgery, and it was pulling all my muscles and organs towards my lower right quadrant leading me to not be able to move correctly and my organs not being able to function at 100%.
When they told me this I was just cautiously optimistic because other doctors had told me they suspected what was wrong before. I’d then fully immerse myself in their treatment plan and nothing would ever change. I would feel exactly the same pain and my depression over still being sick would be even worse after each let down. So I went to my first appointment with my new physical therapist without hope or expectation, but by the end of the appointment I felt hope like I had never felt like in any other doctor’s offices after an intake appointment. My whole body was screaming “This is it!” Lindsay, my PT, could feel adhesions all over my stomach by how much my organs were unable to move despite my old PT saying there were barely any constrictions anymore. She began with visceral massage, a host of exercises suited to strengthening places where I’d lost strength from lack of activation and stretches to lengthen my overly tightened muscles.
During one of our beginning sessions, after some deep stomach massage she made me sit in front of the mirror and showed me my little lower belly pooch that hadn’t been there when I came in. She spoke to me about how many women hold their stomach muscles in so tight for fear of looking fat and, not only teach themselves to not breath correctly, but also can actually over tighten their abdominals permanently causing a whole host of problems. I knew I was guilty of that and had only reinforced the tightness by weightlifting and doing cardio with so much core tightness already in place. Looking at myself with a lower stomach pooch made me feel ashamed, but also sad. Sad because I had helped get myself to this place because of my fear of just letting all of me hang out. She made me lean from side to side and look how my stomach pulled when it shouldn’t. She made me learn to accept myself for my own health.
So I got some homework! Lindsay told me the best thing I could do for myself right now to cement the work we did in PT was remember just to relax my damn stomach. Well, easier said than done! I reminded myself when I walked to relax my stomach, when I drove, when I laid down to sleep and when I was doing nothing at all. Every time I let my stomach muscles release I would picture a Buddha with his big, ol’ belly just doing it’s thing. My jolly Buddha isn’t worried about how much his belly does or doesn’t hang out. He just wants to be happy and healthy and that’s exactly what I wanted!
So I drew a less than stellar Buddha on a pink post-it note that now adorns my computer desk at work right next to an identical post-it saying Buddha Belly. Buddha Belly isn’t just about remembering to relax your stomach muscles. To me, Buddha Belly is ignoring all the outside voices and finding your true path. It’s remembering not to do anything because the world makes you feel like you should or shouldn’t and sometimes it’s just saying “fuck it” to all the madness in your life. It’s breathing in the good and out the bad. Most of all, Buddha Belly, means allowing yourself the freedom to be you!