Mindfully decreasing Chronic Pain

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The first thing to understand when talking about pain, is what the heck is it? Pain is a physical, cognitive, and emotional reaction to a stimulus that you perceive as dangerous. This shows that not only are there multiple ways that you may respond to pain, but your unique perception of what is dangerous also plays a role. So the question is… can you decrease your pain simply by being more mindful?

The evidence supporting mindfulness and meditation is mostly made of lower level evidence with small sample sizes, but the results all show that it can decrease depression, which is a common comorbidity of chronic pain, and it can improve pain levels as well as quality of life. Persons who participated in mindfulness based programs also were more familiar with their reactions to pain and were able to use this information to stop projecting past pain experiences onto current or future pain experiences, allowing them to alter maladaptive attitudes towards pain. These participants were also able to recognize warning signs that precede flare-ups, decrease self-blame, and feel stronger connections between their body and mind.

Now comes the test of becoming more mindful, which can be an intimidating task. The first way to you begin, is being present. What does that mean? Choose a task or object to send your attention to and do just that; when other thoughts enter your mind, recognize them as stressors and then gently return to your focus. Regulating your attention has been shown to create more generous acceptance of yourself and reduce anticipation of pain. The next thing you may practice is body awareness; you may do this by performing body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga. Body awareness has helped persons with chronic pain control muscle tension, interpret body sensations more acutely and accurately, appropriately pace themselves throughout the day, and adjust their posture to prevent pain. The final technique that incorporates mindfulness is emotional regulation; this means to let go of any attachments or aversions you have to a situation or object, approaching events with compassionate non-judgement. Emotional regulation has not only shown to decrease pain, but also reduce anxiety and depression.

Interested in practicing mindfulness, but intimidated to do it alone? Roam Yoga is offering Yoga classes every Tuesday morning at 8:15 am at Lifespan Therapies, PLLC. Want to try meditation in the comfort of your own home, try out One Giant Mind or other meditation apps accessible to your smart phone.

Gearing up!

Just received our brand new mats, blocks, and straps today and are ready to put them to use! So excited to begin our first four week long beginners program, Building your Foundation on July 17th, 2017. To sign up, contact us with your basic info and express your interest.

Learning to Meditate

Growing up, a good family friend of mine had a meditation room, which was always the most fun room to play in as we could bang on her variety of singing bowls, and small gongs while throwing around pillows and cushions. This mother, always appeared so tranquil and unperturbed by the craziness happening around her. So, when my first piece of homework for Yoga teacher training was to begin using a meditation app I was terrified. And yes, there is an app for that!
So, my first thoughts were of my blissful family friend and every show that has portrayed meditation as sitting silently without a thought in your head. Not thinking is a very difficult task for me; I am always caught up in the future, what do I need to do next, will I have time to get everything done, or maybe I should have tried to do that earlier today, did I email that person, what is going to happen if I didn’t… I never thought of this as a bad thing though, just that I was always thinking about things I had to do and finding the most effective and organized way to get it done.

9E23AC4D-0348-44DC-AB23-EBAA1F1B7E88-683-000001197DFC437AThe application we were instructed to use was called One Giant Mind. Initially, it leads you through twelve days of meditating, instructing you how to deal with different situations that may come up during your meditation and guiding you through the process. At the end it offers answers to any common questions you might have had during your meditation and a small area to journal about your experience. All of this seemed intimidating to me too, journaling? I think the last time I did that was maybe one day when I was twelve.

The first couple of days of using this app I was having problems with my internet, which made starting even more difficult than I imagined. The second day of meditating, it took over one and a half hours to download and when I clicked out of it accidentally it wanted to try downloading it all over again. By this point I decided that not throwing my phone across the room was my meditation practice for the day.

However, after using all the features that the app offered meditation seemed much less daunting. It offered you the option to move if you felt uncomfortable, recognized nodding off meant fatigue was leaving your body, and understanding that thoughts coming through your mind were reminders of what may be stressing you and that you should in this moment let this go and return to the designated mantra.

I was not quite sure what the point of meditating was, why not just take a nap? Go for a run? Do some yoga? But, after having practiced for just 12 days, along with doing some additional readings that were assigned, I have found myself being much more in the present moment. This has decreased my stress levels by not allowing myself to become engulfed in all the things that I have to do and instead be fully invested or completely enjoy whatever I was doing in that moment. I also tend to do it before bed, which has helped me fall asleep faster as I am not constantly thinking about everything I need to do the next day or throughout the week.

My Path to Yoga

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My exploration of Yoga truly began a year and a half ago when I haphazardly committed to an unlimited membership to a yoga studio in downtown Ithaca. The real allure to start was thoughts of relaxing in a warm room in the middle of winter (as well a great deal for new students). After the deal ended, they asked if I wanted to continue and by that time I had invested to going two or three times a week, which had not only helped me gain strength and flexibility, but also given me two to three hours a week where I could focus solely on myself and what my body had to say to me.

After a few months I really began seeing the effects seeping into other areas of my life and I could physically tell when I had skipped too many days and needed to return to practice. I also began seeing how beneficial it could be for all of my patients; I do not believe there is a single injury or disease that would not benefit from yoga practices. That does not mean I think everyone should try to twist themselves into a pretzel (as that is what most people think of when the word gets mentioned), but I think everyone should be able to portion out some time for themselves to really try to communicate with their body and find out what it does and does not need.

While learning body awareness is always the first benefit I think of when it comes to yoga, as it can help prevent and rehabilitate injuries, there are many other benefits to practicing. Namely, it helps you train your body to shift from the “fight-or-flight” response to the “rest and digest” response during times of stress. This shift in using the parasympathetic nervous system over the sympathetic nervous system results in decreased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, as well as increased blood flow to the vital organs. This shift can make it an effective intervention for depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

More specifically, yoga poses, meditation, or a combination of the two showed reductions in pain in persons with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, and chronic pain. Additionally, a study by Catherine Woodyard reported persons with cancer that practice yoga have experienced decreased “post-chemotherapy-induced nausea frequency, nausea intensity, intensity of anticipatory nausea, and anticipatory vomiting”.

As I have learned more about my yoga practice I continue to see all the benefits that are supported by research and hope to help spread to words and poses of yoga!