Dear Diary … One Tool in Pain Management

Of course I picked a day I ate pretty healthy.

Of course I picked a day I ate pretty healthy.

Chronic Pain Management is something that I know a lot about – unfortunately it’s from first-hand experience.

One of the most important tools I used to manage my neck, shoulder and back pain after my surgery was a diary. Not a pour your heart out, stash under your bed, with a lock and key, Bridget Jones type of diary, but a small, spiral-bound notebook.

In this diary, I would write down each day what I ate, drank and did. Nothing fancy or that took any length of time.

  • Breakfast:
  • Lunch:
  • Dinner:
  • Activities:
  • Pain Level: scale of 1 -10

Simple as that.

What this allowed me to do was notice triggers for my pain. I could look back on when I had horrible pain and see if I ate, drank or did anything that day, or the day or few days before, that made the intensity of my pain greater.

You’ll see in the photo that I ate pretty healthy that day but the day before I sat a lot at work and then went to the grocery store and lifted heavy grocery bags. Those are two no-no’s for me.

My Triggers

After about a month of doing this, I noticed a few things I did that were contributing to my pain.

Eating Sugary Sweets and Simple Carbs – Sugar is an inflammatory drug. More people are addicted to sugar than many other substances such as alcohol (which is mostly sugar) or other narcotics. Inflammation = pain.

Drinking Alcohol – I love wine. But wine is made from grapes which are, sugar, and will cause inflammation along with dehydration. As I learned with my favorite sweets, sugar, in any form, will cause inflammation and inflammation = pain.

Inactivity – the hardest thing to do when you’re in pain is move your body but it’s one of the most effective and quickest ways to get more oxygenated blood to the area of pain. When I was having really bad days right after I got out of the hospital, my sweet BF would take me for a short walk. Literally maybe 30 yards, just up and down my street. He knew I always felt a little better after. Or maybe it was just his TLC that made me feel better.

The Results

I had to change my diet. I had to reduce the amount of pasta, cookies, candy, ice cream – all of those comfort foods I was eating to feel better. They made me feel better for the 10 minutes I was eating them but the hours later, they spiked my pain. I still eat foods with sugar, but I limit my consumption of them and am more aware that for every cookie I eat, I’m going to feel it in my neck the next day.

I gave up drinking alcohol. Many times when I would’ve had a glass of wine with dinner or a drink after work, I drank herbal tea instead with no sweetener. When I do drink wine, I limit how much I drink; I hydrate well before and after and I make sure I’m not doing other things that will trigger my pain.

I gave up a sedentary life. Sitting all day at a desk, hunched over a computer or on the phone is probably the WORST thing I could’ve done for my recovery. I move even when I don’t think I can. I started a yoga teacher training program just six months after my surgery because I knew that moving would help me. There were so many times I was in agony but I kept on moving because I knew it would help make me stronger and healthier. I did a lot of restorative yoga which is very gentle movement. Also, I walked outside when the weather was nice.

These are strictly my results. What triggers you might be something else.

The pain diary also showed me that I was in control of my pain or well-being. There were things I was doing that contributed to my pain and other activities that decreased my pain. When you’re suffering from chronic pain, you often feel like everything is out of your control; that the pain is in control.

This diary showed me that I was still in control.

It takes time to learn to manage chronic pain. I’m still doing it. This is only one of many tools I used. I’ll share more in upcoming blog posts. But I’ve given you clues into other ways you can manage pain through my triggers.

What triggers your pain?

Are You Blooming?

clearance cactus

Two years ago, I bought a Christmas cactus from Lowe’s on the clearance rack for $1. I buy these half-dead, clearance plants because I love being able to save them, bring them back to life from the brink of death.

I brought this little green beauty home, fed it, watered it and took excellent care of it. But it never bloomed for me. Not even a little bud formed. Despite my TLC, I had failed this beautiful plant.

Strolling on the Internet one day, I found an article about Christmas cacti. After reading the article, I realized that way I’d been taking care of my little clearance cactus had been all wrong. I overwatered it in the summer. I kept it too hot in the summer and let it get too much light. I’m a great Spider plant mom, but not so great with the Christmas cactus. Not all plants are created equally!

After six weeks of proper care, my clearance cactus bloomed – beautiful white flowers with a hint of pink.

For many years, I was my little clearance cactus. I was taking what I thought was good care of myself. I was eating what I thought was a “healthy” diet. I was working out a lot. I was doing all of the things Western medicine told me were good. But I wasn’t blooming.

That’s when I found yoga, meditation and Ayurveda – one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine and now the most popular form of holistic healing in the US, thanks to physicians such as Deepak Chopra.

Though Ayurveda, I was able to assess my body type, Dosha, and understand my mind and my body better. I learned how my body and mind work so that I can properly take care of myself. For years, I wished humans came with an instruction manual like my car did. With Ayurveda, I found that there was such a manual.

I’m a Pitta dosha, which explains why I:

  • love food
  • suffer from skin issues such as Rosacea and Acne
  • get incredibly cranky when I’m hungry
  • will never be able to skip meals
  • love spicy food
  • why I’m food obsessed (so many bullets about food – YUM)
  • always have to be right
  • get irritated with the way all of you who are not me drive
  • love Zumba
  • wake up in the middle of the night worrying about work or money

These are all classic Pitta traits. Here I thought I was special.

Through Ayurveda, I’ve been able to establish a better routine for my life, including diet, yoga, exercise, meditation and sleeping patterns. I sleep much better through the night without any kind of sleeping aids. My skin is clear and people even compliment me on how my skin looks. I’ve let go of my need to be right and much of the stress in my life is gone. My need to be right was creating so much tension. I accept that I need to eat three meals a day and plan my schedule to accommodate that. I feel healthier and stronger than I have in years. I am blooming just like my little clearance cactus.

Are you ready to bloom? Are you ready to make changes to your life so you can bloom? If you would like to learn more about Ayurveda, let’s meet for tea.

Lessons Learned from Going Upside Down

crow-pose

If you go to enough yoga classes, you will eventually hear your teacher talk about Ahimsa, the practice of non-violence to self and others. This is one of the Yamas of Yoga as given to us from Patanjali, the person credited with founding yoga. The Yamas are a set of guidelines that explain how we as yogis should interact with the external world.

So what does non-violence to self or others mean? It means not harming yourself or others, but not just by how we traditionally think of “violence,” with guns or fists or other weapons. Violence can be surrounding yourself with people who belittle or demean you; eating processed, fried, chemical-laden food; or abusing alcohol or drugs. These are a few of the ways we are violent to ourselves.

Violence to self can also include your yoga practice. Often times in a class, a teacher will tell you to push to your edge but not go beyond. But how can you find your edge, if you don’t occasionally go past the edge?

I was violent to myself last night in my yoga teacher training program. As a yoga teacher in training, I of all people, should know better.

In last night’s class, we were learning how to do and teach inversion poses, handstand and crow pose. Both are poses that require a significant amount of upper body and core strength. I am still trying to gain back strength in my right arm that was offline for most of last year due to my surgery.

I did the best that I could in all of the poses but I wound up pushing beyond my edge and injuring myself. I imagine I’m not alone in that. Looking back, I should’ve walked out about halfway through the class.

But I stayed because of my ego, my desire to learn the required poses as part of our teacher training program; my need to conform to the group; my desire to please my teachers and not let them or myself down.

That’s the problem, when your ego starts making your decisions, you’re not following your true path. That’s another valuable life lesson from yoga. I have no plans to ever teach either of those poses. I prefer to teach classes that focus more on Restorative and Gentle yoga practices. I don’t believe in putting anyone into a pose that I myself cannot or will not do.

I learned a valuable lesson in Ahimsa last night. As I lay here today in horrible pain, I found and exceeded my edge and yoga and did violence to my body. Also, I allowed my ego to control my actions instead of listening to my heart.

Where do you do violence to yourself? Where do you go beyond your edge and allow your ego to control your actions?

It can be more difficult to follow your heart and practice Ahimsa. You can feel like your letting yourself or others down.

Do you have the strength to live with your heart and follow your true path? Can you practice Ahimsa?

 

My New Obsession – Yin Yoga

photo (2)

I am OBSESSED with Yin yoga. In all fairness, I’m pretty obsessed with all things yoga but Yin has really captured my heart and my body recently.

I’m a huge fan of Restorative yoga and all of the health benefits from that practice. But as I look to deepen my own yoga practice, I’ve been adding Yin to my mix.

Similar to Restorative, Yin yoga uses props such as bolsters, bricks and blankets to support the body and you hold the poses for several minutes, some up to 10 – 20 minutes. Where it differs from Restorative is that unlike Restorative yoga, where you’re looking for a gentle opening or release in the muscles, in Yin yoga, you’re going deep into the poses to create more space and work the bones, fascia and joints.

I am not a naturally bendy person. So flexibility in my body and mind are things I strive to achieve. My first class was super challenging. Not only did we do pigeon pose (my least favorite pose) – we held it for like five minutes on each leg. So 10 minutes of pigeon pose. I thought I was going to die at first. But as I listened to the cues from the amazing teacher, Deana, and focused on my breath, something wonderful happened. I moved deeper into pigeon pose than I ever had done before in any Hatha yoga class. Also, I became more comfortable in the pose and stopped struggling with it. I let go.

Leaving that class, I noticed that a lot of the shoulder tension (still very common for me after sitting at a desk all day) was mostly gone.

Yin yoga pushes me to an edge that I can’t find in a traditional Hatha yoga class because my body needs more time in certain poses because I’m still recovering from my injuries and healing my body.

So as I continue down my healing path to happiness, I am definitely incorporating more Yin into my life. I even bought a book I was recommended about Yin. As I read more of it, I will share with you.

Where do you need to find an edge in your life? Does your edge need to punish you or could you allow it to nurture your body, your spirit, your soul? Can you allow yourself to just relax into something and not “work” to make it happen? Can you embrace your Yin?