1. Check in with your breath.
There are three primary ways to breathe:
1) with your diaphragm
2) with your belly
3) with the accessory muscles of your neck and shoulders.
The most natural and relaxing way to breathe is Diaphragmatic Breathing, but most of us are using the other two, less effective, ways for oxygen exchange. When you breathe with your diaphragm, the intercostal muscles between the ribs do their proper job of helping the ribcage expand. As you inhale, the respiratory and pelvic diaphragms should move downward, like a piston, and with each exhale draw upward. This way of breathing fills your lungs and keeps the nervous system calm and happy.
Unless you had a traumatic birth, you were likely born breathing with your diaphragm. Breathing patterns can be changed over time through the following:
- During pregnancy, the liver, stomach, and lungs move up into the thoracic cage as baby grows. This can cause the ribs to thrust up and out.
- Injuries, car accidents, and other traumas can leave you in a state of hyper-arousal, or a chronic fight-or-flight state.
- Restrictions at the diaphragm, ribs, chest and thoracic spine can limit the expansion of your ribs.
- Finally, feeling chronically stressed-out can tax your nervous system and cause you to take shallow chest breaths instead of deep, relaxing breaths with your diaphragm.
Restoring proper breath starts with awareness. Then, retraining can begin. Try this Breath Awareness & Retraining Exercise to get started. You’ll be guided through a short exercise that includes seeing, feeling, and hearing your breath and using it to help you feel better.
2. Use Your Imagination.
Have you ever daydreamed about something or imagined yourself taking certain steps to reach a goal? Some Olympic athletes use visualization to rehearse in preparation of their sporting events, but you don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from this type of internal imagery. Can you picture yourself feeling better? Perhaps you miss hiking, walking with friends, swimming, or being able to drive the long distance to visit your grandchildren. If pain is limiting you from certain activities, start imaging yourself feeling well again. What would you be doing? How would you feel? Bring in all your senses and imagine as many details as you can. Really feel it in your body. Picture yourself happy and peaceful and active again. Set a date to reach your goal. Repeat this process on a daily (or frequent) basis and see how your body starts to respond.
3. Get moving.
Try a walking meditation, in which you go outside and walk with the sole purpose of feeling your body and paying attention to every detail around you. Slow down and really pay attention to how your legs feet with each step. Notice your weight shifting from your heel to the ball of your foot to your toes. How do your arms feel swinging back and forth. Pay attention to your breath going in and out. What’s the temperature of the air around you? Take in the feel of the wind on your cheeks and the sun on your face. If your mind starts to wander and you get distracted, keep bringing your attention back to the feel of your body. This type of mindful movement can ground you in the present time and can help you feel more settled in your body.
It’s all about feeling.
Something I like to do personally and also teach my patients to do is Myofascial Self-Unwinding. It’s a form of therapeutic movement where you relax the mind and allow the body to self-correct through movement. It’s something I teach in my small group classes, like the Release Pain Workshop Series. I had a former student tell me it’s been so helpful for her that for the past two years it’s been the primary way she has managed her aches and pains. Get started with this short video on Myofascial Unwinding.
4. Stay Connected.
As you feel an emotion, stay connected to what you’re feeling in your body. Where do you feel the emotion? If you can identify what you’re feeling, put it into words and then notice where it lands in your body. You’ll establish a stronger sense of body awareness. When you’re aware of your body, you’re in a better position to notice when you’re overdoing things, when you need to rest, when you should speak up for yourself, when you need some alone time, or anything else.
It may take time and practice for this one.
If you keep bringing awareness to your body and the sensations it gives you, then you’ll learn to identify how to best care for yourself. Pretty soon you may notice that your neck tension is driven by your sense of over-achievement. Or you may notice that your shoulder pain is connected to the heartache from arguing with your friend. Try this Body Scan Meditation I created to help you get in touch with the feeling sense of your body.
5. Release Yourself.
Try using a small inflatable ball (yes, like the one your kid has in the toy box) to gently release the soft tissue of your body. A 6-8” ball that is slightly deflated works best. Find an area of your body that is tense, painful, tight, or where you feel disconnected from. Lie or sit on the ball and allow your body to drape over the ball for 3-5 minutes (or longer if it feels right) until you feel a softening occur.
The soft connective tissue, called fascia, is believed to bind down and get sticky in spots (called cross-links) in response to inflammation, injury, and trauma, creating up to 2000# of pressure on pain-sensitive structures. Don’t worry, though; it can be released with gentle, sustained pressure. Don’t put a lot of effort into making your body do anything in particular. Simply allow the ball to press into those areas of your body that need some TLC and notice any sensations, whether they be physical (heat, cold, ache, numbness, tingling) or emotional (fear, sadness, joy, laughter). As your body responds to the pressure of the ball, you have better access to the information stored in the fascial system that got stuck due to past events. Just feel it and then let it go.
Here’s a video I created to get you started: What’s with the Small Ball?
6. Get Treated.
Last, but certainly not least, is the thing that will take the guess-work out of all the above: treatment by a professional. A specially trained Physical Therapist can help you jumpstart your healing process and guide you to connect with your mind-body complex. Traditional Physical Therapists often aren’t trained in the holistic, whole-body approach of true Myofascial Release as taught by John F Barnes. This method of looking at you as a whole addresses the unique strain patterns of your body. Your therapist will guide you to authentic healing through gentle hands-on treatment, retraining, and providing valuable information that will help you feel better and move easier.
Visit the MFR Directory to find a therapist in your area. Another professional to consult is a local Mental Health Provider. Particularly one who works closely with a physical therapist or massage therapist that can treat your body and help you uncover the information that is stored in your body’s tissues.
Give these tips a try and you’ll be on your way to feeling better in no time!
Visit our website for more information on Self-Healing Workshops, to Inquire about Cost and Availability of our Services, or to Request a Free Discovery Session with a specialist physical therapist.