3 Techniques to Cultivate More Ease and Manage Stress

This past week I gave a 10 minute presentation on stress management to my fellow networking colleagues. It’s so secret that stress can be debilitating and lead to burnout. In 2010, Stats Canada found that 1 in 4 people say they are effected by stress and 60% of those are work related stress. Burnout is highly prevalent amongst teachers, doctors and executives. So essentially the message is this, if you want a different outcome (less stress or at least be able to be in a stressful situation with more ease) then something needs to change. I think it is clear that we can’t expect a different outcome if we don’t change our behaviour. It may be impossible to eliminate all stress from our lives and yet we can do small things with consistency to cultivate more ease. Imagine what your life would be like if you had even just 10% more ease!

First, ease comes in bits and pieces. This arises from precision and consistency in what we do. In other words, slow and steady wins the race. Creating more ease also requires us to become aware of the signs and signals that preceed stress. Once we become aware of what these are, then we are able to intervene sooner and be with that inevitable stress in a different way.

Whether we are recovering from pain or managing stress we know that healing is non-linear. And I think this is where people often get stuck. If you have “set back” or a flare up of symptoms, it doesn’t mean that that the techniques didn’t work. It just means that you don’t have a lot of bandwidth or stamina around that new pattern yet. Neuroscience confirms that our brains and systems are bioplastic. This means we are continually making new neural connections in brain to support new learning. Learning takes time and practice, so in order to groove out a new pattern in our system we need to practice with consistency and awareness. So, back to my point, we make the mistake of thinking we are going back to what we had before stress or the injury or the pain. When in fact, we are actually getting better than we were before. There is a memory or imprint in your system so you don’t have to lose what you gained. I think this is really awesome.

To demonstrate how we can cultivate more ease and groove out a pattern that helps us be with stress in a new way that is more supportive I had my networking team try three techniques that they can practice anytime, anywhere. In the first exercise, participants closed their eyes and brought their index fingers together. I guided them to notice where their attention was at that moment, then again a moment later, and so on for about a minute. What people noticed was that they were no longer thinking about things in the past or the future. They were focused on body sensations in the present moment. They noticed their mind was not racing and thinking of a hundred different things, they felt more present to the moment. Further reflections someone noticed how “busy” their life had become and no longer had time for activities they enjoyed. This realization sparks an opportunity to think about what they will do with that awareness.

The second technique was Alternate Nostril breathing – this can be found online in a quick Google search or try this: block your right nostril with one finger and inhale through the left, block the left nostril and exhale out the right. Inhale right, block the right and exhale out the left. That’s one round. Repeat 4 more times. For limitations of time we started with 5 rounds and then noticed how that experience made them feel. Experiences of calm, peacefulness, cleared breathing, increased focus and feeling both more relaxed and energized came up as results.

The third technique I shared was a short Body Scan. I had participants close their eyes, notice sensation in the palm of their right hand, then each finger. I repeated with the left hand, then each foot, and sensations in the face including the jaw, mouth, nose, eyes and forehead. (message me for a free 5 minute recording you can follow along to).  Simply by paying attention to bodily sensations tension starts to melt away. It is also a great way to start to learn the language of your body. If you’re not used to feeling sensation or the physiological sensations in the body as you experience the full range of emotions and life experiences that you have, then this is a good technique to help you become more familiar with yourself.

Now I need to add a disclaimer. These techniques, like anything else, are not a one size fits all. Depending on your health conditions and life experiences, any of these practices might increase feelings of stress or anxiety and should be at least initially be practiced with an experienced yoga therapist or health care provider. The moral of the story is that stress doesn’t have to be in control. Remember, ease comes in bits and pieces and baby steps will take you there. Ease begets more ease. If you have any questions or you are ready to start your own stress reduction program don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Pain and Healing – Part III

This week I am reflecting the interview with David Butler who is a physiotherapist and educator on pain science. I learned two new terms DIMS (danger in me) and SIMS (safety in me). DIMs and SIMs are used to describe experiences that either increase pain (DIMs) or decrease pain (SIMs). This has implications for our immune/inflammation systems, our nervous system and brain network.

Pain science tells us that pain occurs when the brain perceives danger in the world. The brain perceives safety when we have less pain. Often times in yoga we experience a stopping point. Such as, we gain a certain amount of strength and stop or we are unable to relax beyond a certain point. At some point in our lives we have learned not to advocate for ourselves or we feel too unsafe to be able to let go. From a movement perspective, we can break movements down even more in order to “trick” our nervous system to strengthen more or to relax. From a psychological perspective we can explore beliefs of why we feel unworthy of getting stronger or letting go.

The language we use in how we express our story of pain also plays a role in how we perceive pain. For example, instead of focusing on the negative (the swollen knee), focus on the positive (you are healing already) because you came in for therapy. This is an example of turning a danger in me (DIM) into a safety in me (SIM). Another example of a DIM is blaming your health care practitioner. Change it to a SIM by thinking that your health care provider is trying to help you. Not sure how your use of language frames your pain? Have your partner or friend report on the language you use. Expressions such as “my back is out…” or “it feels like a knife,” are a DIM. The story we tell ourselves over and over again impacts our brain by becoming ingrained. Even the expectation of pain can increase our pain experience.

David described the Protectometer which is a metaphorical device to demonstrate the ups and downs of DIMs and SIMs. The balance shifts up and down. Education and exposure to movement are powerful SIMs. So are taking care of our emotions, well-being, and safety. For example, going for walk (movement) and enjoying the weather (happy emotions) increases your SIMs. Our immune system is impacted by SIMs.

A DIM at one level may not be a DIM at another level. For example, at work your neck hurts but it doesn’t hurt at home. Explore what aspect of work is making your neck hurt.

A SIM or a DIM can be something as simple as a thought. In fact a thought can change a DIM to a SIM. For someone in chronic pain going to the movies for the first time in 6 years could be a SIM. We need conscious awareness to go through this process of recognizing DIMs and SIMs. They tend to hide in hard places to find. A loved one who knows you well, a yoga teacher or a therapist might be able to help you with this process. There could be 30-40 DIMs in someone with chronic pain.

For people in pain, David Butler recommends

1) looking for a health care practitioner who is scientifically aware and believes recovery is possible (very few doctors are well versed in pain science). The biomedical model doesn’t work because it operates on the causal. A biopsychosocial model requires discussion, explaining and curiosity.

2) Look online and familiarize yourself with SIMs/DIMs/Protectometer.

3) Seek out Level A evidence from studies that are a trusted resource.

4) Start a journal of your SIMs and DIMs. There are apps for symptom tracker than can help, if a journal is a DIM.

4) Adopt a sense of curiosity and discuss what you find. Awareness follows and then clarity arises.

5) Be aware of your frame of reference – we may not notice what changes when pain goes away.

Here are 10 Target Concepts to get into this new way of thinking.

  1. Pain is normal, personal, real
  2. Danger sensors, not pain sensors. It is the brain that weighs whether or not it will hurt. We don’t have pain neurons.
  3. Pain and tissue damage are rarely related. It’s all about context.
  4. Pain depends on Danger and Safety. More danger = more pain.
  5. Pain involves distributed brain activity. Different areas of the brain are affects such as memory, fear, future, vision and smell.
  6. Pain relies on context. What we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, say, think, believe, places, people, what we do.
  7. Pain is a protected output. This mean other things change our immune system and nervous system. For example, someone with back pain likely has gut (digestive) issues.
  8. We are bioplastic in that we can change. At any age our brains can change.
  9. Learning about pain can change you. Understand why you hurt.
  10. Active treatment fixes pain. Doing, learning, dealing. Can’t be passive (pill popping).

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part II

Today I am reviewing the talk by Tasha Stanton a neuroscientist from Australia who researches the complexities of pain. I learned that there are many biological variations in every person that could effect the mechanisms of any given treatment. Essentially, the higher the perceived danger is versus the perceived safety, neither of which is not always in our consciousness, can have on impact on our treatment for pain.

Tasha further teaches us that our senses play a key role in our experience of pain. Research has shown that one sense can modulate another. For example, vision plays an important biological role in the experience of pain. When we can see the body part that is experiencing the pain, the pain can actually decrease. Even our perception of how a body part looks can change how pain is experienced. Participants in one study who had rheumatoid arthritis were shown altered pictures of their hands where they look healthier and the patients reported a reduction or elimination of pain. This strongly speaks to how context is critical to how pain is felt.

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

1) You can become an advocate of your condition. Your recovery should be a partnership between you and your healthcare provider.

Recovery is significantly faster for people who actively participate in their recovery rather than people who passively receive care from someone else.

2) We need to rethink how we define the “causes” of pain. For example, pain in your foot is not a pain signal from the foot to the brain that the foot is hurt. It is a danger signal that something is not functioning optimally. This means pain may not be a tissue issue – this is why stretching away back pain won’t work.

3) There is hope: Our nervous system is often forgotten and the brain interprets in the context of what is going on in your life, your past experiences, beliefs about pain.

4) Surround yourself with positive people that believe in you and who support you. This is critical in how you frame your experience and your recovery.

5) A short reduction of pain or a sensation of pleasure means there is hope for long term possibilities. This means your nervous system/body is giving you an experience of pain that has been modified (no pain!). Worse pain doesn’t mean more damage either because we can have a pain experience without damage!

 

In health,

 

Lindsay

 

A Mindful Approach for Spending Time Outdoors this Summer

crawford lake 2Now that the warm weather is here we are spending more time outdoors. Simply by being outdoors we get a boost energy from the fresh air and warm sunshine. However, there are ways we maximize our experience of the great outdoors.  Whether you go to the cottage, play outdoor sports, enjoy hiking or running or riding your bike, gardening or going for walks, whatever it may be you can up your outdoor experience with these easy tips.

  1. Breath deeply. Actually notice what it feels like to breathe in fresh air. Feel your lungs filling up and slowly emptying. Experience your breath as if it’s the first time you’ve ever breathed in fresh air. Try this 5 times or as often as you like.
  2. Slow Down. Even when we are outside we tend to rush rush rush. Try taking slower steps. Notice what the earth feels like beneath your feet. If possible walk bare foot and notice the sensations.
  3. Tune into your senses. Appreciate the shapes, the sounds, the smells and even tastes around you. As you walk slowly, breathing deeply, take a few moments to truly appreciate the nature that surrounds you. Feel the warmth of the sunshine on your face. Listen to the sounds all around you. Think of 5 things that you can appreciate about this moment related to what you can hear, see, feel, smell and/or taste.
  4. Stop moving. Simply be still for a few minutes. Observe the world around you, moving, doing, being. Enjoy.

Maximize the benefits by getting out of the city completely and into the woods. The deeper we can get into nature, the more connected to nature we become.

What are the benefits you might ask? Check it out:

  • lower stress levels
  • better working memory
  • feeling more energized/alive
  • lower blood pressure/heart rate
  • reduced tension/anxiety
  • improved mood
  • feel more relaxed
  • less likely to ruminate on depressing thoughts
  • boost immune system
  • may inspire awe and happiness

Looking for a outdoor day retreat? Let me take you on an experiential, mindful day retreat just outside the city. Contact me for more information and to plan your excursion.