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    In reply to: Transformation

    I have sought counseling with therapists at different stages of my life, and they have used many different modalities. But I started having some breakthroughs on my own a couple of years ago. I had chronic pain in my neck but I hadn’t been able to connect it to anything. At the same time I was using meditation, prayer, visualization, and setting my intention to bring resolution to some of the emotional issues that had plagued me for most of my life.
    As I was driving to work from a doctor appointment, memories of forgotten trauma came flooding back to me. I was on the freeway, becoming blinded by tears. After a bit I took an exit that led to the ocean (lucky me, I lived in California then). I had a pen and a legal pad in the car and I wrote and wrote and wrote about all of the memories, thoughts, feelings, and visuals that were enveloping me. I was having a kind of detached vision of the past. When I finished I drove back to work and slipped into the rhythm of the office as if nothing had happened.
    When I got home I sat in the dark in stunned silence for hours. I knew I had uncovered the cause of much of my physical symptoms, distress, and pain. My occipital neuropathy – my “pain in the neck” – was directly related to this trauma. I involuntarily tensed my muscles (“armoring”), and held my breath constantly because of this trauma. I began employing many techniques to rid myself of the tension and emotional pain that I had stuffed deep down inside, including guided imagery and affirmations from a CD for healing trauma.
    To make a long story short I turned a corner that day. Just knowing the origin of the muscle tension and spasms, and being able to face and evaluate the cause allowed me to be more objective about it. That was when I was finally able to separate myself from it, and eventually eliminate the pain in the areas of my body that I identified with it. This for me was a transformation.
    I wasn’t familiar with the term “emotional decoupling” – thank you to Rachel for introducing it to me in her post from last Thursday – but that is exactly what happened for me, and I believe it has been a key component of my healing process. For me this was a critical area of personal growth that I got to through body listening.

    #transformation #trauma #emotionaldecoupling #breakthrough

    Gail Moser

    In reply to: Resilience

    In 2014 I had to make a big decision. I had planned to retire in several years at the social security retirement age of 66+. But I began struggling with constant fatigue and an intermittent acute lower abdominal pain with an undetermined cause.
    I learned that I could use my bank of sick leave to take a partial medical leave from work. I thought that by working fewer hours I would be more rested and revived. When that proved not to be true, I knew I needed a chunk of time without working to try to find the cause of the randomly recurring sharp pain and regain my energy. I came to the conclusion that I would be better off retiring earlier than later.
    At the end of six months of part-time medical leave I retired from my employer and moved to another city with a lower cost of living. I figured I would take a month to set up my new household and recover from the stress of the transition, and take another month of rest to fully recuperate and figure out how to earn a living. It sounded like a plan.
    I did not recuperate in two months. I stayed close to home, spending most days in the bed or on the bed. Another month went by. And another. After five months I was still struggling to get out of bed each day and the pain had become more frequent. I could see that taking a job to bring in needed income would not be an option.
    One day I happened upon the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s website and found that they had an artist’s open studio. I knew that art was a way for me to express myself and tune into both my emotional and physical intuition, and I had dreamed of finding a space where I could create large, messy work. I got myself together and went to see if this place could work for me. While I was there I was asked to submit a proposal for a course on expressive and intuitive art for the fall semester. I submitted the course proposal and it was accepted. I helped the students express themselves through art, and as the weeks went by I could see the impact that having a safe space to make this kind of art was having on them.
    But the person who benefited most was me! It gave me “a new lease on life”. I understand now that this is my purpose, this is why I am here. I call myself the “Art Doula”, and I create expressive art experiences for freeing the artist within. I assist people in the gestation and birthing of their artist selves, and in bringing their creative genius into the world.
    The expressive artmaking experiences I create just seem like something fun to do; but done over time and on a regular basis, they have helped some of my students in their healing process. Something is happening on a deeper level. Making art gives voice to ideas and emotions that we would otherwise not be able to articulate.
    Best of all, when I am sharing the experience of art I am quickened with a spirit that feels like a fire that starts in me and envelops the room. Spontaneously, I dance and sing (and so do the students). At those moments I do not feel the fatigue or the pain. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. This is something I can do for the rest of my life! And I love it. :-)
    #resilience #stillstanding #freeingtheartistwithin

    Gail Moser

    In reply to: Perspective

    Looking Back to Gain Perspective – My Journey from 2011 to 2016
    I had been having all-over pain for quite a few years, but never mentioned anything about it because I attributed it to getting older. I was way beyond fatigued – it had become really difficult to get out of bed, go to work, prepare my meals, and even bathe. Every day everything hurt, all the time. I was exhausted and couldn’t get my energy level back up no matter what I tried. When I went to my follow-up appointment after knee surgery, my doctor asked if there were any other health issues I needed to talk to her about. As usual I said, “Nothing but the usual aches and pains.” We said our goodbyes and I was on my way. On the 45-minute drive home I could not stop thinking about how bad my body felt. Why hadn’t I mentioned this to my doctor?
    I took me more than a year to finally tell my doctor about the all-over, 24/7 pain. She asked what seemed like a million questions, poked and prodded, and then referred me for some lab tests. She said her preliminary diagnosis was fibromyalgia, but we would wait for the test results to see what they said. A few days later she called me: I had a positive anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) titer, which when coupled with some of my other symptoms and physical traits was an early biomarker for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). I needed further testing and evaluation and she referred me to a neurologist. This was early September, 2012 and unfortunately the first available appointment with the neurologist would be after Thanksgiving. I couldn’t do anything but wait. Or could I?
    I googled and tried to absorb everything I could about lupus. I downloaded research papers. I read the blogs of people with the disease. I devoured books about auto-immune disorders and leaky gut syndrome. What I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to be on medication that I had to take daily, for the rest of my life – so I watched YouTube videos about alternative and complementary treatments.
    I asked myself what I would do if in three months, I was diagnosed with lupus. I decided I would completely overhaul my diet to better support my immune system; I would employ more mindfulness techniques, more regularly and frequently; I would search and experiment until I found an exercise regimen that would accommodate my pain and lack of energy without derailing me; I would reduce my stress by taking breaks, and by taking a long, mindful walk around our beautiful university campus during every workday; and I would negotiate with other administrators to balance the workload. I thought I would get everything figured out and planned in advance, so that if I got the diagnosis I could “hit the ground” (forget about the running!) with my new diet, work, and lifestyle changes. Then I thought – what is the point of waiting until I get a diagnosis? Why shouldn’t I start implementing these changes now? So I did.
    I was not diagnosed with lupus, but the diet, work, and behavioral changes I made brought my life back to me. It wasn’t the same as my old life pre-pain and pre-exhaustion, but it quickly became my “new normal”. I have continued living in this way to this day, and have no intention of reverting. That would mean returning to a diminished existence, and I sure don’t want to go back there again!
    When I look back to September 2012, I almost cannot believe the transformation. It has been quite a process, but the 3.5 years would have passed whether I had made these efforts or not. Yes, I still have some pain, but ever since the sixth day on my elimination diet it is no longer the 24/7, all-over kind. After extinguishing that constant all-over pain, I was able to begin the slow process of identifying each muscle and joint that had its own issues and receive physical therapy and alternative pain management techniques to eliminate or manage them. Using mind-body and subtle energy modalities I have experienced healing, and received illuminating insights into my life’s issues and my life’s purpose. I have also learned or developed coping skills for both physical and emotional pain. Important relationships in my life have been strengthened and deepened as I have progressed in my own personal development.
    In September, 2012 I didn’t know how long I would be able to continue tolerating the quality of life I had. It was difficult to see the point of pushing myself to get through every day. My life since then hasn’t been a cakewalk – along the way there have been some very large hills, and some really deep valleys. This is life, after all. But looking back now I can attest that today I have greater wellness, resilience, self-knowledge, peace of mind, and the feeling of freedom that comes from living my life authentically. It has definitely been worth all of the work.
    #eliminationdiet #mindfulness #subtleenergy #stressbreak #balancedworkload #whatalongstrangetripitsbeen

    Gail Moser

    Mindfulness is a really broad topic, so there is a lot to discuss. Considering that we also tied it into behavioral therapies and stress reduction techniques, there is an awful lot to say that wasn’t mentioned specifically in the seven topics I’ve outlined.
    Is there anything that you would like us to discuss, or think should have been mentioned? Your input is really appreciated!

    Rachel Carriere

    Gail, thank you for bringing up the paid access to the article. I found another version freely available on Google Scholar.
    I’m glad you mentioned that fear and trauma can lead to pain. I’ve learned this as well, although it wasn’t my personal experience. I have had to tell both health care practitioners AND my therapist several times that I haven’t had any particular trauma or emotional difficulty prior to my pain (what a strange way to have to advocate for myself!), which definitely tells me that it’s common and well-accepted that our emotional state can bring on pain just as much as pain can bring stress to our emotional state. #fearpaincycle

    Rachel Carriere

    My questions for you related to this topic are about how practicing mindfulness has affected your relationship with yourself and others. Has your attitude towards yourself been impacted? Have your relationships/interactions with others been impacted by your mindfulness practice? Has mindfulness increased your awareness of your input into social relationships or increased your acceptance of help from others?
    From reflecting on my own experiences, I’ve realized that mindfulness, and particularly the mindful therapies I’ve been working with, have had a really positive impact on my relationships. Firstly with myself. Acceptance and compassion are two of the things that have led me to feel gentler with myself and my limitations. I think this, in turn, has affected my relationships with others in a couple of ways. It was hard for me to feel like I had anything to offer in a friendship when I was stuck at home having a hard time getting around, and constantly stressed out from the pain. I was no fun to be around at all, I thought. For a long time I didn’t work on my friendships or relationships at all. I focused solely on myself, thinking “once I kick this pain then I’ll go back to having a life and being with other people.” What this ended up doing was disconnecting myself from my social network and looking back I realize I was wasting time by putting my life on hold. I’ve been searching for more balance now, in focusing on myself and my relationships with others. I think acceptance and compassion have enabled me to feel more comfortable with myself in my relationships with others, which I think has also made me more pleasant to be around – bonus!
    Another aspect of my relationships that have really improved through acceptance and compassion is asking for and accepting help from others. I hate to ask for help! I value my independence, and even though I love to help other people it feels like such a burden and imposition to ask for help from others. At the peak of my pain, I was relying on friends and family for everything – grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and even help caring for my pets. It was really difficult for me to accept that I was in a position where I could not repay the favors being done for me, and social norms taught me that I needed to reciprocate! I think therapy really helped me deal with this, and humbled me to the fact sometimes this is what it means to be human.
    #mindfulrelationships #compassion #acceptance #connection
    Have any of you noticed any aspect of your relationships that has changed through mindful practices?

    Rachel Carriere

    Rachel, the article sounds interesting but unfortunately I am no longer working for the medical school so I don’t have access, and there is a charge of $31.50 to read it. Unless there is another way… :-)
    You mentioned fear being caused by pain, but there is also the possibility that pain is caused by fear (and the stress that comes with it). So does pain cause fear, or does fear cause pain? Who knows, maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma. But if the pain is caused or held in the body by fears or past trauma, working on those issues with a therapist or even on one’s own (through various methods such as journaling, the Gaga dancing mentioned in the Movement topic, or the intuitive art exercises in the Expressive Art topic) can help illuminate the cause, reduce, and even eliminate the pain.
    I have experienced a lot of my growth through journaling in one form or another. Although I don’t think it is usually associated with mindfulness, as with anything it depends upon how one approaches the practice. With mindful intention on just the thought-to-hand process in the moment, it can be a powerful emotional coping mechanism. There is often a sense of relief and release after committing thoughts to paper. It provides evidence of my process, and can be reviewed later to see just how much I have progressed. And there is a record of it for posterity. 😉
    #fearandpain #journaling #release

    Gail Moser

    As I have been reflecting on the impact of mindfulness on my pain management, I’ve come to realize that one of the major changes it has provoked in me has to do with how I approach my life and treatment. Working to live in the present, to accept myself as I am, and to loosen the hold of my vision of how my body should feel and what my life should be like. This is really all about managing expectations.
    I’ve notice this impact in two different ways. The first has to do with acceptance. Through mindfulness, and mindful therapy in particular, I’ve been focusing a lot on accepting my body’s limitations. I’ve come to appreciate the complicated structures that we are, and wonder at how intricate and involved even simple movements are. I have been trying not to take that for granted. This has cultivated an incredible sense of gratitude over what I can still do, and I have found that I am less frustrated about what I am limited from doing. My expectations over my movement and my body’s capabilities have completely shifted. And in turn I find myself less stressed, which eases a great deal of tension I’m facing. It’s all connected!
    The second kind of effect that I’ve noticed is with positivity. At the peak of my stress and pain, I became a bit despondent. “I’ll try this new thing, but nothing has worked so I’m sure this won’t either.” That became the way I entered a new treatment. I have been working to let go of expectations and approach new therapies and exercises with an open mind. I think that I’ve actually been having better results with new things simply because I’m more open to them, and I’ve found that I am not alone. I’ve learned that mindfulness and mindful therapies can stimulate patient expectations that treatment will help, which can correlate with improved responses to treatment. (This is discussed in Day, et al., the article I mention in the topic on Coping.)
    Have you found that harboring positive expectations has made an impact in your body’s response to new therapies and pain management techniques? Have you found instead that harboring any expectations at all creates a roadblock to body listening? How have your expectations around various treatments affected your perception of the outcome?
    #mindfulexpectations #acceptance #gratitude #positivity

    Rachel Carriere

    Over the years I have tried many, many, many different techniques to reduce stress. In my experience, the technique used is unimportant – it can be meditation, but it can also be breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, whatever. The regular practice of the technique is what allows me to recall the relaxation response in times of stress to return my usually involuntary body functions back to their normal, unstressed rates.
    I have found that my best and favorite techniques are walking meditation, guided imagery, reiki, and breathing. While most techniques when practiced regularly and with intention will provide relief from stress and often also from pain, I think the tendency is for us to gravitate to one or two which fit into our lifestyle and belief system. I had been meditating for decades, and using guided imagery and reiki for the same, but breathing practice always was an issue. I used to sing for recreation when I was young and still automatically practice diaphragmatic breathing. But whenever I tried to do a breathing meditation or slow, controlled breathing practice I would always feel like I couldn’t catch my breath (as in a panic) and it would actually add to the tension in my body, and to my stress. Although over time I developed some control and slowed my normal breathing rate, I could never understand what caused my breathing issues and I couldn’t fix them.
    Fast forward to 2013 when I was enrolled in the Comprehensive Pain Management program at Sharp Hospital in San Diego. They did my intake and decided I needed to work on several areas, which included two types of biofeedback: muscle tension and cardio-respiratory. From the awareness that I developed through cardio-respiratory biofeedback, I learned that I hold my breath automatically when I am faced with a stressor, no matter the source. (I just caught myself holding my breath again, simply from retelling this.) It’s kind of like when you are watching a thriller movie and you know something really scary is going to happen and you take in a breath and hold it due to the suspense – I did this constantly. The more pain I had, the more stress I felt from the problems it added to my life, and the fewer regular breaths I took. I wasn’t breathing, yet we have to breathe to live! Is there any question why I felt like I was just going through the motions, and not really living?
    I don’t know how many biofeedback sessions I had – probably only about four or five, but the technician also directed me to practice breathing daily using one of the free breathing smartphone apps. I tried MyCalmBeat and Breathe2Relax. I practiced twice a day – morning and evening – for 20 minutes. I started out with these apps and found that with regular practice, eventually I needed something that could handle an even slower breathing pace. So I found a metronome app called Metronome Beats and programmed it to fit the rate of breathing that brought me the best results. One day I woke up with an awful migraine headache and I found that when I had completed my breathing practice, my migraine was almost gone. Now I use this 20-minute, slow and controlled breathing exercise whenever I have a headache. This is the relaxation response at work!
    Another benefit has been the effect on my blood pressure. I’d never had any issues with my blood pressure, historically it has been on the low side. But I would always be rushed when going to my doctor appointments and arrive breathless and with elevated blood pressure. I decided to ask the nurse to wait five minutes so the reading would be more accurate. For five minutes I would practice my slow breathing, and my blood pressure would return to normal. Then one day I forgot to ask for the five minute delay. So while my blood pressure was being taken I practiced the breathing, and it returned to normal, right then and there. For me, this is the reason to practice a stress reduction technique and develop the relaxation response. I can now call up this response on demand! I just have to always remember to do it when in the throes of stress. :-)
    WebMD has an overview of the uses and benefits of biofeedback here:
    Here is a Youtube video about MyCalmBeat: Available for iPhone and Android.
    Breathe2Relax: Available for iPhone and Android.
    Metronome Beats:
    Available for Android.
    #relaxationresponse #biofeedback #breathingpractice #mycalmbeat #breathe2relax #metronomebeats

    Gail Moser


    Welcome to our discussion of mindful therapies and how developing emotional coping mechanisms may also have a positive impact on our physical wellbeing!
    A few months ago I read this scholarly article about how different mindfulness models can be integrated into the medical treatment of chronic pain. I found it fascinating, even though much of what it said wasn’t new to me. I know that the ideas it discusses aren’t unique to this article, but I am sharing it since it was meaningful for me.
    Day MA, Jensen MP, Ehde DM, Thorn BE. Toward a Theoretical Model for Mindfulness-Based Pain Management. The Journal of Pain 15(7), 691–703 (2014).
    It just all made so much sense, and seeing the mind-body connection described in this way was really satisfying for me. What I liked reading about the most was how mindful therapies have been shown to improve our pain experience. I realized the many different ways in which this has been true for me.
    Two years ago, when I realized that I was having serious issues with stress and coping, I sought help from a behavioral therapist that employs many of the mindful techniques discussed in this article. I continue to see her today and find that maintaining my mental health has been just as helpful for managing my pain as treating my physical health. I learned that this is called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), a kind of counterpart to MBSR. Its approach is to teach patients how to examine the links between our thoughts and our stress, our emotions and our physical sensations. Through reading this article and breaking down my experience, I have picked out several ways in which this therapy has helped me.
    It has helped me separate myself from my pain and analyze it in a nonjudgmental way. I learned that this is called emotional decoupling. It also helps create some distance between my sense of self and this pain, which has been a useful way to reperceive my experiences. It has helped me accepted my experience and my pain, as I’ve mentioned in other discussions. Instead of focusing so closely on the pain itself, I’m working to shift focus to my emotional response to the pain. Therapy is helping me to stop catastrophizing my pain, though I still fall back to this in particularly tough periods (that downward spiral!) by helping me build tools that I believe I can call on to manage this pain. This is called self-efficacy (and expecation management, which we will talk about tomorrow!). The last thing I’ll mention is fear. Therapy has helped me acknowledge and work through the fears I have developed alongside my pain. For me specifically, this means the fear of an activity that might cause me pain. I was avoiding certain movements and exercises, as well as avoiding social activities that might be difficult. I still have a lot of work to do, but I think using all the tools I’m developing has helped me approach pain differently and reduced fear as an impediment to my actions.
    The article discusses other ways for how mindful cognitive therapy can make an impact in reducing people’s experience of pain. Mindful therapies don’t have to include the traditional behavioral therapy model that I chose, but any method that promotes training our minds to examine the link between our thoughts and our physical being. I am interested in hearing more about how you may have practiced therapies, and specifically how you have developed coping mechanisms for yourself. If any of this resonates with you, please share your experience!
    Have you found that mindfulness practices increase your emotional coping mechanisms for dealing with chronic illness or pain? Which practices have the greatest therapeutic effect for you?

    #mindfulnessforcoping #mindfulnessbasedcognitivetherapy #retrainthebrain #distancethepain

    Rachel Carriere
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