Sacroiliac joint healed!

Back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”, and SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot.)

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect but it is strong and tight enough that it stays in place . Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out of place. Continue reading

Inviting deep, restful sleep: tips for positioning and good sleep practices

Positioning for Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is hugely important for your well-being. Use sleep positioning to align your bones, support your limbs, and open your joints, relaxing muscles and minimizing tension and pain so that your sleep is fully restful.

Have on hand a variety of pillows of various sizes and firmness as well as towels in various sizes to prevent rolling and add support. Special pillows support the neck and head.

When preparing for sleep, scan your body for tension and adjust to relieve tension. Re-scan and re-adjust. You may need to keep doing this for a few weeks as your body responds.

Sleeping on Your Back

Support your neck and upper back. Place a pillow with the bottom edge at the level of the shoulder blades or use a cervical support cushion under the upper spine and neck. You may prefer a pillow that cradles the back of your head as well.

For leg and hip comfort, make a wedge-shaped support under the thighs with the upper edge tucked under the buttocks to create a slight bend in the knees.

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If the small of the back is not resting on the bed, support it with a small cushion or rolled hand towel. If desired, place pillows along the body to support the arms and hands. Continue reading

How to cure anxiety

Loved this blog post so much, I’m linking to it here! It’s on Tim Ferriss’s blog, and was written by his former assistant Charlie Hoehn.

Note that it mentions the Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) among other behaviors to release tension and calm the body.

http://fourhourworkweek.com/2014/02/19/anxiety-attacks-2/

Therapeutica pillow aids back and side sleeping postures

Even though I’ve had expensive chiropractic work done on my neck and have been told I need to sleep on my back, I’ve always found it difficult to do so. I feel so much more comfortable sleeping on my side and on my stomach, which really puts strain on my neck.

I’m not sure why this is. It just is. I get to sleep well, and I stay asleep well, but I toss and turn a lot trying to get comfortable.

Also, I know from experience and education that the atlanto-occipital joint and the upper cervical area where the neck and head converge is a critical juncture in the body that affects movement, including eye movement. My current chiropractor has actually helped my vision improve. She practices SOT, sacral-occipital technique, which is not mainstream chiropractic but works on the nervous system as much as on the bones.

When I mentioned my difficulty with sleep postures yesterday to Dr. Mary, she showed me a pillow especially designed to help people sleep on their backs and on either side while keeping their necks and heads properly aligned with their spines.

I took a look, read the packaging, tried it, and decided that even though I’m in a frugal phase, I couldn’t afford to not buy one. Back sleeping is so much better for the body, especially the head and neck, but also the internal organs. Not to mention preventing (more) wrinkles.

The packaging also says it helps reduce snoring by keeping critical air passages open.

For back sleeping, the pillow supports the curves of the upper back and cervical vertebrae and has an indention for the back of the head that helps keep it stable.

For side sleeping, it has blocky “wings” that keep the head aligned with the neck. It even apparently has a little “give” to it in just the right places for people who suffer from TMJ pain to sleep more comfortably.

Best of all, these wings come in different heights, depending on the width of your shoulders. Between child-size, petite, average, large, and extra large, there’s a size that fits everyone.

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Average and smaller pillows fit into regular pillowcases; large and extra-large need king pillowcases.

Here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 10.46.34 AMCrazy-looking, huh?

The Therapeutica sleeping pillow was designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic designer. It currently sells for $71 on Amazon. There’s also a travel pillow without the wings that currently sells for $58 that would be good for people who only sleep on their backs.

These prices may change, of course, and if you’re on a budget, you may be able to find these selling for less through other Amazon third-party retailers.

You’re probably waiting to hear what it was like to sleep with it! I’ve only done it one night so far, but here’s my report.

I shifted from my back to each side numerous times, spending more time sleeping on my sides because it felt so darn comfortable. This is new, having my head supported at the right height.

I did sleep on my back occasionally but did not automatically become a back sleeper. I imagine that over time, I’ll become more comfortable back-sleeping.

And I’m extremely happy to say that I did not sleep on my stomach at all.

Today I can get rid of some of the many pillows I had on my bed to attempt to accommodate my various sleep postures. I am really grateful for this find.

Massage testimonial

Just received a wonderful testimonial from someone who hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in three weeks. I worked on her for two hours yesterday doing an integrative massage, and something really shifted for her.

She wrote:

I sit here at my computer after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I am so deeply grateful for your loving energy yesterday. Your integrity, touch, and presence were exactly what I needed to break open the clogged dam of emotions that’s been keeping me from sleep.

All throughout the massage, I could feel and take in your love and healing energy which is abundantly transferred through your hands. When you said ‘How you feel matters,’ my soul got the message that you cared enough to hear, see, and touch me. When you did the cranial-sacral hold, I felt like I was being cradled by my mother.

You had asked the question, ‘What happened three weeks ago?’ … My insomnia has been “waking me up” to the fact of unfinished business…. Your work allowed me to dive through the opening and swim the turbulent waters on top of a still well. I’m not quite at the still well yet, but I have faith that I’ll get there.

All I can say in response is that it was a real pleasure and an honor to work on her. I feel grateful that opportunities to make a difference like this are coming my way in this new livelihood of massage and bodywork.

A day in the life of a massage therapist

I’ve been doing massage since June, but I haven’t posted very much about it on this blog. I’ve been getting my bearings, gaining hands-on experience. I also maintain the confidentiality of my clients.

I’d like to write about my work, as long as my clients remain anonymous. I would have liked to read about what it’s like to work as a massage therapist, so maybe me posting about it will serve that need for someone else.

I massaged a woman who had recently had jaw surgery. She was going to physical therapy, and the PT said her neck muscles were so tight, a massage was in order.

At her request, I just worked on her back, shoulders, and neck, and I persuaded her to let me spend some time working on her feet.

It is incredibly relaxing to have foot reflexology and/or foot massage. I gave her both. There are zones on the feet that correspond to the rest of the body, so working the feet softens tense areas before I even get to them.

If you ever just want to relax and don’t have time for a full body massage, foot massage and reflexology are wonderful.

I allowed plenty of time in our session to work on her neck both when she was face down and after she turned over. I did a combination of Swedish massage and deep massage (Lauterstein method) to work on her circulatory and lymphatic systems and her structure and energy.

She told me she was having difficulty sleeping. She said she had always slept on her stomach with no pillow. Post-surgery, she was having to sleep on her back, propped up on pillows. She found it awkward and uncomfortable.

I shared with her what had helped me after I had had some major chiropractic work on my neck and was told to sleep on my back: hugging a pillow against my body. The weight of it feels comforting to a stomach sleeper.

Afterwards, she said she felt much better.

That’s one of the things I love most about being a massage therapist. What I do makes a tangible difference in people’s quality of life.

I worked on another woman who had been on her feet all weekend at an outdoor music festival. She wanted a lot of attention to her feet and legs as part of her full body massage. She booked a 90 minute massage, which is twice as relaxing as a 60 minute massage!

Truthfully, I don’t know how to quantify how relaxing a massage is. That’s a subjective measure. I just know that when I give a 60 minute massage, if the person is larger than average or has an area that needs extra attention and still wants a full body Swedish massage, the massage feels rushed, to me.

I don’t know if it feels rushed to them. Maybe that’s all they’ve ever known, and they have no idea how much more relaxed they could feel if they had a longer session. It’s their choice — and I’m not beyond suggesting that a client book a longer session next time!

I did Swedish/deep massage and reflexology/foot massage on her and was able to work at a more relaxed and relaxing pace. IMO, she did herself a huge favor by booking 90 minutes. She relaxed very deeply and looked happy when I met with her after the session.

I like using aromatherapy. It adds a nice dimension to a massage both to the client and to me.

I often put the essential oil blend Valor (from Young Living) on the client’s feet before massaging them. The way I see it, everyone needs more valor to face life, and here’s a way to get some!

When clients turn over from being face down, their breathing is often congested. When that’s the case, I like to take a drop of Eucalyptus radiata oil, rub it between my hands, and then place my hands near the client’s nose. Their eyes are covered, so they don’t see it coming. They simply smell the eucalyptus, a pleasant surprise, and it clears their breathing passages.

At the end of a massage, especially when the client has gone into a deep trance or fallen asleep, I like to rub a drop of peppermint or rosemary oil between my palms and allow the scent to help wake the client up in a refreshing way.

A video that could help you sleep

Insomnia is a malady I have rarely had over the last few years. Only when I drink caffeine late in the day (I usually know better), and even more rarely, when I feel so disturbed about some issue in my life that my mind can’t let go of it do I lie awake at night unable to sleep and feel like a zombie the next day.

I have experienced months of insomnia every night in the past, however, and that experience has given me great compassion for those who suffer from it. A good night’s sleep is just essential for well-being.

I’ve posted about various remedies for insomnia occasionally. You can search my blog on “insomnia” to find those posts if you wish.

Cures or relief from insomnia is a topic of great interest. New information emerges. I’m interested in what works. Could it be that there is not a “one size fits all” cure for insomnia?

Today I stumbled across a video purportedly created by scientists to help you sleep. I listened to it (and did not fall asleep, but it’s morning and I am well rested already). I found it very peaceful. I can imagine that it would help me fall asleep.

Here’s the link if you want to give it a try:

http://www.wimp.com/scientistscreated/

The only other information I could find is that the video and music are by a band called Marconi Union. I don’t know if this is a band of scientists or what!

The best help I know of for insomnia (and the most expensive) is brainwave optimization.   I wasn’t experiencing any insomnia when I did the five days of brain training in June 2011. But it has been known to help with insomnia, and a study is underway to learn more about its effects on insomnia.

Even more awesome, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is undertaking this study of insomnia, and other studies are planned for migraines, mild cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury/concussion later this year!

Suggestions to relieve insomnia and get to sleep

A couple of months ago, I blogged about some exciting new research about insomnia. It seems that when we lie awake at night, unable to fall asleep, it’s because our brains are overheating. They tend to generate more warmth during the day and cool down at night.

So something happens that moves us out of this biorhythm and into the minor hell of insomnia (or major, if it goes on long enough). When you would like to be sleeping, the monkey mind grabs onto thoughts and won’t let go — generating heat in the brain and preventing sleep.

The researcher experimented with a cooling cap. It seemed to me that there were alternatives that were much simpler and more accessible.

Disidentify with your thoughts

First of all, disidentifying with your thoughts is a useful skill anyone can learn with a little practice. Thinking is what the mind does. It serves a purpose. It is not inherently bad.

The question is whether thinking is appropriate when you want to be sleeping. There’s thinking, and then there’s mind-running-amok.

To disidentify with those thoughts, you simply choose to focus your attention on your breath, or on sounds, sensations, rhythms, your weight against the sheets and pillow, a chakra, your whole body, a state of wonder, an image — find something that works for you. (All this stuff is happening all the time. “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” right?)

Notice that your thoughts are often about something that’s neither here nor now — they’re in the past or future. Bring your attention into the present moment. What are you actually experiencing?

Your mind may interrupt, but as you continue to focus on your present experience, it will interrupt less and less often, and you will fall asleep.

Also, notice whether that thing your monkey mind won’t let go of is something you have any control over. If you can’t influence it, give it up. Trickster is having fun with you. Just plain let go and hand it over to God, the Universe, Spirit (GUS will take care of it). Now go to sleep.

If you can influence it, unless it’s truly life-or-death, sleep on it and see what option comes to mind when you wake in the morning. In other words, pose the question “How can I influence this for the good of all involved?” Let your unconscious mind work and play with the situation while your conscious mind takes the restful break of sleep. When you wake, notice what comes to mind.

You may want to do some journaling.

Drink some cool, clear water

Drink a glass, or half a glass if your bladder wakes you up early, of water that is between room temperature and cool. Ice isn’t necessary — some people believe that ice is too cooling and not good for the human digestive system’s operations. After all, the human race has done pretty well without iced drinks for millenia upon millenia.

Take a mouthful of cool water, close your mouth, hold it for a bit, and then swallow.

You can also put a cool compress of a wrung-out washcloth on your forehead. Do both!

And, while you’re doing these things, think about the cowboy song Cool, Clear Water while you do this! Let water represent the sleep you want to experience.

Here’s a video of the original by the Sons of the Pioneers. Maybe you have a favorite version.

Yawn and open your mouth when you lie down to sleep

Since it’s currently believed that the purpose of yawning is to cool the overheated brain, yawn several times when you are ready to go to sleep.

Also, you can open your mouth just wide enough to let air (cooler than your body, of course) circulate in your oral cavity and cool the adjacent brain. Try parting your teeth half a finger-width.

Continue to breathe through your nose, not your mouth, unless you have nasal congestion.

Use acupressure to reduce heat

I shared this with my bodyworker/acupuncturist Patrice Sullivan, who got excited and shared with me some of the pressure points that reduce heat, because in Chinese medicine’s understanding of health, the body can get out of balance and have too much heat — and of course this can affect the brain.

Press into pressure points with a fingertip or pencil eraser to stimulate them, unblock meridians, and release heat. Press briefly and see what happens. Then try pressing steadily for 30 second to 2 minutes.

The list below includes the poetic names of the points for fun. You may want to google each point to view a graphic with more precision about the location.

  • Gallbladder 42 and 43, Earth Fivefold Convergence and Clamped Stream, are on the foot between the fourth and fifth metatarsals.
  • Liver 2, Moving Between, is on the top of the foot between the first and second toes before the webbing starts.
  • Gallbladder 34, Yang Hill Spring, is outside the knee, in a depression just below the head of the fibula (smaller lower leg bone) toward the front.
  • Heart 7, Spirit Gate, is on the hand on the crease of the wrist closest to the hand, in line with the ring finger.
  • Large Intestine 11, Crooked Pond, is located at the end of the outer elbow crease.
  • Governing Vessel 20, Hundred Convergences, is at the crown of the head.

Report back so others may benefit

I’d love to be wrong about this, but in my opinion, Big Science is probably not going to fund research on simple, effective ways to relieve insomnia unless they can make money off it by selling you something they’ve patented. So it’s up to us to figure out what works and let others know.

Please feel free to try any or all of these methods to relieve insomnia and please report back on what worked and didn’t work for you in the comments for this post.

Thank you.

Thinking heats the brain up — cooling it aids sleep

Saw a fascinating new finding in Time that cooling the brain helps insomniacs sleep.

That run-away monkey mind — doing frontal lobe activity such as planning — can keep people awake at night.

A psychiatrist was curious if this brain activity generated heat, and if so, if that was making sleep more difficult.

The body’s circadian clock, which regulates sleep and wakefulness, keeps the body at its warmest during the day and starts to lower body temperature in the evening to help us doze off. For those with insomnia, however, researchers found that the extra brain activity was keeping the brain too hot to sleep.

When Buysse’s group gave 12 insomniacs a cap to wear that contained circulating water at cool temperatures, they were able to get them to fall asleep almost as easily as people without sleep disorders: using the caps, the insomniacs took about 13 minutes to fall asleep, compared with 16 minutes for the healthy controls, and they slept for 89% of the time they were in bed, which was similar to the amount of time the controls spent asleep.

The article did not mention the possibility of training insomniacs to manage their minds. I mean, a person can pay attention to their inner dialogue (i.e., think), or they can  focus their attention on their breathing. It’s hard to do both at the same time. When attention wanders (usually to become literally “lost in thought,” as soon as you become aware that you’re thinking, bring your attention back to the breath. (Okay, so this is Meditation 101.)

The article didn’t mention that yawning cools the brain. This article suggests you can cool the forehead to stop yawning (and I presume, cool the brain and fall asleep). You know, get a gel-filled ice pack out of the freezer, wrap it in a towel, and put it across your forehead.

Inhaling through a rounded or “O” mouth and exhaling through the nose could be helpful as well. (Thanks to Susan Gobin for suggesting that on Facebook!)

Still, it might be nice to have one of those cooling caps to put on!

Trauma/stress, sleep, and brainwaves

I have several friends who have a hard time sleeping. Could be falling asleep or staying asleep. They go through long periods of not sleeping well.

I’ve been through several of those periods myself, although not lately. I empathize with how the lack of a good night’s sleep negatively affects everything the next day — energy, alertness, performance. I feel their pain.

I’ve already mentioned that I take most of the supplements recommended in the appendix of Buddha’s Brain. I feel better than I’ve felt in years.

I honestly don’t know how good I can feel, and I’d like to find out!

When my contract job ends in 6 weeks and I can make this a priority, I intend to get my brainwaves optimized.

Here’s a link to an article, Your Brainwaves On Sleep. The author writes about the particle (chemical) and wave (brainwave) approaches to sleep.

On the particle side of the debate, there is ample experiential evidence and scientific studies that demonstrate that chemical activity in the brain can profoundly alter sleep tendencies. Many foods, medicines and other substances are well known to have promotional or inhibitory influences on sleep. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated the existence of sleep-regulatory substances, which, after accumulating in the cerebrospinal fluid of an organism and then being injected into another one, can induce the state of sleepiness.

Wave approaches to sleep focus on its cyclical aspects. A focus on wave aspects has intrinsic appeal, since sleep itself comes and goes regularly in healthy individuals. On this side of the debate, researchers have shown, for example, that there is an extra dose of sleepiness that comes in the middle of the afternoon. Within and between sleep periods, there are predictable cycles of brainwave activity. The timing of the beginning and end of a sleep period is also intimately connected with the timing of our secretion of hormones, the level of arousal of our cardiovascular system, immune system and metabolic functioning and integration of our cognitive capacities. Without good quality sleep, these systems become poorly modulated and dysfunctional over time.

I disagree that we must understand sleep as one or the other. I believe we must understand sleep — and everything else — as both particles and waves. We are bio-chemical, bio-electrical critters.

Good sleep correlates to brain activation patterns (as measured by EEG) that are reasonably balanced (left-to-right and front-to-back) and harmonized (low and high frequencies in a good proportion to one another throughout the brain). Balance and harmony are required especially in those brain areas that generally function for the purpose of internal processing and reception of external stimuli: the temporal, occipital, parietal and midline (or corpus callosum) areas.

Of course, trauma and chronic stress (or prolonged periods of stress) get the brainwaves off track. Brainwave optimization gets them back in harmony.

I hope that someday, brainwave optimization will be inexpensive, widespread, and routine in our culture. What a world that might be, with everyone’s brains functioning at their best all the time!