3 Ways the Healing Art of Observation can Improve Your Health

Using the power of observation to connect to yourself.

Observation is a tool frequently used in meditation mindfulness to help focus the brain. When we take our attention to one specific object and not only helps to eliminate distracting thoughts, but we can also learn something about ourselves.

Recently I have deepened my studies in the practice of meditation. Learning that observations are powerful tool I’ve also started bringing this into my medical practice. I have offered patients prompts they can use to observe their mind and body.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how the power of observation is helped my patients to understand themselves and has allowed me to help them more effectively. Here are three ways in which observation can be used in your own healing journey.

Gathering data

The clinical encounter medicine can serve multiple purposes. Sometimes there’s a simple question that needs to be answered. Sometimes there is an emotional connection that will be made. Many times there is a transaction of information in which the patient must share. Data gathering, which often takes place in the form of history taking is extremely important.

Physicians and patients struggle with the exchange of information during the clinical exchange. Physicians are trained to think scientifically and to read patients like a book. Patients experience their symptoms in a linear fashion that is often noted to coincide with life events. Physicians become easily frustrated when patients share details that are often on the surface irrelevant to why they’ve come in.

When I’m working with a patient that’s having trouble relaying information, I will ask them to make observations about what their experiencing. This isn’t to be judgmental and it is definitely not to lay blame. But with a few gentle prompts, patients can start to make observations about their symptoms that are very helpful.

Dealing with addictive habits or self sabotage

Primary care physicians often act as health coaches. It is not unusual to offer more coaching advice rather than diagnosis. This can include inspirations to achieve a healthier lifestyle such as through nutrition or healthy movement.

Addictions and self-sabotaging behavior a much more common than most people realize. Patients often have a real struggle coming to groups with why they would return to a habit that’s hurting their bodies.

I have found that teaching patients about the power of observation and asking them to perform 90 seconds of observation before engaging in a destructive habit is extremely powerful. The instructions are simple. Before you pick up the cigarette set a timer for 90 seconds. During the 90 second seconds, observe how you feel prior to smoking. Then when the timer goes off observe if you wish to still smoke the cigarette, proceed with lighting the cigarette.

In the case of addiction, that observation period can often help the brain rewire itself and calm down the reward system in the brain.

Obervation to Empower

Traditionally the practice of medicine was based on a paternalistic model. This meant that the doctor gave orders to the patient that were accepted and never questioned. Times have changed. This is no longer an acceptable way to practice. Due to complexity of healthcare patients must participate in their own care.

Patients that have not felt empowered in most of their life will have a struggle with this. When it is time to make a decision about treatment options they may feel like throwing up their hands and want the physician to make the decision for them.

3 Ways Meditation Can Heal Burnout

Healing the 3 Pillars of Burnout

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy (1).

The topic of burnout has been growing and frequent in the healthcare industry for several years. Burnout doesn’t impact just doctors and nurses. Burnout is prevalent among teachers, where it can affect student test scores (2).

Any activity that is performed for a vocation can create burnout, particularly work that requires care of other humans. Work that can create burnout tends to be stressful, complex and likely requires specialized training.

3 Pillars of Burnout(1)

  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Feelings of Personal Inefficacy

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout is associated with jobs that are emotionally taxing.  This can include health care, educations and first responders. Work that is emotionally draining in combination with being technically difficult increase the risk of burnout.

The ultimate solution for Burnout Syndrome is to repair the systemic issues that lead to the condition. Because this is always possible, those working ins stressful environments should know how to help themselves.

3 Ways Meditation Can Help Burnout.

Meditation to Rest the Mind

Exhaustion is one of the pillars of burnout. This is best relieved with a break when feasible. And fortunately, many of the individuals suffering for burnout don’t have the luxury of taking time away from work.

Meditation and serve as a mini vacation. Even practicing for 5 minutes allows the brain to relax.

Use this video to meditate to release what no longer serves you. Use this for a 3 minute meditation break.

Meditation can allow the brain to take a break from mentally taxing efforts. Although 15-20minute sessions can do wonders, even 3 minutes of deep breathing can allow for the circuitry of the brain to cool off.

Gratitude Meditation to Heal Cynicism

One the most devastating effects burnout can have is that those in a healing profession will lose contact of the heart of what they are doing. These individuals will have trouble with empathy, which can lead to poor outcomes, particularly in patient care.

Gratitude can be used as a form of meditation. Keeping a Gratitude Journal is a way to help focus the attention on the positive aspects of life. Have a listen to teh above podcast to hear fomr of the benefits of a gratitude practice.

Self Compassion for Feeling Ineffective.

If a work environment is making employees ineffective, there’s likely multiple layers that are causing this problem. Unfortunately, any complex system requiring more than a few humans, is likely to be complex and fraught with error.

Mindfulness meditation reminds us to bring ourselves to the here and now. We were reminded to focus on what we have in the moment, which is the breath. Forming a real life meditation can help heal the feelings of being ineffective and unworthy.

Don’t Miss any of the Art of Healing Podcast! Sign up for notifications on new, content rich episodes.

References

1.Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52, 397–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

2.

Daniel J. Madigan, Lisa E. Kim, Does teacher burnout affect students? A systematic review of its association with academic achievement and student-reported outcomes,
International Journal of Educational Research, Volume 105, 2021,101714, ISSN 0883-0355, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101714.

The 4 Health Benefits of Gratitude

Does gratitude do more than make you feel better?

Decreases a Rapid Heart Rate

“During the gratitude intervention, we observed decreased HR compared to the resentment intervention.”(1)

Palpitations are a common reson to come into the doctor’s office. Granted, palpitations could be a sign of something serious such as a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia. Oftentimes, palpitations aren’t related to any one specific illness. They are likely the result of chronic shallow breathing, chronic anxiety, and overall disengagement from the body.

This interesting study determined that having studied participants participate in a gratitude intervention, lowered heart rate is compared to focusing on a resentful activity.

What is interesting about this study is that the behavioral intervention starts off identically. They are meditative exercises in which the individuals are instructed to relax. The difference is that in the gratitude intervention the participants were encouraged to focus on gratitude while in the resentment intervention the participants were encouraged to think of things that make them angry or upset. They were purposely encouraged to ruminate  negative thoughts and emotions.

Here is the example of the interventions used in the study. I tried an abbreviated version on myself. I noted that I felt worse doing the resentment intervention as well. I felt short of breath during and after the resentment exercise.

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

How many of us do this on a regular basis? Reading the study I became fascinated with my own thoughts. I soon notice that when I think thoughts of reason I do feel more tension in my chest and upper back. When I think thoughts of gratitude I noticed my energy improves and my pulse seems to come down.

Eases Depression

“Gratitude may be beneficial for improving psychological health in individuals with IBD or arthritis.”(2)

Depression is a serious disease that must be managed just as any other chronic disease such as cancer or diabetes. Diseases linked to chronic inflammation, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease

Cools the Fire of Inflammation

“Patients expressing more gratitude also ha[ve] lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker index” (3)

Soothes Chronic Pain

“Patients with knee/hip OA who receive care at a major academic VA medical center, we found that a six-week intervention focused on building positive psychological skills such as gratitude and kindness significantly reduced OA symptom severity and improved measures of well-being. ” (4)

References

1 .Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J. J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific reports, 7(1), 5058. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

2. Sirois, F. M., & Wood, A. M. (2017). Gratitude uniquely predicts lower depression in chronic illness populations: A longitudinal study of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 36(2), 122–132. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000436

3. Mills, P. J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M. A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B. H., Lunde, O., Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A., Wood, A., & Chopra, D. (2015). The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients. Spirituality in clinical practice (Washington, D.C.), 2(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1037/scp0000050

4. Hausmann, L., Youk, A., Kwoh, C. K., Ibrahim, S. A., Hannon, M. J., Weiner, D. K., Gallagher, R. M., & Parks, A. (2017). Testing a Positive Psychological Intervention for Osteoarthritis. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 18(10), 1908–1920. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnx141

3 Ways to Reduce Anxiety

Three ways you can lower anxiety in a few minutes

Most people don’t become aware of their anxiety until they have a severe symptoms. What most people don’t realize is that well before the sentinel event of anxiety that makes most people reach out for help, there were symptoms leading up to it that may have been going off for weeks or months.

Although all anxiety requires medical attention, there are things you can do for yourself to lower your anxiety in a few minutes.

The following the tips I wish the share. Having experienced anxiety myself, I wished I had had these exercises to help prevent my first anxiety attack.

Grounding

Grounding is a term used frequently in the holistic and metaphysical realm. It involves visualizing your biofield and bringing the excessive energy down to your legs and feet. Grounding exercises can be done at any time, even if you’re busy doing something else. The idea is simply to help with worry thoughts and create an energy pathway to take all that excess energy out of the head and into the legs and feet which is calming.
Download a free copy of the ebook 9 ways to ground your energy.

Have a listen to the podcast Understanding Anxiety

Download a free copy of the Ebook “9 Ways to Ground Your Energy”

Download Today

Inhale and Exhale

It’s that simple. Taking a deep breath in and exhaling out of your mouth it’s one of the fastest ways you can decrease your own anxiety

One of my personal favorite mediation and mindfulness techniques is the Ujjayi Breath. This is a Yoga breathing technique that is easy to perform and can be done at any time of day.

Here are the steps:

  1. Take in a deep breath through your nose, filling up your belly and chest
  2. Exhale through your nose, with your mouth closed. Slightly constrict the back of your throat, which will create a hissing sound. This slows down your exhale.
  3. Repeat the cycle

You can try Ujjayi breath for one minute initially.  You may want to try checking your pulse, then doing a round of Ujjayi breath for a minute then checking your pulse again.  Notice any difference?

Meditate

There are many ways you can use meditation to reduce your anxiety. I have created a short meditation you can use to transmute worry thoughts and positivity.

Want to try a meditation to channel negative emotions? Click here

Tap it Out

Eft, also known as the emotional freedom technique, is a healing modality that is gaining popularity. EFT involves repeatedly tapping acupressure points which has been clinically shown to remodel the brain and create immediate as well as long-lasting changes.
You can use tapping on what’s called the quote karate chop points quote in which you will rapidly but gently tap the outside of each hand together while taking deep breaths.
There are many wonderful online resources for tapping that you may want to check out here
The Tapping Solution

Can Meditation Heal Anxiety?

While you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack it’s very hard to think clearly. But if you are managing anxiety, or trying to prevent anxiety from getting much worse, is it possible for meditation to heal anxiety? If so, how is this best accomplished?

When you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, there’s probably nothing more upsetting than someone telling you to just calm down.

Believe me, I definitely understand. My first anxiety attack was like a force of nature.  I can recall the physical feelings of doom, feeling a need to run, my vision narrowing and not being able to breath.  

What is Anxiety?

It helps to have an understanding of the difference between feeling anxious, having a diagnosis such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or phobias.

Check out the podcast, Understanding Anxiety

It is typical in the everyday human experience to feel anxious. You’ve likely experienced anxiety even today. You may be feeling some anxiety right now as you read this blog post. The feeling of anxiety is simply an emotion associated with worry about future past or present events

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

You begin to think of anxiety as being a chronic condition and possibly a medical condition when the symptoms are pervasive and present for more than 6 months.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive Worry
  • Worrying about many different things
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains related to muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Disrupted Sleep(Combs 2014)

Panic Disorder

Likely one of the worst consequences of chronic anxiety is panic. This is the experience that many of us call a “panic attack”.

Panic Attacks are very individual but usually start with hyperventilation, palpitations, dilated pupils, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting or even diarrhea. These events are the end result of a chemical cascade in which the fight or flight symptom has been activated in the body.

If you have been anxious or worried for several hours or days at a time, your endocrine system has been getting a signal from your brain stem that a threat is coming. At some point either your brain perceives the threat has finally arrived, or it’s simply can’t take the stress anymore and your adrenal glands release a large amount of adrenaline. This adrenaline hits your system and does its job in getting your body ready for a fight. The physiologic changes that occur during a panic attack are all a result of the adrenal glands doing what they were designed to do.

Phobias

Phobias I point out because they often can present as generalized anxiety. Phobias are generally going to be anxiety that is associated with a specific stimulus which can be an event, a place, an object, or generally something that is external to the body.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is anxiety symptoms that stem form intrusive, often disturbing thoughts. Individuals suffering from OCD often have rituals, or actions they do to relieve the stress caused by the obsessive thoughts.

Meditating to Heal Anxiety

It is difficult to consider sitting still and breathing if you are in the state of anxiety. Particularly, if you have gotten used to being in thoughts of worry constantly it goes against your feelings to sit still and quiet. I advise my own patients that they should always try meditation if they have been diagnosed with anxiety or want to prevent anxiety.

Read more about Anxiety here

Using meditation to heal your anxiety will also help with medications.

Which meditations to do for anxiety

Any of them!

There are many different styles of meditation. Beginners often do well performing guided meditations. These are meditation in which an instructor offers visualization, instructions on breath, and other tools that can help focus the mind and calm the body. Guided meditations often take an additional resource.

Luckily in the age of cell phone apps, there are so many to pick from. Here are my recommendations:

  • Inside timer
  • Relax melodies

Mindfulness meditation is a style of meditation in which you attempt to quiet the thinking mind. I am studying to be a certified mindfulness meditation instructor. I have found this process endlessly fascinating and have found in my own meditation practice I no longer want guidance and I prefer now to meditate in silence for 20 minutes.

You can easily perform mindfulness meditation by focusing on your breath for 3 to 5 minutes. And that’s it!

Walking Meditation

This is also my new favorite. Walking meditation is just what it sounds like. Rather than performing your meditation while at rest or lying down you walk. I’ve come to rely on this when I want to move my body but don’t have time to exercise and meditate.

Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation is using an inspirational phrase or saying to focus the attention. You use your inspirational saying over and over, either chanting it out loud or thinking it in your mind during your meditation.  

Ready to start your journey? Pick up a copy of 21-Day Meditation Journey Today.

Meditation is a journey. Anxiety can be a journey as well. And maybe helpful to visualize anxiety is a journey to yourself. Please embrace every way along the process. And make attempts to return to yourself and meditation as much as you can.

References
  1. Combs, H.,Markman, J. Anxiety Disorders in Primary Care. In: Pagalilauan G, Editor. 2014. Psychiatric Diagnosis and Management in Primary Care. Seattle (WA): Medical Clinics of North America.

Using Your words to Heal Your Body

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In his seminal work, The Hidden Messages in Water, Masura Emoto created a special technique to demonstrate the effects various words have on the formation of water crystals. The water was exposed to words by speaking to the water. Then the water was frozen. Crystals were examined and photographed under a microscope.

Emoto discovered that when the water was exposed to positive words such as “love”, “hope”, or “thank you” symmetric beautiful crystals formed. If the water was exposed to words of hatred, either no crystals formed or crystals that were of a regular shape form.

Credit:  https://www.masaru-emoto.net/en/crystal-2

This is an example of a crystal that was shown the words love and gratitude. Notice it’s very symmetrical and overall very beautiful.

Source: Emoto, M. (2001). Hidden messages in water. Atria. 

It is easy to see from these pictures that using words with a high vibration lead to beautiful well-form crystals. Using words that are low vibration lead to no formed crystals or something that’s not as attractive.

In his work, Emoto reminds us that we’re made of 70% of water. His theory is that water holds a memory of the environment in the energy has received.

Then that means what happens to the water in our body when it’s exposed to violence, words of anger, anything that is less than love?

Choose Your Words For Healing

If you think about your body being made mostly of water that is constantly interacting with your environment, this helps you to refrain how you approach your mind body and soul. On your own healing journey, how do you speak to yourself? Do you use words of kindness to yourself? Or are you having thoughts that constantly lower your vibration because they are less than love?

Healing Words

In my book, 21 Day Meditation Journey, one of the meditations captures the idea of using healing words. During the meditation, we created positive affirmations.

You can get started with this right now. In my own person practice, when I feel my thoughts becoming negative, I replace those thoughts with positive thoughts. Even if I don’t feel the thoughts, I notice a difference within a few minutes.

Positive Affirmations for Healing

  • “I provide love for myself and others”
  • “I am God’s Creation”
  • “I am as I am meant to be”

Create your own list of positive affirmations. Make it fun! Make a wallpaper on your cell phone, or your computer screen.

Programming your thoughts for positive will change the vibration in your body. It would not be good to carry the negative words in the water in your body.

You can use your words to heal yourself. Its so simple, yet effective. Even if you have to “fake it”, do it until you feel how your positive thoughts change your vibration.

Download a free copy of “9 Ways to Ground your Energy”

This free Ebook is a great way to ground your energy and feel better right away.

Applying Meditation for Chronic Low Back Pain

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Chronic low back pain is one of the most common reasons patients present to primary care physicians for care.  Most patients initially present with low back pain feeling that the symptom is purely physical. They are often unaware of how psychological stress is playing a role in driving the pain, along with mechanical injury.   I have presented in my previous post on chronic pain as well as my podcast. In today’s post I’d like to use low back pain as an example of applying meditation to help ease the burden of back pain.

The anatomical location of the root chakra is located somewhere around the base of the spine. It is likely the energy center that governs the lumbar spine, legs and feet.  This energy center is associated with our most basic needs of survival such as acquiring resources and shelter. Many of us hold stress in the lower back in the form of tight muscles and improper posture.

I have noticed similar patterns of stress related to work, finances, or the home often presenting with lower back pain. Patients will often present describing the origins of the lower back pain, then a side note of an argument at work, or defaulting on a mortgage comes in towards the end of the visit. During a typical clinic visit, I don’t often have the luxury of spending time with patients to discuss this relationship.

This month I have been discussing primarily chronic pain. We should review acute low back pain and chronic low back pain before delving into how these can be improved with the use of meditation.

Acute Low Back Pain

Acute low back pain and back pain that occurs for period of time less than 3 months. Acute low back pain tends to be associated with injury such is abrupt lifting, lifting an object that is too heavy, sudden twisting, or purchase a pain in physical activity without appropriate conditioning.

Acute muscle strain

Many individuals presenting with low back pain often or suffering from small tears in the large lumbar muscles. this can create a lot of pain with very few physical findings other than muscle spasms. This type of pain tends to resolve fairly quickly. It also doesn’t tend to cause pain radiating down either leg. This is the kind of low back pain that may occur after a sports injury or lifting large objects.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a cause of acute low back pain in which a nerve originating from the lumbar spine is being impinged by a structure in the spine. This can be from bony overgrowth or from a bulging lumbar disc. This tends to present acutely, sometimes associated with lifting or twisting, and can cause pain radiating down either leg.

Vertebral Fracture

Of all of the acute low back pathologies, this is likely to be the most serious because it implies other medical issues including severe osteoporosis. Vertebral fractures in the lumbar spine may present with a sudden onset of pain with little to no activity. The pain May radiate or may stay in one place. The pain from vertebral fractures tends to be severe and unremitting.

Chronic Low Back Pain

Chronic low back pain is typically present for at least 3 months or 6 months. Some of the issues that started as acute back pain can evolve into chronic low back pain.

Lumbar Disc Degeneration

Lumbar disc degeneration is very common cause of chronic low back pain this is an overarching description of several issues that can occur in the bony part of the spine that lead to bone growth, or bone chips that may get dislodge or displaced and cause pressure on the nerves that run down to the leg. Often people have something called facet degeneration, which is often a common target of doing steroid injections into the lower back.

Disc Herniation

Disc herniation occurs when the vertebrae put strain or stress on the vertebral disc. The vertebral disc have a consistency similar to silicone. They serve as the shock absorbers within the spine. When herniation occurs some are part of the disc is forced out of its space and can cause impingement on one of the nerves that goes down the leg.

Meditation to alleviate lower back pain

No matter what is causing the lower back pain rather it is acute or chronic, adding meditation to the treatment plan can be beneficial.

There are a variety of ways one can consider meditation. Most importantly is taking your individual limitations in your current pain level into account.

Standing meditation

Many individuals suffering from lower back pain often for relief if they’re able to stand up. Standing can be very appropriate for performing a short meditation. Keep in mind that if you suffer from balance issues or vertigo this may not be the best way to start meditating if you’re lower back is hurting.

A simple meditation can consist of standing with the feet firmly planted in barefoot if possible. Closing the eyes and inhaling the exhaling to the count of five for three minutes. Using a guided meditation while standing can be beneficial as well.

Seated meditation

Seated meditations are the most common. Seated meditations are going to be the most accessible posture as well. When getting started with meditation it may be helpful to make sure your meditation chair allows for proper alignment. Check for the following to make sure your seat will be optimal for meditation.

  • Make sure your feet touch the floor. If your feet don’t touch the floor consider using a sturdy object like a large book or yoga blocks to bring the floor closer to your feet.
  • Make sure your knees are at a roughly 90° angle. If they are not, consider using yoga blocks or a large book to bring the floor closer to your feet.
  • Make sure the angle of your hips is roughly at 90° angles. This means that you may need to use a pillow behind your back to adjust the seat back.
  • Consider a chair that does not have arm rest. armor may be helpful, but if they cause you to elevate your shoulders that will keep you from settling into a calming meditation.

Lying Down

Lying down to meditate can be very helpful if you’re suffering from fatigue related to chronic pain. Keep in mind, you’re not wanting to fall asleep. You can perform align meditation in the bed but I advise my own clients whenever possible dedicate another space where you can lie down comfortably and supported but aren’t necessarily falling asleep.

The key posture with lying down with lower back pain is that you must elevate the legs and the knees. Most causes of chronic low back pain will be made worse by laying completely flat.

Elevation can be achieved by using a couch and laying on the floor. You can also use large cushions from your couch to elevate your legs. If you have yoga equipment using your yoga bolster to go under your knees can work as well. You can also use a blanket folder to go under the knees which will allow for the lower back to relax.

Body scan meditation for lower back pain

Here is a short description of a meditation practice you can perform easily at your own pace. Once you have chosen the posture you wish to take during your meditation, set a timer for 5 minutes to start with. If you repeat the meditation feel free to add longer durations.

  1. Takes three breaths into the nose and out through the mouth
  2. Focus your attention first on your feet. Observe where your feet are in space and if they’re resting against the floor.
  3. Relax your feet, feel as if they are melting into the floor.
  4. Move your attention up to your calves. Observe where they are in space and if anything is touching them.
  5. Allow your calf muscles to relax and melt into the floor.
  6. Continue this body scan starting with your thighs and working your way up to the top of your head.
  7. You can pace yourself by observing each body part on an inhalation, then relaxing that body part on an exhalation.
  8. After scanning your body continued to inhale and exhale slowly for a few more minutes
  9. complete the practice by gently open your eyes and making observations of how your body is feeling

If you would like to learn more about chronic pain download the art of healing podcast from this week. It is the first part in a three-part series on chronic pain. if you’d like to be notified about upcoming episodes please submit your email below.

Chronic pain is a difficult topic. Any form of human suffering brings sadness. I feel that although there are many more rapidly changing topics going on the discussion of how we manage chronic pain always deserves attention.

Creating Your Meditation Practice to Heal Chronic Pain

Chronic pain from various diagnosis is the most common issue I treat in my medical practice.  This finding is confirmed by studies showing that “one in 10 adults in the general population report chronic widespread pain with possible sociocultural variation.¹”  The options for patients suffering from chronic pain remain limited.  I have been advising my patients that starting a meditation practice as part of the treatment plan in dealing with chronic pain. Patients with the diagnosis of Chronic Pain from any source typically are being treated  by a number of specialists and practitioners. 

They are often spending significant hours weekly pursuing and receiving medical treatments. My biggest worry with patients is that if opioids are being used, without a clear endpoint for treatment that the opioids will become needed for a long duration.  Reliance and dependence on opioids for chronic pain creates a host of issues separate from the original source of the pain.

Learn about types of Chronic pain in my podcast

Chronic Pain Part I

In this post, I am offering my recommendations to approach adding meditation as a treatment regimen for those suffering with chronic pain.

Deciding on a Meditation Instructor, Course, or Free Resource

Cost

Starting a meditation practice can be done for free, but there may be reasons to invest in formal training or a course.    Working one on one with a Yoga or Meditation Instructor may be the most expensive option, but this will also provide the best way to initiate or continue your practice.  One on one work is not mandatory, but for those that are used to pursuing care in this fashion it will be easy to start working with someone.

Least expensive will be finding free meditation resources online.  This is a perfectly fine option.  I often recommend free online resources knowing that my patients may be spending thousands of dollars on healthcare monthly.  Naturally, you won’t have the benefit of one on one attention. Using a free resource such as YouTube allows you to try meditation without investing any money.

Time

I strongly recommend that someone who is new meditation to start with short intervals, no more than 5 minutes.  In the 21 Day Meditation Challenge at Healing Arts Health and Wellness, the majority of exercises are under 6 minutes.  Longer meditations can reap more benefit, however, physical comfort must be considered.  If you have chronic pain, you will have to recognize that the beginning of your meditation journey that your physical needs may limit you to short intervals which is perfectly fine. Luckily, technology has provided so many ways to pursue a structured meditation course.  This will be ideal as it will take away guessing at what meditation to do next, but may require some time to perform daily.  

I recommend assigning a specific time to meditate and possibly treating it like a doctor’s appointment.  This will help to train your mind and body that this time is sacred and intentional.  My own observation is that different types of chronic pain seem to do best with meditation at various times.  If you are suffering from chronic joint pain from arthritis, starting your day with mindful movement may assure increased energy and reduced pain for the rest of the day.  Chronic neuropathic pain, such as diabetic neuropathy typically benefit from evening or night practices.  Settling the nervous system prior to bedtime is a fantastic way to calm the pain of neuropathy.  Patients taking chronic opioids should consider an evening practice, particularly if you are taking opioids more than every 8 hours.  Opioids disrupt your sleep, and when possible it is best to avoid them at bedtime.  Having a relaxation plan to reduce the need for nighttime opioids can help to improve sleep quality. 

Special Considerations for Meditating with Chronic Pain

Once you have decided how you still start your meditation journey, also consider if it may be worthwhile to invest in any special equipment.  One example is you want to use a special chair designed for meditation. Finding a comfortable position will be top priority.  If you are dealing with chronic pain from the lower back, laying down with your legs supported may be your best option.  If your chronic pain comes from neuropathy in your legs and feet, it may feel better to elevate them.  If you have chronic neck pain, having support under your head and neck with a special pillow may be needed.

Getting Advice from Your Physical Therapist

Likely if you are suffering from chronic pain, you are under the care of a physical therapist.  This is an invaluable resource as they will understand the physiology and challenges you experience with your pain.  I would recommend asking your physical therapist for guidance for positioning yourself in your meditation practice at home.  Your physical therapist will likely have useful solutions that can eliminate any barriers in getting started.

Preparing Yourself for Your Meditation Practice

Finally, make your meditation practice as pleasant and sensual as you like.  Consider adding aromatherapy in the form of high quality essential oils.  You may want to invest in candles or nice lighting.  A warm blanket also helps the body relax.  Covering your lap with a warm blanket during a seated practice really helps in relaxing. Also reduce distractions as much as feasible.  This may mean putting your phone on Do Not Disturb.  You may want to let household family members know that you wish not to be disturbed during your meditation practice. Review your medications with your physician. Are there medications you may want to avoid before meditation? Are there medications you may want to consider taking to help you be comfortable with meditation? Would you benefit from adding heat therapy or cold therapy at that time as well?

Chronic pain is difficult, frustrating, and currently has little rapid solutions in our current care models.  Adding meditation is a low risk, high yield activity that augments the treatment plan for any chronic pain diagnosis.  I have created a 21 Day Meditation Challenge, a 21 day course that will allow you to try multiple meditation types in short durations. This course will be a way to start your meditation journey easily.

21 Day Meditation Challenge

Click the link above to learn more about the 21 Day Meditation Challenge


References:

1. Mansfield, K. E., Sim, J., Jordan, J. L., & Jordan, K. P. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of chronic widespread pain in the general population. Pain, 157(1), 55–64. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000314

Meditation as a Lifestyle

We are learning in times of crisis that some things are out of our control and our best way to recover is by tapping into our inner strength and healing.  It seems counterintuitive that sitting still and looking inward helps to cope with the ever changing external world.  I believe that having a personal meditation practice can help to create a lifestyle in which you can recover from the challenges that life throws at you.

I started my meditation journey 20 years ago when I accidentally discovered yoga in a discount book store.  I was in medical school, and at the time, I did not fully appreciate what a treasure I had discovered.  

Meditation can become part of your lifestyle.  There are so many reasons why I believe it’s worth carving out the time for this, allow me to share a few of these.

Sustainable energy

As we move through life we’re all aware of things that can add to our energy and make us feel alive such as laughter, love  and joy.  We’re also aware of things that deplete us such as anxiety, dealing with energy vampires, or depression. We have to consider what we feed our minds and our bodies.  We want pure, clean fuel to keep our energy going.  Meditation can be energizing.  Giving your brain a few minutes of rest and closing your eyes even for a few moments is wonderful.  When you slow down your breath and let your diaphragm work to its fullest capacity, you allow the oxygen level in your blood to rise.  Your brain will love that feeling, trust me.

Photo by nicollazzi xiong on Pexels.com

Self-care is mandatory

We are all learning during the pandemic of 2020 that while we have systems in place to provide care those systems are getting depleted. and one way or another we almost find a way to take care of ourselves. Self-care is no longer an option or a luxury. It is mandatory for survival.

I believe meditation can be part of a healthy, holistic lifestyle. It is a perfect compliment to a lifestyle that revolves around self-care and healing. Meditations, in combination with having a reliable care team, a healthy whole foods diet, and movement of the body that feels good is a powerful combination.

Resilience when avoidance of pain is not possible

During the year 2020 everyone was affected in one way or another. We have all been affected either personally, emotionally, financially and physically.   We are learning that there are times when pain is unavoidable. We are learning that sometimes we must find a way to recover from what has happened.

I have personally heavily on my personal meditation practice to help me during times of uncertainty.  Meditation has helped to calm some of my anxiety related to uncertainty. 

I have created a 21 day Meditation Journey you may want to consider if  you are wanting an introduction to meditation, or would like to have support in developing a daily practice of meditation.  Sign up for my newsletter if you would like updates.

The 5 Best Meditation Techniques for Beginners

The 5 Best Meditation Techniques for Beginners

Meditation is something that many of us want to do well to gain the benefits associated with the practice. Unfortunately, for many of us, the constant mind chatter can make it frustrating to sit down and meditate for any period. If you are starting out with your meditation practice, here are five great techniques that can get you started on the path to mindfulness.

Technique #1 – Breathing Meditation

This is one of the best techniques if you are just starting out in your meditation practice. It is an ancient and powerful technique that is extremely effective. By just paying attention to your breathing, you give your mind a point of focus in a relaxed way. To start this technique, get yourself in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and slowly begin to observe your breathing. Pay attention to how it feels as you breathe in and out. If you find your mind starting to wander, just bring your focus back to your breathing.

Technique #2 – Mindfulness Meditation

In mindfulness meditation you become fully present in the moment by paying attention to the sensations in your body. Start the practice by focusing on your breathing, then allow yourself to become aware of the other sensations running throughout your body. You don’t want to analyze or judge the experience; you simply want to observe.  

Technique #3 – Mantra Meditation

By repeating a sacred word, like “aum” or a meaningful phrase, you can bring your mind into a state of tranquility. With this technique, you can either repeat the mantra out loud or repeat it to yourself silently.  

Technique #4 – Walking Meditation

If you don’t think that you can sit still for an extended period, you can try the walking meditation technique. This can be done anywhere. You simply have to focus on your body as it moves. Focus on how your arms swing, how your legs are lifted and extended, and how your feet rise and touch back down on the ground. If your mind starts to wander, bring your focus back to the movement of your body. 

Technique #5 – Empty Minded Meditation

Photo by Charlyce Davis

Empty minded meditation, allows you to be aware without having to have a specific focus. To practice this technique, sit quietly in a comfortable place. Close your eyes and let your thoughts freely float in and out of your mind. Observe each thought as they enter your mind without any attachment or judgment.

These five meditation techniques are simple enough that you can start your practice today, or enhance an existing one. 

3 Physical Benefits of Regular Meditation Practice

As meditation has become more popular in our culture, scientists have
begun to study the many physical benefits that can be gained through
regular practice. Practicing meditation helps to slow down your breath,
quiet your mind, and find peace. Along with its numerous mental benefits,
practicing meditation on a regular basis can be a useful alternative to
medical treatments for a variety of health concerns. Here are three physical
benefits that daily practice of meditation can have on your life.

Reduced Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain, meditation has been shown to help. Various studies have discovered that if you can focus and calm your mind and body, you have the capability of controlling the pain. Meditation makes it possible for you to face the common symptoms that are associated with chronic pain, like muscle tension, sweating, and irritability. 

Practicing mindfulness meditation will enable you to come to terms with the pain that you are experiencing, instead of just running away from it. Taking the focus away from your pain will enable you not to experience as much of it. Meditation helps to shift your attention away from the illness and into the moment

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Meditation has been proven to help lower blood pressure while allowing the body be less responsive to the hormones that cause stress. When you enter into a relaxed meditative state, the brain releases more nitric oxide which is responsible for the regulation of blood pressure levels, the improved functioning of the immune system, and the enhanced functioning of the central nervous system.

Conditions like stress affect the rate at which your heart pumps blood. When you practice meditation regularly, your heart rate decreases, allowing blood to circulate through the body more efficiently. This helps keep your cardiovascular system in shape, allowing the rest of the body to function with ease and enhances your ability to handle stressful situations.

Strengthens the Immune System

Recent studies show that meditation helps to increase the activity of ‘natural-killer cells’ in the body. These cells are responsible for killing off bacteria and viruses that find their way into our body. With regular practice, you can strengthen your immune system, which will result in the reduced risk that you’ll become ill and enhance your overall health and well-being. 

There are many physical benefits that you can gain from meditation. Engaging in daily mediation will help you improve your overall health, leading to living a healthier life. 

The 4 Best Meditation Postures for Beginners

Meditation is meant to bring you clarity and relaxation. Unfortunately, for many beginners of the practice, sitting for long periods can get downright uncomfortable, leading to an ineffective session. While the standard lotus or cross-legged position is the most popular positions used in meditation, some alternative positions are suitable for beginners or anyone who suffers from back pain.

The Astronaut

The astronaut posture is essentially an inverted sitting position. Rather than resting your back against a chair, you lie on the floor with a chair supporting your legs. To give your head and neck some extra support, place a pillow under your head. Place your hands on the floor beside you and begin your session.

The Corpse

The corpse position is extremely gentle on the back and is useful for people who have a problem keeping in an upright meditation position. It is also suited for guided meditation and pure light visualization. To get into this pose, simply lie down on your back, on either a bed or the floor. Rest your hands beside you with your palms facing upward. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, removing your socks and shoes. If needed, place a pillow under your head to support your neck. 

The Prayer

This is an alternate pose to the traditional kneeling position. It can get extremely uncomfortable kneeling, unsupported with your rear resting on the back of your heels for an extended period. Instead, you can use a kneeling bench with a padded, sloping top. The kneeling bench tilts your back forward slightly, taking the pressure off your lower spine when you assume the position. To keep your knees from feeling the pain, place a cushion or zabuton between the floor and your knees to prevent bruising.

The Sleeping Buddha

Like the corpse pose, the sleeping Buddha is suitable for beginners, as well as those with back and joint pain. To get into this position, lie your side on a flat, horizontal surface. Place one hand under your cheek for a little bit of support. Rest your other hand lightly on the side of your body. Bend both your legs slightly, resting them on top of one another. Place a pillow between your knees and thighs to prevent your upper leg from rotating forward.

Practicing meditation is a great way to bring about self-awareness and healing into your life. If you are just beginning and aren’t able to comfortably sustain the traditional meditation postures, try these four alternatives.