How Mindfulness Reduces Pain

Mindfulness is a specific form of meditation that has been proven to reduce pain. Clinical trials have shown it to reduce chronic pain by 57%, and accomplished meditators can achieve even higher levels of pain relief. Other studies have shown that it does not use the body’s own natural production of opioids or endorphins to accomplish these reductions, so how does it work?

The practice of mindfulness brings quiet, focused attention to the body and its sensations. Typical exercises help you observe with the mind’s eye, and just notice what is happening. When we are in pain, our minds spend a lot of time thinking about it, trying to solve it, and worrying if it will ever end. Mindfulness allows you to observe painful sensations as you feel them, and quiet the mind’s reactions and struggle.

This process has the biological effect of soothing the brain patterns of your pain perception. With regular mindfulness practice, these changes will alter the structure of the brain itself so that pain is not felt with the same intensity.

This works because there are two layers to the perception of pain. First, there is the sensation of the illness, injury, or damage to the body that is causing the pain. Second, there is the brain’s reaction to this sensation. The brain is trying to protect the body from further damage or injury and so it focuses on the sensations of pain. This effectively turns up the “volume” and increases suffering. For chronic pain, this process becomes a feedback loop, and the brain gets better and better at feeling more pain.

Mindfulness practice effectively turns the volume back down again, so that the brain does not amplify the pain signals the body is sending. This in turn reduces the pain-related anxiety, stress, and depression, and creates room for the body to begin to relax and then heal.

Bodywork and Massage for Pain Management

Bodywork and Massage therapy can effectively relieve pain, offering proven benefits and an excellent safety record with few, if any, side effects. Pain is the reason for about 80% of physician visits in the U.S., and the CDC now recommends that doctors start with non-pharmacological treatments to address this pain, instead of prescribing medications.

Last year, the journal Pain Medicine published a systematic review and meta-analysis of 60 high-quality and 7 low-quality studies on the effectiveness of massage for pain. This included muscle and bone pain, headaches, deep internal pain, fibromyalgia, and spinal cord pain. It concluded not only that massage therapy does help relieve pain, but that it offers the added benefits of improved anxiety and health-related quality of life.  

Sometimes one bodywork and massage session will bring significant improvement, and other times a problem created over years of repetitive stress takes several treatments before it significantly improves. This is why other studies have looked at massage dosage, or how long and how often massage should be received. A study on neck pain showed that a longer session (60 min vs. 30 min) is more effective for pain relief, and that coming more than once a week for the first 4 weeks is 5x more likely to improve function and 2x as likely to bring a significant drop in pain.

At HaLé, our bodywork and massage therapists are experienced at treating pain and know that it responds best to an integrative approach that allows for healing on many levels, including biomechanical, neurological, and psychological. We can help you manage and reduce your pain, and our treatments have the proven side effect of improving your overall sense of well-being.

What Is CBD Oil?

CBD is cannabidiol, which is one of the many compounds that come from the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it has no psychotropic effects and does NOT make you feel high. It is an effective treatment for a wide variety of health concerns, and is legal in all 50 states when sourced from hemp and has no THC content.

How it works: the human body naturally produces cannabinoids internally, and has two kinds of receptors for them: CB1 receptors, which are mostly in the brain, and CB2 receptors, which are most common in the immune system and affect inflammation and pain. CBD oil does not affect either of these receptors directly, but influences the body to use more of its own cannabinoids.

What it helps: At HaLé, the two most popular uses for CBD oil are for pain and sleep. CBD oil provides natural pain relief and helps reduce inflammation for both chronic pain and acute pain symptoms. It also helps regulate sleep by calming the nervous system, and is helpful both for ongoing sleep issues and for the dysregulation that comes from travel.

CBD oil can also help reduce anxiety behaviors that come from PTSD, anxiety disorders, and OCD, and it does so with very few side effects, unlike many of the medications often used to treat these conditions.

Side effects: CBD is widely tolerated by adults across a wide dose range. There are no side effects on the central nervous system, vital signs, or mood, among those who use it slightly or heavily. The most common side effect is tiredness.

CBD at HaLé: We are pleased to carry high quality CBD products from companies we trust. We offer some tinctures that go under the tongue for bedtime or daily use, a transdermal patch that lasts up to 12 hours, and some topical products that can be applied directly to where it hurts. A growing number of our clients have discovered that CBD is an effective supplement for them, and HaLé has come to believe strongly in the power of this plant medicine.

How to Practice Yoga at Any Age

HaLé has students ages 18 to 80, and yoga is a practice for people at all levels. Don’t let fitness or age keep you away! We especially recommend working deeper instead of broader. Instead of trying lots of different kinds of yoga, find one that works for you and stick with it. Allow yourself to become part of a community of people doing yoga together and supporting each other in the practice.

Going deeper instead of broader also works for the practice of yoga itself. People often do yoga positions too quickly, and are surprised when yoga doesn’t immediately fix their pain. Give pain time to resolve, as it is a good teacher, and yoga is not a pain free practice. Allow regular practice to layer its benefits over time, as yoga helps you find what challenges you, and how to address it. Yoga benefits are often physical, mental, and emotional.

It is important for yoga to feel convenient and enjoyable. Use props like blocks, straps, and bolsters to support a comfortable practice with proper alignments. Also, allow yourself to relax into restorative poses. Because restorative yoga lets gravity do the work, these poses can be the most mentally challenging. Move through the restlessness to find deeper benefits.

A yoga practice, because it engages both mind and body, does a lot to create health and ease discomfort in the body. It can lower pain levels, improve balance, and increase your overall sense of wellbeing. Give it time, deepen your practice, and remember not to take it too seriously. Yoga practice should also be fun.

Core Awareness 101: Intro the the Psoas

The psoas (so-az) muscle is the deepest muscle in the body, connecting the spine to the leg and stretching from solar plexus to upper thigh. It is a crucial element of core strength. However, it is not a muscle that does best when strengthened, stretched, or massaged. Instead, to best work toward core health and psoas health, we need to approach it from an understanding of how it relates to the whole body, not just its mechanical function.

The first thing to understand about the psoas is that it is about motion. It is the only muscle that connects the trunk of the body to the legs, and it is what allows you to lift your leg with each step. It is a suspension bridge to the spine, stabilizing it the same way ropes stabilize a tent. It also supports organ health, helping to hold the organs in place and massaging them as the body moves. This improves fluid and nutrient flow, which helps keep them functioning well.

When the psoas has dysfunction, it is usually due to exhaustion. Many factors can contribute to this, including structural imbalances, injuries, and restrictive clothing, shoes, and chairs that keep us from moving naturally most of the time. Because the psoas is about providing stability while in motion, it will work harder to compensate for a lack of stability, and so grow thick and short. This in turn pulls the pelvis out of alignment and transfers stress to the knees and low back. It also becomes less effective at supporting organ health.

The psoas is also tied directly into the flight or fight response, as it is the muscle that helps curl us into a protective ball or allows us to run and jump our way out of danger. A chronically exhausted psoas, then, sends a constant signal of stress and danger to the body. This has emotional and physical consequences and can exhaust the adrenals and deplete the immune system.

Working with the psoas to restore health and vitality to the whole system means bringing awareness and ease to the core. Moving from a tight, thick psoas to a juicy, supple one can relieve a wide range of symptoms, including water retention, sleep issues, foot rotations, and deep-seated fears. It may take practice to build awareness of the psoas, but when it becomes juicy, we are able to move with more ease and vitality.

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