Breath of Life

The inside of my abdominal cavity is a war zone. I had my colon removed when I was 12, a bunch of surgeries to try and create a “normal” exit for excrement that led finally to a permanent ileostomy that’s been moved a couple of times. Inside I’m filled with adhesions and on the oust side my belly bears the scares of valiant and successful war fought against Ulcerative Colitis, bowel obstructions and the misdeeds of a lying and arrogant surgeon.

Needless to say the last 30 years have been spent trying to figure out how to live with chronic pain, body wide inflammation and three major kinks in my small intestine. After all of this I’ve come to discover that the most important thing that I can do to increase my ability to enjoy the experience of being alive is how I breathe. In the past I’ve been hostile to those who’ve told me to breathe in order to calm down while I’m balled up on a Emergency room gurney while the sixth attempt at an IV is being made. I’ve found that using breathing techniques in that situation wasn’t 100% effective.  But that is why we have the poppy and the cannabis plant. Any other time I’m not experiencing the panicky pain of my small bowel clamping down or my pancreas digesting itself, I’ve found breathing to be a powerful technique that I can use no matter where I go.

“Breathe Motherfucker” Wim Hof

This morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I mentally went through the list of all the negatives in my life – from the classic of I’m a loser because I’m not brining in any income at the moment, to the thought that my savings will be depleted in another few months and that  I have no idea how I’m going to pay for insurance plus my bag leaked all over last night, my guts hurt this morning, I’ve got a cold, and I really don’t see a reason to get out of bed…

I’ve been here many times before and these type of thoughts have led to months and months of being miserable. I don’t want to be miserable any more.  One way I’ve found not to be miserable is through berating in specific ways so after a mini-pity party I began my breathing exercises which I really didn’t want to do. I started with a new breathing technique I read about that has helped eliminate the symptoms of social anxiety without drugs or therapy. In fact the control group that just did the breathing exercises twice a day had better results than those using cognitive behavior strategies. The breathing technique is called the CART method. I’ve not found a ton online about it but this is my version.

Breath in and out a short breath and hold it. When you naturally want to take a breath do. Then breath normally for ten seconds then take another short breath in and out and hold. Repeat this at least three times.

This breathing exercise actually raises CO2 levels in the body. The researchers doing the study found that low levels CO2 may be partially responsible for producing the symptoms of social anxiety. Last year I had comprehensive blood testing done and I had abnormally low CO2 levels. I believe I do because of my shallow breathing patterns due to my abdominal scaring both inside and out. Most of the time it hurts to breath and definitely hurts to take a deep breath.

Lower CO2 levels could also be a part of the reason why I feel like shit when I hurt a lot and have abdominal soreness. This is why I have start off my breathing exercises with this one. It helps to eliminate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety so that I’ll continue with the rest of the breathing exercises and not just say “fuck it” and pull the covers over my head.

The next breathing exercise is meant to calm the mind further by first calming the heart. I found this exercise actually first on the Joe Rogan Podcast episode #873 with Steven Kotler and a more in-depth explanation and implementation of the concept came from a talk by Alan Watkins. It’s something I do while I’m driving and any time I feel my mental state drifting negative or after I’ve had a negative experience or received bad news.

The exercise is to simply breathe in for three seconds and breathe out for seven. The breathing is to be a steady in and a steady out with a break of a few seconds after each exhalation. While breathing I focus on my heart. When the heart is calm the mind calms down. I do this for six reps. By the fifth my negative state of mind has dissipated and the negative thoughts seem to melt away.

I finished off my breathing set this morning with a round of the Wim Hof method of breathing. I always feel better when I do this. This year I almost didn’t go on vacation because my guts hurt so bad. But during the trip down for hours I did this and by the time I got to the beach I was feeling much better and was able to enjoy three days fishing with my brother. Without this technique I wouldn’t have made the trip. This morning it helped me as well. Again this technique is simple but I don’t recommend people perform it while driving – a few times I did almost black out.

The Wim Hof method is again dead simple. Take a deep breath in somewhat forcefully and only exhale a small amount air. Repeat this for up to thirty times. Then take a deep breath in and exhale fully two times and then hold your breath. Then breath once your body wants to breathe again. Breathe a few times normally and do it again for a total of thirty times.

This morning  I started with ten, then I did fifteen and finished the round with twenty inhales and exhales. While I was doing the breath hold I imagined my body being healed by a white light. Last year when I was doing the Wim Hof method course I was able to hold my breath up to 2:30 minutes. This morning I only held it for about 30 seconds to a minute. But that is still enough to gain positive effects.

By the time I was done with my morning breathing exercises I was feeling much better. The general anxiety, demotivated state, uncertainty and over all malaise was gone. I got up showered and even tested my blood sugar. I’m not diabetic but I am starting to chart my blood glucose as it relates to breathing. A study was done by the Navy that showed that SEALS in ketosis had better breath holding times and I’ve experienced much longer breath hold times in the mornings versus the evenings when doing the Wim Hof method protocol.

How I breath greatly determines my mental state. Having extensive internal and external scaring in my abdomen makes breathing something I have to be conscious of throughout the day otherwise I’m shallow breathing all day long. So far I’ve found these three exercises helpfully by themselves and recently started trying them in combination.  This is something that I don’t have to get a prescription for, no insurance company has to approve it, it has zero side effects, makes me mentally and physically feel better, has zero cost and it’s something I can take with me no matter where I go. In the past I would lament, no matter where I go there I am. That’s because my body has tormented me for the last 30 years and I could never get away from it. But now I have a way to calm both my body and my brain no matter where I’m at or what I have with me.

I still can’t get away from my body but I can through breathing create a different mental experience that allows me to clear my mind of negative thoughts and calm my body. All it takes is less than fifteen minutes and it’s like I’m a different person, or more accurately I’m me, without the filter of chronic pain.

Brad Miller

Adhesions, Exercise and Bowel Obstructions

I’ve been hospitalized many times due to small bowel obstructions caused by the combination of adhesions and exercise. The paradox I find myself in is that when I attempt to get stronger I can actually end up becoming a lot weaker. I’ve had a bunch of abdominal surgeries that have left me with a ton of adhesions, three severe narrowings in my small intestine and an ileostomy. Whenever I begin to feel better I have to be extremely careful how much I exercise or else I can end up balled up on the floor in excruciating pain.

I’m not a doctor and this protocol has been helpful for me. If you think you are having a blockage (painful cramping, nausea, vomiting and no or limited output) call your doctor or go to the emergency room. I’ve had almost 30 years of experience with bowel obstructions caused by adhesions and I know when to go to the emergency room. Once I reach that point of the panicking pain I do go to the emergency room. But this protocol I’ve come up with has helped me to avoid reaching that point and kept me from having my guts completely shut down on many occasions.

Adhesions are the number one cause of small bowel obstructions. And for me any exercise that uses the abdominal muscles causes my adhesions to pull and cause extreme pain and inflammation. This inflammation can then cause further problems with the narrowings and that’s when the blockage can occur. There are no good solutions for adhesions. I’ve been advised by my surgeon that he could go in and fix the narrowings and clear out the adhesions but it only had a 50/50 chance of improving anything. And every time they go in more adhesions are actually created. I’ve held off having another surgery because I’ve learned how to manage the adhesions I already have.

I have found a few things that have helped me to manage my adhesions while still striving to get stronger. I am in the process of getting over a bowel obstruction that occurred in May along with a severe case of pancreatitis.  Now I feel well enough to start exercising. I’ve been doing pull ups lately. And I’ve had two instances in the last two weeks that could have led to complete bowel obstructions but I was able to get output flowing without going to the hospital. Through breathing techniques, epsom salt hot baths, abdominal massage, and cannabis oil I’ve been able to stay out of the hospital these last few times while still being able to get stronger.

The breathing techniques I’ve found most helpful are pulled from The Wim Hof method and from a Ted Talk by Alan Watkins. Wim Hof has a whole program of breathing and cold exposure exercises that help with resetting the mind body connection and increasing one’s capacity to control the autonomic functions of the body. I’ve used the Wim Hof method which consists of breathing in deeply and exhaling only a little, then repeating this for up to thirty breathes many times in dealing with pain and also with improving bowel motility. At the end of the thirty breathes you take a big deep breathe in and exhale completely twice then hold your breathe with empty lungs for as long as you can. I’ve found this technique to be very helpful in getting my bowels moving again, relieving soreness from inflammation and reducing felt pain.

http://www.wimhofmethod.com

The other method of breathing taken from Alan Watkins is one I do all the time. It’s a simple exercise that you can do anywhere. I use it to create a calm and peaceful mental state as well as help get my bowels moving and lessening pain. It is simply breathing in for 3 or 4 seconds then breathing out for 6-7 seconds. The amount of time of the inhale and exhale is your choice but it must be consistent. And the force of breathe should be consistent as well. Do this for at least three cycles and focus on your heart while your breathing. It usually takes me two sets of three to get some noticeable relief. By the fifth cycle my mind is clearer and my body more relaxed. By the sixth breath I am feeling better. I do this exercise when I get up in the morning, while I’m driving, as well as when I’m in a lot of pain.

These two breathing techniques have been an amazing tool that I’ve used to help keep me out of the hospital and to greatly improve my experience of living. These techniques help to reduce inflammation in my body and in my brain. The heart sends signals to the brain all the time. By breathing deliberately in these ways we calm the heart and this in turn calms the mind.  I read today that “Meditation will be the next health revolution” and at the heart of meditation is breathing. When I use these techniques it calms the brain and the body and helps to get my system working again.

Along with the breathing I also have found epsom salt hot baths to be extremely effective when I am hurting or on the verge of a small bowel obstruction. I’m always low on Magnesium and this mineral is critical for people who have ilesotomies because low levels can create problems with intestinal motility.  When I’m in the hospital due to a small bowel obstruction I always get tons of magnesium through my I.V. The large amount of magnesium in epsom salt also helps to relieve muscle soreness.  When my abdomen is inflamed from exercise it creates stress throughout my body. I am unable to relax even when I’m laying on the couch or in bed. But after an hour soak in hot water filled with epsom salts I feel better. When the abdominal cramping gets really bad with a bowel obstruction that’s brewing I take off my bag and just sit in the hot bath with toilet paper over the stoma and I breath. I also change positions in the tub regularly, lift my legs up, pull my knees to my chest, and massage my abdomen that correspond to where the narrow areas are that help to get things moving. This has helped me on more than one occasion to get my guts working again

http://www.tummytemple.com/massage/abdominal-self-massage.html (I’ve not tried these yet but I’m starting them tonight)

The extremely hot water also helps to shock my nervous system. Even when I’m in a lot of pain the almost too hot to stand water, is somewhat painful and creates a tingling sensation that shoots through my entire nervous system. This is momentary but does help to give a modicum of relief and if you’ve had a bowel obstruction or suffered from abdominal adhesion pain you know that is a welcome feeling. With the nervous system occupied with the overwhelming sensation of heat it distracts my mind from the abdominal pain. I’ve found this also helpful when dealing with withdrawals from pain pills and dealing with pain from pancreatitis.

The breathing and the bath have helped me tremendously. And recently I’ve added another tool in helping me to avoid hospitalization and that’s cannabis oil. I take up to four infused Cannabis Coconut oil Capsules per day depending on my pain and inflammation level. It has become a regular part of my pain management strategy and it has been a life changer. Cannabis is a powerful anti-inflammatory. For instance last night I had horrible pain due to a previous exercise session as well as a very slow exit time for my ileostomy due to the inflammation from adhesions being pulled on. After doing my routine of breathing and taking a hot bath with epsom salt I took four of the cannabis capsules. After a couple of hours the pain was improved and I was able to get some sleep. I woke up feeling great this morning. The soreness and pain are almost gone. In the past if I had a partial bowel obstruction or exercise induced adhesion pain I would be sore for at least a week. But after taking the cannabis capsules the inflammation is nearly gone today. Cannabis is an amazing plant. It is a medicine that helps me sleep, helps relieve pain, helps relieve inflammation, helps me to relax,  helps me with anxiety and helps me to live a fuller life.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/

There are almost no treatments out there for adhesions and small bowel obstructions from the medical field besides bed rest, pain management and surgery . But I’ve created my own treatment protocol that has helped tremendously. I no longer fear working out as I did before. I no longer feel powerless when the pain and inflammation comes due to my adhesions or when my output begins to slow. By simply breathing in a different way, taking a hot bath with epsom salt along with self-massage of my abdomen, and taking cannabis capsules I have found a powerful anti-inflammatory protocol that has helped me weather many potentially devastating bowel obstructions and sleepless nights. This has saved me not only thousands of dollars in medical bills but also hours of mental and physical suffering and has saved my family from having their lives disrupted as well. It also empowers me to know that I have powerful tools that can help me to feel better and live a better life. These techniques aren’t 100% effective and I know that I’ll be back in the hospital one day due to a bowel obstruction. But hopefully by using these tools it will be a long time in the future and I’ll have done a lot of living before it happens again.

This routine I use to help get over severe abdominal soreness due to adhesions, avoiding  bowel obstruction, or to help sooth a pancreatitis attack also works wonders for everyday life. I have inherently a ton of inflammation due to adhesions and scaring as well as the state of my small intestine and autoimmune conditions. I’ve begun taking a hot epsom bath soak almost every night even when output is normal as well as one or two cannabis capsules. I also do my breathing exercises throughout the day  for mental calmness and peace of mind and physical relief. These are tools and practices I will do for the rest of my life. I’ve had over 50 bowel obstructions , some requiring hospital stays and some requiring surgery. I wonder how many of those bowel obstructions and surgeries I could have avoided if I discovered this protocol thirty years ago.

Brad Miller

My health is my responsibility