Effective Treatment for Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor, and research has concluded that integrative care offers the best treatment. An analysis of over 150 studies, published in 2017 by the American College of Physicians, recommends movement therapies, bodywork, acupuncture, and mindfulness as effective treatments, instead of medications.

Integrative care for back pain focuses on techniques that speed up the healing process, relax muscle tension, and address structural issues in joints and tendons that affect the physical health of the back and spine. It can also address pain management directly, helping to regulate the nervous system and reduce the sensation of pain in general.

Movement therapies like classes and clinics are able to address the mechanics of the back, helping to correct imbalanced movement patterns that contribute to pain. Through mindful awareness, neuroplasticity, alignment, and restorative practice, movement therapies can correct and retrain the body away from dysfunction.

Acupuncture is proven to be effective at reducing pain levels in general, and is a great way to address back pain specifically. It helps rebalance underlying issues that contribute to the back pain, as well as working with the nervous system to lower the intensity of pain signals and the perception of pain overall.

Bodywork is able to address the specific muscle tension and joint health that causes a lot of back pain, increasing blood and nutrient flow and supporting the body’s own healing processes. It is able to effectively release tension, address fascial issues, and treat the secondary pain and tension that comes from protective movement.

Mindfulness can also be effective for back pain because it is proven to help lower pain levels in general. After eight weeks of mindfulness practice, there are specific changes that happen in the brain and how it relates to the nervous system, turning down the volume on pain signals and the stress response that pain signals cause.

At Ha.Lé, we are experienced in treating back pain, and will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your specific situation. Our classes and clinics are able to work with students with a wide variety of back health concerns, and our therapists are able to specifically address the symptoms and imbalances of back pain.

Integrative Treatment for Migraines

Migraine headaches are a common response to both mental and physical stress, and happen more often in women than men. There is no cure for migraines, but there are ways to reduce the symptoms. Acupuncture, Bodywork, Movement, and Mindfulness are integrative treatment options with effective results, without the side effects of medication.

Acupuncture reduces the frequency of migraines with the same effectiveness as preventative medications. Up to 59% of people with migraines see a 50% or more drop in the frequency of their headaches, and the effect of 6 weekly sessions can last for 6 months or more.

Bodywork is also a helpful migraine treatment. It generally reduces the frequency of migraines and improves sleep. On average, it can reduce migraines by 30-34% for up to 4 weeks, according to a 2006 study.

Movement with a therapeutic focus will also reduce migraine frequency and intensity. Migraines are associated with disturbances in the autonomic nervous system and in the regulation of the circulatory system. Movement classes help restore and regulate these systems, as well as target tension and stress that can contribute to headaches.

Mindfulness helps to significantly lower the pain intensity of migraines and correct the effects of stress on the body. One study that looked at mindfulness for migraines found that it had no adverse events, zero drop outs, and excellent adherence, which is a big contrast from pharmaceutical treatment.

Migraines are a disorder of a hyper-excitable brain, and so integrative therapies that reduce stress, rebalance the nervous system, regulate sleep cycles, and lower pain levels can be effective treatment. The medications available only work for 50% of people, and come with significant side effects. Research has shown that Acupuncture is just as effective as those medications, and other integrative treatments are also able to reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines.

The Importance of Breath

The breath is one of our most important healing tools, and possibly one of the most overlooked. Breathing is something we do all day, every day, usually without conscious thought. Because it is so constant, it disappears into the background of our body awareness. When we consciously think about and change the breath, we are able to speak to the body in very profound ways.

The breath is one of the easiest bridges between the parts of our bodies that we can control and the bodily processes that are not conscious. It is a biological process that naturally falls into both categories, and so becomes a way for our mind to speak to our body directly.

Deep breathing: When we take a deep breath, it stimulates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that calms the body, helping us come out of a state of stress and distress, and move toward rest, restoration, and healing. Deep breathing helps reduce emotional distress and anxiety because it changes how those feelings are felt in the physical body. It can also help bring a sense of calm centeredness and overall wellbeing.

Breath awareness: Turning our attention to the breath is a fundamental mindfulness practice. When we pay attention to the flow of air in and out of our bodies, it cues the mind to tune into the present moment. This allows us to drop the anxiety and stress that comes with thinking about the past and future, and brings us more fully present to the physical reality of being alive. When we practice mindfulness like this, it can rewire neural pathways in the brain to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and stress.

Breath in the body: The breath is also a physical event in the body, engaging a complex array of muscles and tissues and massaging the internal organs. Injuries, surgeries, and chronic stress can change the way the body breathes, which in turn can cause chronic tension and pain. Linking movement with the breath can help release this muscle tension and reset neuromuscular patterns. There are also breath awareness and breathing techniques that can help address structural issues like pain in the low back, pelvis, and neck and shoulders.

The breath is a powerful healing tool that allows us to speak to parts of the body that we cannot reach with the mind alone. By changing how we breathe and how we pay attention to our breath, we are able to counter the effects of chronic stress, reduce anxiety, release muscle tension, treat pain, and bring a sense of overall wellbeing.

Counseling for the Mind and Body

Our body is not separate from our mind, but instead they are aspects of the same system. An event in the body creates a response in the mind, and feelings and thoughts in the mind create physical responses in the body. When creating health, it is often necessary to address the mental and emotional aspects of distress as well as the physical effects.

Biologically, there are multiple ways that the mind and body communicate. Three of these pathways physically respond to our thoughts and feelings through the neurological system, endocrine system, and immune system. We are wired this way so that our bodies know when to prepare for danger and when it is safe to focus on digestion and healing.

When confronted with stress and danger, our bodies divert resources away from long term health in order to maintain short term survival. This means that our ability to fight off infection, to remain calm and centered, to fully and comfortably digest our food, and to have enough restful sleep is sacrificed in order to run away from lions, even if they are not real lions.

The reverse is also true. When our bodies experience pain and distress, it impacts our thoughts and feelings. The pain affects our nervous system, causing distinct physiological changes that can result in depression or anxiety. It also impacts our ability to keep things in perspective, increasing our worry and fear to levels above what helps keep us safe.

This is why mental health counseling is such an important part of what we do at Ha.Lé, and we have recently expanded our counseling offerings. All of our counselors understand the deep connection between the body and the mind, and bring deep compassion and expertise their sessions. We are here to help you create health for your whole mind and body.

Pictures from our Walk of Empowerment on the Camino de Santiago

Congratulations to all the walkers on our second annual Walk of Empowerment on the Camino de Santiago. What an amazing and inspiring journey!

Did you miss it this year? Email us if you’re interested for 2019!

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Mind Body Therapy

Restorative practices are key to maintaining and creating health. Our bodies are designed to regularly have deep rest in order to reset the nervous system, flush the effects of stress, and rebalance internal processes, which all supports health and healing on a deep, fundamental level. Without enough restoration, our bodies become locked into chronic stress patterns that create dysfunction in our physical, mental, and emotional lives.

Mindfulness principles support restorative practices, which in turn creates a cascade of health benefits in the body. As the body moves into rest and restore mode, the heart rate will slow, the breath will deepen, and blood pressure will decrease. Common areas of muscular tension like the diaphragm, pelvis, and neck and shoulders, will begin to relax and release. As the musculoskeletal tension along the spine releases, the vertebrae will be able to make subtle adjustments toward alignment. The nervous system will also re-regulate itself, which helps to turn down the volume of pain signals, and other systems of the body like digestion, circulation, and circadian rhythms, will also reset and rebalance.

Mind Body Therapy uses this effectiveness of mindfulness and restoration to address specific health conditions.  At Ha.Lé, we always begin with a conversation, and the initial conversation for Mind Body Therapy will assess your health condition and personal goals. We will also seek to understand your current physical, mental, and spiritual capacity. This allows us to create a personalized mind body practice for you that applies mindfulness principles to optimize your health.

Your personalized mind body therapy practice can provide specialized techniques for a variety of specific health conditions. It can help with chronic pain from musculoskeletal conditions, and cardiovascular disease including heart failure and coronary heart disease. Mind Body Therapy can also address conditions like diabetes mellitus, obesity, anxiety, depression, post traumatic disorder, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Mind Body Therapy is the application of principles of mindfulness for wellness and specific health conditions. Mindfulness techniques are able to turn the complex systems of the body toward restorative states, which creates space for deep healing and rebalancing.

Dr. Gurjeet Birdee is a researcher, scientist, physician, and mind body therapist. He is now available for Mind Body Therapy sessions at Ha.Lé.

From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion

Self-Criticism refers to the voice inside our head that criticizes our thoughts, actions, and/or appearance. We use self-criticism as a way to motivate ourselves to drive forward, do the right thing, or stay safe. However, it turns out this is not an effective way to change our own behavior, and we often use this voice to say mean things to ourselves that we would not be comfortable saying to others.

Research conducted at Stanford University shows that self-criticism is more destructive than helpful. The more people criticize themselves, the slower their progress toward a goal, and the less likely they are to ever achieve it. Looking at the neuroscience of self-criticism, it actually shifts our brain into a state of self-inhibition and self-punishment. This causes us to disengage from our goals because we feel threatened and demoralized.

In the end, self-criticism makes us more likely to end up stuck in a cycle of procrastination and self-loathing. Even when we are able to push through this, it still saps emotional energy that could be used more productively.

Self-compassion is the alternative to self-criticism. It improves overall mental health, making you more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about the future. It is a way for our inner voice to become more of a supportive friend, helping us feel safe and accepted enough to see ourselves clearly and make the changes we need to make to become healthier and happier.

There are 3 main components to self-compassion. Self-Kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding, and to offer yourself soothing and comfort in the face of suffering. A sense of Common Humanity means recognizing that all humans are imperfect, and we all make mistakes, which helps put things in perspective. And finally, Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness that sees painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner, neither ignoring nor obsessing about what you don’t like about yourself.

Combining these three things creates self-compassion. This allows you to be easier on yourself when your suffering occurs through no fault of your own. It also helps you support yourself when the external circumstances of life are simply too painful or difficult to bear, and eases the suffering that you cause for yourself.

Moving out of self-criticism to a place of self-compassion is a gentler and more effective way to reach your goals and become the person you would like to be. It creates the feeling of internal safety that allows us each to blossom and thrive, growing in the direction we choose for ourselves.

What is Stress Management?

Stress is built in to being human, as we manage challenges and respond to problems. It is a fundamental part of being alive. It is also a whole-body event, with physical, mental, and emotional effects. Our bodies are designed to experience stress as a temporary state, and then return to rest and relaxation mode. However, modern life often creates chronic stress, where the body and mind do not fully reset.

Stress Management creates a set of tools that allow us to intentionally counter the effects of chronic stress in our bodies and minds. High levels of chronic stress put our wellbeing at risk. These fight or flight responses can reduce quality of sleep, slow healing times, affect digestion, strain heart health, and weaken your immune system. Because stress is a survival response, the body is basically pulling energy away from non-essential systems in order to fend off a lion attack.

Another way to think of stress is as a set of alarms. If our lion attack alarms are going off all day every day, our system doesn’t put energy toward long term health and wellbeing. The tools of stress management allow us to turn down the volume of the alarms and counter the signals of chronic stress. Through mindfulness exercises and daily physical practice, we are able to access the nervous system in a way that changes our physical, mental, and emotional states.

Because the effects of chronic stress build on themselves, layer by layer, over time, stress management can have profound effects. Physical discomforts, mental health impacts, and emotional resilience can all see positive results. Even if an issue is not caused by stress effects specifically, it is often made worse or heals slower because of the effects of chronic stress. Turning down the stress alarms frees up energy for the body to heal itself.

Stress management is key to our overall health and wellbeing, because chronic stress has comprehensive effects on our body and mind. Creating a sense of calm safety on a daily basis allows our survival-sensitive inner alarms to turn down the volume, which in turn lets our natural healing mechanisms get to work.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga is about relaxing into each pose, allowing the earth to hold you completely. Using props like blankets, bolsters, and blocks, the body is fully supported so that you can release layer after layer of tension. This resets the nervous system toward rest and digest mode, which creates space for healing and thriving.

Restorative yoga is also a form of mindfulness practice. It invites the mind to become more and more aware of where the body is holding tension. This helps to connect the body with mind, and uses neuroplasticity to cultivate stronger paths to relaxation in the nervous system. As we bring awareness to tension and then release it, we create ease and find room to change the habits of unnecessary tension that we hold in our daily lives.

Conscious relaxation creates a cascade of health benefits in the body. Heart rate slows, breathing deepens, and blood pressure lowers. Tension begins to drain out of the diaphragm, the pelvis, and the neck and shoulders. Muscles relax, allowing nutrients, oxygen, and blood to nourish and repair the tissue. As tension releases along the spine, vertebra make subtle adjustments toward alignment. The nervous system begins to turn down the volume on pain signals and various complex systems of the body better regulate themselves, like the digestive system, circulatory system, and sleep patterns.

In many ways, gentle is the new advanced. Restorative yoga is a gentle, subtle practice that creates profound results. Using the pull of gravity instead of muscular effort, it speaks to the healing processes of the body in a different, and very effective, way. It may be gentle, but it is not always easy to cultivate mindful relaxation.

Mindful Yoga is a Treatment for the Whole Self

Yoga, at its heart, is therapeutic. It is an ancient system of connecting the mind and body so that they move together and support health and vitality. Though it is popular to use yoga as a means to fitness goals, that is a narrow interpretation of a comprehensive system of health and treatment.

Yoga is a form of mindfulness practice, cultivating awareness from within the body. By bringing attention to the breath and alignment, it trains and conditions the mind. This has been shown to help improve cognitive function, boost memory, and reduce baseline stress levels.

In many ways, gentle yoga is the most advanced yoga. Without fast pacing or high physical challenge to occupy the mind, your attention is able to turn to the wealth of information percolating up from within the body: the exact angle of knee bend that begins to make an old injury ache; a perpetual knot in your shoulders that brings certain memories to the surface; the joy that comes from releasing tension in the low back. By tuning in to this body wisdom, we are able to better engage with our health and support ourselves.

Slower, more deliberate yoga is therefore able to treat imbalances and address discomfort, often before they become a bigger issue. It supports flexibility, lubricates joints, develops strength, increases balance, and reduces mental, emotional, and physical stress levels. Also, because it does use slower and gentler poses, it is accessible to a wider range of practitioners. Do not mistake it for easy, but know that it creates space for a wide range of bodies, ages, and levels of experience.

At Ha.Lé, our yoga classes are based in mindfulness practice. They are designed as treatments to support health and to continue the care we offer in our appointments. Therapeutic yoga is an effective way to support the whole self, bringing body and mind together to create health.