Teens and young adults are under more stress now than young people of earlier generations. Counseling can help build resilience and healthy ways to cope, supporting young people as they discover who they are and how they can do well in the world.
Low back pain treatments work with soft tissues and the nervous system to correct imbalances and address dysfunction. Bodywork, acupuncture, counseling, and somatics are all effective, and can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan to address the specific causes of your low back pain.
Mindful rest and conscious relaxation creates a cascade of health benefits in the body. This is because our bodies and minds function best when they have a chance to reset themselves. Crucial processes for maintaining health engage best when we allow our bodies and minds to come into deep rest.
From a stress perspective, our biology is designed to experience stress as a response to an immediate threat. When that immediate threat passes, our stress response ramps back down and the body returns to a calmer, more relaxed state. However, modern stress involves few immediate threats and a lot of ongoing, low-level threats, which means that we don’t usually complete the stress cycle and return to the relaxed state.
This is why mindful rest is such a powerful practice. Our mind is one of our main means of assessing threats, and we can redirect that mental energy toward rest instead. Not only does it help turn off a driver of escalating stress responses, but helps to actively counter those responses with feelings of rest, relaxation, and safety.
When we consciously turn our attention to resting and releasing tension from the mind and body, it helps reset the nervous system. The heart rate slows, breath deepens, and blood pressure lowers. Tension begins to drain out of the diaphragm, the pelvis, and the neck and shoulders. As muscles relax, nutrients, oxygen, and blood are able to circulate more freely to nourish and repair tissue. When tension releases along the spine, vertebra are able to make subtle adjustments toward alignment. The nervous system is also able to turn down the volume on pain signals to the brain and improve regulation of body systems like digestion, circulation, and sleep.
The more we practice mindfully resting, the better we are able to teach ourselves how to relax. We are using neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to learn and change, in order to cultivate stronger paths to relaxation in the nervous system. Over time, this changes our habits and patterns of stress and tension, allowing us to return to a restful state more easily.
Mindful rest and conscious relaxation is a practice, which means that it is most effective when done regularly and on purpose. By peeling away layers of stress and unwinding tension, we are able to support the natural biological processes that support and create health.
Our bodies have posture, which means that we resist the pull of gravity by holding our body in a certain shape. A healthy posture gives us ease and economy of motion, helps with coordination, and provides a balance between stability and mobility.
How we move can affect our posture. Think about typing at a keyboard all day, and how that can round the shoulders and move the head forward. These movements train our muscles into certain patterns, which changes our posture, and then our posture affects the shape of even more movements.
Over time, posture issues can get locked into chronic holding patterns in our muscles. This causes ongoing muscle tension and discomfort, from where we are holding ourselves in less than optimal ways. For example, our spine is designed to stack, vertebra by vertebra, to provide a structure that helps support our relatively heavy head. When we lean our head forward off that stack, the muscles in our neck and shoulders compensate. For every inch forward, it is as if the head is 10 pounds heavier!
There are several ways to address posture issues and retrain the body. Mindfulness is one of the most broadly practiced methods. This can be done through reminding yourself to notice your posture every so often throughout the day. It can also be practiced in movement class or during other activities. Notice which muscles you are using, and see if you can shift that movement so that it comes from the core instead of the extremity. Somatics and Feldenkrais also really help connect awareness to movement in order to correct imbalanced patterns.
In addition to mindfulness and therapeutic movement techniques, bodywork that addresses fascia can be very helpful for posture issues. Structural Integration and Myofascial Release techniques help adjust the connective tissues that hold the body in the shape it is used to, releasing old impingements and adhesions to free up range of motion.
Working on healthy posture is progressive. The more you can learn to engage the right muscles and release tension from less healthy patterns, the better your posture will be. It is often a process of cultivating awareness, and can have tremendous benefits for overall health and wellbeing.
Pain is more than a feeling, but a physical event in the body, with physical, neurological, and psychological effects. When pain is present for extended periods of time or becomes chronic, it changes how our bodies think and feel. Mental health care and counseling can help treat these changes and can often reduce pain levels.
Pain feelings are real, and are subjective, which means that there is no outside test to determine how much pain someone is in. In many ways, pain is like an alarm in the body, and the volume of the alarm can get turned up or down, depending on a lot of complex physical factors. There are mental techniques that help regulate the volume of the alarm and turn it back down, and counseling and mindfulness both help with this process.
Some people with chronic pain or a pain syndrome are reluctant to access mental health care for their pain, because there is a worry that if it is “all in your head”, then it “isn’t real.” Pain is never “all in your head,” but it does have specific mental and emotional consequences in addition to the ways it physically affects the body. All of these effects are real, and deserve to be treated and addressed through care.
Pain changes the way your brain works, and mental health care like counseling can help manage these changes and the stress, depression, anxiety, and other feelings that pain can cause. Our bodies are complex systems, and our minds are a part of that system. Easing suffering is important, and counseling for pain helps do that.
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.
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 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.
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.