How Does Self Image Affect Your Pain?

How Does Self Image Affect Your Pain?

An excerpt from my book as seen over at InnerSelf Publications website.

Timely for the season of self reflection and internal work.

 “by Ya-Ling Liou, D.C. If you’ve only ever seen yourself as unsure and perhaps your self-esteem is not strong, you may be more vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed by fear—stressed by the worry that your pain might devolve into a worst case scenario of unknown proportions.”

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Taking My Own “Medicine”

Taking My Own “Medicine”

Dobbins'_medicated_toilet_soap,_advertising,_1869When you’re a chiropractor, what does it mean to “take your own medicine” ?

“Walking my own talk” consists of more than just making sure I receive chiropractic care myself.  It’s about seeking balance in all areas of health.  With balance in sight, the need for professional treatment decreases.

My motivation is maybe a bit more intensely fueled than for most people because my body is my essential work tool.  If mechanical, biochemical or emotional balance is off, it directly affects the ability to fulfill my commitment to patients which in turn could potentially risk my livelihood.  This is an intense interdependence that I would never trade for anything but it can be more than stressful to be even just a little bit laid-up.

In last week’s post I alluded to a recently renewed return to health by restoring balance to my own life, after a year of pushing to get my book out, followed by the release and adventures in promotion.

Block Quote 4I cannot emphasize enough how much this pursuit of balance can differ from person to person.  I am taking a moment to briefly outline what this looked like for me at this particular juncture, to give you a very general idea of the factors to consider when thinking about your own balance in wellness.  In particular I want to illustrate some of the principles outlined in my book (Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain, Volume One – Put Out the Fire). Don’t wait until you’re in pain to find your true healthy balance. The everyday variety of pain is always a sign that something has fallen by the wayside in one of the three main categories (mechanical, biochemical or emotional) but things can be “off” long before pain strikes.

In my case, this time I needed first to focus on returning to a more regimented sleep/wake schedule.  I’ve learned that my body and mind operate optimally with 6,1/2 – 7 hours of sleep per night and this means I need to exercise a little discipline about getting to bed on time because I am not willing to get up late.  The morning hours are treasured time and important to my emotional well-being.  I’m very lucky to have good sleep hygiene and my body cooperates well when put to bed.  For times when that’s not the case (as everything ebbs and flows), I reach for homeopathic remedies, herbal teas or magnesium to calm the nervous system before bed.  A controversial trick that isn’t advisable for everyone but that works well for me, is to have a small bite to eat before bedtime as well.

Test tubes science backgroundRe-balancing my biochemistry is something that I dedicated the better part of two consecutive months to. Resetting my organ systems and aiding the natural detoxification, involved some herbal and food therapy.  I returned to eating simply by avoiding my known sensitivities: dairy, all animal protein, simple starches (sugar), nightshades and a few other specifics that I’ve come to recognize over the years as taxing to my system.  I’ve since then slowly returned to more variety based on what my appetite dictates.

Block Quote 2Some signs that will tell you about your sensitivities can be as subtle as an increase in heart rate within 1/2 hour of eating. Sometimes it’s just a little tickle in the back of the throat that passes quickly but is still a significant sign of intolerance.  Other times it can be a generalized increase in mucous production and that might be harder to spot.  The need to clear your throat or blow your nose in the morning might be signs of excess mucous production in response to a food trigger from the day before.  The point is that foods (sometimes very delicious food), not overtly considered as “allergenic” like peanuts, can still be considered by your body as a burden for your biochemistry.  So, it’s always important to pay attention to subtle reactions.

When I commit to helping my body unload excess waste, I also utilize dry sauna sweats, infrared if possible and pay extra attention to optimizing kidney and bowel function.  This makes a big difference in the associated discomfort of “detox”-related headaches and body aches that can happen when large amounts of waste are mobilized throughout the body for elimination.

My herbal and nutrient based regimen was also targeted, in part to facilitate elimination via the kidneys, liver and colon.  There are many different philosophies on which herbs are most appropriate and this is something that is best done with the advice of a natural health care doctor.  Focusing on aiding natural elimination is the best way to help decrease your body’s chemical burden from exposure to complex molecules in our air, food and water.

Balancing RocksFor me, restoring mechanical balance can’t happen without first adequate rest and attention to nutrition.  After re-setting sleep and nutrition I found my energy returning and started to increase activity based on that, but not until then.  If fuel or rest and recovery are lacking, then the exercise output ends up adding stress to the system instead of strengthening it.  This is why sleep and nutrient intake is first priority. It sets the stage for successful return to exercise.  Without this in place, workouts are pointless and counterproductive, potentially resulting in inflammation-causing stress.

Block Quote 3What my body and mind are willing and able to do changes with the seasons, years and stages in life.  This Spring, yoga was the doorway back to physical empowerment.  It helped me begin to feel able to return to swimming and weightlifting.  Now, my routine includes one yoga class per week and two other days of gym workouts which consist of a warm-up swim followed by an upper body or lower body weight resistance workout.  That’s three days a week of 1-2 hours of exercise. They are strategically spaced from my days with patients so that I am not too sore to be effective in the office, but also to avoid muscle fatigue related injuries.

There’s nothing rigorous about this current exercise schedule which is what makes it completely sustainable.  When starting a new routine, being consistent is more important than making a huge impact.  Come wintertime, it’s possible that my needs will change and I will change my exercise accordingly.  Perhaps in a future post I will take some time to address the how of tuning in to your own changing needs from season to season or depending on life and work situations.  It’s mostly a lifelong process of trial and error.

It can be tricky to walk the fine line between the intended exertion of exercise and inescapable demands of work life. But as you slowly increase physical activity, what always holds true is that you increase your body’s capacity for emotional, chemical and physical stress to keep from rebounding into exhausted inactivity.  It must be done in a loving way. Self-care routines are best implemented with gentle caring instead of harsh reprimands.  If you’re someone who thrives on hard line tactics for motivation – find a trainer or someone outside of yourself to play that role.

Even though it’s not an easy daily practice for many, being loving and yes even permissive with yourself makes room for healthy choices.  Remember real health can and does exist in imperfect bodies everywhere.  It’s about balance, not perfection.

Block Quote 1Lastly, you should know that it takes at least two full months – often three months – of consistent activity in order to surpass the “transition reaction” of new exercise.  When introducing a change in routine or physical demands, the brain and body will express themselves by exhibiting physical sensations that aren’t always 100% comfortable.

Sometimes the transition to a better balance in life includes re-visiting old pain that might feel like re-injury as we work to strengthen around these old vulnerabilities.  This is why it’s important to line up some outside help during these transitions either via massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic.  It’s the time when I see the greatest need for support in my patients.

Food for thought while you consider your own healthy balancing act: When we act in reaction or opposition to an idea or a feeling, we set the stage for inevitable failure. When we act out of caring and acceptance for the imperfection that is, we make good and sustainable choices.


Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Fotolia

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Menopause, Andropause and now “Somatopause”?

bodybuilder poseWell it’s no secret what menopause is.  Luckily there’s an increasing body of information widely available out about it these days.  Among other hormonal shifts, the primary change in menopause and peri-menopause occurs with estrogen levels.  Estrogen production decreases as women age, and move away from the reproductive stage of life.

Men have an equivalent transition as their androgens shift and the production of testosterone wanes.

Somatopause is not as commonly discussed and the term might be unfamiliar, but depending on your age you might not be surprised to hear what it is.  This is a change that happens for both men and women as we approach later life.  The prefix soma comes from the Greek meaning “body”.  In medicine the term somatic refers to the physical body – the machine: muscles and bones.

If you’re someone who’s nearing mid life or just past it, then you may already have noticed that your body is definitely changing – possibly even before you notice changes in estrogen or testosterone.  In addition to finding hairs where there didn’t used to be any or skin tags in inconvenient places, skin may not be as firm or as thick, but above all, our muscle mass is suddenly not what it used to be.  Many middle aged people will notice that seeing and feeling the results of exercise becomes harder and harder.  It becomes really easy to lose the effects of exercise.  The decrease in muscle mass and the decreased ability to build muscle is what the term “somatopause” refers to.

Somatopause, or this decrease in muscle mass, just like the other two ” -pauses”, is also because of a decreasing hormone.  In this case it’s the human growth hormone (HGH).  The human muscle cell (sarcomere) needs HGH in order to grow.   Our body stops naturally making as much growth hormone as we do when we’re younger.

Does this mean we should all just roll over and become flabby and weak?  We certainly can but it’s not a fate we have to accept silently. At the very least this information should make us want to work a little harder at staying with an exercise regimen.  The “Move it or Lose it” adage definitely becomes louder and clearer the older we get.

Incidentally, there’s some really interesting evidence just coming to light recently that seems responsible for feeding yet another trendy exercise fad.  In recent months you may have heard more and more about high intensity interval training.  The allure of this kind of workout is that it touts much less of a time commitment in the gym (for the busy professionals) but promising to deliver the same or better outcomes fitness-wise.

Well, I’m the first to dig my heels in when I notice the frenzy for a fad taking hold and I always advise caution to all patients considering trying this particular one – no matter what age.  The potential for injury is high when we combine speed or time stress with intensity since neither leave much room for focusing on safe form unless closely supervised.  So, I generally don’t advise anyone to do this kind of training, but I am changing my tune a little bit and here’s why:

Studies have shown this kind of training appreciably stimulates an increase in growth hormone production. So, if  it’s done safely, the high intensity, short spurts of exercise can be particularly useful to those of us approaching somatopause.  The added stints of growth hormone production will aid in the building of muscle mass even in someone who has entered this stage of life where the natural decline of HGH has begun!

If you’re struggling to put on muscle mass don’t forget to think about your nutrient intake but you might as well also consider  kicking it up a notch once or twice a week for the sake of these muscle building benefits.  But don’t leave behind the traditional workouts that you enjoy.  It’s far too important to our brain chemistry to leave those behind.  Workouts of a minimum of 30 min. and longer, will be what give you a good dose of “happy chemicals”.  These will become more important as you add the naturally more stress hormone inducing high intensity workouts, simply for balance. (Take a moment to read this post to learn why it’s important for some people to be especially careful with stress inducing activities – you might be adding fuel to the fire despite your best intentions)

I hope you’ll consider the fact that maintaining and gaining muscle mass at all ages is not just about looks. You will look great and feel much better about your looks but more importantly, it’s very much about life sustaining function that will make all aspects of daily living easier, safer and seamless.  It’s a biological fact that movement is ultimately what sustains life and you can’t move if you don’t have muscle!

 

References:

http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/06/21/interval-training.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10442584

One Thing People Don’t Tell You About Peri-Menopause…

Menopause concept.…is that it can be a highly inflammatory time for your body!

All the things you used to be able to get away with like strange sleeping positions, eating the wrong thing, or taking on too much at work; suddenly you start to experience critical mass in all of these areas of your life – not to mention the emotional toll of the added stress from hormonal fluctuations. So now you’re even less well equipped to emotionally cope with these sudden chemically based inflammatory triggers in your life – none of which previously would have been a big deal at all.

Have you ever heard anyone describe the time leading up to menopause as feeling like PMS 24-7?  Well, since every woman’s PMS feels different, regardless of what exactly that means to you, that analogy is not actually too far fetched.  As we approach menopause our hormones start to take on a sustained state of affairs that hormonally mirrors the time in our cycle right before menstrual flow.

The thing about female reproductive hormones is that the multitude of actions they coordinate day in and day out throughout a one month cycle is more like a sophisticated concert symphony rather than a simple switchboard-like action => reaction and on/off function. The harmony of this symphony that is being played by many different hormones at the same time, is highly dependent on how  they interrelate rather than on their individual measurable levels alone.  The concentration and resultant effect of circulating estrogen is to some degree only significant in relation to the concentration of progesterone.  Because they dampen or heighten each others impact on the body, it’s more about proportion than it is about their sole presence.

Using just the main two groups of hormones, estrogen and progesterone in our example, here’s roughly how a smoothly played symphony  goes for the duration of a four week / one month cycle:

1st two weeks of the month:

Estrogen rises – going up first then not until a few days later Progesterone starts to rise – going up as well.

Estrogen peaks then starts to decrease – going down but Progesterone is still increasing…going up

Beginning of the 3rd week: (or whenever ovulation occurs for you)

Estrogen still goes up slightly then levels out and stays  steady for a little while but Progesterone is still on the rise…going up

Beginning of the 4th week:

Progesterone peaks and then starts to decrease – going down but Estrogen is still level – same for a few days…

once Progesterone and Estrogen levels are equal again then they both start to decrease – going down together at a similar rate all the way until bleeding phase of the cycle happens.

Then it starts all over again!

When this symphony is in complete harmony, we don’t experience very significant symptoms even during that pre-menstrual time.

If this all happens according to plan, harmony is high and symptoms are few.  Women experience symptoms of PMS mainly when these events happen out of order or each group of hormones rise or dip to strange levels – in relationship to the others and this is what creates disharmony.  It’s not just one poorly behaving hormone it’s the whole symphony of hormones losing their way and becoming unsynchronized – creating noise rather than music.

The three main players are: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.  Each of these can cause symptoms of excess if they are high in relationship to one or both of the others.

Progesterone Excess = Inflammation

Progesterone can seem high when estrogen is low – this happens to varying degrees during the second two weeks of the menstrual cycle aka: the two weeks before menstrual flow.  This is when women often experience greater levels of inflammation which can lead to sudden strains and sprains or headaches or an increased stress response or simply more generalized aches and pains.

Progesterone definitely will seem high for some women approaching menopause because of the steadily but erratically declining estrogen levels.  Again the body becomes more inflamed  but now at odd times – much less predictable than during the regularly cycling lifetime.

Testosterone = Anti-Inflammation

Women produce testosterone from the ovaries and adrenal glands and this notoriously “male” hormone actually stays the same before and after menopause.   It only seems higher after menopause because of the absence of estrogen and progesterone to dampen its effect, so it becomes dominant and we start to notice symptoms associated with testosterone effects like facial hair, deepening voice, balding etc.

Estrogen Excess = can be Both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory depending on the situation.

Estrogen dominance is a big problem in our society because of all of the chemicals that we are exposed to that mimic the structure of estrogen.  But this is  a much larger topic for a different blog post.

What I want you to take away from this necessarily over-simplified snapshot of peri-menopause, is that if you or anyone you know are in the throws of it, you should be aware of the fact that this can be a very inflammatory time for the body. While this simmering inflammation will be part of what feels discouraging and as though you’re aging before your time, be patient, be careful and respect the process. But know that it will end and if you care for the inflammation now even though it seems so out of proportion, you will be okay and in fact better off once the fluctuations end.

There are many resources out there on natural food based anti-inflammatory nutrients including turmeric (curcumin), boswellia serrata, ginger and quercetin.

Stress management is also a great way to deal with the overall inflammatory response in your body.  Magenesium is an important mineral that can help the nervous system with this.

Speak to your natural health care provider for more specific guidance as to what your body needs during this time.  He or she will know best based on your full clinical picture.

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Yoga: The View From Inside

DSC03011The other morning I forgot to put in my contact lenses before going to yoga. I go to this hot yoga place where they keep the temperature at 105 deg. I don’t even want to know how hot it gets when the class is full with all those bodies generating even more heat… So, wearing glasses is really not an option for me in this situation because of how dripping wet my face gets about 5 minutes into the class — rendering the bridge of my nose a hostile environment for even my super lightweight titanium frames.

I started learning yoga almost 15 years ago in the traditional and more humanely temperature controlled studios around town. The first thing that struck me and bothered me a bit when I was still new at it, was the lack of mirrors. I was used to looking at myself while exercising which up until that point had usually been in a gym. I had always found it reassuring to check in with my form and was quite attached to that feedback for the sake of symmetry, and safe movement. But, it didn’t take long for me to realize and appreciate what this new absence of my own reflection was gifting me.

I was finding myself uncomfortably forced to appreciate and trust the watchful eyes of yoga instructors who came around to give gentle cues through touch about how to move further into or out of poses. But the other more yoga sutra or philosophical type of teaching that came from learning not to see my reflection, was an inward focus that filled a completely foreign set of senses with awareness, and questioning.

I’m no stranger to looking inward in order to quiet the mind. However, it’s quite another thing to use the mind’s eye for initiating and contemplating physical effort. Turning your “eyes” in to focus on sensation relies on, and therefore develops, confidence that intention is translating into execution effectively. It’s not only a good exercise for the brain by forcing you to access your inherent mechanisms of balance and flow, but it’s a great reminder of how to tap into what that balance and flow feels like on the inside. The sensations are what inform how you move through your day and if you want to do it well, it’s best to tune in regularly about how to let your sensations guide you. As with anything, practice makes perfect or at least leads to improvement and having the opportunity to practice with tuning in to your body from the inside rather than the outside, during yoga class, even just once a week, will make for a more accurate connection with your body — what you intend to do with it and how it actually performs.

The hot yoga world breaks this rule a little bit. The studio I’ve been frequenting has two walls of mirrors. I have to admit despite my previous enlightenment about tuning in and gazing inward during practice, I’ve been enjoying the external feedback of that image in the mirror, and that validation for my efforts. It’s very easy to be seduced and distracted by the visual. Even though I tell myself “So what if there are mirrors? I don’t need them.” But I’d be fibbing if I said I didn’t sneak a peek here and there either to smugly congratulate my efforts or remind myself I have a lot of work ahead of me — depending on the state of my self esteem that day.

One idea is that mirrors will help you face the truth about yourself and monitor improvement in order to motivate. Mirrors will help you watch for your mechanics and form. But what we perceive in the mirror is not nearly as accurate and truthful as how it feels inside. One huge problem with our preoccupation by the appearance of poses is that it can be extremely deceiving. What we think looks “beautiful” and “correct” for one body can be mechanically completely unsound for another. The only way to avert this pitfall is to look inside, listen and tune in.

Not wearing my contact lenses that day and not being able to keep my glasses on my face forced me back into that brief discomfort. Practicing without being able to see myself once again forced me to let go of my distraction with the externals and served as a rich reminder that the most truthful feedback about performance whether it’s physical, occupational, or in relationship, is how it feels.

Namaste.

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