Healing Wombs: The Arvigo Techniques Of Maya Abdominal Therapy
This article is reprinted by special request from Spirit of Change Fall 2003.
Catherine arrived at the yoga studio looking weary and subdued. As she joined the circle and began to check in with the group, her story gently unfolded. She had been experiencing increasing digestive problems and discomfort, and awoke in the morning to discover that her uterus had prolapsed. The cervix was extending out through the vaginal opening. She felt as if she was carrying a bowl between her legs, and it was bearing down on all her organs of elimination. I was horrified for her.
In the past I had heard about women having surgeries to repair a prolapse of the pelvic floor, and had always assumed that the cause was pushing in childbearing, but this woman was childless. She was committed to healing herself through non-surgical alternatives, even if it meant wearing some sort of sling to hold her internal organs for the rest of her life. I made it my mission to search the Internet for information about prolapsed organs and to try to help my non-computer literate friend.
Through that search I learned that my own health was on a collision course with gravity. Although I had two children by caesarian section and had never “pushed,” I had almost every risk factor for prolapsed organs, including years of running and teaching aerobics, and was already suffering from over three quarters of the symptoms, including an ovarian cyst. My friend’s illness revealed to me the potential of my own possible fate. Fortunately, it also led me towards hope in changing my destiny through the grace of Rosita Arvigo. And, we saved Catherine’s uterus.
Healing The Wandering Womb
The Arvigo Techniques of Maya abdominal therapy are practiced and taught by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, D.N., who has spent the last thirty years studying and teaching Maya medicine. Maya abdominal massage is a self-care practice supported by professional instruction, and is an integral part of Maya medicine. The massage is performed over clothing and greatly assists in the release of trauma after accidents, childbirth or illness, as well as resetting the position of the uterus in the female. Rosita learned these techniques from her mentor, Don Elijio Panti, the great Maya shaman of Belize, Central America, with whom she apprenticed for ten years. Before accepting her as his apprentice, Don Elijio secured Rosita’s promise that she would remain in Belize to care for “his people,” a promise she has honored to this day. Don Elijio passed away in 1996 at the age of 103; fortunately, much of his vast knowledge of herbal and physical healing was preserved. Rosita now works tirelessly both in Belize and the United States in sharing this important work. Rosita also studied with Hortence Robinson, an elder and herbal midwife of Belize who has been delivering babies since she was 13.
The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy address the position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs. The work is best known for the correction of the prolapsed, fallen or tipped uterus, and for the prevention and treatment of benign prostate enlargement in men. Don Elijio believed that a woman’s center is her uterus. “If a woman’s uterus is out of balance, so is she,” he would say. Midwives and healers of Central America agree that most “female troubles” are caused by the wandering womb. Normally the uterus leans slightly over the bladder in the center of the pelvis, about one and a half inches above the pubic bone. It is held in this position by muscles, the vaginal wall and ligaments that attach it to the back, front, and sides of the pelvis. Uterine ligaments are made to accommodate a growing fetus and to move freely when the bladder or bowel is full. The ligaments and muscles can weaken and loosen, causing the uterus to fall downward, forward, backward or to either side. A uterus in any of these positions is referred to as “tipped.”
Unfortunately, the causes for uterine displacement are common and varied. Some of them include: falls that impact the lower back, sacrum and tailbone; car accidents; ligaments weakened due to overstretching during pregnancy and labor; bad professional care during pregnancy, labor and delivery and afterward; carrying heavy burdens during the pregnancy or too soon after delivery; running on cement surfaces; walking barefoot on cold floors and/or wet grass; wearing high heeled shoes; chronic constipation; high-impact dancing, aerobics, horseback riding, gymnastics or other sports activity; pressure caused by sagging intestines; weak pelvic floor muscles; poor alignment of pelvic bones with spinal column; surgeries; carrying children on hips for long periods of time; emotional armoring from rape, sexual assault, or incest at any time in life; time and gravity. Modern medicine has little or nothing to offer women with this problem. Generally they are told, “Your uterus is tipped, but don’t worry about it.” Yet women have a laundry list of physical and emotional symptoms that can be addressed and prevented with these simple, noninvasive massage techniques.
When reproductive organs shift, they can constrict normal flow of blood and lymph, and disrupt nerve connections. Just a few extra ounces of misplaced tissue sitting on blood and lymph vessels can cause havoc throughout the different systems in the body. By shifting the uterus back into place, homeostasis, or the natural balance of the body, is restored in the pelvic area and the surrounding organs. Toxins are flushed and nutrients that help to tone tissue and balance hormones are restored to normal order. This is essential for healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Old adhesions from invasive treatments to the pelvic and abdominal area, including fibroid tumors, endometriosis, and cesarean delivery are diminished when addressed by uterine massage. In addition, digestion, urinary and bladder problems can be helped. This type of massage is also helpful in increasing blood flow to the pelvic region for men.
Untold numbers of hysterectomies and Caesarian births could be prevented with this simple, safe, easy to learn massage technique. Women who have had hysterectomies benefit greatly from Maya abdominal therapy as well. The technique improves circulation in and around the area of the scar and allows for proper flow of the lymph, which often becomes blocked after surgery, resulting in swelling, burning and deep aching pains in the pelvis. When done properly, external massage strengthens the ligaments and muscles that support the uterus and ovaries. In Belize and many other South American countries, this gentle, yet powerful technique is performed a few days after childbirth, accompanied by a herbal cleansing vaginal steam bath. In contrast, Western medicine’s D&C procedure is much more traumatic and requires the cervix to be dilated and the uterine walls to be scraped.
Discovering this important information about uterine health inspired me to want to learn more. The Center for Cultural Evolution in Colraine, MA serves as one of the training centers for small groups of men and women who come together to learn Rosita’s work. Maya abdominal therapy is performed fully clothed and is very non-invasive and gentle. Self-care training and supervision is offered in a 3-day format and includes an evaluation by a practitioner. Qualified bodyworkers and nurses receive professional training in an additional weeklong program. I decided to register for the class.
The training began with a self-care curriculum. Rosita is a gifted and creative teacher. She explained how the fascia that surrounds each organ is sticky — like cling wrap that gets caught on itself — so the organ can get stuck in the wrong location and develop adhesions and scar tissue. Using scarves and her own arms, she became a uterus with its support ligaments, and contorted herself into various comical but tragic depictions of a uterus stuck on a bladder, glued to a colon, pulled over to one side and blocking circulation in a leg, and folded into a cramp. The ramifications of this four ounce misplaced organ expanding in pregnancy to the size of a watermelon were profound.
Regarding the deep inquiry into whether God is a woman or man, she questioned the wisdom of having a hallway (vagina) directly under the organs of reproduction and elimination, compared to the relative safety of men’s vital organs. But men, too, benefit from the Maya therapeutic techniques, and I am now on a much more intimate basis with the prostate than I ever imagined. A sedentary lifestyle creates compression of the testicles and groin, increases acidity, decreases waste removal, and creates malfunction and discomfort. The Maya complement this therapy with marigold seed tea and stinging nettle to relieve prostate pain; there are other herbs, including manvine, for men’s concerns.
Rosita’s training also directly addresses the impact of sexual assault and incest in both men and women. Using the work of the late William Reich, she explained how emotional armoring can be gently released using the self care protocol, Maya medicine, prayer and herbs.
Training in self care includes an evaluation and training by a certified practitioner. Lucy was my trainer for that day. As I lay down on the table fully clothed, oceans of unshed tears overwhelmed me. I was questioning whether I would survive the seemingly endless onslaught of grief that would be released, which has been activated but not resolved by other therapies. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. As Lucy began to teach me the techniques, I could feel circulation beginning to fill the front of my body. As she worked on the right side, I could sense my uterus and fallopian tube coming into center. As she came to left, she found the ovary far down in the left corner. The fascia, or connective tissue of the fallopian tubes and ovary, had been tugged down and stitched into my cesarean scar, pulling the left ovary with it. I was back in time at the birth of my second son, 16 years ago. The pulling and tugging of Lucy gently releasing my contracted pelvis was slightly uncomfortable, but accompanied by a rush of circulation and energy that washed through my pelvis and leg. I was utterly amazed as I felt a line of contraction let go from my pelvis all the way up the left side of my body, up the side of my neck, to the attachment of my skull. The rotation of my pelvis and the scoliosis curve in my spine, which I had tried to address through years of yoga, bodywork and therapy, began to release as I lay there experiencing the grief I felt for needing a section birth due to a “tipped uterus,” juxtaposed with the joy of holding a cherished infant son.
Medications and sedatives prescribed to trauma survivors do not address subterranean emotional armoring held in the body. Rosita notes that the emotion-based physical armoring that accompanies trauma will be released chronologically, beginning with the recent past. When the armoring is released from the body it resolves issues which can remain untouched in twenty years of talk therapy. Practitioners also use plant spirit medicine and herbs to assist release and integration.
Maya abdominal therapy is one tool for those who understand the dangers of leaving our own unresolved issues beneath the surface in present relationships, as well as for the next generation. The commitment to a regular practice of abdominal therapy, or any other practice which helps bring to the light of consciousness that which is held in the unconscious, transmutes trauma and allows us to thrive rather than simply survive.
There is a prophecy from both North American and South American First Nation people: “When the eagle and the condor fly together, the Age of Peace will manifest.” Abdominal healing is the gift to the present from the ancient lineage of Maya elders, carried forth by Rosita Arvigo.
Pat Burke is a writer and yoga teacher in Marlboro, MA. She believes that the Eastern contemplative practices and the indigenous healing traditions can greatly enhance Western treatment of trauma. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosita Arvigo is the author of three books including: Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer, Rainforest Remedies: 100 Healing Plants of Belize, and Rainforest Home Remedies: The Maya Way to Heal Your Body and Nourish Your Soul. The last book contains instructions for abdominal massage. A fourth book, The Art of Spiritual Bathing is due out in November, 2003.
Dr. Arvigo established the Terra Nova Forest Preserve and Tree Planting Camp Program and the Bush Medicine Camp for Children in Belize. Donations may be sent to: Traditional Healers Foundation of Belize, c/o Diane McDonald, Box 189, Antrim, NH 03440. www.arvigotherapy.com