A Little Wet Behind the Ears

The term hydrotherapy itself is synonymous with the term water cure as it was originally marketed by practitioners and promoters in the 19th century. A hydrotherapist therefore, is someone who practices hydrotherapy. Needless to say, the hydrotherapy that I am talking about is NOT the form of torture in which a person is forced to drink large quantities of water. I am talking about a course of medical treatment.

Firstly, I LOVE my warm water classes. Just stepping into the water (which is a gorgeous 32-34 degrees celsius) is heaven! Most of the pain just dissolves away, like sugar in hot tea. A lot of the time, I am tempted just to float around for an hour, absorbing the warmth into my bones, listening to the lapping of the pool and meditating (I have been told off for that – sometimes the leaders think you have died if you are too still for too long!)

Ok, I’m here to exercise. Every fibromyalgia expert will tell you that exercise is an essential component of any fibromyalgia treatment program.  However, most of us complain – with valid reason – that exercise is difficult and painful.  This is where Warm Water classes come in. The warmth of the water provides several benefits that make exercise easier, less painful and more effective.

  • Water’s buoyancy decreases the effects of gravity, displacing 85 per cent of your weight.  As a result, it takes less effort to move because you don’t have to support your whole weight.
  • The buoyancy of the water also takes the weight off your joints, allowing for more flexibility (surprisingly, I can stretch my legs up further and higher).
  • The hydrostatic pressure of water reduces joint swelling and inflammation, which makes exercising easier and less painful.
  • Water provides resistance, which helps you increase strength and improve balance. The resistance factor also burns more calories.  An exercise done in water can burn twice as many calories as the same exercise done on land.
  • Immersion in water promotes relaxation, reduces muscle fatigue and lessens pain perception.

In the water, all of a sudden, you feel like you can do all the things you used to do! You can work at your own pace to gradually improve joint mobility, muscle strength and general health and fitness.

I used to go to ‘special’ classes held by Arthritis Victoria. Water exercise programs can be done on an individual basis or in a class.  While individual programs are custom designed to meet your specific needs, classes are far less expensive and can be just as effective (unless you have a special need that cannot be addressed in a group setting).  An added benefit to exercising with a group is the opportunity to interact with other people and make new friends. The classes are run by volunteer leaders who have been trained appropriately. During my first term, I went to an under 55/back class. The class was fun, had music and everyone chatted; but it was further from my home. the second term, I started going to another class (closer) but all the fun was gone! Needless to say, I went back to the first one. So lesson one – if you don’t enjoy the first class you go to, try another one!

You do not need to know how to swim (although you may be more comfortable if you can) as hydrotherapy pools are not deep. Also many of the exercises are done with flotation devices. We do a series of exercises, with a floatie-thing around our necks and a buoyancy belt around our waists – there is NO way that you are going to drown! Some of the exercises involve wrapping your arms around the side of the pool and floating, and then stretching your legs in a series of moves – cycling, frog jumps, stretches. Then we turn it around so our feet are holding onto the edge, and we exercise our arms – it may be just moving a plastic soda bottle around, against the weight of the water; or stretching. Everything gets moved, exercised and stretched. The great part is that it doesn’t feel like exercise.

What You Should Know Before Beginning a Water Exercise Program

As with any exercise program, check with your doctor before beginning any kind of water exercise.  There are some patients for whom water exercise is not recommended.

Find a program with a qualified instructor.  Your local Arthritis Foundation and YMCA are good places to start looking.  You might also ask your doctor or physical therapist for a recommendation.

Ask about the temperature of the pool.  Since most people with fibromyalgia are very sensitive to cold, the closer the pool’s temperature is to body temperature, the more comfortable you will be.  However, do not attempt to exercise in a hot tub without your doctor’s permission.  Just sitting in water that hot can raise your blood pressure.  Exercising in hot water can be extremely dangerous.

Start slowly, exercising no more than 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week.  Gradually increase your time until you are working out 45 minutes to an hour.

Don’t overdo it.  Exercising in the water can be deceptive.  Because you don’t feel like you’re straining, it is easy to do too much without realising it.  Until you have a few sessions under your belt and know how you feel after working out, take it easy.  Any time you feel tired, stop exercising and relax in the water or leave the pool.

Do not try to push through the pain.  If you experience new or increased pain, stop. For us, pushing through the pain is a definite No-No!

If a particular exercise is causing you pain, stop and talk to your instructor.  There may be an alternative way of doing the exercise or you may just need to sit that one out.

Relax, have fun and enjoy your newfound freedom of movement in the water!

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Change of Mind

thinkingMind power is a phrase we hear constantly and most of us acknowledge its importance but we really have no idea of the infinite capacity of our minds. We only use 10% (and my 10% is full!) and the rest is hidden, even from us. The remaining 90% is subconscious which means we only have the rest to ‘think’ with.

That 10% can be used for conscious mind power, the kind we can make use of on a daily basis to make our lives more dynamic and rewarding.

To harness mind power, we need conscious awareness and choice.

Meditation

This doesn’t have to be formal. Anything which stills the mind and helps us connect to our inner selves counts as meditation. The more we relate to our higher wisdom, the better we can de-clutter the rubbish from our minds and the desires of our hearts. I watched Elementary last night, where Holmes is forced to go to Rehab meetings…even he said that we have a finite amount of space in our brain, so we shouldn’t fill it with rubbish!67. meditationYou can meditate to music, a beautiful scene, a colour, a guide. All you need is to relax and feel the silence within. Insights will come and, hopefully, a sense of calm and peace. You can use this time to visualise a person, situation or object you desire. Visualisation is very powerful and is a wonderful way to harness mind power. By seeing yourself in a future scenario but feeling it as achieved, you bring the desired closer. Although using mind power is about focus and concentration, so is meditation and the latter is an effective way to practise these skills. Both need discipline.

The more in tune you are with your higher self, the better you will manage your life in every area. Tuning into your intuition is vital for mental health and a happy life because your brain is full of faulty information and your emotions will lead you astray but your inner wisdom is always pure and right. If you sit quietly and ask, you will get answers. The mind is not your brain. The mind has many aspects and by trusting the instinctive messages you receive when meditating, you will feel the power you have at your disposal. The more you learn and practise, the more you will trust it and see proof of its positive impact on your life. The clearer your mind, the better will be your choices, feelings, decisions. The mind regulates your emotions as well. A lot of people don’t know that. That’s why they say they can’t help how they feel. Actually, we can decide how we want to feel and how we want to react to that feeling. Surely knowing why we do things is crucial – our conscious choice – rather than lurching from one self-defeating act to another.

Affirmations

Positive statements to affirm the life we want are a very powerful tool because they literally change our minds. Decide which area of your life is not working for you then write yourself an affirmation that you can use as a mantra. Say it faithfully without judgement or expectation and results will begin to show in your tangible reality. A lot of people give up after saying an affirmation for a week or two because nothing appears to be changing but that’s where faith comes in.

Before we can understand how to use affirmations to effect positive change in our lives, we need to grasp the role of conditioning and the mind’s power. Right from when we first come into the world and start to operate as part of a family, initially and then in the wider society, we absorb words, attitudes, ideas, thoughts, feelings and energies from all around us. Sad to say, many of these will be negative as we live in a fear-based society. Many of our well-worn adages are created from a fear of lack and loss, such as “Money doesn’t grow on trees”, or “Waste not, want not.” I’m not saying these proverbs aren’t true, but they engender negative ideas which form our sense of reality. This early conditioning stays with us all through our lives and just think about how many social ills can be traced back to these beliefs – racism, sexism, ageism, bigotry of all kinds, discrimination, limitation thinking, all kinds of fear, addictions, self-hatred, hatred, violence, crime and, of course, war. Now try to imagine a world in which positive affirmations form the basis for our belief systems and think how different things would be. If you’re already thinking this is “too good to be true”, there’s another negative belief! What about “Life wasn’t meant to be easy”? Life was meant to be to be easy – if we would only let it be.

Okay, we can’t cure the world’s problems, but we can do something about our own individual lives and, hopefully, influence others positively in the process. What I’m suggesting is that if we can learn negative thoughts in childhood, through the attitudes of our parents, teachers, friends and everyone around us, we can just as easily learn positive ideas, or, in the case of adults, we have to unlearn first. We can achieve both processes at once by using positive affirmations to wipe out the old negative ideas, replacing them with new fresh ones of our own choosing.

For an affirmation to be effective, you need the following conditions:

  • use the first person singular, “I”, when saying them
  • only use the present tense
  • they must be said with conviction and repeated often
  • they must be specific
  • write your own if possible and keep to one area at a time
  • phrase them simply

Here’s an example of how you might put these rules into effect. Let’s say you want more money in your life; it’s no good saying the words, “more money would be good” as that just constitutes a wish. For it to be an affirmation and for it to work, you need to use “I”, then put it definitely in the present and say how much you want but phrasing it as if you already have it. So it would be, “I have $50 more a week in my pay packet”, or “I have $2000 in my savings account.” It’s no use just saying, for instance, “I have more money” as you might then trip over a five cent coin which would fulfil your affirmation! You might have to repeat your affirmation like a mantra for months or even years, depending on how much pre-conditioning you have to break down first (I have been using ‘I am skinny and beautiful’ off and on for years – I’m still hoping my mind catches on to this!). Others might change your life overnight. This also tells you a lot about which ones are your most entrenched beliefs.

You need to suspend your cynicism, impatience and attachment to outcomes if you are to work successfully with affirmations. You might feel silly at first, saying, “I am a wealthy person” when you know quite definitely you are not! But by saying this statement over and over, you are changing your thoughts in this area of your life and the reality of your life will also begin to change.

old-lady-wheel-chair-ballerinaPick the issue you want to work on most urgently then write an affirmation of your own that suits the need. Keep saying it constantly – in the shower, in the car, as you’re cooking, all the time. Out loud is best but when not possible, run it in your mind. Affirmations don’t have to be in the form of words. You can affirm in mind pictures which is more like creative visualisation and that works very well for some people. You can also live your life as one extended affirmation, by actions and thoughts in general which enhance your blossoming beliefs.

Affirmations require faith and self-love but most of all, deservability. Without these components, you cannot change your life for the better. You can also say group affirmations such as “My family is well and happy.”

Here are some areas of life that can improve with the help of affirmations:

  • Health: “I have a body that works perfectly.”
  • Job: “My job is enjoyable and pays me well.”
  • Money: “I have all the money I need every day.”
  • Relationships: “All my relationships are positive and joyful.”
  • Future: “My future is bright and safe.”
  • Life: “My life is continual bliss.”

These are generic ones that you can use to make a start but if you have a specific issue such as a particular relationship that needs healing, write an affirmation for it such as, “My daughter and I get along beautifully together” or “My boss values my work.” The more you affirm that your life is good, the more it will be. It’s about taking responsibility for your own life and making choices about the way you want that life to be.

Manifesting

One of the clearest ways to see the effects of positive mind power is in the area of manifesting. We hear a lot these days about “the laws of attraction” and how they can be used to manifest our conscious and subconscious desires. It works best for me when I think of something I want then forget about it. It just turns up in its own time. When we try to control the “how” and the “when”, it doesn’t seem to work, perhaps because we’re not letting go and letting the Universe do its job. Positivity involves trust in Self and the goodness of life. Synchronicity cannot be controlled. It’s magic and to connect to it, just set your mind to getting what you want then let go.

Using visualisation and affirmations, you can, of course, manifest more deliberately but still it’s no use holding your breath waiting for the Universe to deliver. Attachment to outcomes can actually delay the very thing we want, not to mention that we don’t always want what’s good for us! Stay positive no matter how long you need to wait and it will come.

Positive Thinking

think

Using the power of your mind, you can turn negative into positive, whether it’s in the form of worrying, bad habits, addictions, toxic behaviour or unhealthy relationships. All these can be turned around by sheer will and determination.

There’s a lot of myth surrounding this philosophy. It’s not about burying your head in the sand and saying everything is wonderful. It’s about finding the gift within the unpleasant, the tragic, the disappointing and so on. There’s always a gift – always – sometimes very obvious, sometimes hidden. Seek and you shall find!

You can also manifest your wishes, be healthier and happier, feel empowered and make positive choices in your life. This only requires the confidence that comes with exercising your immense power both in your mind and in your soul. Something is only good or bad because you think it’s so. When confronted with hurt, betrayal, loss, illness or anything else you don’t like, decide it’s okay and it will be.

I think I can! I think I can!

I think I can! I think I can!

You have huge power that is accessible every day of your life, in good times and challenging times. There are many ways to harness this power and make it work for you. The benefits are huge. No matter what your nature is, you can achieve a positive mental attitude by deciding that’s what you want then practising every day to reach that goal.

As Donald Trump says, “If you have to think, think big.”

The Reflex

You know that absolutely wonderful thing, that gorgeous men/women who love/lust after/appreciate a woman do, which makes us squirm, sigh, shriek and purr? The thing that we don’t really talk about yet still can’t get enough of? That thing that gives us such a guilty pleasure that we can’t even watch our beautiful partner perform the act?

Well, I had that same sort of guilty pleasure (although not nearly as pleasurable) today.

Her name is Amy – no! I haven’t turned – Amy is the student therapist who performed my reflexology treatment. I want her to spend every night with me – then she will be there in the morning to do amazing, mind-blowing things to my feet!

WHAT? you say…it doesn’t even compare! Let me tell you that there are a myriad of similarities: latex (in this case, gloves), lubrication, pleasure and guilt, while trying to enjoy the entire process while a young-ish girl massaged my feet. Comparable to the act I described earlier, I couldn’t actually watch her performing the massage – it just felt wrong.

Reflexology is a wonderfully relaxing therapy that works on many levels, soothing, calming, balancing and boosting your entire body. Reflexology is based on the principle that certain parts of the body reflect the whole. Reflex points, which relate to all parts of the body, can be found in the feet, hands, face and ears. These points respond to pressure, stimulating the body’s own natural healing process. The body starts progressively clearing blockages, re-establishing energy flows and balancing itself, resulting in better health. There are many different styles and approaches used in reflexology, however the basic principle is constant. Subtle yet powerful, reflexology is becoming increasingly popular in the world of complementary therapies.

As a therapy, reflexology is not invasive – only the feet, and/or hands and ears are worked (we only did my feet). It is deeply relaxing yet surprisingly energizing – all part of its balancing capacity. You may feel you are being pampered during a reflexology session but do not underestimate the powerful effects this treatment can have on all of your body systems.

All body systems benefit from reflexology but you immediately notice the effect on your circulation, nervous and lymphatic systems in particular. My feet are tingling – and not the yucky FM pins and needles feeling, it’s my blood coursing through all the bits that feel like they normally get detoured.

Reflexology can address all of our particular needs: painful, congested, sluggish or overactive states within the body can be balanced and normalised. A Chinese survey of 8,096 case studies noted a 94% effective or significantly effective rate.

Stress and Anxiety

Lessening of stress and anxiety is demonstrated in twenty-nine reflexology studies with study participants including healthy individuals, senior citizens, women and cancer patients. The stimulation of reflexology’s pressure techniques creates change in the body’s basic level of tension as demonstrated by research showing that reflexology relaxes the body using a variety of measurements: brain waves (EEG), blood pressure, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, pulse rate, and anxiety.

Lessening of Pain

Reduction of pain is a significant result of reflexology work. The lessening of pain in response to reflexology is documented in thirty-six studies including individuals of all ages and health states: birthing mothers, menstruating women, phantom limb pain sufferers, lower back pain sufferers, cancer patients, kidney stone patients, senior citizens and individuals with pain resulting from surgery. Such results find explanation is what researcher Dr Nancy Stephenson considers as an effect on the neuromatrix of the brain, an expansion of the Fate Control Theory of Pain. According to Wikipedia: Gate control theory asserts that activation of nerves which do not transmit pain signals, called nonnociceptive fibers, can interfere with signals from pain fibres, thereby inhibiting pain. Stimulating nerves that sense touch, heat, cold and pressure – as does reflexology – overcomes the action of the pain nerves. (YIPPEE!!!!)

Cancer Care

Twenty-four studies conducted by nurses in ten countries show that reflexology helps with each stage of the cancer experience: following chemotherapy, post-operatively, management of symptoms and during palliative/hospice care. Research demonstrates that cancer patients who receive reflexology work show significant improvements in physical and emotional symptoms: lessened pain, anxiety, depression and stress; reduced nausea and vomiting; lowered fatigue and improved quality of life.

Thousands of documented case studies from around the world have demonstrated benefits for:

  • PMT
  • Migraine
  • Sinus
  • Colic
  • Menopause
  • Constipation/Diarrhoea
  • Back Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Sciatica
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Asthma
  • Stroke
  • Menstrual Irregularities

As my reflexology massage was not the ‘official’ kind, I had a half hour session. If you attend a ‘real’ session, it will usually last about an hour depending on your age and state of health. First sessions tend to be longer as the practitioner needs to take a case history prior to any treatment.

The exact number of sessions required depends upon several factors including the condition being addressed and the healing response of the individual. A minimum of 3-4 sessions are usually recommended, however chronic conditions may take longer to respond.

As blockages clear and the body reaches a state of balance, the sessions would be cut back to fortnightly, monthly or whenever the client feels the need. It is generally recommended that sessions should be at least a few days apart to allow the body time to adjust to the changes that are taking place as toxins released from congested systems are processed and eliminated.

A Ray(-ki) of Sunshine

I have a friend who I met at high school. We weren’t great friends then, but I knew her. When I started working at the casino, I met up with her again.

Now, we have both left the casino; and I have eagerly embraced her yoga-teaching, reiki-practising, kinda-hippy, relaxed friendship. She is a wonderful addition to my support network – she offers unrivalled understanding and support; she reads all the things that I send her about FM, my blog and my Facebook page (unlike most of my family); and she puts up with shopping trips with me (even though she HATES shopping!)

This friend, Thais and I keep talking about having regular yoga and reiki sessions, except that each time she comes over, we get distracted. I have no idea by what; I guess it’s just stuff that friends talk about.

But sometimes, and not often enough, she treats me with reiki. Reiki is a treatment in which healing energy is channelled from Thais to me, to enhance energy and reduce stress, pain, & fatigue. It is supposed to work by opening up a channel between healer and patient to transfer energy, and restore the body both physically and mentally.

By ‘laying on hands’ on specific parts of your body or even just positioning hands slightly above your body, a qualified Reiki practitioner can help bring relief to your chronic pain and make you feel better than you have in years. It is an ancient Japanese technique, also called ‘biofield’ therapy.

During a reiki session, muscles are relaxed, and energy flow is unblocked. This helps reduce physical tension and pain. Anxiety and stress also are reduced, helping to unblock and release emotional pain. Although you may not be completely pain-free, you feel relaxed, refreshed, and better able to cope with your condition.

A number of reiki clinical trials was recently reviewed by the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, which concluded that there was strong evidence that biofield therapies help reduce the intensity of pain in general.

No serious side effects or risks have been identified in the medical literature on reiki, and it is considered to be a very low-risk intervention. Since reiki is facilitated either with a very light touch or with no touch — slightly off the body — it provides a therapeutic option for those who are in pain or unable to be touched – that would be some of us.

Sounds too good to be true? I can only tell you about my experience. When Thais and I do finally get round to trying some out, I always feel deeply calm and relaxed (in fact, we want to try to reiki me to sleep one night and see if it helps with the quality of my sleep). I don’t know if this is just because Thais is a calming influence to be around at any time, or if she is actually channelling her energies into me.

Has any-one else had some experience with reiki? Perhaps with a practitioner that they did not know personally (for a less biased opinion)?

Oh, So Quiet…

A University of Sydney study of more than 350 long-term meditators, defined as those who have meditated regularly for at least 2 years, points to improved health outcomes and greater well-being  The area of greatest difference between the meditators and the general population was in mental health where the meditators scored 10% higher. And the most significant factor appears to be how frequently the meditators achieved a state of mental silence.

I don’t know about all of you (although I think I have an idea) but I love silence…although achieving mental silence (stopping all those thoughts running round and round in my head) seems impossible.

“We found that the health and well-being profile of people who had meditated for at least 2 years was significantly higher in the majority of health and well-being categories when to compared to the Australian population,” said Dr Ramesh Manocha, Senior Lecturer in the discipline of Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney, who led the research.

He worked with Prof. Deborah Black, Sydney medical School and Dr Leigh Wilson, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University.

The national study is a world first health quality-of-life survey of long-term meditators. It used the same measurement instruments as the ones used by the federal government’s National Health and Well-being Survey.

While we did expect that there would be differences between the meditators and the general population, we didn’t expect the findings to be so pronounced.

“We focused on the definition of meditation as mental silence and surveyed practitioners of Sahaja Yoga meditation who practice a form of meditation aimed at achieving this state rather than relaxation or mindfulness methods that are usually the focus of other forms,” said Dr Manocha.

The meditators were asked how often they experienced ‘mental silence’ for more than a few minutes at any one time.

Fifty two per cent of respondents said they experienced ‘mental silence’ several times per day or more, while thirty-two per cent were experiencing it once or twice a day.

Most markedly there was a robust relationship between the frequency of experiencing mental silence and better mental health. This definition is based on it being the form of meditation practised for centuries.

Our analysis showed very little relation-ship between how often the person physically sat down to meditate and mental health scores. However, the relationship was clearly apparent in relation to how often they experienced the state of mental silence. In other words, it is quality over quantity”.

meditation

Need a Hand?


I’ve been in pain all day – does that actually surprise anyone?

Back to the point, the pain in my cheek and the spots above my eyes have been intolerable despite numerous pain killers and soothing eye masks…. then, idiot that I can be when fibro fog enters my brain, I realised that my rehab physio told me about some self-treatment for the area. It’s still not my first thought when it comes to pain treatment but I’m working on it and I find that it can help – it doesn’t take it all away but it soothes it, like tucking it into bed with a blanket and letting it relax.

The muscle that affects this area is called the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). It is a muscle of the neck so-named because it originates on the sternum (sterno) and the clavicle (cleido) and inserts on the mastoid process (mastoid) which is an easily located bony prominence behind the ear. The muscles pass diagonally across the front and side of the neck beginning at the top of the sternum and ending behind the ear. This two-sided muscle is large and ropy, making it the most prominent muscle visible at the front of the neck.

There is rarely pain present in the SCMs themselves but they have the potential to refer a large amount of pain to areas of the head, face, throat, and sternum (see all those red dots and marks in the picture to the left).

Trigger points in the sternal branch of the SCM can cause deep pain around the eyes, headaches behind the ear, at the top of the head, and over the eye (sound familiar?). They may cause pain in the pharynx (throat) and the tongue when swallowing, giving you a “sore throat.” They may also contribute to temporomandibular joint (jaw) pain along with the muscles of mastication.

Dizziness or balance problems, nausea, fainting, lacrimation (excess tear production,) blurred vision, eyelid jerking or droopy eyelid and visual disturbances have all been claimed to be a possible result of trigger points along the SCM.  A host of other systemic symptoms such as cold sweat on the forehead, distorted weight perception, excess mucus in sinuses, nasal cavities and throat, and chronic cough have also been attributed to them.

So what is it that I’ve been told to do?

Self-massage

  • Lay back flat on a cushion.
  • Find the spot (with the opposite hand) behind your ear where the muscle begins. For example: use your right hand to find the top of the muscle behind your left ear (this means that you’re not putting excess pressure on your left shoulder by scrunching it up).
  • Put some cream on the fingers (not too much as it’s just to make the massage movement easier). It doesn’t really matter what type of cream you use.
  • Then follow the muscle down (it runs diagonally) until you get to the bottom of it, at those clavicle bones.
  • Basically, rub your fingers up and down (slowly, and DO NOT use a circular motion) that muscle (at the most 10 times).
  • Use only as much pressure as you can tolerate. If you feel any pain or dizziness, reduce the pressure.
  • Then do the other side.

Initially, it may be extremely painful and may even bring on the referred pain symptoms, such as a headache. But the pain should get better quickly upon subsequent sessions and referred pain symptoms should begin to subside almost immediately. I have been told to do this daily.

Stretching

To stretch and strengthen this muscle, move your head sideways (your ear towards your shoulder) then look at your underarm. Hold that position for 5 seconds (working up to 10 seconds). Do 10 of these on each side (you can alternate or do one side at a time – it doesn’t matter).

I hope some of you find this helpful (and that you can follow my directions).

Puppy Power

I’m getting a new library dog.

What’s a library dog? you ask. I can’t afford to keep a dog: I can’t afford the food, I can’t afford potential vet bills, and I can’t be relied upon to be healthy enough to look after a (normal) dog. But a library dog is a dog that I get but have to return later. And, SEDA pays ALL the bills. How cool is that!

Well, yes…I have to train him to poo on command and walk on a leash but, you know…

Animals provide unconditional love without judging you for having a medical condition that most people don’t understand. And a new study shows that my part-time library dog may still let me to reap the benefits of pet therapy.

In fact, Dawn Marcus, M.D., the lead author of this study, suggests that the impact of a visit, as short as 10 – 15 minutes, with a therapy-trained dog significantly reduced the pain severity in FM patients. Further, all measures including fatigue, stress level, calmness, and cheerfulness improved, not just pain. Slightly longer visits tended to produce better results, of course, but not all of us can own a dog.

During a 10 – 15 minute period prior to their doctor’s appointment, 84 patients received pet therapy and another 49 FM patients just spent the time in the waiting room. A short questionnaire before and after the therapy service or wait time was used to detect symptom differences.

Animal-assisted therapy is a complementary approach to helping people with a wide range of medical conditions. Pets are often dogs trained to be obedient, calm, and comforting, and visits are typically provided through volunteer services at healthcare settings. Obviously, animals can be stress-relieving, but studies also show they boost the body’s production of pain-fighters and immune system healers.

“Clinically meaningful pain relief was reported in 34% of the fibromyalgia patients after the dog visit versus only 4% in the waiting room controls,” says Marcus. “Effects did not appear to be substantially influenced by co-existing mood disorder symptoms.”

Satisfaction with the dog therapy visit was 92%. Also, the effectiveness of the pet intervention did not depend upon whether the patient viewed themselves as a “dog lover” or someone who prefers cats.

You can get yourself a slice of pet therapy and receive the potential benefits from it, if you don’t already have a pet, by contacting your local Humane Society, animal organization, or veterinarian clinic to find out about programs in your area. You may also volunteer for a while to determine what type of animal best suits you and your pocketbook.

Meditative Movement

Tai Chi is an ancient practice proven to reduce pain and improve your mental and physical well-being. I go to a modified class for Arthritis, held by the Arthritis Foundation.

In 1997, Dr Paul Lam, a family physician and tai chi expert, worked with a team of tai chi and medical specialists to create the Tai Chi for Arthritis program. The special features of this unique program are that it is easy to learn, enjoyable, and provides many health benefits in a relatively short period of time.

So lesson one: Tai Chi for Arthritis is based on Sun style tai chi (pronounced “soon” as in– I will soon be learning tai chi!). This style was chosen because of its healing component, its unique Qigong (an exercise which improves relaxation and vital energy), and its ability to improve mobility and balance. The program contains a carefully constructed set of warming-up and cooling-down exercises, Qigong breathing exercises, a Basic Core six movements, an Advanced Extension six movements, and adaptations of the movements so you can use a chair for balance, or even sit on the chair for the entire class. Also incorporated into the program is a safe and effective teaching system.

Medical studies have shown that practicing this program reduces pain significantly, prevents falls for the elderly, and improves many aspects of health. For these reasons, Arthritis Foundations around the world have supported the program. And that’s why I’m at Arthritis Victoria today…they also provide the cheapest classes (and I received an added discount due to hardship!)

Supposedly, tai chi will help you:

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase balance and flexibility
  • Feel relaxed
  • Improve your overall mind, body and spirit

Clinical Rheumatology reported that the Oregon Health & Science University’s Fibromyalgia Research Unit held a randomized controlled trial of 8-form Tai chi to gauge any improvement in symptoms and functional mobility in fibromyalgia patients.

Previous researchers have found that 10-form Tai chi yields symptomatic benefit in patients with FM. The purpose of this study was to further investigate earlier findings and add a focus on functional mobility.

Participants met in small groups twice weekly for 90 minutes over 12 weeks.

Of the 101 randomly assigned subjects, clinically and statistically significant improvements were seen in:

  • pain severity
  • pain interference
  • sleep, and
  • self-efficacy for pain control

No adverse events were noted.

Accordingly, the study reported that tai chi appears to be a safe and an acceptable exercise modality that may be useful as adjunctive therapy in the management of FM patients.

Tai Chi for Arthritis involves 12 movements or positions that are designed to be safe and beneficial for people with arthritis. Instructors of the program are trained to understand arthritis and ensure the movements are safe for participants. Tai Chi for Arthritis classes begins with warm-up exercises (lasting about 10 minutes) where you start at your head and move all the way down to your ankles. Each joint has two exercises, to reduce the chance of injury during the movements.

The leader then demonstrates and teaches one or two movements per lesson, encouraging us to learn the movements properly and slowly, working within your comfort limits. This week, we started with the Single Whip and Wave Hand in Cloud.

Single Whip

I start with my feet in a duck position (outward facing) and my hands by my side. Slowly lift your wrists, straight out and up, like two helium balloons are attached, up to shoulder height. the slowly lower them.  Then, while stepping forward with your right leg (heel first the toe), push your hands forward like you’re handing a ball to someone. Bring the ‘ball’ back (and your foot at the same time) to hold in front of you – then spread your arms by opening up your elbows. Allow your left hand to keep moving outwards (and slightly back) and watch it by twisting your head as far as you can go. Your right hand sort of just sits in mid-air waiting for something to do.

Ta Da! We’ve learnt our first form.

Wave Hand in the Cloud

From the position we left above, now move your left hand forward again, until it looks like you are trying to say stop. Your right hand moves beneath your left elbow – now you look like a traditional policeman trying to stop traffic. Take a step to the right, landing with your toe first followed by your heel – then wipe your right hand in front of your face, while your left hand moves to your right elbow. Remember Karate Kid? Wax on. Let your left leg move across to join your other leg (remember toe then heel) and wax off with your left hand. We do that 3 times, moving across the room. Then do it the opposite way. This is where we all get tangled up and obviously need to practice. My head doesn’t change direction that fast!

But hey! we’re doing tai chi! I think that was all the movements – at least, what I can remember from my first one hour session. It is all very slow, controlled and relaxing – just like in the movies – sort of like a moving meditation, as you’re concentrating so hard on breathing, moving hands and feet that you can’t think about anything stressful.

The lesson ends with cool-down exercises, lasting about three minutes.

I feel very calm and relaxed.

The Dance of Life

biodance (1)Biodance, more commonly known as biodanza, literally means the dance of life.

It is described in Wikipedia as “a system of self-development that uses music, movement and positive feelings to deepen self-awareness. It seeks to promote the ability to make a holistic link to oneself, emotions and to express them. Biodanza also claims to allow one to deepen the bonds with others and nature and to express those feelings congenially.”

Biodanza was created in Chile in the 1960s and is now practiced in at least 30 countries.

343d9da3-f609-4f36-b258-d5dfcede22c9To analyse the effects of an aquatic biodance based therapy on sleep quality, anxiety, depression, pain and quality of life in FM patients, researchers assigned 59 patients to 2 groups: experimental group (aquatic biodance) and control group (stretching), for 12 weeks.

Significant differences in the experimental group were seen on sleep quality (49.7%), anxiety (14.1%), impact of fibromyalgia (18.3%), pain (27.9%), and tender points (34.4%).

This video discusses and demonstrates what Biodanza is all about.

In this next video, Biodanza is performed in the water.  Although the voice on the video is speaking Portuguese, you can still see what Aquatic Biodanza looks like even if you don’t understand Portuguese.

Anyone tried this one yet?

Bend and Stretch – Brazilian Style

Exercise is an important part of managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Studies since the 1970s have shown that exercise can benefit patients. Staying physically active can relieve pain, stress, and anxiety. A key question left unanswered was the benefits of specific types of exercise.

Researchers at the University of São Paulo show that stretching improves patients’ physical functioning and quality of life, while resistance training helps combat depression, “Muscle stretching exercises and resistance training in fibromyalgia: which is better? A three-arm randomized controlled trial” published in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.

Because movement can increase fibromyalgia’s pain, many patients develop an inactive lifestyle. But in the long run, this can lead to both physical injury and emotional distress.

The study consisted of 44 women, aged 30 to 55. Researchers randomly assigned them to a stretching group, a resistance training group; or, a control group.

The stretching group went through a 12-week supervised training program. Twice a week they would take 40-minute stretching sessions without a therapist’s assistance. The trainers increased the intensity of the workouts over time.

Trainers put the resistance group through a similar 12-week, twice-a-week program. The patients did eight repetitions of resistance exercises, adding more weight each week.

The control group received standard fibromyalgia treatment but no exercise.

At the end of the 12 weeks, those in the stretching group were able to endure pain better and showed significant improvement in symptoms and quality of life. The resistance training group showed both physical and symptom improvements.

Analysis indicated that stretching significantly improved patients’ ability to deal with pain and to function better physically, while the biggest of resistance training was reducing patients’ depression.

The controls had the highest morning-fatigue and stiffness scores of the three groups, and the lowest score for vitality.

Researchers concluded that stretching had the biggest impact on patients’ quality of life, while resistance training had the biggest impact on fibromyalgia symptoms and on patients’ physical functioning, vitality, social interaction, and mental health.

“The muscle stretching exercise program was the most effective modality in improving quality of life, especially physical functioning and pain, and resistance training was the most effective modality in reducing depression,” the team wrote.

The key is to start slowly.