Joy

Podcast: Sharing My Experiences with Pain and Healing

In this podcast, I share with Emmy Vadnais, a Holistic Occupational Therapist, my healing journey from back injuries that kept me bedridden on and off for 2 years, along with 5 years of learning to walk again. For me, healing means connecting to our true self and embracing all that we are so that we may live life with meaning and joy. I also hope to be a voice for people who experience pain, educating others on the multi-dimensional effects of pain and the resulting struggles.

11:20 Meditation as a Coping Strategy
18:38 Emotions & Pain
23:00 The Balance between Activities & Pain
31:00 BioPsychoSocialSpiritual Components
35:00 Fatigue & Chronic Pain/Illness & the famous Spoon Theory
41:46 Pain & Trauma/PTSD/Panic Attacks
45:00 Gaining a Sense of Control
49:50 Discussing Pain Medication & the Opioid Crisis

You can find more podcasts by Emmy at HolisticOT.
dock leading out to swamp

Pain and the Mind-Body Connection

dock leading out to swamp
 

At one point, I realized that my physical pain had become emotional pain, and the emotional pain further increased my physical pain. A vicious cycle of pain had formed, and my body had become more stuck in its protective state: contracted, tense, and cringing from the slightest touch, while physical and emotional hypersensitivities heightened.

Emotional pain or distress is physical distress; they are one and the same. The more emotionally stressed I feel, the more tense and painful my body feels, as well as the more likely I am to catch a cold. When my mind is more relaxed, so is my body, and my immune system is stronger.

The mind and body mirror each other.

When one is under stress, so is the other. They endure the same experiences at the same time, yet the effects are uniquely expressed in an individual.

A break-up with a loved one may cause emotional depression and literally a physically hurt heart and a sleep disorder. Ongoing emotional anxiety may mentally cause pervasive, negative thoughts and physically cause nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and high blood pressure. A misaligned spine may cause anxiety and a feeling (“felt sense”) of insecurity, just as the spinal column is insecure. How many times have you felt anxious and irritable to only discover after “checking in with yourself” that you are hungry and your blood sugar is dropping?

Our behavior and our sense of self are also related to our physical and emotional pains. When my body feels insecure and weak, I know that I feel insecure and less confident, and I act insecure by behaving shyly and studying the floor instead of looking at people in the eyes. When the pain is physically intolerable, I feel anxious, I start talking a mile a minute, and I become fidgety and unable to concentrate.

It is empowering when we recognize how challenges and stressors individually affect us, and learn to cope with them. If we do not cope with them but instead, repress our emotions, eventually mental, emotional, and physical complications arise and our well-being deteriorates. Destructive thoughts and emotions can be just as crippling as physical ailments.

Pain is traumatic.

It affects us on many dimensions. Although it is acknowledged that physical pain can lead to depression and anxiety, I also believe that the mere experience of being injured, the experience of a medical procedure, and the memories from each event are traumatic in and of themselves, and may lead to post-traumatic stress.

Due to this inherent link between mind and body, psychological and physical states, I believe both need to be treated in order to achieve recovery and overall well-being. I believe this leads to a more powerful and effective rehabilitation. Healing is the harmonizing of mind and body.

We have a great gift of inherent wisdom mentally and physically within us. Learning this deep wisdom may seem as difficult as learning a completely new language, or at least that is what I found true for myself. We need to be fully aware. There are no separate levels of consciousness or of one’s self as a whole; there are merely different levels of attention. Through inner awareness we can learn what we need to create harmony within our mind and body.

Pigeon Pose

Do You Have Back Pain? It Could Be The Psoas Muscles.

Does your back feel painfully taut with limited mobility, or do you have aching and burning pain in your groin or front thigh? This could be due to taut Psoas Muscles. The so-what? The “So-as”. The psoas muscles extend from each side of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae to the pelvis, joining here with its buddy, the Iliacus muscle, and then traveling down to insert on the upper leg, or the femur.

This major muscle group acts as a stabilizer to the lower spine and hip joints, and flexes the hip and lumbar spine. When you lift your knee to your chest, walk upstairs, run, bike, or perform sit ups, you are using the psoas muscles.

After my L5-S1 disc herniated, my hips kept rotating out of alignment and one leg became shorter than the other. From the herniated disc, my muscles went into spasms and tightened in a protective state. This included the psoas. These tight muscles were pulling my leg back into the hip socket, causing leg length discrepancy and even more back pain.

Pain, emotional and/or physical tension, back or abdominal surgery, scar tissue, repetitive motions like cycling can all tense the psoas muscles, causing reduced mobility and increased pain in the low back, pelvis, thigh, or knee area. It can also cause increased lumbar curvature (lordosis), irritable bowels. and even constipation. Think of how long the psoas is. It extends over many organs: the intestines, kidneys, liver, and spleen, to name a few. 

An imbalanced or tense psoas can also cause difficulty breathing, making it feel harder to get a full, complete breath. The psoas muscles are one group of muscles with which the diaphragm interlocks, as the diaphragm connects with the lower ribs. Both the psoas and the diaphragm influence core stabilization and proper breathing.

 

Because of its length, its position, and its importance in the body, this group of muscles can reek havoc when it is tight and shortened (or also when it is weak).

Ways To Make Your Psoas Muscles Happy Muscles.

 

1.  Take breaks from sitting. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can tighten the psoas.

2.  Strengthen other core muscles, such as your glutes/butt muscles, so the psoas muscles do not have to overwork. A great exercise is the glute bridge.

3.  Do not overdo crunches and do not have your feet held down when performing sit ups because it adds strain to the psoas. Too many crunches may tighten and shorten muscles and cause spinal compression. Instead, try a variety of abdominal exercises, including planks, squeezing a ball between the thighs, or other exercises where the pelvis remains neutral.

4.  Massage. Manual therapy can help release and lengthen the psoas. Massaging the psoas can be a little painful, but afterwards, it feels great.

5.  Place a pillow under your knees when sleeping on your back. Tight psoas muslces can pull on your back and cause it to arch, but a pillow under your knees will provide some slack to this muscle group and relax your back.

6.  Relax. When you feel stressed, your muscles tense. This also includes the psoas muscles. Imagine tense psoas muscles and how much territory in your body they cover. That creates a lot of tension throughout your abdomen, the core of your body, your back, your pelvis and hips, your legs, down to your knees.

If your psoas muscles are really tight and painful, start with these gentle psoas releases before moving on to yoga poses and stretches for the psoas and hip flexors. Lie down in these positions for five or more minutes while deeply breathing in and out, imaging the deep psoas muscles relaxing, letting go of tension. 

 

person laying on floor with knees bent and lower legs resting on chair

Rest your lower legs on a chair. Relax and breathe. Imagine your breath moving into and out from your deep psoas muscles, bringing them oxygen, relaxing them, and releasing tension from them and down into the floor.​

With bent knees, have knees rest into one another for support. Keep your back flat on the floor. For several minutes, breathe deeply, relaxing and imagining your psoas letting go of tension and lengthening.

Rest your lower leg on your opposite knee. This should feel effortless, not like your are holding up your leg. This position provides slack in your psoas muscles. Relax for several minutes, allowing time for your psoas to relax.

7.  Yoga and Stretching. If you do a lot of biking or running, which requires repetitive hip flexion, try adding in some more activities and stretches that deemphasize hip flexion and emphasize hip extension. Here are some stretches and yoga poses I find helpful to stretch out and lengthen my tight psoas muscles and other hip flexors.

Beginner to Psoas Stretch

Beginner: Lie down with back flat and bring knee to chest with other leg straight on floor.
Intermediate: Bring buttocks to side edge of bed or couch but maintain contact for support. Hang leg off side of bed or couch, with foot touching the ground for support. Do not over arch back. Advanced: Bring buttocks to end of bed or surface, but maintain glute contact on surface for support. Hang leg off of edge of surface without floor to support foot for greater stretch.
Hold stretch for 60 seconds or more. other leg.
* Keep back flat on surface. Do not over arch back.

Lunge

Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back. Always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until knee bent at about a 90-degree angle. Rest hands on knee for support. Back leg should be in 90-degree angle, resting on the floor or straight and slightly internally rotate thigh. Squeeze glutes for added support. Hold 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat other side.

Pigeon Pose

Start on all fours in a table top position. Slide one knee forward toward your hand. Angle your knee to 11 o'clock for the left knee or 2 o'clock for the right knee.Do not overstrain. Slide your other leg back as far as comfortable while keeping your hips square to the floor and slightly internally rotate the thigh of the straightened leg. If your hips are not square, there will be unnecessary force on your back. Squeeze the glutes of this leg for support. Depending on how you feel, you will be upright on your hands while sinking the hips forward and down. To get full release in the hips, breathe and release the belly. Stay in this position anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds or longer. Repeat on other side.

Beginner to Advanced Cobra Pose

Lie down on your stomach. bend your elbows and put your hands flat on the ground even with your chest. Gently squeeze your glutes, then press down and raise your head and upper body, keeping your hips on the floor.
Beginner: Maintain close to a 90 degree bend in your elbows to not over extend your back. Do not look up and strain your neck. Advanced: Fully extend your arms. Hold this position for approximately 10 to 30 seconds

Note: Please do not perform stretches or exercises without first consulting with your doctor.

Source: Jones, Jo Ann. The Vital Psoas Muscle, Connecting Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being. CA: North Atlantic Books. (201

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redwood tree reaching for the sunny sky

Emotional Residue from Trauma

redwood tree reaching for the sunny sky

One day, in my massage class, the teacher asked for a volunteer to demonstrate manual techniques we were learning. Lisa volunteered. She was about my age at the time, mid-20s, fit, and walked with an air of confidence.

While my teacher was demonstrating massage techniques, she found a tight spot. Lisa’s left hip appeared stuck and inflexible, as if it was “frozen”. Attempting to loosen this area, the teacher moved her leg and hip into a specific position. Suddenly, Lisa cowered into a fetal position on the floor, yelling at a man none of us could see. Unable to distinguish the past from the present, she began reliving a past trauma of sexual assault. Lisa was too hyper-aroused and dissociated to comprehend what was occurring and why. 

“Lisa, what image will help you feel strong and powerful?” the teacher asked.

 “A redwood tree,” she said. 

The teacher guided Lisa into feeling as if she was a tree. The class watched as Lisa moved from kneeling on the floor to standing and stretching tall into the air, feeling her feet strongly rooted into the ground, feeling the strength of her trunk and body. Gradually Lisa transformed from a cowering child to a strong woman towering over us.  Using this somatic, experiential technique had decreased Lisa’s fear of being in her body, and in turn, brought her back into her body in present time. 

Feeling empowered, Lisa then began screaming to the (imagined) adult, “You no longer have control over me! I am in control. I am no longer going to suffer from what you did to me!”

“Being a tree” gave Lisa a new sensory experience in her body (and mind) of strength and resilience, which she had not felt as a young child while being molested. This renewed inner strength enabled her to take an active, aggressive stance, and to respond as she previously had wanted as a child, but incapable.

Through this experiential, somatic technique, Lisa reclaimed herself and her power. Levine (1997) characterized this process as her way of renegotiating the trauma: she actively restored a sense of aggression, reclaimed a sense of empowerment, chose and executed her actions, and achieved mastery, successfully dealing with and gaining control over the threat.1 

 

What Happened?  

Unfortunately, what should have been a neutral experience for Lisa during massage class, instead, her brain perceived as a threat. Lisa’s brain compared sensory information of the teacher’s touch and positioning to sensory input from her previous experiences of being sexually assaulted as a child.2  Suddenly residual emotions that had kept hidden (or frozen) in her unconscious were accessed and unlocked.

These are not the only “residue” patterns that could have been stored. Even Lisa’s specific state of arousal could have been perceived by the mind as threatening if it was the same as when she experienced the trauma. Specific physiological, physical, mental, and emotional states that she experienced as a child developed into a protective alarm mechanism that identified future “threats”.

Unable to consciously process through these stuck memories, emotions, and bodily postures, the trauma festered within. Levine (1997) stated that: “…post-traumatic symptoms are, fundamentally, incomplete physiological responses suspended in fear”, and locked in our nervous system.3

Kolk (1994) emphasized that treatment of the body is an important key to recovery. Mere talk cannot organize the resulting disorganized sensations and action patterns that have become imprinted in the brain. While re-experiencing the old trauma, higher cognition is inhibited by emotional and experiential memories.4

The massage teacher incorporated psychological, sensory, and manual techniques to help Lisa release frozen “energies” as she relived her trauma and finally, triumphantly, created her own ending.

Using the Body as a Therapeutic Tool For Pain Management

That day I realized, similar to Lisa, I was still frozen in time. I existed in a mental and physical state of shock and fear from past traumatic physical injuries and medical procedures. Mentally, I remained in fear, on guard, hyper-vigilant, and defensive in order to protect myself from any perceived threat or potential future injury. Physically, my body remained tight and frozen.  

 Massage class taught me a new way to more deeply access my emotions related to pain–through the body.

Placing my hand on the painful area of my back and focusing my attention there suddenly brought more awareness than ever before of all the motions related to the pain and its consequences. By “communicating” with my low back at a specific “activating point”, which consisted of muscle tension and nerve pain, I accessed deep emotional layers of intense anger and victimization that hid behind the physical pain. Previously, these hidden emotional layers I was unable to tap into by merely intellectualizing. Perhaps, I could not have otherwise released them without this technique. 

The technique of imagining myself as a tree also taught me how to feel safe in my body. Often when I felt that the pain was unbearable and I wanted to run away from myself, I would use this technique to feel strong and powerful, and I would imagine my legs as roots running down into the earth, releasing pain down into the earth. This method calmed me and brought me back into my body.

This massage class was the beginning of learning how to interpret the unique langue of my mind and body. 

looking up at large green tree with light shining through the leaves

Tree Imagery Meditation - 11 mins.

Pain often makes us feel unsafe in our body, vulnerable, and powerless. This meditation guides you through imagining, and then, feeling yourself as “being a tree”, feeling strong, grounded, powerful, and energized. You can also imagine your legs and feet as roots, releasing pain into ground, neutralizing it. (Click picture for meditation)

→For more meditations, click here

May you feel the power and strength that lies within, despite chronic pain and illness.

References

1.     Levine, Peter A. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1997, p.122.

2.    Perry, Bruce D. Memories of Fear. Web version of chapter published as “The Memories of States” in Goodwin and R. Splintered Reflections: Images of the Body in Trauma. New York: Basic Books, pp. 9-38.

3.     Levine, Peter A. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1997, p. 34.

4.. Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1994, 1(5), 253-265.     

Resources

Recent editions of the referenced books:

Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. September 8, 2015.

Levine, Peter A. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. September 28, 2010

Levine, Peter A. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Audio CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged Ed. 2016.

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Woman sticking out her tongue and it is cracked and dry

Dry Mouth: Causes and Remedies

I remember a time when I would wake up every morning feeling like a just ate a bowl of cotton balls. Yuck! I had major dry mouth from pain meds. Muscle relaxants, pain, anti-seizure, sleep or antipsychotic medications all can cause dry mouth. It feels like one’s body is parched from a trip to the dessert without water. Besides its horrible sensation, dry mouth can cause sore gums, teeth sensitivity, and decreased joy and ability to eat certain foods.

Why do gums and teeth hurt from having a dry mouth?

Ongoing dry mouth creates an acidic mouth. Have you ever taken too much Vitamin C to prevent a cold only to find that at the end of the week you have sores in your mouth from the vitamin’s acidity? This is similar to what happens when your mouth is dry and acidity naturally builds. The drier your mouth, the more:

  1. porous and weak your teeth enamel may become
  2. nerves inside the teeth may become damaged and sensitive
  3. your gums may become “sick”

Dr. Phillips (2010) in Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye: A Do-It-Yourself Mouth Care System for Health, Clean Gums and Teeth compares the effects of an acidic, dry mouth to what happens when soaking an eggshell overnight in vinegar. It’s not pleasant. The hard, outer shell of the egg disintegrates into a soft shell that can be easily rubbed away with your fingers.

This is why it is so important to maintain healthy, alkaline saliva and mouth. Healthy saliva contain healthy minerals that:

  1. strengthen tooth enamel
  2. lubricate the teeth to prevent damage
  3. cleanse the teeth and gums from food build up

Besides medicine, what else can cause an acidic mouth?

1. What we put in our mouth.

  • Acidic citric, fruit juices, especially when refrigerated as compared to room temperature.
  • Soda
  • Coffee (yes, this is unfortunate)
  • Beer and wine
  • Tooth Whiteners
  • Sugar

2. Hormone changes during adolescence, pregnancy, menopause, and aging

3. Illness, fever, nasal congestion, asthma, mouth breathing when sleeping

4. Stress

Prevention: How can we create a more alkaline, neutral mouth?

Again, by what we put in our mouth.

  1. Vegetable juices high in minerals.
  2. * Water or Water infused with more alkaline foods, such as: coconut, cucumber, watermelon, mango, raspberries.
  3. Broth and Alkaline soups
  4. Diary Products
  5. Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in vegetables
  6. Gum made from xylitol
  7. Coconut Oil Pulling – swishing coconut oil in your mouth for 10 minutes. The theory is it detoxifies the mouth, heals gum inflammation, prevents cavities, soothes dry throat, and naturally whitens teeth.

Other dry mouth remedies:

  • ACT Total Care Dry Mouth Mouthwash
  • ACT Dry Mouth Lozenges
  • Alcohol Free Xylitol Mouthwash or Any other Alcohol-Free Mouthwash
  • Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse
  • XyliMeltsoral-adhering discs that stick to your teeth or gums to relieve persistent dry mouth.
  • Xylitol Moisturizing Mouth Spray
  • Spry Xylitol Gum or  PUR Xylitol Gum –  sugar-free/Aspartame-free (Dr. Phillips states that this is a safe sugar substitute for people with diabetes) Xylitol also removes harmful bacteria that causes cavities.
  • Fluoride rinse
  • Toothpaste without baking soda, harsh abrasives, or teeth whitener 
  • Avoid breathing through your mouth, especially when sleeping at night
  • Use a humidifier in the room to increase moisture in the air
  • And, as always, water. It is important to stay hydrated.

 Mouth Care When Brushing Teeth

Dr. Phillips recommends a 3-step process of pre-rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash (or perhaps tea tree oil, as my friend uses), use a soft-bristled toothbrush, gently brushing gums and teeth, proper toothbrush care, and a fluoride after-rinse to help decrease acidity in the mouth, and increase health of gums and teeth. 

For more information, check out Better Bones’ blog for an alkaline food list and chart. You can also check out Amazon if you are interested in buying PH strips, books on Alkaline Diet, an Alkaline Food Chart, or any of the products mentioned above.

References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-mouth/expert-answers/dry-mouth/faq-20058424.

Dr. Phillips, Ellie. Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye: A Do-It-Yourself Mouth Care System for Health, Clean Gums and Teeth. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2010.

Note: I have no affiliation of any kind with the products/companies mentioned in this blog post

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