I am not here to tell you I have all the answers, but I AM here to tell you what I’ve learned and experienced. At this point I’m feeling much more grounded, and I’m starting to discern what bits of practical advice are most useful to pass on to anyone dealing with Crohn’s (and I believe much of this is broadly applicable to IBS/D). So here’s a "cheat-sheet"—less of a “why” and more of a “how” to manage the practical aspects of how I (and possibly you) can facilitate an overall transition for optimizing strength and health through natural methods.
First off, let’s talk…
Ladies and gentleman, it is not a secret. Crohn’s is a disease of the GI system, and so naturally it is affected by food. Inflammation = malnourishment, and so it’s both important to pay attention to what foods cause the inflammation spiral, as well as those that can boost our health and well-being. Nobody’s a saint, and it's a highly individual and variable disease and set of symptoms. After having my long-term doctors repeatedly dismiss the topic of nutrition as it relates to Crohn's, I began to study this on my own with the help of a holistic nutritionist in Toronto (who also suffers from Crohn's). Jackie McCaffrey is a good resource on this topic. Things like food timing and organic are really importance, since pesticides just aggravate symptoms and certain foods don't process well together. Dairy and caffeine are commonly problematic for IBD sufferers and totally unnecessary in modern diet (at least in the amounts that they are typically included). Gluten is an obvious "no" as well for its inflammatory response and how it causes backflow from the Ileocecal valve. There is also a link in many (myself included) between Crohn's and yeast which trigger GI symptoms and can act in combination with hormonal fluctuations—so probiotics, natural anti-fungals like garlic and coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar are all helpful in reversing symptoms. I will also add that CBD oil is wonderful, and helps with anxiety (which is common with Crohn's) as well as calms the digestive tract.
The herbs I take twice daily in the form of tea from my Chinese medicine doctors at Xiaolan cleanse and reset my GI system. I will not provide the full ingredient list since this is measured carefully by prescription and is not intended to substitute for supervision from an experienced care practitioner, but the teas combine ingredients like ginger root, licorice root, kudzu, skullcap root, coptis root, pinellia rhizome, and magnolia bark, I will likely come and go from needing them as part of routine maintenance when symptoms pop up. I am also undergoing acupuncture, which works through the meridian system affecting various immune channels and hormonal balances. Each practitioner likely has their own concept of treatment strategy, and you’re going to want to find one to stick with, as they will get to know you and your evolving health.
YOGA & BODYWORK
I’ve been an athlete my whole life, and I pursue efficiency with every movement and in those treatments I seek to help my body feel and move better. The training experience and bodywork I’ve received through more than a decade’s worth of chronic inflammation, scar tissue, and heavy training have given me a lot of hard work to do... and an equal abundance of tools to draw from and compare. I’ve been practicing yoga ever since my Crohn's surgery 15 years ago, and I believe it's one of the key factors that has kept my health functioning at a higher level than perhaps my “severe” diagnosis would suggest. Yoga mindset helps me manage stress, and its physical forms have kept me continually striving for a more perfect sense of “center”, working from a system that transforms both inside and out.
For receiving healing work at the hands of skilled practitioners, which is at times quite necessary, I believe Thai bodywork is one of the best systems out there for unraveling the physical and energetic effects of chronic illness, as well as cranio-sacral therapy and myofascial release. I have recently had a significant amount of belly work done focusing on a sort of "infinity" pattern, a wavelike motion to encourage fluidity and the acceptance of pressure directly to the intestines themselves. More recently, I've decided to dive into deep breathing techniques ala the Wim Hoff method, which has totally exciting evidence to suggest its positive effects on autoimmune illnesses.
The Caterpillar Response: Combatting General Collapse and Divide of the Midsection:
Over the years my core was divided by intermittent inflammation, which I continually fought by increasing focus and working “harder” than I should’ve had to, to achieve results in practice. All this occurred largely unnoticed until misalignment transferred significantly outward, and unexplained joint problems started to add up. It is funny, and with an appropriate sense of irony, that after all this time and effort, the solution is an act of “letting go” and simplifying—teaching my body to do "less work", to sustain the effects of alternative healing.
Since my trained neurological patterns gave me strength but not coherence, I knew this was a mind challenge as much as a physical one. What follows is a distilled regimen that I follow for time and effect, and it’s my goal to introduce short videos to this list. As a yogi and acrobat, I prefer to use my body as my main tool—but I also favor the use of BOSU because it forces midline grounding and stops my body from trying to re-engineer a sense of balancing using strength over natural alignment. If you want to dig into everything BOSU (which I totally recommend!) check out 40 Bosu Ball Circuit Training Exercises on Jen Reviews, which will give you lots of fun videos and tips.
The series is specifically designed to rehab uneven core and reground the hips, working outward into the grounding of the hands and feet. In addition to “core” focus, the hips are highlighted due to the relationship between the SI joint and its direct connection to the small intestine which, when inflamed, is a significant driver of uneven centering and chronic back pain. A strong and centered core is truly to the benefit of everyone, but in the case of the IBS/D affected, it’s even more crucial to support and house the organs—preventing the midsection twist and collapse, like the reaction of a caterpillar in distress curling in on itself to protect its vital organs.
**Asterisks for advanced levels only
PART ONE: STANDING BALANCING
This series begins in simple, natural positions, triggering a wake-up of subtle core and pelvic floor muscles, and standing leg stabilizers, to encourage grounding throughout the practice.
Standing leg lifts: Front, back, and side. 15-20 each leg/ each exercise, repeated twice per workout
Beginning on floor if new to this. Leveling up to flat side of BOSU. Resistance bands added as strength increases.
Between leg lift sets:
BOSU sits (squishy side): Pilates 100 variation, bent knee/ parallel to floor. Hold backs of thighs for assistance.
Bug walks (10 x 2-3) on or off BOSU for lower ab isolation
Tree Pose: Level progression: Floor, flat side, squishy side of Bosu
BOSU Pushups: 5-10 x 2 (can be alternated with your Tree Pose)
Butterfly wings and “W” arm extensions on Balance Ball: 15-20 x 2/ exercise
BOSU Squats with weights: 8-10 x 2-3 rounds with 5-15 lb hand weights
Take a few minutes to explore down dog, walk forward to standing forward fold, widen feet for low squat, and roll up. Take simple bicep, tricep, and pec stretches at the wall.
PART TWO: SIMPLE HANDSTANDS AND HANGING
Balancing push with pull, I believe in the importance of grounding the body through both the hands and feet first before hanging exercises, so the order of this is quite intentional and designed to best support the foundations of your frame. If you have not attempted a handstand before, I recommend in-person instruction. Same goes for hanging inversions, which are only to be practiced if you have aerial training or an instructor. As you can see from the description of the “Simple Hang” below—with all the dimensions that aerial movement contains, there are quite a lot of forces to consider.
Handstands at the wall: Belly in toward wall, held for alignment, strength, and time
**Handstands on Bosu: Split leg, with wall assist or spot
Simple hang from hands: I begin any aerial activity with simple hanging for at least a minute or two, focused on opening up the hand, even grip through all the fingers, relaxation/ elongation of the spine and widening of the low back. Hanging from parallel, shoulder-width bars allows for the most neutral alignment and is ideal for this training, but it can be adapted on straps, rings or other aerial apparatus with care. There is always an active hugging inward, a pressure created by pulling the hands towards each other, lengthening the neck, wrapping the shoulders, and pressing shoulder blades down the back. Core and pelvic floor engagement is cued from previous exercises, so you should be good to go for healthy inversion.
Shoulder circles from parallel bars: 5-10 full circles, maximum range each direction x 2. Increase repetitions incrementally
Weight-loading single arm through full range of motion
**Hanging inversions: Split through (croc variation), unthread, controlled straddle descent, increased incrementally.
**Single Locked Knee Hangs: Held for time & hamstring/ calf release
**Single Locked Knee Hang Sit-ups: 5-10 each side
**Skin the Cat
PART THREE: FLOOR SERIES
This last set is a simple sequence derived from yoga and designed to target hip, belly, and shoulder tension, and to work off of the previous series of exercises. If you are new to yoga, I recommend taking class. There are many good tutorials on these poses available with a quick google search, though this can’t replace a good teacher. It's also extra important if you have had any surgical intervention, as I have, to practice in proper alignment or risk damage to your joints over time. In my case, I've had to be quite careful with splits and backbends due to the scar tissue in my lower core. This is not to deter you from practicing, quite the opposite in fact—but to advise you to work within your body's constraints, and to continue bodywork and scar rehabilitation to achieve your optimal alignment and range of motion.
Start with a simple vinyasa to balance your body and feel free to return to it between sides, positions, or any time your body seems to be cooling off. There are many forms this could take, but I suggest starting in downward dog, rolling forward into plank, lowering slowly to the floor, moving through cobra (or upward dog), pressing back to child's pose with knees wide, and returning to downward dog.
**Wheel (with block and/or wall grounding)
King Arthur at Wall
Plow & Fish
Simple bent-knee twist (lying)