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BLOG » Trouble swallowing pills? Learn the real cause (Hint: it's not your gag reflex)
Do you have trouble swallowing pills? Do you gag, choke, or feel like the pill gets stuck in your throat? You're not alone. Many people have difficulty swallowing pills, and it's usually not because of something wrong with their mouth. The root of the problem is actually a dysregulated nervous system and trauma in the pelvic region.
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Trouble swallowing pills? Learn the real cause (Hint: it's not your gag reflex)

December 19, 2022

While shaking my hips left to right in Zumba class, I felt that oh-so-uncomfortable feeling of a charley horse starting. The knotting was so bad that it was the size of a softball and I couldn't stand. A fellow Zumba-er saw it and gasped. The instructor paused the music. I was embarrassed, not because of the charley horse but because of the reason why... I hated taking magnesium supplements (I had a magnesium deficiency but that's a whole different post) because the pills or capsules were too big and they always felt like they got stuck in my throat when I managed to swallow them.

Fast forward to several years and hundreds of muscle cramps later, to when I started becoming an orgasm coach. Little did I know that the work I was doing to help make the world a better place one orgasm at a time would actually be the solution to make it easier to swallow a pill.

It's not your gag reflex

Like most people I thought the reason I had difficulty swallowing pills (the medical term is dysphagia) was because of my gag reflex but that's not the reason; gagging is only a symptom of the real problem. The gag reflex, also known as the pharyngeal reflex, is a reflex that occurs when something stimulates the back of the throat. It's triggered by touch receptors in the mouth and throat. When stimulated, the gag reflex causes a powerful contraction of the muscles at the back of the throat.

The thing about swallowing pills is that if it was solely due to the touch receptors, then nearly everyone (except the people who don't have a gag reflex) would gag while they're eating. And that's not what happens.

Unpleasant thoughts can also make someone gag but it's not because of the gag reflex, it's from our bodies reaction to stress.

Whenever we are stressed (aka things are uncertain and we have to take action), our bodies instantaneously start a slew of processes to help us flee from or fight the stress. This includes sending extra energy to the muscles and preparing them for action by contracting them 1. This includes the ring of muscles in your throat. This is why just thinking about swallowing a pill can make your throat tighten, making it difficult to swallow.

When your throat tightens around a pill, it can then create enough pressure on the reflex point making you gag. Ever hear of Pavlov's dogs? Brains can be trained to have a certain response to different kinds of stimuli. So if you repeatedly gag while trying to swallow a pill, you can train your brain to gag whenever your throat constricts.

If you repeatedly experience anxiety and develop a fear of swallowing capsules or pills, you train your body to engage in the stress response whenever it is time for you to take a pill. Just the idea of swallowing a pill will automatically cause your brain to start the stress response which will leave you with a dry mouth, which will make swallowing pills difficult and can cause you to choke.

Swallowing your emotions will cause problems swallowing pills

Unfortunately most of us live (and/or grew up) in a way where we are unable to speak up (aka talk back), unable to be angry (aka act out), unable to cry (aka crying shows weakness), and plenty of other emotional urges that have to be suppressed in order to be accepted. When you have an emotional reaction (that also includes when you're completely dissociated and ignoring your emotions) your body is creating a whole bunch of chemical reactions. That energy doesn't just disappear. That energy gets stored in your body.

Emotions move through our fascia (the weblike connective tissue that surrounds every organ and muscle in our body). When the emotional energy can't move through, it get stuck in the fascia. Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) has known for thousands of years that our emotions are stored in different parts of the body. When you chronically suppress your emotions, that energy (those emotions) are literally stored in the muscles and organs of your body. Every time you feel the urge and aren't permitted to speak your emotion, your fascia tightens preventing the energy to pass through and the energy gets stuck.

The Hip bone is connected to the Jaw bone

From day 15 of embryonic development two depressions form which will later become a mouth and the genitals. The connection between these two parts remain.

One of the ways is through the Deep Front Line of fascia. Starting at the bottom of your feet, the stringy, connective tissue of fascia goes up the back of your legs and then branches out with one branch going through the thigh, hips, pelvis, and lumbar (lower back) while the other goes up through the hips to your pelvic floor. The parts rejoin at the lumbar spine and goes up around the diaphragm, lungs, and heart, all the way up to the jaw. The Deep Front Line provides the support necessary for breathing, protecting the vital organs, and is the anchor for all of the other fascial lines of your body.

The other way the pelvic area (yoni) is connected to the jaw is through the nervous system. Besides fascia being highly innervated with sensory nerves, every part of the body that is involved in an involuntary response (such as breathing, digestion, making semen, vaginal lubrication, menstruation, etc) are innervated through the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is part of the autonomic (automatic) nervous system. All of the nerves of this system are outside of the spine and are called cranial nerves. There are 10 of them and the vaugs nerve is the 10th and the longest of the cranial nerves as it extends from the jaw all the way down to the reproductive and excretory organs.

The vagus nerve is the nerve responsible for the stress response so it controls all the organs related to breathing, digestion, and reproduction. Every time you are stressed, the fascia around every muscle and organ attached to the vagus nerve contracts to protect it (as I talk about in this article: Moving Trauma out of Your body: 4 step process for healing). The more stress you experience, the fascia becomes more dense leading to tight muscles and constricted organs. This can then lead to a cycle of tension that is difficult to break even when we aren't actively experiencing stress.

Which leads me back to why most people have difficulty swallowing pills... they have a dysregulated nervous system.

A dysregulated nervous system causes trouble swallowing pills

As you have learned, the parts of our body are not isolated and they all work together. When one part of the body is affected, other parts of the body are affected. The organs of the breathing process, which includes the throat, lungs, heart, diaphragm, and pelvic floor, are all directly connected as they have to work in tandem for full breath.

Each muscle and organ send information about the state of the body through the nervous system. When energy is stuck in the fascia it sends a signal that it is under stress. This causes the other areas of the body to be under stress. So rather being in homeostasis (a state of balance), the body fails to respond appropriately to stimuli and events. The body remains on high alert instead of relaxing and allowing proper function of all the systems of the body.

This is what it means to have a dysregulated nervous system.

So, when a person has tight pelvic floor muscles or an overly tense diaphragm, this makes it hard to swallow a big pill or even a small tablet because of the intrinsic connection of all the parts of your body related to breathing properly and their tie to the stress response.

Regulating your nervous system

The good news is that you don't have to live with a dysregulated nervous system and you can make swallowing pills easier. The key is to move the stuck energy out of your body. Embodiment practices that encompass movement and bodywork such as yoga, meditation, myofascial release, cranial sacral therapy, and my favorite, yoni dearmouring, are all great ways to do so.

These practices help reduce stress, relax the fascia, and re-establish homeostasis in the body.

By working with your body in a mindful way you can begin to unstick the energy in the fascia and restore balance between all the parts affected by the vagus nerve. This will help to calm your nervous system and allow for proper functioning of all the systems related to swallowing pills. This will allow for more ease in your breathing, digestion, and overall health as your organs can then take on their proper roles. With a regulated nervous system you'll improve your ability to take pills.

Over the last several years, I've been working with females to release trauma stored in the pelvic floor and yoni through the process of yoni dearmouring. The "side effects" from yoni dearmouring seem unrelated when you're used to looking at your body from an isolated lens. If you want to learn how to swallow pills more easily, I would encourage you to take a look at my yoni dearmouring course. This process has helped many people break free from bodily dysfunction and find relief.

I've seen it time and time again, when we take care of our bodies as a unified system, everything starts to come together in the most beautiful way.

It's time for us to start looking at our bodies in a holistic way, instead of individual parts working independently from each other. The evidence is clear that the jaw and pelvic floor are connected through the fascia and nervous systems. When we take care of both areas, we can find true healing and liberation.

Looking to release tension in your pelvic floor?

Yoni Dearmouring

Learn how to create a deep connection to yourself on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level by releasing the trauma stored in your yoni.
Click here to learn more about Yoni Dearmouring

Wendy is a trauma-informed orgasm coach that specializes in helping women take ownership of their sexual pleasure through simple practices that are backed up by neuroscience and physiology.

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