Sunday, January 7, 2018

The "Mind/Body" Relationship

Whenever the suggestion comes up that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may be caused by  an interruption in the mind body relationship, the CFS community becomes unhinged. They protest vociferously, and sometimes violently, that this disease is not "all in their heads"

Unfortunately, when people fail to look into the mind/body relationship, and how many many chronic diseases are a disorder in the mind/body system, they fail to find the tools they could acquire in order to heal. They miss out on an opportunity to experience deep change, spiritual growth, and renewed health and energy. I'm not sure where this resistance comes from, but my guess is that they've been told by various medical professionals that 'it's all in your head". And the only reason a doctor would say this is because there are no medical tests that can determine Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although the patient is sick, they clinically present as someone who is healthy.  And yet there is much that is physically wrong, and I can certainly attest to that. But at some point, when medicine doesn't have answers, we have a responsibility to ourselves, and to our own lives, to, well, look elsewhere. In the book When the Body Says No, author Gabor Mate states  "we want to be the authoritative person in our own lives: in charge, able to make the authentic decisions that affect us. There is no true responsibility without awareness. One of the weaknesses of the Western medical approach is that we have made the physician the only authority, with the patient too often a mere recipient of the treatment or cure". And this perfectly describes the problem with a community that is so invested in science to somehow heal them.

I can think of nothing more powerless that being ill with CFS. I was literally at the mercy of my symptoms. My life became very small and confining, because I usually felt to ill to do much of anything. I was often housebound, and occasionally bed bound, I felt powerless to the extreme. All aspects and areas of my life were negatively affected. I was extremely ill, and very early on I realized my very open minded, holistically oriented doctor could do nothing for me. Nothing.

I was ready and willing to embrace anything that would help me to heal. I wasn't going to beg doctors, clamor for research,  and stay sick because science didn't seem to have an answer. So I wholeheartedly, and with great interest, embraced the mind/body connection.

When we talk about the mind/body connection, people tend to think that we need to focus on the mind, if the body isn't healing. That we somehow need to explore the mind. We need to meditate, think positive thoughts, believe, really believe...we need to somehow think right or twist our minds around to behave in accordance with the body. Or that we have to adopt a "mind over matter approach". Or that we have to go to psychotherapy because there is something inherently wrong with our minds, and it's affecting our bodies. That's not it at all. What we are focusing on is the connection, between our mind and body. And in order to facilitate that connection, we need to put our focus squarely on the body, and on our bodily symptoms. For example, when I was sick, I would have good days and bad days...I could have bouts of energy and good feelings, only to be followed by days, maybe even weeks of bed rest and inactivity. It didn't make any sense to me, until I learned to make sense of it...what was my body telling me? Why were some of my days good, and why were some of them bad?  And so on until I learned my intelligent body was sending me, my mind, intelligent messages and was wanting my action and attention. An epiphany for me. And a route to healing.
As Kyle Davies so  eloquently states in his book, The Intelligent Body, "Symptoms are Solutions".

So to those who think we are saying "it's all in your head"'s not. It is for certain in your body.
And your body will guide the way out of your illness, if only you will open your mind.

As a bit of a follow up or addendum to the mind/body relationship, I'd like to point out that we really are not dualistic...we've been reduced to thinking of ourselves as dualistic beings....just mind and body, body and mind...but this is also false....and this is where it all becomes deep and wise...we are mind/body/soul. I don't know of many physicians who completely appreciate this, nor do I know many people who deeply understand this, but this is why we have something called metaphysicians.   When we heal, deeply heal, from anything, I would say, we become reconnected with our soul, our soul path, our truth. This is ultimately what happened to me. So spirituality and health are inextricably linked...I think the first time I came across this concept was back in the early 1980's when I was still a father gave me the book The Road Less Travelled written by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who argued that the journey from mental illness to mental health was ultimately a spiritual journey. So I would say any recovery from serious and incapacitating illness is a metaphysical journey.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Truth Detector

Truth Detector

I was listening to a podcast recently which featured John David Oates, founder of the theory of Reverse Speech. His  theory postulates that human speech has two functions. Overt and covert. Overt speech is spoken forwards and is under our conscious control. Covert speech is spoken backwards and is not under our conscious control.  If you record a person speaking, and then play the recording backwards, interesting things happen! You will hear lots of gibberish, but then very clear statements are heard. Those clear statements are the unconscious mind, speaking the “truth”- the inconsistencies of forward speech are revealed in backwards speech.  In the podcast John David Oates played some of his recordings both forwards and backwards, and each time, the backwards speech revealed the “truth “ of what the speaker was really saying. What made the biggest impression on me was Oates’ statement:” the body is hardwired for truth.”

This statement led me to think about polygraphs, or “lie detector” tests that are used by law enforcement to tell if someone is telling the truth. Although lie detector tests are somewhat controversial in their use by  law enforcement, they can help us gain some insight into how the body responds to truths and non truths. The polygraph test measures the function of the autonomic nervous system. It measures the unconscious processes of the body, specifically, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and perspiration. Theoretically, if a lie is detected, there will be an increase in stress hormones, which will result in a spike in blood pressure, heart rate, perspiration and respiration. Say what you will about the polygraph test, but this is interesting for those of us who have healed from various illnesses by coming back to, or reconnecting, to our “truth”.

Symptoms of CFS/ME paint a picture of an autonomic nervous system, the system that is in control  of the unconscious properties in the body, that is stuck in a “fight or flight” or stress response cycle. A body stuck in “fight or flight” will soon start to experience a breakdown in all systems of the body The constant pumping out of stress hormones affect the immune,endocrine ,digestive, and musculoskeletal systems of the body. So symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Autonomic Nervous System dysfunction, result in the disruption of basically all systems in the body, and create a myriad of strange and debilitating symptoms. This is virtually a nightmare for doctors, who often diagnose and treat symptoms ( regardless of the illness) , rather than causes. This also leads to the unfounded belief that this is a complex medical illness with no cure.

When we start to picture Chronic Illness, and CFS/Me in particular as a stress related disease, then the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Our physical body is our unconscious. When the physical body sends us symptoms in the form of any illness, it is sending us an S.O.S, so to speak. It’s telling us something. It is communication to us that something is “off” that we’ve somehow strayed, unconsciously, from our true self. It is a call to heal, to come back into alignment with self.

Healing is simply a return to self.  A return to self results in homeostasis in the autonomic nervous system. There is no need for the body to stay stuck in a stress response cycle when we’ve heard and responded to its messages. A return to self means that we have tuned into and activated the self healing mechanisms of the body, all which start with the rest and relax mode of the autonomic nervous system.

When we heal by tapping into the mind body connection, we are tapping deep into the very thing that connects mind to body…we are tapping into emotion. Repressed emotion is the biggest culprit in stress related disease, and when we tap into symptoms of illness, which leads us to tap into emotion, we can feel, release, and heal those emotions. The body then heals itself.

This leads us back to the truth. People experiencing ME/CFS can find relief of symptoms, can completely heal their bodies, and can resume their normal active pre-disease lifestyle. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Word About Pain and Recovery

My wrists and hands hurt. They hurt so much that I found myself avoiding doing any extra activity with my hands...if I didn't have to pick something up, I didn't. I was walking around with my arms crossed, my hands buried underneath them, to keep them warm and protect them. Much of my actions were just beneath the level of my consciousness....I "caught" myself avoiding things, and cradling my hands.

In my case, it was clear to me the pain was mechanical. Hours on my road bike and in the yoga studio were affecting my wrists and hands. I stopped cycling and practicing yoga for a few weeks, until the pain subsided. I rested my wrists and hands.

When I returned to the yoga studio I asked my teacher to observe me during class, because something in my practice was "off" and I was injuring my wrists. Her feedback was that I was sinking my weight into my wrists, rather than using my shoulders and core to support my body weight. Great information, and so far the adjustments I'm making in my practice are working. But these adjustments are new and awkward and difficult. I thought I had attained a certain level of mastery and strength in my practice, and it turns out I hadn't. I thought I could flow through my practice without having to discern if I was engaging the proper muscles to prevent injury. Now I actually have to think about how I'm practicing. I need to keep my  focus on what muscles I'm engaging. It feels more like work, and it's going to take some time for me to get to the point where I can simply flow through my practice, to move without effort and hard focus.

At this point you may be asking yourself what this has to do with recovering from Chronic Fatigue and Pain. Well, everything. Because it's pretty much the same as with a mechanical injury. And it can be just as straightforward.

Pain and Fatigue are symptoms. Something is off in your practice of life. An adjustment needs to be made, and when you first start making those adjustments it feels awkward and it feels like work. Old habits that aren't  working for you anymore need to be changed, and more often than not those are beneath the surface of your awareness. In order to heal with the Energy Flow Coaching principles you have to be willing to change how you relate to  your physical body, your mind, your relationships and your life. But your fatigue and pain can guide you through this, and your teacher, or coach, is there to observe and to guide you to make the proper adjustments. You are simply following your body.  If you do this, if you use how your body feels as your guide through life, you can recover from symptoms of pain and fatigue. And then interesting things start to happen. You start to flow much more easily through life, and just like in yoga practice, "spiritual growth occurs when one attains a conscious state not controlled by habitual thoughts or behavioral patterns."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Of Mindfulness and Embodiment

 I discovered Mindfulness Meditation when I saw a documentary on PBS in the early 90's called Healing and the Mind. There was a segment about the work of John Kabat-Zinn and his founding of Mindfulness -Based Stress Reduction, and The Center For Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. I was intrigued when I saw how he employed mindfulness meditation to help his patients cope with stress, illness, and pain at  his Stress Reduction Clinic. I bought his book, Full Catastrophe Lving:How to Cope With Stress, Pain and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation,  and threw myself into Mindfulness Meditation. To be honest, the moment to moment awareness that is required for mindfulness meditation was literally crazy making for me. The more mindful I became, the more focused I became on my thoughts...the random patterns, the random constant chatter of my brain, the awareness of literal mind stuff , drove me way up into my head. I quickly abandoned it. I remember when I was first trying mindfulness I recommended the book to a friend. She reported back to me that she tried practicing mindfulness in the subway on her way to work, and missed her stop, making her late for work, and increasing her already high stress levels. She threw the book away, I put mine on my bookshelf where it gathered dust.

Fast forward about 15 years and mindfulness is back.  A friend recommended an online mindfulness course. I decided to give it another go, as I was hearing about mindfulness everywhere, and thanks to government grants, mindfulness was starting to be taught in schools. I tried again...instant insanity. I stopped.

If we take a look back at the origins of mindfulness, we find that it comes from Buddhist teachings on meditation and mindfulness, and that Kabat Zinn studied meditation with  the famous Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. He developed his Mindfulness Meditation based on Buddhist meditation and Hatha Yoga.

I've  become curious about the teachings of Buddhism because of two tragic deaths that have recently come to my attention. One is the street drug overdose of a famous Buddhist and yoga teacher, Michael Stone. Michael struggled with bipolar disorder, and like many, embraced Buddhism and yoga as a way to cope with his struggle with mental illness. He was a wonderful and well loved teacher, and his death was a shock to his community.

Michael Stone's passing was impactful to me simply because when I heard about it  I had just started reading a book about a three year silent meditation retreat gone wrong. The book A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story Of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, is the story of the first American Buddhist to receive the title of Geshe, and his controversial and "untradtitional" life as a Tibetan Buddhist Monk in America. The second of his ambitious three year silent meditation retreats in the Arizona desert ended in violence and death of one of the participants. Both of these tragedies were interesting to me, simply because Buddhist meditation, at it's core, is about liberation and freedom from suffering. It's exactly what Kabat-Zinn is attempting to do in his Mindfulness Meditation work. But I struggle with this...focusing on suffering, trying to be free from suffering, in my mind, enhances suffering. I can't argue with thousands of years of knowledge and tradition, of which I know very little, but I do wonder....are the various forms of Buddhist meditation, is the western grandchild of Buddhist Meditation, Mindfulness, really all that it's cracked up to be? In my own experience, no.

But that is only my own experience. One of my clients found his own 10-day silent Insight Meditation Retreat ( a form of Buddhist meditation) to be a very helpful addition to his Energy-Flow Coaching work. To him, it solidified and validated the work we were doing in Energy Flow Coaching. He ultimately made a full recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

 Recently I discovered an article in Yoga Journal about Body Sensing Meditation. It immediately resonated with me, because it's what I teach in my yoga classes, and it's what I encourage my clients to practice. In Yoga and in life, being aware of bodily sensations, becoming embodied, helps us to tune into the infinite wisdom and guidance of the body. This guidance informs us, and helps us to change our minds, and to change our behaviors. "Spiritual growth accelerates when one attains a conscious state not controlled by habitual thoughts or patterns" So embodiment, tuning into and acting on the wisdom of the body, is a catalyst for spiritual growth, and perhaps a way to attain that elusive state of "Enlightenment". Perhaps the road to freedom and liberation from suffering is through the body. Maybe if we learn to embrace pain, fatigue, illness, anxiety and depression as the deep, personal and spiritual teachers that they are, if we learn their language and their lessons, then we can discover freedom from suffering. As the author states in the Yoga Journal Article, Bodysensing, " Focusing on the sensations of the body, can help to calm the nervous system, promote deep relaxation, and enhance feelings of groundedness and well-being", and bring us to a deeper relationship and understanding of self.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Moments In Time

It's 95 degrees outside, and when I enter the yoga studio for my hot power class it's 110 degrees. It's more than's suffocating. We start class with the teacher encouraging us to stay in the moment. To remain present. I want to be cool, I want the class to be over, so I do.

Before I came to class today I was listening to a podcast about prayer. The woman being interviewed said there was a prayer you could say to ask for an abundance of time. This struck me as interesting, but I didn't think much about it. In a hot sweaty yoga studio, working through countless asana, I found an abundance of time. I found the moment. It was rich and deep and full of possibility. Time stood still. Time was abundant. The moment was everything. Everything I could ever want or need simply existed in the moment. It was perfect.

 The moment is everything. It's all well and good to say that, and we all hear it. The only time that exists is the now. The past and future don't exist. They only exist in our mind. And in order to keep us safe, the mind wanders, into the past, projecting into the future, going over events that no longer are, and moving into the next moment, the next day, the next year. It's the job of the mind, to keep us safe. We overplay the importance of the mind, relying on it to figure things out, to solve our problems, to anticipate the future. To prepare us for the dangers, the pitfalls, the joys and successes of the future. But it's not real.

One of the wonderful benefits of yoga is that it gets us out of our heads. We become firmly grounded in our bodies, and lost in the moment.

The teacher talked about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro while suffering with altitude sickness. She couldn't eat anything, and for three days, climbing 7 to 8 hours a day, it was all she could do to take one step forward, and then the next. One step at a time. She would go to bed at night, thinking she would never wake up, and she would, and she  would climb, just one step at a time.

During my recovery I discovered that healing could happen in the moment. In the moment I started to feel symptoms of fatigue or dizziness or weakness, I could move out of it, just by changing something I was doing. My body was communicating with me; in the moment. I would not let my mind wander into the past, remembering how sick I had been.  I would not let my mind wander into the future, wondering if I would end up back in bed for hours or days at a time. I would not let my mind start to reel and analyze my illness and what it meant. I simply listened to my body, which exists and lives and breathes only in the moment, and in that moment, I could heal. It was one step at a time. One moment at a time. To me,  it was just as difficult and just as rewarding as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

When class was over I stepped outside into the 95 degree weather. A soft breeze was blowing. It felt like spring.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Developing A New Relationship With CFS

When my clients with CFS first meet with me, one of the first things we do is to shift perspective about the illness. When we have CFS, we have very, very debilitating symptoms. We are very sick. A common theme around those with severe illnesses is to fight...fight the symptoms, fight the disease.
I encourage my clients to stop fighting. I encourage them to develop a new relationship with their symptoms, and to start to understand that their symptoms are messages from their body.

This does two things. When we stop fighting, and fall into a state of non-resistance, of allowing, then we immediately turn off the stress response. Resistance and fighting only further work to increase symptoms, because they increase the outpouring of stress hormones.  When we shift our perspective from symptoms being an indicator of illness, to symptoms being helpful messages from our body, then we can start to gain some power and control over our symptoms. This immediately helps us to start to regain some control over our health.

This also requires a paradigm shift about how we view this illness. We have to put the medical model to the side, and shift into the stress disease paradigm. This is a challenge for those with CFS, because they think that if we are saying this, then we are saying the illness is "all in their heads". It most certainly isn't, those with this illness are very very sick.  I can say with certainty that all illnesses are in both the mind and the body. Any practicing medical doctor will agree to this. So if we can't treat an illness medically, then we have to look for different approaches to treatment.

I've made it my mission to bring this theory and treatment to the forefront of the CFS community, and I've been shouted down so many times. I suppose that is because recovery stories are rare, a relative anomaly, and people have a hard time believing that anyone has recovered. I've explained that it doesn't have to be that way, that there is a model for recovery that is readily available, and I've been shouted down and accused of trying to "sell something".

Be that as it may, I'm always reminded that people who have discovered or revealed the truth are usually dismissed at first. My hope is that one day the science will prove the theory that an overactive HPA-Axis is the cause of CFS/ME/FIBRO. Interestingly enough, some of the recent studies seem to prove this.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The TRPM3 Study

There has been a lot of excitement in the CFS/ME community regarding a recent Australian study that concluded that those with CFS/ME have a faulty cell receptor called TRPM3. The role of TRPM3 is to transfer calcium from outside the cell to the inside, and when this function is altered, then cell function is impaired. The TRPM3 receptors are found in every cell in the body, causing dysfunction in several different organs and systems in the body, which explains why there are so many varied symptoms, and different manifestations of symptoms in different patients. But the most important finding  is that is that TRPM3 receptors  are upregulated when the body is under any kind of threat (i.e. infection, trauma ). The study cites that it is the upregulation that causes the faulty genetic receptors to take over and inhibit the calcium transfer to a wide range of cells.

This is good news for people who are looking for a definitive diagnostic marker for CFS. There we have it, validation for illness, and this seems to be important for many in the CFS community.

But this is also good news for those of us who believe that CFS/ME is a stress related disorder. If we can tame the stress response, then we can repair faulty TRPM3 receptors, and our cells can resume
their normal functioning.

Like so many recent CFS/ME studies, this offers hope for people who want a definitive diagnosis, but rather than finding the cause of CFS/ME, this is simply another illustration of the effects of CFS/ME.