Pain and Healing – Part VII

There are many paths to helping people.

Moving with more ease and more movement is the best long term recovery strategy.

As we continue to shift your thoughts and beliefs about pain, consider this: pushing through pain will not make you stronger or more flexible. It actually increases risk to sensitizing the nervous system even more.

The goal of movement should be more ease now. You should be thinking afterwards, “I don’t regret doing this movement.” Our breath test will tell us we are doing the right thing for our systems.

The neuro-immune system is impacted when you push too hard. The commonly held belief that pain is all in your mind is the main reason people push themselves. You don’t have to live with it or despite it. Starting with the belief that pain is not changeable goes against the research. We have to believe that change is possible. We don’t know the degree for each person but we know it’s possible.

Let’s look at the analogy of cook and how it relates to pain. If you make a chili and add too much spice, you don’t add more spice to make it better, you add tomatoes or something else. Pushing through the pain is not going to make the pain go away.

As we have learned over the last two months, pain is highly complex, and we can’t understand all of it. But it is possible to move with ease and understand pain better.

Evidence of increased safety in movement is related how pain is experienced.

SIMs and DIMs can be explored in yoga. The ritual of yoga and breath, calms the physiology and nervous system. Layer breath with ease of movement. Body tension is danger (fight or flight/DM) and you can’t let go and experience fast, shallow breath. You may not know how tight or how to let go. Start with breathing calmly then add benign movement, then move towards more “dangerous” or complex movement. Progression turns a DIM into a SIM. Navy Seals go through a similar process in their training – that’s how they can achieve intensely incredible feats by remaining calm while working through progressively more dangerous situations.

Process. Persistence. Compassion.

Often times we experience euphoria when pain is gone. Then we quit our practice. Consider this analogy: If you were playing darts and hit the center, you might think “whoo hoo! I did it.” You feel great. You did it. But, imagine if you tried it everyday for two months. Imagine how good you’d be.

What if you throw a dart and you don’t hit the target? What does that tell you? Doing something once doesn’t tell us much about what could happen in the future with practice. Repetition is key. Start simple with breathing. Try it everyday 5 times for 5 minutes and see in a week or two weeks.

There is also the common sports analogy. Practice makes you better. Imagery and visualization can stimulate movement that is not yet possible. Watch yourself doing it. Feel yourself do it from the inside out. Yoga Nidra is a practice of guided imagery. If you are someone who keeps pushing yourself, this might be a good place of peace to start from.

Facial muscles even feed into the parasympathic nervous system. Research suggests that when we clench our eyes, ears, mouth, tongue it sends a danger signal to our brain. Softening around these orfices is a SIM. Setting an hourly timer to consciously relax the muscles in our face for 20-30 seconds helps us to develop our neuroplasticity.

Pain can be so wound up that little things can have a big influence on it. One system can change another system. We don’t know the degrees and complexity.

Neil Pearson, physio and yoga therapist shares 5 steps for pain care and can be found on his website.  Here are 2 things to consider when looking for a practitioner to help you heal:

  1. Feel heard. This can change our pain.
  2. Someone who is a helper, a part of the process, not doing something to you. The client is the doer. This is key to the whole process. The practitioner should applaud lowering of pain in the session. Then give something to do to work towards maintaining that lowered pain.

It’s a Butterfly effect: 1 small change can change the relationship of the whole system. 

I’d like to conclude with a Summary of what is known about Pain and Healing.

Persistent pain is pain that is often undiagnosed from tests and not an infection. Doctors don’t know what to do. The complicated part is taking ownership of what’s really going on (eg. Hating your job, childhood trauma, diet). Are you coping in a healthy way? We acknowledge it is scary to nudge your comfort zone.

What we know is pain is subjective based on the individual. Your brains interpretation of what is going on is a protective response of a trigger. Further, emotional pain can manifest physically. It can be related to the environment, structural, sensory input, gut, thoughts, support systems, what you’ve been told or haven’t been told. When we feel helpless or out of control, that is danger. When we feel danger it can strengthen the fear, tension, sympathetic nervous system and pain. Where pain is, is not the problem. Pain is saying, pay attention to me. Low vs high pain tolerance is an interpretation by the brain of what is going on. We can work on flipping the script on how we use words. Finding the positives (SIMs) and retraining safety in our body/mind.

Remember, change is possible! Explore these on your own to develop your awareness:

  1. Educate yourself on pain science. 20 minutes a day can decrease pain. Knowledge is power. When you are empowered, you are in control.
  2. Stress exacerbates symptoms. When quiet, symptoms go away. Notice the quiet moments – change has happened! We can’t think clearly when we are in pain, we ruminate, get irritable and can’t recognize the good moments. Journal and plot out the good and bad moments over the week. Then make a decision about what they can do about it.
  3. Recognize, Reduce, Eliminate. Try Pain Train or Symptom Tracker app if journaling is producing too much anxiety.
  4. Support Groups can be a danger if members complain all the time and increase fear.
  5. It takes more than 1 time with a practitioner for a shift/healing. Be patient. Don’t resist. Own it. Ride the wave. Keep in mind that the first visit the practitioner could be having an off day or you could be having an off day. By the third visit some shift should occur. Could be any number of reasons why you don’t vibe with a practitioner. There is no fault, just that relationship in that moment didn’t work (context). You may or may not be in the right headspace to hear or listen. Instant gratification can’t be the expectation. Keep working through everything under the surface.
  6. Self development: create a web of support. You don’t have to do it alone. If your friend was in the same situation what advice would you give them? All the things that we do, is because we said yes. Do you need to take something off your plate? Do you need to say no? Walk more? Drink water? Stop smoking? Are you ready to take the next step? What do you already have? Contemplate that it might not be people, it could be animals or music or writing. Healing comes from within. No one is going to do it for you.

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part VI

Over the last month and half I have writing about pain science research to help us broaden our scope of understanding pain and how we can begin to heal ourselves. Today’s review comes from a talk by yoga therapist Matthew Taylor from the United States. He teaches from the perspective of the Biopsychosocial model. This brings all the parts together to make a whole. For example, if you roll your ankle, you experience pain physiologically in the sympathetic nervous system, but also psychologically, your active mind is upset that your weekend plans got ruined and you feel unsupported spiritually. This means we can’t look at the ankle in isolation. When we look through different lenses we help the mind shift perspectives.

Yoga is the science of transformation. Through yoga we seek to shift our state  into the parasympathetic nervous system and by doing so we unlock creativity, clarity and calm. Simply taking 3 sets of 10 deep breaths for a given movement (such as during a yoga pose) shifts the nervous system and turns the solution seeking inward rather than outward.

Yoga asana (the poses) is a process of the how, no the what. In yoga we use attention as a tool to notice how you feel and to gain insight.

Applications for persistent pain: Most people with persistent pain don’t trust their body because the pain is in the body. Try some of these suggestions from Matthew:

  1. Explore your identity around pain.
  2. Pain education and language. When we say “the damn knee” we are talking about it as something other but it’s actually you. 20 minute of pain education can help us to reduce our pain.
  3. Legs up the wall with weight on the belly can create a SIM situation.
  4. Build stamina around hope = possibility.
  5. Have compassion for yourself.
  6. Social media diet – content can raise sympathetic nervous system activation.

Your body is a barometer. Try the Breath test – our breath tells us if something was wise idea. Compare before and after. Fast/shallow breathing is a system in danger (DIM). Think back to the Protectometer. If your breath is long and deep and even you likely feel safe, calm and relaxed.

Salience and interest drives neuroplasticity. Want a stable enough nervous system to non-react to pokes/prodes without looping back into old patterns? A stabilized nervous system lasts 24 hours. So when you practice yoga therapy every day with awareness and attention the results might surprise and shock you. We are complex, we can’t predict anything and we are always changing.

Next week will be the final post on Pain and Healing. See you then.

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part I

Mid November I attended an online Pain and Healing Conference hosted by my teacher and yoga therapist Susi Hately of Functional Synergy. There has been a lot of research in recent years on Pain Science and the implications that has for people who suffer from pain.

Over the course of the next few weeks I am going to work at unpacking some of this vital information in a series of blog posts so you can be more informed and empowered to take back your control from pain and move with hope towards a brighter, pain free future.

Of the 10 speakers from the conference there were underlying themes and concepts that kept arising. My intention is to summarize some of the findings so that you can have a better understanding of the paradigm shift that is occurring with modern pain science research findings so that you will feel more informed and empowered to take back control from the pain that you or a loved one is experiencing.

The biggest and most important findings are four-fold. One, pain is not where the problem is. Two, pain is a protector. Three, pain is complicated and we are complex beings with complex systems so don’t give up. Four, hope is essential and possible.

There is an incredible trifecta of pain researchers in Austraila that are focusing on pain education. Pain research findings teach us that pain is a warning signal or a protector. This means, rather than perceiving pain as something being broken in our bodies, our brain is perceiving danger that something is not functioning quite as it should. This provides hope. Danger means we can get out of danger by doing something. By perceiving that something is broken. We are more likely to give up and see it as something that is long lasting and can’t change. Luckily this simple isn’t true.

Movement is critical in reducing pain at both the level of tissues and the spinal cord.  It is at the tissue and spinal cord level that our body communicates with the brain. Like Skinners salivating dogs, we too can condition movements to be either painful or not painful. Simply by imagining desired movements in our minds, we can reduce our pain and promote recovery.

Movement and visualization starts by reducing our stress. Many of us don’t even realize we under stress. It has become so normalized we don’t recognize it. When we are in pain and/or our body is in a state of stress – there are protective agencies at play.  We need to return our systems to a non-protective state by tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system through breath and movement. Therapeutic yoga is an excellent way to train our nervous system.

The research teaches us that we bioplastic human beings. This means our systems are adaptive. Pain can go. When we change the context, pain can come back. Like I said before, pain doesn’t indicate something is broken. This is really good news!

Here are 5 things to know if you or someone you know experiences persistent pain.

1) Pain is real to the person experiencing it.

2) Pain is a protector. Pain acts as a warning from the brain of what it thinks you might do if you keep going.

3) There are many contributors to pain. There is lot of research that shows pain can come from all over your life – people, places, things external to you can be a trigger, as well as thoughts and beliefs.

4) The good news is we are fundamentally adaptable and recovery is possible. We can train our systems to be less protective.

5) The less good news, it’s not easy BUT everyone has the resources. It’s doable but it’s a journey.

In health,

 

Lindsay

 

My next post will be about neuroscience researcher Tasha Stanton who discusses the complexity of pain…

Breathing for Stress and Anxiety

Yoga_Photoshoot_Hany_easy pose 2Wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you could flip a switch and all your stress and anxiety would just go away? There are many different strategies we can employ such as going to a yoga class, getting a massage, meditating, being in nature or exercising. These are all wonderful things that we can do that will help. These all require finding time and going somewhere to do it. However, there is one more tool that we can use at any time no matter where you are. That is your breath.

Many of us who practice yoga or any of the above activites have gotten a glimpse of the switch that leaves us feeling, calm, relaxed and at peace. Unfortunately these feelings are fleeting, stressors find their way back into the limelight and it leaves us wanting without knowing how to get it back.

The answer lies not just in our breath, but how we breathe and the mindfulness that arises from this awareness. After years and years, dare I say decades of stress, years of being on anxiety medication and then the death of my mom, I stumbled across a doctor who told me I wasn’t breathing. I was holding my breath. I was certainly taken aback by this observation and it was turning point for me. Albeit slow, the process brought me to where I am today and now I want to share the skills with you so you can reap the benefits now and not years down the road.

Breathing is important for two reasons. One, it brings oxygen to our blood and two, oxygenated blood helps to heal our tissues. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we have unconsciously learned a disordered way of breathing that is fast and shallow, that limits the flow of oxygen into our bloodstream. As a result, we are not taking in sufficient oxygen or able to expel sufficient carbon dioxide. Reduced lung function reduces our vitality, ages us prematurely, lowers are immune function, etc. So not only does breathing impact our cardiovascular system, but it also effects the respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychic systems. So you can see how important optimal breathing is for our overall functioning.

When we re-learn how to breath optimally we begin the healing process and improve our ability to cope with stressors.

We can also begin to experience these benefits for the long term:

  • Less respiratory problems, stronger heart by reducing it’s workload
  • Relaxes body and the mind
  • Improves the health of the nervous system, including brain, spinal cord, nerve centres and nerves.
  • It has an effect on your sleep, your memory, energy level and concentration.
  • Aids in digestion and elimination. Assists in weight control. Oxygen helps burn up excess fat more efficiently.
  • More oxygen in the blood means better complexion, fewer wrinkles, more energy, clarity for the mind, positive thinking, supports vision and hearing.
  • Rejuvenates muscle and organ functioning. Lack of oxygen to cells is a major contributing factor to cancer, heart disease and strokes

Why Do We Breath Fast + Shallow?

Let’s face it, our lifestyles often dictate that we are in a hurry most of the time. Our movements and breathing follow this pattern. Perhaps you have noticed in your yoga practice how your mind and body mirror each other. The increasing stress of modern living makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply. Other reasons could be related to negative emotional states, reduced physical activity,  environmental pollution and even our culture (the desire for an attractive flat stomach results in gripping and holding of the abdominals. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.)

Medical journals suggest that fast, shallow breathing can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, stomach upsets, heart burn, gas, muscle cramps, dizziness, visual problems, chest pain, and heart palpitations.

Disordered Breathing Patterns

In addition to fast, shallow breathing, you might resort to chest breathing which is a habitual pattern failing to fully exhale and inhale. Other disordered patterns include mouth breathing, breath holding and hyperventilating.  When the sympathetic nervous system is switched on all the time, it can lead to changes in anxiety, blood pH, muscle tone, pain threshold, to only name a few. Overuse of accessory breathing muscles can lead to neck and shoulder pain/dysfunction and could even mimic cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.

Typical symptoms of disorder breathing can include:

  • Frequent sighing and yawning
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Erratic heartbeats
  • Feeling anxious and uptight
  • Pins and needles
  • Upset gut/nausea
  • Clammy hands
  • Chest Pains
  • Shattered confidence
  • Tired all the time
  • Achy muscles and joints
  • Dizzy spells or feeling spaced out
  • Irritability or hypervigilance
  • Feeling of ‘air hunger’
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Back pain. Research suggests there is correlation between breathing pattern disorders and low back pain.

Our reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

The stress response suppresses the immune system, increasing our susceptibility to colds and illnesses. The build up of stress can lead to anxiety and depression.

We can learn to use our breath as one tool to down-regulate the sympathetic nervous system and up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system that helps the body rest, digest and recover.  The body is designed to spend the majority of its time in the parasympathetic nervous system.  Ideally, it only uses the sympathetic nervous system for true life-threatening emergencies.

To learn how to optimize your breathing to reduce stress register for my Breathing for Stress and Anxiety workshop May 20, 2017 at Leslieville Sanctuary. These are skills that you take with you in the car, at work and play. This workshop is appropriate for kids, teens and adults. No yoga experience is required.

To find out how you can host a Breathing Workshop for Stress and Anxiety at your workplace contact me for details.

Developing Your Mindfulness Practice – Part 1

mudraWe are all starting to hear through the media the benefits of a mindfulness practice. Starting something new can be daunting, especially when you don’t have time to attend a yoga class, workshop or seminar on meditation or mindfulness. I get it, our lives are busy. However, mindfulness works. It just takes time.

I have decided to start a new series of blog posts on how you can begin to practice Mindfulness a little bit at a time, making the process manageable and realistic. There are numerous medical studies demonstrating the benefits of Mindfulness. These benefits include but are not limited to: improved social relationships, reduction of stress, anxiety and anger, boosts memory and focus,. Now medical studies are demonstrating that mindfulness reduces chronic pain, manages stress, and helps us to feel better about ourselves.

So what is mindfulness?

mind·ful·ness
ˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/
noun
  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Mindfulness starts with developing your perceptions of being aware of what you are doing. We don’t think about breathing because it happens naturally. But when we bring our conscious attention to our breath, feeling the air enter and leave our body, then we are breathing with awareness. Practicing mindfulness means we become the observer, the witness, of our bodies and minds without attaching meaning to what is happening. This means letting go of analyzing our thoughts, or trying to create meaning out of our experiences. The observer, “sees” something, notices it, and that’s it.

As an observer of thoughts and feelings we learn to suspend judgement with practice. We get to know our bodies and minds and by doing so we become a little bit kinder to ourselves and to others. With practice the benefits extend to other areas of our lives and we begin to see and feel these changes taking place.

To develop a new habit, it requires repetition and consistency. The activities to follow are recommend to be done at the  same thing everyday. By repeating the exercise at the same time, will help you remember to do it and it will become a part of your mindfulness practice.

Each week I will post a new mindfulness training exercise. Get comfortable with it and then add another practice next week.

 Mindfulness Practice 1:

Breathing Exercise 1

  • Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths completely filling the lungs and slowly exhaling all the air out. Continue to breath deeply. Notice how the breath feels entering and exiting the lungs through the nostrils. Perhaps you can feel the belly expand with each breath in and soften with each breath out.
  • Begin with each breath in, silently saying to yourself “I am breathing in.” Each exhale, “I am breathing out” (eventually, your inhale, you say “inhale” or “in” and on exhalation say, “exhale” or “out”).

Finding a consistent time is key. Try: when you first sit down at or your desk, or after you respond to your emails in the morning or before you start lunch. Start with 2 minutes. Set a timer. You can always go longer if you like. If day time is a not an option for you, find a time before work or in the evening where you can sit for a couple of uninterrupted minutes.

If you like, start a journal and jot down how you feel before and after each mindfulness session.

Namaste,

Lindsay

STAY COOL THIS SUMMER WITH THESE YOGA POSES

This week is going to be a hot one. As temperatures soar in the city sometimes jumping in the kiddie pool just isn’t an option. Try these simple yoga poses to help cool and calm the body and mind.

 Pranayama:

sitaliOption 1: Sitali – cooling breath

  • Make a tube with your tongue and breath in like you are sucking in air through a straw and then close your mouth exhaling through your nose. Repeat 10 times.

Note: if you have low blood pressure, practice with caution or talk to your doctor first. The breath should be deep and without strain. If you feel dizzy, stop and breath normally.

 

 

right nostrilOption 2: Single-Nostril Breathing

  • Plug the right nostril and breath in and out of the left nostril.
  • Repeat for 10-20 breaths.
 Asanas:

Yoga poses to help cool the body down.

paschimottasanaSeated forward fold

  • Sitting up tall with legs extended in front. If your spine rounds sit on a block, bolster or a pillow/cushion. Inhale the arms up, lengthening the torso/spine. Exhale folding from the hips, bring the arms to rest on the legs. Toes are pointed towards the sky, heels pressing down into the mat. Breath deeply. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths or longer.

 

 

balansanaChilds Pose

  • Bring the knees wide, big toes touching. Sink the hips back toward the heels and you bring your forehead to rest on the mat or block or a pillow. Arms rest overhead on the mat. Breath deeply into the low back. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths or longer.

supta baddha konasanaSupine Butterfly

  • Lay on your back. Bend the knees, bring the soles of the feet together. Allow the knees to fall out the sides. Gently flap the knees up and down like butterfly wings to release holding in the hips and then let the knees sink down towards the floor. Arms can rest by your sides or bring one hand to the low belly and one to the chest. Follow the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe deeply for 5 to 10 breaths or longer.

 

 

supported bridgeSupported Bridge

  • Lay on your back. Bend both knees bring the soles of the feet to the floor, hip distance apart. Draw the heels in as close to the sit bones as you can. Press the upper arms into the ground to and lift the hips. Slide a block, a bolster, a firm pillow or even a rolled up blanket under the sacrum as a support.       Breath deeply for 5 to 10 breaths or more.

legs up the wallLegs up the Wall

  • Sit with your knees bent beside the wall. Swing your legs up the wall and lay back on your mat. Wiggle your bum as close to the wall as you can. For comfort you might want to place a blanket beneath your hips. If you have bolster available you can choose to elevate the hips on the bolster next to the wall. Lay back, close your eyes and rest the arms by your side. Breathing deeply, stay in the pose for 5 minutes or longer.

 

 

savasanaSavasana

  • Laying on your back, bring the feet mat distance apart, toes falling out to the sides. Arms fall away from the body at 45 degrees, palms facing up. Support the back of your head on blanket or pillow. Close your eyes. Breath deeply for 5 to 10 minutes or longer.

If you have an eye pillow, chill it in the freezer and rest it over your eyes during savasana.

Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fruit and veggies.

For more information on private and corporate yoga classes, contact me today!