Problems digesting food may indicate tension in our relationships. The spiritual meaning of stomach pain is linked to how we absorb and digest the world around us.
Stomach pain, also called belly pain, is incredibly common. A recent national survey by AbbVie found that 72 percent of Americans are living with gastrointestinal problems at least a few times every month, and over half of those are not seeking help from a doctor. These might include gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. We know there are problems with the North American diet, and of course there might be underlying diseases at play, but what is the spiritual meaning of stomach pain?
Food & Relationships
When we talk about the digestive system, we’re talking about processing food—taking the outside world into our bodies and transforming it from outside material to inside material. When you think about it, eating is a fascinating practice in connecting with the world around us. In order to survive, in order to make muscles, fat, brain cells, and everything else in our bodies, we need to consume plant or animal products from the world outside of us.
Food is unavoidably created through community—even the most innocent foods, like carrots, are grown and harvested by someone who is helped by someone else, whose produce travels from the ground to the grocery store to your plate. Even if you grow your own carrots, you need access to water, soil, and the time and money to grow those carrots. Everything is interconnected.
For this reason, problems with food usually indicate some tension or strain on relationships. This might be about community, closeness, or simply a feeling of not belonging in the world. When we can absorb and digest the food from the world around us, our diet is spiritually strong; we are connected to everything. We feel safe.
Stress & the Spiritual Meaning of Stomach Pain
Our guts are often the first place stress shows up. In the classical fight-or-flight response, energy leaves the digestive tract and sends that energy elsewhere, such as to the limbs and muscles to prepare to run or fight. Digestion takes a lot of energy, and when we’re rushing around and feeling stressed, the body can’t digest our food properly.
Diarrhea and constipation are often directly caused by a stress response. Commonly, diarrhea is related to fight-or-flight: the body ejects the contents of the digestive system so that it can focus on the immediate task at hand.
Constipation, on the other hand, is related to the “freeze” response. Fight and flight are two stress reactions, another is freeze. It can look like numbness or depression: think of the animal that “plays dead” in order to avoid a predator. It might look relaxing, but, internally, stress hormones are coursing through that person’s blood. Feeling depressed is a form of stress, though we don’t often think of it that way.
[Read: “Yoga for Constipation.”]
Have you ever felt sick when things were going wrong in your life or when you were having a conflict with someone you loved? Stomach pain is sometimes an indication that something is unresolved and unprocessed. The stomach is the place where we break down our food and transform it into our bodies. When the stomach hurts, we are having trouble digesting an emotional experience. Addressing that emotion gets to the spiritual basis or meaning of stomach pain.
Rebalancing the Stomach
Meditation is a powerful way to help rebalance the stomach, partly because it helps so much with reducing the stress response. There are many ways to meditate, but the best way is the way that feels most comfortable and easeful for you.
A meditation to soothe the stomach is great in Constructive Rest post. Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Let the feet widen so that the knees can fall together. This helps to relax all the muscles in the belly. Place your hands on your belly and breathe deeply.
Focus on breathing into the stomach area. Try to relax as much as you can. Notice what arises as you allow yourself to breathe into your stomach. Observe without judgment or trying to fix or change anything. Simply notice what your stomach is trying to tell you. You may like to write down what you experience and anything your stomach is trying to communicate to you. Spend at least five minutes here, and try to do this daily for a little while, which may help to repattern the stress response in your body. However possible, honor the requests and needs of the stomach for a few days, and see if you feel any better.
Listen to a guided meditation to ease tension in your abdomen.