Holding

Since my doctor took me off of a medication I’ve been on for the past 20 years, one that I feel like has contributed to a lot of pain I’ve experienced, I have found new insights and had a shift in my body awareness.

I don’t have the same level of chronically tightened muscles. In the past, I’ve had horrible muscle tension in my traps, shoulders, upper neck, jaw, temples, and occipital area. My muscles feel more pliable and relaxed unless I am having an issue with a migraine. Then my body tightens up but seems to better relax when I have the occasional day without pain. And I still have referred pain and trigger points but again, they don’t seem to be as intense all the time.

What I have become aware of is what I refer to as holding. I may be laying in bed, “relaxing” and find that I’ve braved my body. I may have my jaw clenched or have a part of my body stiffened. I can be laying there and realize that if I take a deep breath and exhale, I can sink into the bed or the pillows more fully.

I find I am more aware of this absent-minded behavior at a variety of times. I may be sitting at the kitchen table watching the birds. Or I may be laying on my yoga mat, sitting on the couch crocheting, etc. I’m not sure what originally caused me to do this — I’ve injured my spine several times, have been in several car accidents, and had some sort of chronic pain on and off for 30 years. Perhaps at first it was a positive adaptation? But it has long since lost its effectiveness and is contributing to my overall pain and suffering.

I find that simple breath work and I asking to myself, once I become aware of the tension seems to help. But I always try to change the situation in a mindful, thoughtful way so that I train my body that it’s overkill or exaggerated or unnecessary.

So, scan your body right now. Simply allow your mind to become aware of how your body feels starting with your head. Move this awareness down to your neck, shoulders, upper back, arms, etc. Do you feel any excessive “holding”, bracing, tightness, or do you even feel like you are holding your breath? If so, simply say to yourself “relax”, breath in, and consciously release the muscles and allow them to loosen up. Scan different parts of your body, initially scan large areas first. As you get comfortable with the practice, let your mindfulness get more specific. Over time, you will find you don’t even have to scan as much or you will see a pattern of where you chronically hold yourself and start there.

I dedicate the benefits of this new awareness to all those who are in pain and who are suffering. May the awareness that I have found be helpful to anyone suffering with chronic or acute pain.

After you have tried the exercise a time or two, please drop a note and let me know how it goes. Feel free to share any insight, changes, or experiences you have.

May you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering. May you be at ease and find comfort.

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Using Rosenberg’s Exercise

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So, it was after midnight my time on New Year’s Eve. . .well, technically, New Year’s morning and my family had finally gone to sleep.  I climbed into the overstuffed recliner and threw a cozy blanket over me.  The room was only lit with the white lights of the Christmas tree and the only noise was a few fireworks being shot off my some neighbors.

I settled into the chair and spent some time on the Basic Exercise.  I looked to the left for 90 seconds and looked to the right for 90 seconds with my hands behind my head.  And then I did the Salamander Exercise which is similar to the Basic Exercise.  I never experienced a sigh or a yawn but I felt very relaxed and my neck and shoulders stretched out.  I spent some time, before sitting up, moving my neck in circles and moving my head from side to side.  I sat up and did some shoulder rolls and another stretch I just learned in a yoga video.

The room seemed a little brighter and I felt tired.  Of course it was between 1-2 am and it had been a long day without my usual nap.  But the pain that I constantly have in my shoulder (my trapezoid) seemed to ease a bit.  This shoulder has been chronically in pain for over 20 years and despite Botox and trigger point shots has given me a lot of trouble.  My neck moved more freely before I went to bed but as I moved it, the movement was jerky and awkward.  Still, it was better range of motion than before.

This morning I woke up and had no pain in my should and for almost all of today, the pain stayed at bay.  Today was the first day in months that I showed no sign of migraine and did not need to take a NSAID or muscle relaxant.  Was it the exercise?  I’m not sure.  I plan to do them again in a few days but it was nice to start the new day off with no pain and a decent amount of energy.  I’ve learned to savor these days because they are few and far between.  Rosenberry has some other activities that I plan to do this week and will refer to them as I finish my posts on his book and the Polyvagal Theory.

So tonight, may you be free from suffering and the roots of suffering.  May you find the grace to live with your problems but not be defined by them.  May you have the good fortune to have a loving family and a deeply connected family of friends that stand by your side through the good and bad.  May you be at ease and know pain-free moments.

These are my wishes for you.

 

Mind-Body-Psychological Health

I’ve started reading a new book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, self-help exercises by Stanely Rosenberg.  Rosenberg has training in mind/body modalities such as craniosacral therapy and Rolfing and has worked in the field since 1983.  He has an interesting approach to dis-eases that we normally think of as purely psychological.

In the 30 some odd years I have lived with some sort of chronic pain, having been on multiple medications over the past 20 years to combat a specific aspect of my pain, I can tell you that any medication that you are put on from a cardiac medication to an antidepressant affect you on more levels than just what you are being treated for.    What do I mean?

Without going into the science and pharmacology behind it, cardiac meds can affect your stress level and outlook.  Psych meds like what are given for depression or bipolar affect you physically — either lowering or raising your blood pressure, causing constipation, dry mouth, headache, weight loss or gain, etc.  Medications can alter your perception, mood, and reality and after being on a med or two or dozen you come to realize that there is no such split as mind-body and you are the totality of your experiences in this life.

So I found it interesting that Rosenberg wrote this book.  What I like about his approach is that he looks at “psychological problems” from the stance of the central nervous system instead of brain chemistry which has been the norm for quite some time.  In his book, he looks at migraines, anxiety and panic attacks, phobias, domestic violence, PTSD, depression, etc by looking at dysfunction with nerves of the central nervous system.  And he uses the Polyvagal Theory by Porges as discussed in my blog post.  I was happy to find the book because although I knew about flight, fight, or freeze, I did not know about the whole theory or the wider implications of the Polyvagal Theory, the biggest implication is that there is not just one vagus nerve but multiple that all have different functions.  If you are old like I am, when you were in high school health class or biology or you were in Psychology 101, you learned about the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems that

The reason why I am writing a blog post on the book is because although I think the book is great, I found it to be really dense.  It didn’t seem like it was for practitioners when I bought it but having a background in mind-body medicine and psychology helped me to get through it.  (And admittedly, there were sections that were very physiological based that I skimmed over because they were certainly above my pay grade and my interest level).  So I thought I’d write a post about it because I think the information in it is important and the general public could really benefit from understanding the Polyvagal Theory given how many people in our country (and world) are plagued by what we continue to think of as mental health issues or worse character defects (which continues to be an unfair prejudice from mental health and physical health care practitioners and frustrated loved ones).

SO what did I learn?

 

Rosenberg describes a state of  “social engagement” is the term that Porges’ uses to describe a state that we used to describe as the parasympathetic nervous system.  Under the new theory, there is proper tone in the Ventral Vagal Nerve and it brings about the following:  a decrease in defensiveness and responses to triggers and

an increase in:

  • Digestion
  • Intestinal Motility
  • Resistance to Infection
  • Immune Response
  • Rest and Recouperation
  • Circulation to non-vital organs (skin, hands, legs, feet, arms)
  • Oxytocin (a neurotransmitter involved in social bonds like between a newborn and mother or other nurturing relationships)
  • Ability to relate and connect with others

With proper tone in the Ventral Vagal Nerve, a person is thought to be in “social engagement”.  They experience joy, groundedness, compassion, mindfulness, are open and curious, and are situated in the present moment.  This reminds me of the higher stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where a person has their basic needs met and can focus on more than safety, food, shelter, and sex but focus on health, relationships, self-esteem, respect, intimacy, confidence, achievement, creativity, problem solving, etc.  That sounds like what we all long to achieve or are blessed to be experiencing already.

So what happens when there is dysfunction of the Spinal Sympathetic or Dorsal Vagal Systems?  Check back in the next few days when I will write about both.

Instead of questions to end this post, I will end it with a wish for everyone 2018:

May 2018 bring about great change in the world towards peace, equanimity, and growth. May the root of our problems be observable and be readily and easily changed.  May we be open to the support, love, and compassion of those around us.  May we understand that we suffer from trauma, grief, physical, psychological, and spiritual dis-ease and that the most compassionate thing we can do in the year to come is to take several deep breaths.  May we breathe deeply to change our nervous system and calm ourselves down.  May we breathe deeply and pause before we use hateful or hurtful speech.  May we breathe deeply and patiently and remember that we are all interconnected on this planet.

Wishing you gentle care, compassion, ease, and good health in the year to come.