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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Medicine Has Failed Those With Invisible Illnesses

When I was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I was lucky enough to already have a doctor who was able to diagnose my illness fairly quickly. She was a functional medicine specialist, as well as a GP. Her treatment included acupuncture, supplements, and rest. She actually advised me to take a year long vacation. I tried all of these things, and more. Most of the things I tried were not from the traditional medical box, because I knew that medical doctors didn't have the answers to these illnesses. They simply didn't know. So I took my health into my own hands. I had a very strong desire to get well and get back to my life. I could think of nothing more disempowering (aside from the illness itself) than going from doctor to doctor, and subjecting myself to tests and diagnoses...I was determined not to become a professional patient with a long list of mysterious symptoms and inconclusive tests. It's probably my nursing background that led me to have this perspective...I had seen too many "professional patients" in my work, and I was determined not to become one.

When I tell people how I recovered, so many of them are skeptical. They cannot believe that I could recover from such a serious and debilitating illness with a simple mind/body exercise. I now coach my own clients, using the Energy-Flow Coaching techniques that helped me recover. When I explain to prospective clients how and what I do, many times the answer runs something along the lines of...
"but my body is sick...there is nothing wrong with me except for my can this work if my only problem is that I can't physically function?"...It's the same misunderstanding of the nature
of the illness that the medical profession has, and this is why medical doctors or research don't have the answers we're looking for.

Medical doctors approach illness from a biomedical model. They work within a paradigm  that views symptoms as a result of illness or injury. Most of their treatments revolve around treating symptoms using pharmaceuticals. This is wonderful and works well for most people. But for those with Invisible Illnesses, or Functional Illnesses, this doesn't work. This is why sufferers are left to cope by implementing what I call "extreme self-care", revolving around diet, supplements, rest, etc
When I was sick, taking care of myself, implementing and following self care techniques, was  a full time job in and of itself.

When we can step back and view these illnesses from a different paradigm, from the stress-disease model of illness, then we can start to understand these illnesses in a new light. When we view mind and body not as separate entities, as the medical paradigm does, but as a functional system that works together to enhance health or create disease, then we are on our way to a new understanding of functional or invisible illnesses.

Deep and true healing from these illnesses can occur, but only if we are willing to embrace a new view of our illnesses, and be open to taking the journey down the road of exploration and discovery into a deeper meaning of illness and health. In other words, when we develop a different relationship to ourselves and our illnesses, we can heal, grown and change on a very deep level.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why Medical Research Isn't The Answer

I follow many CFS groups on twitter, and the majority of them seem to advocate for  medical research. Indeed, many sufferers are "waiting" for medical research breakthroughs and lobbying
for more funding for research.  My suggestion to them was to study those that had recovered. What steps did they take to recover, what recovery looks like to them,  (i.e. were they able to return to their previous life, levels of activity?), and how long they remained in remission. Of course, this was deeply unpopular.

My suggestion was, and is, to do your own research. Find people who have recovered, chase them down, and find out what worked for them. Find out if their recovery is complete. And then take those same steps that they did! Be persistent, and focus your attention on recovery, rather than symptoms.

By nature, CFS is very disempowering. The symptoms are debilitating, medically unexplainable, and unpredictable. It's easy to fall into a "victim mindset", because it causes people to feel they have no control over how they feel, and they are physically and inexplicably unable to function in their lives. It's like some unseen and inexplicable force has drained them of their energy and physical resources. Peoples lives become smaller and smaller. Indeed, feeling powerless is part of the disease itself. What I find so often with other bloggers and sufferers is this...I have (CFS/ME/FIBRO etc) so I can't do the things I want/need to do. They start to identify with the illness, and live with the label as victim or sufferer, which only perpetuates and reinforces symptoms, and the limiting lifestyle that comes with them. Creating an identity around an illness becomes one more hurdle to overcome on the road to recovery.

It's my own opinion that medical research is a very long ways away from finding a cause and cure. Medical research focuses primarily on symptoms, rather than causes of symptoms...for example, there was a recent research study that showed that gut bacteria in CFS patients was altered, but the focus was on the gut, not on why gut bacteria was altered. (could it be because the gut doesn't work properly in people who have CFS ...rather than they are missing certain microbes in the gut?) Another popular study suggests that people who have CFS have mitochondrial the focus is on mitochondria...but not why there  is such dysfunction. So if we are to follow medical research we could easily fall down the rabbit hole of gut microbe replacement, and mitochondrial functioning, without finding the true cause as to why these dysfunctions exist. In other words, medical research seems a long ways from finding a true cause for our illnesses.

If we can move forward with the theory that medically unexplained illnesses and symptoms are a disruption of the autonomic nervous system, and a disconnection between how the mind and body interact and communicate with each other, then we can empower ourselves by researching how mind and body work together, how the autonomic nervous system controls every aspect of our physiology,
(think gut function, pain response, mitochondria), and how we can reassert control over our symptoms, then we can empower ourselves with more knowledge about our own illness and well being than any outside medical source.

Which brings me back to why medical researchers should study those that have recovered. If they did, they could make huge research breakthroughs in how the mind and body interact to create disease and/or well being. But because medical research is so far behind in understanding the mind/body interactions, this could take decades. Those who are ill and suffering don't have decades to wait for the right research study to come along.