How to Drive Yourself Crazy

A couple of years ago in this column, I shared the text of a talk on “aging” that my mother, Jan Henderson, used to give to various audiences, from nursing home residents to medical students at OHSU. Aging— its challenges, joys, and opportunities— was her favorite topic. Mom left behind a lifetime of chronic depression and alcoholism beginning in her late sixties by dedicating herself to exchanging behaviors that maintain and refresh suffering for those that cultivate joy and good health. In doing so, she became, in her seventies, a living and persistent example for me of how we can begin to live a life of joy and vitality at any age, and in any condition.

So what fun it was the other day, as I was going through her files on aging and self-help topics, to find a clipping provocatively entitled “How to Drive Yourself Crazy,” excerpted and adapted in 1987 from a longer article by Dorothy T. Harrison, Ph.D. Hair_pulling_stressI love the tongue-in-cheek way that Harrison’s behavioral “advice” reminds us that, consciously or unconsciously, we are always “behaving” in our thinking and actions…and that our choices and habits determine how we feel as a direct result.

In italics, below, is the text of that article; read it and weep, and laugh…then choose!

Articles and books on a variety of self-help topics are widely available. There are suggestions on how to cope, reduce stress, and in general make your life better and more satisfying.

However, it appears that there are many of you out there who don’t aspire to satisfaction, but instead seem to be working on making yourselves miserable. Some of you seem to be experts at this, but others haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. For those of you in the latter category, here is the definitive self-help primer on how to really make yourself crazy!

1)Save your major worries until about midnight, then start heavy thinking. Suggested topics include your old age, losing your job, the mistake you made at work last week that they haven’t discovered yet, that suspicious wart you’ve had for five years. You can work up a good panic by 1:00 a.m..

2)  Keep an inventory of your faults. Ignore strengths. Focus only on your bad points. Try to select friends who will remind you of them. If you don’t have friends like this, you probably have some relatives who can be counted on to point out your weaknesses.

3) Set unreasonable goals. No matter how much money you’re earning, remember that there are others doing better. Try to name three of them, preferably younger than you are. Think how others could do a better job than you do.

4) when your kids mess up, don’t accept it as routine. View it as the first sign of impending moral decay, delinquency and a wasted life. Imagine them as shiftless bums at age 30, scrounging off you.

5) Put off everything until the last minute. In this way you can create a sense of frenzy and chronic stress no matter how much time you had in the first place.

6) To aid in the creation of stress, try to sleep as little as possible. Eat junk food and never exercise if you can help it.

7) Don’t let others know how you feel or what you want. You shouldn’t have to tell them: they should be able to read your mind. If you assume this, you stand a good chance of feeling really deprived.

8) Don’t trust anyone. Struggle with problems alone. If you feel the urge to confide in someone who seems to care, remind yourself that people are basically no good and out for themselves.

9) Never take a vacation or rest. It’s a luxury you can’t afford, especially if you’re working up to a really good state of exhaustion.

10) Above all, never seek help. No matter how serious the problem, convince yourself that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that you can tough it out alone.

If you follow this program, you have a good chance of feeling really rotten in no time at all. Good luck.

…and have fun with that!

Or just have fun.

Good Vibrations: the healing powers of music

Several years ago, during an extended period of exceptional life-stress, I went through a episode of depression that included (among other experiences), constant, intense anxiety and generally low mood. And while I credit my eventual recovery to a combination of factors (acupuncture and talk therapy were especially helpful!), I made a surprising discovery about the powerful effect of music on mood.

In the middle of my episode, I was asked to sing at a graduation reception. Although I felt in no way up to the task, I agreed, because of the importance to me of the people involved.

So I chose the songs and glumly started to practice…which is when I made the discovery that whenever I was engaged in singing (sad or happy songs, it made no difference), I did not feel either anxious or depressed. When I stopped singing, my mood symptoms returned, but it was startling and relieving to find that they could be eliminated immediately, even if temporarily, by singing!

It literally felt as though the activity of singing changed something in my brain.

So I got interested in learning more about that, and it turns out that that’s exactly what music does: it directly and immediately affects our brains.

How does this work? In part, it’s because the beat, timbre (sound quality or “texture), rhythm and pitch of music is registered by, and activates, the very parts of the brain that regulate emotions and mood. When activated, these parts of the brain in turn release both the hormones (such as serotonin) involved in our overall sense of well-being and ability to cope with stress (you could call that our emotional “climate”), and also flood the body with the neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) that make us feel especially good in the moment (what you might call our emotional “weather”).

In fact, there’s a ton of research demonstrating the positive effect that music has on our physical, emotional and spiritual health and well-being, the most fascinating (to me) of which has to do with the way particular tones, pitches and rhythms resonate in the body, and the specific therapeutic effects that the healing practice of what is called “toning” produces. I’m looking forward to learning more about these, and to sharing them with you.

Meanwhile, here are just a few of the ways that listening or playing music can tune-up (couldn’t resist) our mental health .

1. Pain and distress. Music can significantly reduce the perceived intensity of pain. Some research suggests that using specific rhythmic stimuli (music, and other sound combinations) can can ease symptoms of migraines, PMS, agitation and anger.

2. Sleep. In one study, listening to classical music was shown to effectively treat insomnia in college students. And there are several smartphone apps (“BiNaural Beats” is one we are experimenting with) that are designed to produce sounds which stimulate the brain to shift into a restful state.

3. Cognitive performance. Background music appears to enhance performance on cognitive tasks for many people, although the most recent research suggests that this only occurs if the music first makes the subject feel better emotionally!

4. Meditation. Listening to slow musical beats can alter brainwave speed, creating the peaceful state of brainwave activity similar to that which occurs during meditation. Recently, I’ve started adding “ambient music” of this kind to my own meditation practice, and found it to be very helpful: my busy thoughts calm right down!

5. Depression. Studies confirm what I personally experienced: that playing or listening to music can relieve symptoms of depression. And while I found that singing either sad or happy music had the same positive effect, research suggests (and this makes sense to me) that when listening to music instead, the kind of music matters: classical and meditative sounds seem to have an uplifting effect, while harsh, “angry” and dissonant music (like heavy metal and techno) can actually make depression symptoms worse.

6. Anxiety. One study found that music’s effect on anxiety levels is similar to the relaxing effect of getting a massage! What’s not to like about that?

So, if you listen to music, pay attention to the effect that the kind of music you listen to has on your mind and mood, and consider experimenting with the other kinds.

If you already sing and/or play a musical instrument, you probably already know what I’m talking about concerning the effect of playing and singing on mood. And if you haven’t yet started bringing your own body into making music, consider ways to join the fun, even just to see what the results are. Karaoke, a choir and music jams  are great, low pressure ways to have fun with music with others. Too shy to sing with others? There’s always the car, or the shower (but leave the guitar on the other side of the shower curtain or you’ll end up really sad!)

Wishing you joy.

On Becoming a Man: words from a father

Ten years ago, when our nephew, “L,” was about to turn 13, his parents asked all the men in the family to send him their words of wisdom on the topic of “becoming a man,” as L entered that pre-adulthood time of life that is adolescence.

This same nephew will graduate from college this month, and as we prepare to celebrate that milestone with the kind, strong, confident young man that he has become, the words that his Uncle Rich offered ten years ago have been much on my mind.

So in honor of Father’s Day, and with his permission, I am going to let father and uncle Rich Sutliff do the talking, by simply sharing his 2005 letter, below.

Dear L.,

Happy 13th birthday! And congratulations on climbing the South Sister. That’s quite an achievement —one you should be really proud of. I’m sure you’ll remember that climb the rest of your life.

About this becoming a man thing, I don’t have any special, secret knowledge about what it is to be a man. I’ve lived a pretty long time, and I guess I’m still learning about it myself. I know that fathers have written whole books for their sons, trying to explain what it’s all about. I can say for sure, though, that it’s GREAT BEING A MAN. It’s what all of us guys have been given, and it’s both a joy and a responsibility for each of us to figure out and to make the best use of.

For me, that means that you always need to respect your developing body as it goes through all the changes it needs to as you become a man. A man’s body is a wonderful creation. Keep yours healthy and strong; it will be with you a long time and you want to be able to rely on it. It’s your friend. Take good care of it. Remember that it’s neither a tool nor a weapon. It’s not a machine of any kind: it’s far more special than that.

It also means developing your mind along with your body. Keep learning new things all the time. Learning is like filling a well with water, so you’ll have plenty to draw on as you go through life. Eventually, your body will slow down; it’s supposed to. But your mind will always keep growing.

Learn especially to have reverence and respect for all living things—everything in Nature and all human beings. It may be that one of our jobs as men is to care for and protect what is fragile—plants, animals, people who need our help to survive.

One of the most important things I can tell you, L., and this is often one of the hardest things for a man to do, is that you need to learn to listen to your heart, to your feelings, and to what others might share with you about their own. A lot of people think that being a man is just about muscles, strength, and physical courage—all that macho stuff. I’ve found that it takes much more courage to listen quietly and carefully to what someone else is telling you about how they feel than it is to fight in all kinds of battles and to meet all kinds of physical challenges. Unfortunately, we men are often not very good at listening with our hearts, either to ourselves, or to others.

Finally, I know you probably won’t be able to understand all of this now. That’s okay; don’t worry about it. As you keep growing into manhood, I think some of what I’ve said will begin to make a little more sense. Meanwhile, WELCOME INTO THE COMMUNITY OF MEN. Good luck, God bless you, and be kind to yourself as you’re figuring out on your own the kind of man YOU want to be.

I’ll be around if you need me.

Love,

Your Uncle Rich

On Thinking and Well-Being

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that it is the nature of our minds to do a lot of thinking. But how many of us stop to think about our thinking habits themselves, and the effects of these habits (including our habitual interpretations, judgments and assumptions) on our health and happiness? Yet our automatic thinking habits, like other habits (how we eat, drink, breathe and move) have a huge effect on creating and maintaining how well —or unwell— we feel.

131 Thinking, at Ping Sien Si, Pasir Panjang, Perak, Malaysia
Ping Sien Si Temple, Perak, Malaysia

First, a little about the brain. Our brains include both “control” and “automatic” processes. “Control” processes are used to learn new skills. They require our focused, conscious attention and effort—think of the effort and concentration it took for you to learn to read or to drive. But through repetition, a new skill (or any regular behavior) becomes an “automatic” process: that is, it becomes a habit.

And it’s a good thing our brains can put so many behaviors “on automatic,” because this frees our energy, concentration and focus for things that actually require it. But as all of us have experienced, there are both beneficial and destructive habits that take hold when the conscious mind turns its attention elsewhere.

The same is true of our thoughts. Since “thinking” itself is a behavior, our thoughts are as subject as any other behavior to going “on automatic,” and they do. We acquire many “thought habits” in the course of our lives: characteristic ways thinking about ourselves and the world, some of which were passed on to us by our early caregivers, and some of which we developed on our own as ways to explain events and emotions, or otherwise to cope. As with other habits, many of these thought habits are beneficial. But many others are like shoes that once fit our small feet, but were never replaced when our feet outgrew them. Now, because they are “too small,”  they cause pain, injury, and stunt our growth.

While the list of common, injurious thoughts is long, psychologists who specialize in the effects of thinking habits on our mood states and happiness have identified what’s been called the “Big Four” types (visit www.cognitivetherapyguide.org for the longer list). These include:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking. Example: “I have to do things perfectly, because anything less than perfect is a failure.”

2. Negative Philosophizing. Example: “Life is just one disappointment after another.”

3. Negative Self-Labeling. Examples: “I’m a failure.”  “If people knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.”

4. Catastrophizing. Example: “Whatever’s around the corner is probably going to be bad!”

And though it may seem to make sense (and is sometimes recommended) to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, the danger is that we will just exchange one kind of distortion and judgement for another, which is what always happens when we decide “how things always are.”  Eventually, that “positive spin” will turn out to not be “always true” either…which may just seem to prove that we were “right” in our old thinking.

A more useful and effective practice is to begin to identify your own automatic thoughts (or as they’re also called, “self-talk”) as you move through your day. Specifically, when you feel anxious or angry, ask yourself, “what are my thoughts as I experience this feeling?” Some people find it useful to actually start a written list, simply noting the automatic thoughts that come to mind in a given situation.

And because many of us mis-label “thoughts” as “feelings,” it can be helpful to become familiar with the difference. “Sad,” “angry,” “anxious,” “tired,” “excited” “disappointed,” “longing,” are all feelings; pretty much everything else (explanations, judgements, or other attitudes connected with the feeling) are actually thoughts. “I feel like a failure,” for instance, is actually a self-blaming “thought” (“I must have done something wrong”) used to explain the feeling of “disappointment.”

Once you begin to become aware of your thoughts by taking them off “automatic” and putting them back on “manual” for awhile, you can start to consider other, less negative ways of talking to yourself. Instead of “I feel like a failure” or “I screwed up again,” for instance, how about trying the neutral thought, “Well, that didn’t go the way I’d hoped!” and leave it at that. This acknowledges the feeling, but skips the part where you or someone else gets blamed. 

But as I’ve written in this column before, don’t take my word for it: try it, and see if you like the results. As they say in AA (I know, I’ve quoted this before, but I love it): “You have nothing to lose but your misery!”

Mindfulness Practice in Everyday Life: Part 2

Chances are, you already experience mindfulness as part of your life in some way. For anyone who fly-fishes, bicycles, rock-climbs, or practices any activity require intense concentration and focus, mindfulness is a major aspect of the experience itself. Running a tricky rapid successfully, or making a skillful cast are only possible when our minds and bodies are fully alert, attentive and engaged in the moment, and not “elsewhere.”

But when the circumstances do not demand it, many of spend much of our lives living everywhere but here, now.

So here, now, is a little sampler of ways to incorporate mindfulness into the fabric and activities of daily life. Experiment with one or more of them on a regular basis, and see what the results are. If you like the results, you may want to learn and do more, such as adding a regular, more formal period of mindfulness practice to your daily life, which can support your ability to make a habit of mindfulness.

  • Practice #1: Working with “Pause.”

First, in a quiet moment (now, for instance), identify a habit of reaction you have that you would like to experiment with. Examples include the habit of  expressing impatience, criticism, blame, or arguing with someone else when angry.

Next, identify sensations, thoughts and feelings that occur when you are “triggered” in a situation, before you act. Do you feel heat? Agitation? Tightness in your neck, throat, gut? Do you notice fear? Whatever you identify (and these are sensations and feelings, not your explanation or thoughts) set a conscious  intention to notice this “inside state” the next time (and each time) it happens. Then, when it does happen (and you know it will!), instead of creating more tension by trying to suppress your feelings, do these 4 things before you speak or act:

1) Pause for the time it takes to

2) Breathe (one or two full, deep inhales and exhales) while you

3) Name (not blame, just name) the feeling inside to yourself: “I feel anger” for instance, or “I feel fear”).

Then, and only then,

4) Choose what you want to say or do.

Notice that this practice does not focus on what is the “right thing” to say or do. Instead, it assumes that when we pause even just a few seconds, which is long enough to notice what we are feeling and to let the surge of the initial reaction pass (in brain science terms, this lets the slower-firing, rational parts of of brains catch up with the instantly-activated, reactive parts of our brains). With our rational minds available to us again to guide us, whatever we do or say it is bound to be better!

  • Practice #2: Mindfulness in Prayer.

For those who practice prayer, mindfulness is an extremely important, but often forgotten, dimension of the prayer experience. Asking for help or for guidance (“prayer of petition”) is an important part of prayer, but prayer can too often involve too much talking and not much listening…or only listening for what we specifically want to hear! Since the basic position of mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose and without judgement,” mindfulness in prayer can be defined as “listening to God with full attention…and without interrupting!” See what it is like, then, to spend 5 or 10 or 15 minutes a day just sitting in non-verbal “listening prayer,” simply staying present (focusing on the breath is a good way to do this, since we can only breathe in the present moment!) and bringing the mind back when you notice it has wandered.

  • Practice #3: “Uni-tasking.”

When we are multi-tasking (paying attention to many things at once), we are actually not paying attention to anything, which leads to feeling scatterbrained, anxious, and disconnected from ourselves, other people, and the present moment.

So if it is your habit to listen to the news while doing the dishes, or looking at your phone while walking, or watching T.V. while eating a meal, see what it is like to just wash the dishes, or just eat the meal, or walk, deliberating drawing your attention to the sensory details of that experience, and that experience only (the taste of the food, the feel of the warm water, the landscape of the walk and the feel of it). This can be somewhat uncomfortable at first, since multi-tasking and distraction has become such a normal-feeling state for many of us, but you may find, with a little practice, that you feel more relaxed, connected and calm as a result. Try it and see!

For more guidance on formal and everyday mindfulness practice: 

The books and cds by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn are a great resource; his cds can be found at  http://www.mindfulnesscds.com/ .

www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/ is an excellent website for resources (information, articles and guided meditations) which focus on bringing self-compassion into mindfulness practice

“You Must Be Present to Win:” Mindfulness Practice in Everyday Life.” (Part 1 of 2)

 

There’s a lot of talk these days about the benefits of “mindfulness,” and a growing body of medical research to back up claims that practicing its skills can do wonders to lower stress, relieve mental, physical and emotional suffering, and improve circulation, digestion, and solitudesleep. In fact, the list of benefits is so long that it could be said that mindfulness practice can benefit every aspect of life!

So what, exactly, is “mindfulness”?

Of the many (often too-long) definitions I’ve seen, I like the one offered by Elana Rosenbaum, a therapist and cancer survivor who teaches mindfulness skills to patients at the Massachusetts Medical Center. “Mindfulness,” she says, is basically the practice of “paying attention on purpose, free of judgement.”

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it is…which doesn’t mean that it is easy, as any of us know who have tried to focus our attention on the present moment for even a few seconds without our minds wandering into the future and the past, emotionally reacting and “opinionating” all along the way! That’s where intention, commitment, and practice, practice, practice of the actual skills of mindfulness come in. But more on that in a minute.

While mindfulness practice has its roots in ancient meditation practices of Asia, most cultures and religious traditions include some type of prayer or meditation technique (“centering prayer” in the Christian tradition is one of these) intended to develop the ability to attain the state of receptive, attentive presence that characterizes the state of stacked_in_stone_28700761836829mindfulness. While these ancient healing and religious traditions have recognized the benefits of mindfulness to mental, physical and spiritual health for centuries, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (titles of his books have appeared in previous columns), helped to make it a part of mainstream western medicine through programs and studies which have demonstrated its effectiveness.

Perhaps because of its roots in meditative practices however, there are many misconceptions about the aims and results of mindfulness practice. It is a surprise to many people to know, for instance, that the aim is not to attain a state of pure, distress-free calm and unconcern, nor does it mean a passive acceptance of what is unacceptable in our life circumstances, nor emotional disconnection from the people we care about. On the contrary, mindfulness practice invites us to consciously connect even more fully with our moment-to-moment experience (that’s the “paying attention on purpose” part), and to acknowledge our emotions, sensations and thoughts without the “attitude” (that’s the “free of judgement” part). Instead, the aim is (as Elana Rosenbaum puts it): “To be awake and alive in our lives no matter what the circumstances.”

There’s a famous adage (which I think originated in 12-step programs) that “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” This tongue-in-cheek saying points to the reality that most of our suffering is a result not of the inevitable pain of living, but our resistance to it: by all the things we habitually do to distract ourselves, numb ourselves, judge ourselves and/or others, exhaust ourselves, fantasize, etc. in order to try to escape our experience, and to change what we cannot control!

With mindfulness practice, we learn to see how our fears and our judgments about our discomfort (whether that discomfort be sadness, anxiety, anger, physical sensations, shame, or other emotional, mental or sensory experience) operate, and we gradually develop the ability not to be so completely caught up in those reactions. And what we discover when we are able to be more present to and accepting of our experience and less preoccupied with trying to change or escape it, is that we are able to be much more lovingly present with others also, because we’re not trying to change or escape our experience of them, either! And far from causing us to be passively inactive in the presence of injustice or harm, mindfulness helps us to see more clearly what needs “doing,” and when. It helps us to shift, that is, from the kinds of reactive actions which are about trying to make our discomfort go away to the kind of skillful, responsive action which the situation itself calls for.cyclone_catarina_from_the_iss_on_march_26_2004

Many years ago, when I began my own training in mindfulness practice, my teacher offered our group an analogy which I still find very useful as a way of thinking about the effect of mindfulness practice on everyday experience, whether that be the experience of special emotional distress, or simply of daily life, with its sometimes-overwhelming speed and simultaneous demands. “It is as if the stressful situation is a hurricane, and you are in that hurricane, along with everyone and everything else. But there is an eye in every hurricane, which is the spot of stillness at the very center of the storm. Mindfulness practice doesn’t let you escape the hurricane, but it makes it possible to shift from living in the swirl to living in the eye.”

Next Month: Some formal and everyday ways to develop mindfulness skills

DonnaheadshotDonna C. Henderson, LCSW
 

Pain: What you don’t know might hurt you (and what you learn might help!)

On January 25, Steven Woolpert, LPC and I led the first in the “Feeling Good” series of community classes in Maupin. The class is one of the projects and programs that he and the Deschutes Rim Health Clinic and I have begun collaborating on to provide more behavioral health information and services in the local community. And since “pain” is something we all experience at various points in our lives (and which many people live with on a daily basis), This first class focused on that topic specifically. So I thought I’d devote this post to the information we shared with the class about pain, and about working with pain, instead of against it.

The more I learn about the pain, the more interesting I find it (though it’s more interesting when I am not in pain: the experience of pain itself is, well, a pain!).

Pain, which itself can feel kind of singular and solid, is actually the result of very complex processes, including memory and emotion, and involving the parts of the brain where these are stored; it is not only a direct, sensory response to information being delivered from body tissue. In fact, pain does not always mean that there is current tissue (disc, joints, muscle, tendon, organ) injury, damage or danger. When an injury does exist, we “hurt” where the brain thinks the injury is located, which may not be where the injury actually is. Unattended emotional pain (sorrow or emotional injury) which has been “buried” can show up later as physical pain. In addition, degrees of pain depend on the brain’s evaluation of how much danger we are in, and stress (worry, and other stress-related demands on our energy) increases the brain’s perception of danger, in turn increasing the intensity of the experience of pain. Chronic pain results from a “wound up” nervous system that keeps trying to solve the problem (pain) with the signal (pain), which keeps creating more pain, like a telephone that just keeps ringing.

And though pain may be initially felt when there is tissue injury (in musculoskeletal, organ, or other body tissues) and may feel like it is “in” that tissue, pain is registered in the brain through the spinal cord and nerves. In short, the experience of pain is always a nervous system experience.

Working with (instead of working against) pain

Since pain is the body-mind’s signaling device that something is injured, or was injured at some time, or is in danger of injury in the future, ignoring, fighting, or otherwise resisting pain tends to only result in increasing the signal-strength. Think of what tends to happen when you ignore a child who is trying to get your attention: “mommy, mommy!, mommy!!, mommy!!, MOMMY!!! By the time you say “WHAT?!” the child is so upset and angry that he may not remember what he needed in the first place, and even the attention you give him will not be effective: by then he is too “wound up,” and his distress is now about his distress! Same with the nervous system.

To be effective in responding to pain, then, it is necessary to become willing to pay attention to the experience of pain (ideally when it first occurs), rather than ignoring or fighting it, and then to dedicate effort to retraining the nervous system. Since one or both of these first steps may result in an initial increase in perceived pain, it is important to know that we are not causing any damage; you are simply “listening to the child,” or “answering the phone” instead of ignoring the cry, or the signal. At first, your caller may shout at you a little, now that he has your full attention, but eventually your attention itself will calm him down.

Below are some effective ways of working with pain, once it has your willing attention:

*Mindfulness meditation, which decreases resistance and increases attention and acceptance, in turn allowing pain “room to move”

* Relaxation techniques which use breathing, visualization, and/or biofeedback techniques to decrease tension and increase relaxation.

* Hypnotherapy: a guided process which accesses and activates the body-mind’s own ability to support healing and other hoped-for outcomes.

*“Self-talk” re-training, through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other approaches which focus on identifying and shifting the beliefs, judgements, and thought habits which may be contributing to the experience of pain.

* Massage and self-massage: Caring/healing touch increases relaxation and blood flow through muscles and joints to improve pain and mobility, and to support the body’s own ability to heal.

* Physical activity of the sort that helps you connect with nature and which stimulates (versus strains) the mind-body. These include yoga, walking, Pilates, and water exercise.

* “Feel Good” foods: the ones that support the immune system, provide steady energy, and decrease painful inflammation. An “elimination diet” experiment directed by an allergist or naturopathic physician can help you discover if certain foods (gluten, lactose, or others) are not healthy for you, since pain anywhere in the body can be the signal of a food intolerance, too.

* Sleep: including the regular use of techniques known to improve both the ability to fall asleep, and the length of restorative sleep (since lack of sleep makes pain worse).

“Energy medicine” treatments, which work to support and to stimulate the body’s bioenergetic field to move from imbalance to balance. These include acupuncture, Reiki, “Healing Touch” technique, cranio-sacral therapy, and others (be sure to choose a certified and/or licensed practitioner).

* Writing, or other creative activity. When unexpressed, buried sorrow or other emotional experience is (or may be) showing up as physical pain, creative expression can be a powerful means of release. The word “express” itself means “to press out,” and this is exactly what creative expression can do for buried pain.

In the class in January, we ended by inviting participants to choose to experiment with even one of these techniques on a regular basis for a month, and see what results from the experiment. I extend that invitation to you! Let me and other readers know how it goes by posting a comment on this blog.

(Thanks to Steven Woolpert for the information he contributed to the above list from his own experience and knowledge, some of which is from the book Painful Yarns, by G.L. Moseley; 2007, Dancing Giraffe Press, Canberra, Australia)