Frida Kahlo probably had fibromyalgia

While continuing to learn more about fibromyalgia, I found something interesting: Frida Kahlo probably had it.

If you’re wondering what fibromyalgia is, the Mayo Clinic says it’s a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Symptoms sometimes begin after a trauma, surgery, infection, or significant stress. Women are much more likely to develop it.

One researcher, Manuel Martinez-lavin, says it’s likely the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had fibromyalgia. The bus accident that badly injured her at age 18 must have been quite traumatic and was followed by many stressful surgeries. The accident left her with chronic pain, well documented in her art.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-11-07-37-amThe Broken Column

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Now relax, dammit, and get more done!

Great op-ed piece in the New York Times (if you’re able to get past the paywall) by Tony Schwartz about how stressful it is for most people with jobs. Relax! You’ll Be More Productive mentions the “doing less” strategy:

Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

The idea is that time is not renewable, but energy is. It may seem counterintuitive to take time off and get more done, but if it refreshes your energy, it is a good trade-off.

An aside: Recently I heard a teacher of biodynamic craniosacral therapy talk about the body’s biosphere — the energy field that contains the physical body and extends 6 to 18 inches out from it.

He said that in his experience, the two biggest influences on the size (and therefore health) of anyone’s biosphere were (1) getting a good night’s sleep and (2) the health of the autonomic nervous system (i.e., the sympathetic fight/flight/freeze nervous system and the parasympathetic rest/relax/digest nervous system and the body’s ability to pendulate as needed between them).

Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.

The article notes that we experience cycles of approximately 90 minutes in which we move from alertness to fatigue in waking life and from deeper to lighter sleep. Researchers have found that elite performers take advantage of this, practicing uninterruptedly for about 90 minutes at a time, taking breaks to recuperate, and working no more than about 4.5 hours per day.

This can apply to ordinary people too — people who want to break out of dis-stress and make more of a contribution.

It’s not how long we work, it’s how well.

The goal is to recover from intense workouts and avoid exhaustion. Developing skill at relaxing quickly and deeply pays off.

So what can you do to take advantage of your natural cycles?

Here’s what I’m doing: When I am feeling productive and am working on a project, I set a timer for 90 minutes. When the timer goes off, I stop.

When I’m taking a break, I set the timer for 90 minutes. I might make tea and call a friend. Or I might do some light housework: wash the dishes, fold laundry, or sweep. I could take a walk, or listen to music, or take a nap. The point is to do something different with my energy that renews me.

And don’t be surprised if great ideas pop into your mind during your break time.

Here’s what Schwartz says his business does:

The power of renewal was so compelling to me that I’ve created a business around it that helps a range of companies including Google, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee, the Los Angeles Police Department, Cleveland Clinic and Genentech.

Our own offices are a laboratory for the principles we teach. Renewal is central to how we work. We dedicated space to a “renewal” room in which employees can nap, meditate or relax. We have a spacious lounge where employees hang out together and snack on healthy foods we provide. We encourage workers to take renewal breaks throughout the day, and to leave the office for lunch, which we often do together. We allow people to work from home several days a week, in part so they can avoid debilitating rush-hour commutes. Our workdays end at 6 p.m. and we don’t expect anyone to answer e-mail in the evenings or on the weekends. Employees receive four weeks of vacation from their first year.

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

An interview with Stephen Porges: polyvagal theory, or how the nervous system is affected in autism, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, and trauma

Nexus, Colorado’s Holistic Health and Spirituality Journal.

This interview with Dr. Stephen Porges, whose career is based on understanding the evolution of the human nervous system, outlines some of the basics of polyvagal theory.

This theory is being tested in trauma recovery sessions. It’s exciting because it helps explain how and why people freeze or experience fight-flight reactions in response to trauma — and the route back to normal, healthy functioning, no matter how long ago the trauma occurred or how often it happened.

Polyvagal theory is increasingly becoming part of the training of bodyworkers, therapists, and educators. In a future post, I will describe how to tell which nervous system (freeze, fight or flight, or parasympathetic) is dominant at any given moment.

This theory is based on an in-depth understanding of the vagus nerve, also known as the 10th cranial nerve, which wanders (the Latin word vagus means wandering, like vagabond and vagrant) from the brain stem down through the body, affecting the face, heart, lungs, and gut.

The brain evolved hierarchically in vertebrates, and the neural circuits of the older nervous systems are still present, accessed hierarchically.

RD: So one thing happens then another thing happens then another thing?

SP: Right. This influences how we react to the world. The hierarchy is composed of three neural circuits. One circuit may override another. We usually react with our newest system, and if that doesn’t work, we try an older one, then the oldest. We start with our most modern systems, and work our way backward.

So polyvagal theory considers the evolution of the autonomic nervous system and its organization; but it also emphasizes that the vagal system is not a single unit, as we have long thought. There are actually two vagal systems, an old one and a new one. That’s where the name polyvagal comes from.

The final, or newest stage, which is unique to mammals, is characterized by a vagus having myelinated pathways. The vagus is the major nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. There are two major branches. The most recent is myelinated and is linked to the cranial nerves that control facial expression and vocalization.

Here’s how it works in action:

SP: Let’s say you’re a therapist or a parent or a teacher, and one of your clients, students or children’s faces is flat, with no facial expression. The face has no muscle tone, the eyelids droop and gaze averts. It is highly likely that individual will also have auditory hypersensitivities and difficulty regulating his or her bodily state. These are common features of several psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, borderline personality, bipolar, autism and hyperactivity. The neural system that regulates both bodily state and the muscles of the face goes off-line. Thus, people with these disorders often lack affect in their faces and are jittery, because their nervous system is not providing information to calm them down.

RD: How will polyvagal theory change treatment options for people with these disorders?

SP: Once we understand the mechanisms mediating the disorder, there will be ways to treat it. For example, you would no longer say “sit still” or punish a person because they can’t sit still. You would never say, “Why aren’t you smiling?” or “Try to listen better” or “Look in my eyes,” when these behaviors are absent. Often treatment programs attempt to teach clients to make eye contact. But teaching someone to make eye contact is often virtually impossible when the individual has a disorder, such as autism or bipolar disorder, because the neural system controlling spontaneous eye gaze is turned off. This newer, social engagement system can only be expressed when the nervous system detects the environment as safe.

There’s much more fascinating information you can read by clicking the link at the top of this post.

Yoga for stress reduction

When talking to my former yoga teacher, who not only taught me but trained me to be a yoga teacher, last week, I told her I’d like to get more people attending my restorative yoga classes.

She gave me a tip on marketing: don’t call it Restorative Yoga, call it Yoga for Stress Reduction.

I have a lot to learn.

Yes, restorative yoga is yoga for stress reduction. That is completely the point of doing it.

Yoga in general and especially restorative yoga do something that many of us have a hard time doing for ourselves otherwise: moving out of fight-or-flight mode. We all need activity, rest, and sleep (and sleep doesn’t substitute for rest). In our busy lives, rest is usually the first thing to be discarded, followed by a full night’s sleep. We’re goin’ and blowin’ from the time we get up until we hit the pillow at night, reacting to crises large and small, and maybe, if we’re lucky or plan for it, slowing down a little at lunch or after we get home from work.

Years of this will take a toll. A two-week-per-year vacation is not enough. We need to rest every single day.

The human body has an autonomic (meaning automatic) nervous system with two branches, sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). Yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us, aids in digestion, stimulates sexual arousal, broadens our perspective, and restores energy.  

These branches of the nervous system allow us to survive (sympathetic) and thrive (parasympathetic).

The problem is that the sympathetic nervous system is activated a whole lot more now than it was back when the occasional saber-toothed tiger came our way. Survival has gotten complex. Slamming on the brakes in rush-hour traffic, working at and keeping a high-pressure job,  and juggling family responsibilities with work can leave us depleted.

Restorative yoga slows you way down. Way down. For 90 minutes. You do very little, except change poses every once in a while. Oh, and chant OM and maybe do some breathing exercises at the start.

It’s a way to commit to getting some rest into your life.

In a restorative class, I bring props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks. Maybe eye pillows, depending on the class size. We set the props up for each pose and then lie on them passively, holding the poses for anywhere from a minute to 15 minutes.

Time and gravity do the work of relaxing the muscles. If you want to quiet your mind as well, bring your attention to the sensations of breathing. Notice the rhythm, evenness, length, temperature, sound, movement, location, and so on.

Even though it is called restorative yoga, no yoga experience is required. The only requirement is the desire to relax deeply.

How long has it been since you relaxed deeply while awake? What do you remember about that state? Could you use more of that?

Recovering from a virus, recovering from adrenal exhaustion

I awoke sick Saturday morning with a sore throat. I thought maybe it was strep throat. Drank lemon echinacea Throat Coat tea, sprayed a throat numbing liquid, and took two Alleves. Ate breakfast.

As the day progressed, I began to feel achy and chilled. Not much nasal congestion, and my throat became less sore, so it was probably not a cold. Pretty sure this was some type of influenza. The first battle of an invader with the immune system takes place in the tonsils, right? They fought hard, thank you very much, but were overpowered by a virus.

Sigh. Who knows how long this will last?

I did whatever I could think of to boost my immune system. I drank Tulsi tea, then made tea from fresh ginger steeped in hot filtered water and drank that. I ate a clove of garlic. (Slice thinly and swallow quickly, don’t chew.)

I did EFT three times. I did the thymus thump several times. I took three long naps. I had no appetite at all but stayed hydrated with the teas and water.

I finally remembered I owned a thermometer and took my temperature Saturday night. It was 102.2 degrees F.

That evening was the worst of it. I couldn’t lie still. Kept needing to flex and point my feet and circle my ankles, changing position often. Weird, huh? All I can figure out is that these movements were activating meridians (several of which begin or end at the feet) and moving lymph.

(Lymph is a fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells. The lymphatic system clears the toxins, waste, and other stuff  your body no longer needs. It’s a key part of the body’s immune system. Since the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump, it works better when you take measures to help it circulate: by moving the body, dry-brushing, and lymphatic drainage, a type of light massage.)

I’ve learned in my studies of trauma recovery to allow the body to move as it needs to, unless it’s dangerous. So on with the foot movements.

Sunday morning I felt a bit better. Took my temperature twice that day, 99 in a.m., 100 in p.m. Aches and chills were gone, and my appetite came back somewhat later in the day, but my energy was low. I decided to stay home yesterday (Monday), believing that resting would speed my full recovery.

It seems I had a mini-virus, a two-day bout of illness. I have no idea if what I did shortened the duration of it, or if it would have been a 48-hour bug no matter what. You’d need a scientific experiment with a control group to determine that, and there could still be variables unaccounted for.

Still, it just feels better to know that I did what I could to strengthen my immune system.

Today (Tuesday) my temperature was normal. I went out and did a few things that couldn’t be postponed (I’m moving on Friday, after all), but I still feel weak and not quite back to myself.  I’m accustomed to feeling well and having a nice level of energy.

I have so much to do this week, it’s imperative that I recover quickly. I need to clean out my shed, get boxes, pack, and work three days this week. I need to get well. I made an acupuncture appointment because it helps.

~~~

Postscript, July 9, 2012. Hindsight is such a great teacher, bringing the gifts of perspective and insight.

When I look back on the time when I originally wrote this post a year and a half ago, I can see that I was stressed. I was selling my house, moving, and starting a new contract job. That’s when I got sick.

Stress weakens the immune system. If it goes on too long, you can suffer from adrenal depletion or exhaustion.

That happened to me this spring. I had just just studied for and passed the national certification exam for massage and bodywork, not exercising or resting enough, and I was stressing about money and work. A friend suddenly showed distinct signs of mental illness, which freaked me out. I experienced a fight-or-flight reaction, which means the adrenals are producing copious amounts of stress hormones that keep the sympathetic nervous system dominant.

I took different contract job at a technology company, working in a group that was experiencing a lot of chaos, with an hour-long commute. Much more stress and misery.

No wonder, when I saw my acupuncturist after the job ended, she told me I was suffering from adrenal exhaustion.

She advised me to take over-the-counter high quality rhodiola and eleuthero as directed on the bottles to recover from the adrenal exhaustion. I’ve been doing that for about a month now, and I feel much better. (These are also listed on my Products I Recommend page.)

As a massage therapist, I recommend frequent massage to help the body release stress and tension. A relaxing massage helps the nervous system begin to regulate itself again instead of being stuck in sympathetic mode, which helps you recover from stress more quickly and experience the deep relaxation (and strong immune system, better digestion, better sleep, stronger sex drive, more playful attitude) that occur when the parasympathetic nervous system comes back online. I also recommend Epsom salt baths for stress relief.

Related: See my post about preventing illness and recovering quickly.