The guidance in this posting was prepared and provided to me by my Craniosacral Therapist (CST, LMT). She has given me permission to include it in this blog either in verbatim or paraphrased. (FYI – I first posted about my initial experience with CST here.)
My CST has been treating me for many physical issues over the last couple of years including chronic pain in several areas of my body, and recovery from multiple surgeries. Weekly craniosacral and massage therapy sessions from her, regular pain psychology sessions from a licensed psychologist, and periodic acupuncture treatments from a licensed acupuncturist, have provided me with the majority of improvements and answers concerning my recent health issues.
Since the body and the mind are connected, professionals and exercises in both areas are essential for my healing. My CST said it is important to note that she is not a psychologist, and that her work includes how the mind and psyche (such as anxiety, emotions, thoughts, feelings) enter and affect the body physically. Her expertise and treatments have been very helpful for me. The information here is based on her personal experiences and materials she has come across over the years in bodywork trainings, meditation trainings, and teachings she has heard. I thank her for allowing me to include her experiences here. (This image below is a doodle I did to introduce her information.)
. When you feel a strong emotion arise:
1) Focus on your breath. Connect with the physical sensations of breathing in your body. Do you feel your chest rise and fall, do you feel the breath rush past places in your sinuses or down the back of your throat? Any place you can feel the breath enter and leave, focus there. Your breath is your anchor to the present moment. It’s impossible to breath in the past or future where your mind and/or body often want to go in their remembering or anticipating. To invite yourself fully into the present moment, focus on your breath. Note how your breath feels and what you notice. After noting awareness, invite your breath to gradually become slower, deeper, more relaxed and more regular. I often repeat those four parts to myself when I feel increased anxiety…slower, deeper, more relaxed and more regular. Give yourself several minutes of this practice to slow down. Dr. Andrew Weil teaches this practice as a way to turn off fight or flight response in the body. You may be able to find more information on his website or look for his Breathing: Master Key to Self Healing series.
Recently, we visited at a local botanical garden where we saw these lovely, colorful Pasque flowers in it’s Medicinal Garden section. The blooms and seed heads were mingled with each other creating a nice contrast to me. As I was taking photos, we saw the following sign next to the flowers:
Interesting. I had not heard of Pasque Flower before, so later, I looked it up on Wikipedia. Pasque refers to Easter, and the flower blooms in early spring. It also states Pulsatilla have been used to treat reproductive problems, and that the plant “is highly toxic, and produces cardiogenic toxins and oxytoxins which slow the heart in humans…” Also, Drugs.com refers to Pasque flower as “extremely toxic and should not be ingested or applied to the skin.” Such a pretty flower, and it sounds like one needs to be very careful around this plant.
. True friends and family fly to you when you don’t have the ability to fly yourself. They support, comfort and encourage you physically and emotionally. ~ Fergiemoto
Finch (right): “I’m so discouraged.”
Junco (left): “I’m there for you. How can I help? You can talk to me…I really mean it.”
Remember that close friends and relatives struggling with chronic/invisible illnesses or pain need us to be there for them. Here are some ways to show support and encouragement:
Slow down. Listen with your whole body and 100% of your attention. Look at them and acknowledge you are truly hearing what they are saying. To the person talking, this is more valuable than all the gold in the world. Never underestimate the power of holding the space for someone who needs a listening ear. You may be their life-line.
Let them know you are truly there for them and that you are listening. Silence when a person needs to know someone is really there can lead them to feel lonely.
Avoid interrupting them while they are talking. Let them finish speaking before you respond. When you are talking, you are not listening.
Allow the person to feel just as they are. Avoid judgment, lecturing, criticizing, ridiculing, etc. Telling them to tough it out, quit complaining, pull it together, they have a low pain tolerance, they’re crazy, it’s not a big deal, or threatening to stay away can lead to negative results. Sometimes the pain inside is much more intense than the pain they are showing.
Be there with them, physically and emotionally. Don’t try to fix it. More
Baby steps…toddler steps…sometimes this is the pace we have to take to achieve our end goals and desires. Overcoming any kind of struggle can be very daunting, frustrating and discouraging, and setting large goals can seem overwhelming. They require patience that sometimes we don’t think we have anymore. It’s easy to get over-ambitious and all too often, we are looking for an overnight success, which is understandable. In the meantime, we overlook and neglect the small accomplishments that lead to larger victories. Busy schedules can bog us down; pain can seem to overtake our entire waking moments that we wonder if there is ever an end; then we miss the chance to celebrate those wins. Progress is good at any level because it means we are headed in the right direction. I realize this is easier said than done. Believe me, I’ve been there many times.
When you have a success, do you say a quick “yay”, move on as if nothing special happened, and then rarely or never give it another thought? The next time you have a success, remember this: Recognize…Reward…and Celebrate! You are working hard to reach your goal, so don’t brush it aside. The body and mind need the reinforcement and encouragement. When you celebrate, you are helping to breed an attitude of “I’m successful” to your mind, which will then breed more success. One success leads to another to another and hopefully you will accelerate the process of reaching your goals, i.e., the snowball effect. Mental health affects physical health. More
Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment; Mastering the self is true power. ~ Lao Tzu
Recognizing our primary and secondary emotions helps us understand what our core emotions and issues are. I talked a little about core issues in my previous post on body awareness. Simply, secondary emotions occur in response to a primary emotion. Eventually we may unknowingly bury our primary emotions until they are unrecognizable. The problem with this is that we may think our secondary emotions are what we are really feeling, and address those, rather than addressing the true and primary emotions.
Anger is a good example of a secondary emotion. Anger is usually a response to a primary emotion or situation. When we get behind our anger, we may discover that there is a different emotion at the core, such as shame, fear, worry, guilt, embarrassment, regret, sadness, loneliness, etc. Anger, although an intense emotion, is more acceptable and easier to admit to than showing vulnerability. If a primary emotion is shame, people usually don’t want to admit to shame, so they may respond with anger instead. Some will want to push back for safety, and get away from the true emotion with a few sharp words of anger.
Irritability can be a similar response to anger. It is usually a secondary emotion (other than hormonal). What about anxiety? It could be a secondary emotion to fear.
If we don’t address our primary emotions, they likely won’t go away. We may not express them for a variety of reasons, such as habit, upbringing, social situations, etc. Therefore, secondary emotions may end up hindering us because we are not addressing the real issue, nor are we expressing them appropriately. Also, we probably won’t be able to understand what our primary emotions are without understanding how to use self-awareness tools, some of which I have talked about in this blog. Tools such as body awareness, mindfulness meditation, emotion focus therapy, guided imagery, downward arrow exercise, and so on, really help us listen to our bodies and feelings. You may have a different tool that you have found to be effective for you. Something to keep in mind is to keep asking yourself, “what am I feeling…what else am I feeling…what else…what else?”
It’s like deconstructing a recipe. When you taste something, there is an interplay of ingredients that make up the overall taste. But savor the flavors and notice the individual tastes and sensations. What’s making up the taste? For example, you may find that you taste cinnamon, pepper, lemon, etc. So..…what’s really making up your emotions? Try to deconstruct it and see what you find.
Don’t always be comfortable with your first emotion. Try to find out what it is really about. Recognizing deeper emotions can be very helpful part of a healing process!
“Emotion Focus Therapy” – Becoming more aware of the complexity and nature of feelings.
“Mindfulness” – Noticing what you are feeling and where you are feeling certain emotions in the body.
Emotion Focus Therapy and Mindfulness go hand in hand. You have to be mindful of the body to identify what emotions are present.
Identifying emotions combined with body awareness helps get to the core of issues and feelings. Understanding emotions helps to realize what needs changing so they don’t persist and perpetuate a problem in the body.
Body awareness helps address and process emotions, and gives the associated energy an outlet.
Gradual exposure to an emotion, such as with body awareness, will lessen the intensity and lead to a greater understanding of what is happening.
Emotions can motivate people to take action and address them.
Every emotion has a corresponding physical manifestation. This means that there is some sensation in the body occurring at the same time as the emotion (“I’m so sad my heart hurts.” “I’m so angry my stomach is churning” etc.). There can also be a chemical change in the body. Hence:
The mind and body are connected. They are in harmony to protect you and are not fighting against each other. “Dualism is dead!”
Remember, “It’s natural to have emotional ups and downs,” per Dr. Andrew Weil on Spontaneous Happiness. More
Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion. ~ Carl Jung
The key message from my last posting was that emotions, painful ones, need to be represented and processed – they need an outlet. Emotions in general are natural, and they are going to happen. If you try to stop, distract, dismiss,or suppress them, they just find another way to show up. Pain tells us something needs attention.
Since I don’t require medication, and cannot take them anyway, I prefer to use tools to address emotions. Here, I will share some of what I have learned. Many are a repeat or a variation of the tools I listed for addressing physical pain, but I will list them anyway. There are several, but in my opinion, you can never have too many good tools in your toolbox. Some tools are used more than others, some work better than others given the situation, sometimes you need a combination of tools, and others are used infrequently, but it sure is nice to have them when you need them. Everyone needs to find what works best for them with proper guidance from a healthcare provider.
Remember: Distracting an emotion is like taking an aspirin – it just masks the symptoms and doesn’t get at the root. Eventually, the aspirin wears off and the pain returns.
Talk to some you can confide in 100% – Talking and expressing your feelings is a key tool, and the most important for me. To be effective, the person you talk to needs to give you their full attention and genuinely want to listen. More
”Tears expand you, they don’t diminish you.” ~ Michael Ondaatje “We are expanded by tears, not reduced by them.” ~ anon
I’ve learned many important things about pain, physical and emotional, in my various treatment sessions over the last year and a half. I will share more of them here and in later postings.
If you experience pain, have you heard things like: “It’s all in your head.”; “It’s psychological.”; “You have a low tolerance for pain.”; “You’re not handling pain very well.”; “Pull yourself together and quit complaining.”; “Tough it out.”; “Quit crying.”; etc.
If so, how did that make you feel? Did you feel like it was an attempt to minimize what you are experiencing, or that the person didn’t care about how you were feeling? In my opinion, those and similar statements would hinder communication and trust at a time when support and encouragement are needed. Did you feel like you were weak and that you needed to be a “stronger” person? Read the quote at the top of this post again. More
The best way out is always through. ~ Robert Frost If you are going through hell, keep going. ~ Winston Churchill
If you are a chronic pain sufferer, you probably have days that are more of a struggle than others. Some even seem impossible to get through, but fortunately, those days are getting fewer and fewer for me.
There are many ways to address physical pain, chronic or not, but with helpful guidance from my healers, here are techniques and exercises I have learned. The exercises are much easier said than done, but practice helps.
Meditation - This includes “mindfulness meditation.” Meditation helps with relaxing which can help decrease pain.
Have someone to confide in 100% - Talking it out or leaning on a compassionate shoulder can be very helpful. To be effective, that person needs to give you their full attention and genuinely want to listen.
“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection”. ~ Dalai Lama
Body awareness – As explained to me, “sometimes the way out of pain is to go right through it.”
Be in the “moment” - Give yourself a break and be in the present. For that time, don’t think about what might happen in the future, or think “what if this never goes away”. Don’t think about how difficult the road to the present has been.
Gather Moments – Rewind through the activities of a a particularly bad day to find the good things that happened. Write it down and soon you will have a “bouquet of moments” to recall for other challenging days.
Celebrate the small successes – It’s important to recognize and reward progress. More
Those of us who have experienced migraines know they are not “just headaches.” It’s a debilitating, excruciating experience. A migraine leaves me with nausea, sharp and intense one-sided throbbing head pain and sometimes dizziness. I have to lie down in a dark, quiet room for several hours, and sometimes days, until it has run its course. It’s impossible to function. Since I prefer to be a functioning person rather than confined to bed, I needed to identify my migraine triggers and manage those. I’ve boiled those triggers down to the following:
In this post, I thought I would include some of my experiences and results with alternative treatments specifically with the digestive issues that baffled many of my doctors. I have a better understanding now of what may have been happening. The problem: Intense stomach pain, nausea, difficulty keeping food down for nearly eight months and significant weight loss.
My acupuncturist said my digestive system had become imbalanced and that we needed to improve my body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Her recommendation was acupuncture to help the body correct digestive imbalances and manage pain. She also recommended adding easily digestible foods to my meals, three times a day, for about six months, and gave me a recipe for “congee.” Congee is an Asian rice porridge, which can include other ingredients to improve flavor and increase nutrients. Because congee is easy on the stomach, eating it daily can help the body learn how to digest food properly again. Better digestion improves nutrient absorption, which improves the body’s healing ability. In just over a month with weekly acupuncture sessions, I had a noticeable decrease in stomach pain.
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) and Massage Therapy
My posting on CST described the cranial rhythm as the flow of spinal fluid through the spine and is separate from the pulse or rhythm of the heartbeat. An abnormality (change in the rhythm) can cause problems in the body. My therapist described the normal human cranial rhythm as being similar to the smooth swimming motion of a dolphin, and cycles about six to twelve times a minute. More
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. ~ Buddha
Well, now I’m on a roll! I am receiving a different type of therapy, craniosacral therapy (CST), which has now become a main treatment for me. I have been getting even more answers about my mysterious symptoms, and experiencing positive results. I continue with regular acupuncture and pain psychology sessions because the combination of treatments is vital to my healing.
I have my acupuncturist to thank for introducing me to CST. Have you ever heard of it before? I hadn’t. She gave me a basic explanation of what it is, recommended a therapist with impressive credentials and experience, and suggested it as a therapy for some of my main ailments, such as chronic neck/shoulder pain, chronic headaches and balance. Also, both she and my pain psychologist had experienced positive results from the therapy, which helped my decision to try it. CST sounded…well…strange to me at first, but it is non-invasive, so again I had nothing to lose by trying it. She was right! After many sessions and learnings, CST makes a lot of sense to me now, and has also helped in other areas. More
Now that I had a few mind/body exercises in my toolbox, it was time to expand my options even more. I would now be entering into another realm of treatment opportunities, which has also turned out to be quite fortunate, and necessary, for my healing.
My pain psychologist suggested that I move on from trying to find answers from Western medicine for my undiagnosed conditions and start taking more control over my healthcare. That was great advice. My many doctors couldn’t provide answers, and taking drugs with no diagnosis was not the solution for me. He suggested acupuncture, reassured me that it was not painful, and gave me the name of a local acupuncturist who he knew personally. I read her biography and found her background impressive. (She has given me permission to include her website in my blog.)
I definitely knew of acupuncture, but I didn’t understand how needles could help and I was skeptical. I admit that. After a bit of pondering, I made an appointment. I had nothing to lose and it was definitely worth a try. Besides, if acupuncture has successfully endured for thousands of years, there is definite merit to it. My phone call was the right decision – why? More
Whispers of guidance
Subtle taps at awareness
The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground ~ Buddha
My previous posting on mindfulness meditation touched on the benefits of becoming more aware of the physical feelings in your body, both large and small. Also, when you pay attention to and study your body, you begin to notice the physical sensations that occur in your body during a particular experience or emotion.
If you ask people what they feel in their body when they experience a certain emotion, a response you might get is, “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it.” People generally are not aware of these details. More
Don’t listen to friends when the Friend inside you says “Do this” ~ Gandhi
In my last post I talked about my first experiences with guided imagery and visual imagery and about asking my “inner advisor” questions. I had, and still have, many questions. So, with a new tool in hand, I went home to practice, practice, practice. I followed the guidance I received, but I wasn’t getting answers. My inner advisor wasn’t talking to me.
But wait! The strange part to me was putting a question “out there.” And even more confusing to me was how I would receive the answers. I didn’t know what would happen or what I would feel. How would I know it’s the answer? How would I know I wasn’t just making it up? More
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. ~ Carl Jung
Guided imagery and visual imagery are two more techniques based on the concept that the mind and body are connected. They involve the subconscious and imagination and help with stress reduction and relaxation. The subconscious, as explained to me, is like a computer CPU continually processing things in the background, mostly without our knowledge. The conscious is like the computer screen – we only see a portion of what the computer is processing.
In my pain psychology sessions, we approached guided imagery by first selecting something to symbolize my “inner advisor” (the non-conscious, or subconscious self). This could be a person or an animal, etc. – but something that feels safe to be with. The next step was to close my eyes, select a safe and secure place where I can feel relaxed, and visualize this place in my mind. The inner advisor I selected was one of my favorite dogs we had when I was a kid. More
Flow with the river
Float with the breeze, bathe in bliss
Notice nothing else
In my last post, I cited that getting lost in an activity could be considered a type of meditation for me, which allows an escape from some of the pain. I can get lost in certain music, artwork, photographing nature, etc. This is described as Flow psychology (or being present in the moment). It involves being fully immersed and absorbed in an activity to the point you are oblivious to everything else. It is being connected to an activity, to a moment. The expert on this is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist and educator who emigrated from Europe to the United States in the 1950′s. (I’m unable to pronounce his name correctly.)
The skipper butterfly in the photo above is a good example of Flow, in my opinion. This butterfly was so absorbed in drinking nectar from the flower that it was totally oblivious to me. I stroked its wings, I nudged it back and forth, I put the camera right in its face, which is how I got such a closeup shot, and it did not budge or fly away until it was done. Great Flow! Working on getting this photo and enhancing it afterwards was Flow for me.
The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. – Caroline Myss
About a year ago, I began meeting with a pain psychologist hoping I could learn how to manage my pain enough to function reasonably well, and do it without drugs. I didn’t want something that would only cover the symptoms. He told me it would be hard work but I would be learning some valuable tools. I felt relief because it was the first time in a long time I didn’t have drugs pushed towards me. Someone in the healthcare community finally listened to me (I mean really listened), heard me, understood me and supported me. Wow!
At first, I anticipated being coached and refreshed on some deep breathing techniques. Instead, we started with “meditation” – mindfulness meditation. I was surprised because I had never tried meditation before, and I didn’t understand how to do it. I thought, “What does mindfulness really mean?” I pictured myself in nature sitting in the typical meditation fashion, eyes closed and uttering “ommmmm……ommmmm……” More
I’m interested to know what your general experiences have been. Have any of your doctors ever mentioned alternative treatments to you? I do realize that presenting alternative treatments, or any treatment option, has to be sensible for you, and that it may not even apply to your condition.
Answers may be significantly different depending on what country you live in. The definition of alternative medicine may even be different, but for the purposes of this poll, we’ll divide alternative medicine into three general categories, as used by Dr. Oz (see video in my earlier posting):
Things you put in your mouth – herbs, supplements, foods
Manual body manipulation like acupuncture, massage therapy, etc.
Mind/Body connection – meditation, breathing exercises, etc.