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My name is Carol.

Carol Zakula

I’ve always been a mover and a shaker, and lucky to have actively moved through more than six decades without any chronic stiffness or pain.

Well, okay…there is the one little disc that occasionally and gently reminds me of the unintended back flip when I was body-surfing in South Africa twenty-nine years ago. (I found out the Atlantic’s surf was not like the lapping lake waters in my native Minnesota.)

So, anyway, the moving and shaking part…

I’m a retired teacher and principal, and a part-time freelance writer and yoga instructor—plus a globe-trotter over the years.

Always ‘wanted it all’ and have spent most of my life going after just that.

It’s all been mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging and exciting….and I guess I thought I was just blessed by an absence of physical pains and limited mobility, while many friends and relatives of various ages around me weren’t.

Just the way it was… no reason for me to give it much thought.

Lesson #1: No Pain Until


After all, I wasn’t the one in pain.

But then 2 things happened that got my attention.

And suddenly, pain had just gotten personal…

Three women with fibromyalgia found their way to my gentle yoga class, desperate for:

  • Relief from Pain,
  • Stiffness,
  • and, Scariest of all, Hopelessness.

Secondly, I realized that some intermittent pain in my right leg and hip—originally attributed to a minor fall or maybe heavy snow shoveling–was not going away, and was getting worse over the months.

Stepping into a small corner of the lives of the three multi-gifted and dynamic women–whose lives were on hold—was eye-opening and gut-wrenching.

The dilemma was how to help them rather than hurt them more.  So, we talked a lot.

I researched yoga for people with fibromyalgia.

They shared what they’d learned at the Mayo workshops they’d attended.

Alternative Ways to Process Pain

One of the woman, Gayle, mentioned one of the Mayo doctors talking to them about alternative ways to ‘process’ pain—changing the ways the nerves communicate with the muscles.

Suddenly…I remembered something.

A yoga workshop I’d attended a year or so earlier on something called “somatics”.

It was about re-educating the muscles and nervous system to communicate more effectively with each other.

The benefits centered around:

  • Maximizing Body Functions,
  • Mobility,
  • and Reducing Stiffness and Pain.

I’d been impressed with the concept, and a brief internet search led to more information and a couple of especially intriguing videos by Ed Barrera….himself a ‘survivor’ of fibromyalgia turned somatics practitioner.

Ed had also written a book, Move Like an Animal, teaching people the animal concepts of applying conscious pandiculation which had been systematized as somatics exercises

But life was busy, and I’d soon forgotten about somatics….until Gayle’s comment.

The two of us immediately set out on a lively pursuit of current information and materials on somatics, which led us back to Ed Barrera–with lots of questions on how to offer therapeutic movement to three committed fibromyalgia ‘warriors’ in Northern Minnesota.

He quickly, enthusiastically, compassionately, and in detail, responded to emails from both Gayle and myself.

The ’warriors’ and I began some group sessions, but Gayle never does anything half-way….and began an intense daily somatics routine at home.

The result? – Moving Like an Animal

She started seeing and feeling some improvement in movement and mood within a few days.

The progress continued over the weeks, and within a few months, she’d transitioned from some 10 years of dependence on her husband to help her move and do basic activities around the house, to an increasingly active life style…

Plus a a jaw-dropping run up the driveway one day when she got out of a friend’s car.

Gayle was hooked on somatics exercises and what moving like an animal was doing for her.

She and I read, studied, emailed Ed, and then offered a couple of classes introducing somatics to others in pain here in our community.

In the last year, I’ve also have incorporated some somatics movements into both my hatha and gentle yoga classes, and occasionally offer introductory somatics instruction upon request—yes, right up in anything-but-urban Northern Minnesota.

Participants’ comments (20-70 year olds) have been reaffirming of the benefits of somatics…and I celebrated the victories of those who had successfully decided to take charge of their pain and stiffness.

Lesson #2: The Wakeup Call

But all that good news still wasn’t enough to establish and expand my own regular practice of somatics.

Life got busy again.  So then came wake-up call #2.

Yes….my right hip and leg—had me in on-and-off discomfort for more than a year.

When I realized that I needed regular Ibuprofen to get through our community theater rehearsals, I had to admit the deterioration of the situation.

So with the natural misconceptions of most 63-year olds, I started to obsess about what it actually was, and what medical/surgical interventions I probably needed to start thinking about.

Arthritis, Old Age, Hip Replacement, Surgery, Drugs

That’s right, I completely disassociated my hip and leg pain from everything I’d learned and been preaching about somatics, and was instead thinking “arthritis,” “old age,” “hip replacement,” “surgery,” and “drugs.”

I was in the midst of internet searches and yellow pages under “doctors,” when I realized what I was doing….or rather, what I wasn’t doing.

What I wasn’t doing.

Somatics.

However, because of the state I’d worked myself into, I also decided I needed Ed’s reassurance to make sure somatics would take care of this.  After all this was MY pain now…and not ‘just’ somebody else’s.

A short diagnosis and download of a couple of appropriate somatics movement classes later, I was on my way to relief within 48 hours and in a few weeks, I was pain free again. But slow learner that I am…

Lesson #3: Go Back to the Well

I started taking all that freedom from pain for granted, and gradually slacked off of my few minutes of daily somatics…until I fell into another stiff hips and lower back issue….and one that seemed to be exacerbated by my yoga instruction.

What’s more, ironically, the pain peaked just days before leading another 4-week introductory Somatics session.

Fortunately, the panic I’d again worked myself into, quickly reminded me of my panic of two years earlier.   I immediately set into some intense somatics, and got another ‘shot of encouragement,’ from Ed.

So, as it turns out, I’m taking somatics and mobility seriously now—finally.

I don’t want to stop learning or practicing it…for my sake, and for all the people I get to share it with.

More Than Not Having Pain

It’s about a lot more than simply NOT having pain.

It’s the whole feeling of freedom and absolute joy in MOVING and in the awareness of the marvels of human body.

When you feel that way, you get to remember how truly wonderful life can feel, and you almost can’t help but make the world a better place.

Does life get any better than this?

Carol Zakula is a Yoga teacher and writer. You can find her at www.carolzakula.com.

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Categories : Pain, Recovery
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Nov
06

The Tipping Point

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Ever feel like your body, brain or mind is close to the tipping point when it comes to pain?

Brain and Body

Small injuries or minor physical setbacks might not seem like a big deal when they happen.

Yet your brain might go haywire and instead of helping, it works against you.

See, your personal history of injuries, infections, emotional set backs, and traumas can lead a brain to over respond even as a small injury heals.

The brain can go hyperactive and keeps sending chemicals of inflammation to the rescue, after the fact.

Cells called microglia acts as the immune system of the central nervous system.

To protect the brain, they swell up to create a buffer while they take care of the bad cells.

The good cells, however, can keep turning “on inflammation”, which is what we see happening in anxiety, chronic pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, etc.

In other words, when we keep getting stressed or tensed out, the microglia show up and create inflammation.  Not nice at all.

STRESS. Magnifying glass over different association terms.

Stress can magnify the situation and this period of activation can remain “on” for extended periods of time.  Then this gets set as the program and many medical conditions such as chronic pain become the norm.

No wonder some of us struggle with discomfort, injury or stiffness longer than we think it oughta be around.

As the program continues to go haywire–say an accident happens–followed up by surgeries, pain medications and having to cope with the stress of getting it together undermines our ability to completely get over it.

Even though we think we oughta be able to handle it, we aren’t addressing the physiological mechanism to change and reverse the course back to our more comfortable self.

This can further make us feel down and bums us out.

Tipping Point

 

Getting Pushed Past the Tipping Point

The sum of our life experiences add up to push us past the tipping point so the brain replays its response and you get your negative experience yet again.

Can the tipping point be reversed?

When we go back to what mother nature affords us to restore and revitalize our central nervous system, then we have a chance to reverse the tipping point and successfully climb out.

Reprogram Brain & Body

In many cases, you can reprogram both the brain and body so it can create comfort instead of amplifying pain and discomfort.

This reprogramming act is called a pandiculation.  This works with the central nervous system to reset tension levels so you can feel comfortable and in control of your well-being.

When we go about pandiculation systematically, then we can re-right the ship and help get things back in order and in balance.

The reverse on-off switch to turn back the tipping point

You see, you have the inherent ability to decrease stress and lower tension by increasing it consciously using your awareness.

This concept may sound backwards or counter-intuitive, yet in practice – physically speaking – this is how you turn what is negatively “on” positively “off”.

By consciously turning “on” the central nervous system. You change the painful, stiff or discomforting “on” signal “off’ by detuning or fine tuning it down so you can idle more in neutral and restore tension levels back to the comfort zone.

Your nervous system can be reprogrammed to aid you rather than keep the on going program working against you.  Pretty neat.

While it isn’t easy to live in pain or with high stress levels or chronic discomforts since they take away our normal relaxed attention and focus.  If you can consciously tune into what it is you’ve either become accustomed to – or what is not healing in the way you think it oughta – like taking a little no big deal tumble or not being able to sit comfortably.

Pandiculate Out Pain, Stiffness, Stress or Tension
That very signal is the clue and target to tune down the brain going haywire.

Force won’t help, so instead you use power the brain and body to reach a personal comfort zone which can be achieved with a little conscious practice.

By dialing into the haywire signal, you can fine-tune the pain activating signal or mechanism so it can reverse course.

The resetting and recalibrating begins to happen with what some have called conscious micro-movements.  Oh happy days!

While this sounds simple, there is both an art and practice to get back to your former happy pain-freer self which nature has set up for you to access at any minute.

Through a series of trial and error easy, gentle movements, the ability to feel relaxation returns.

The fact is you can tune down what is turned “on” because the switch has been activated to inhibit and the message to reset begins as you turn it up with a micro-movement or conscious thought to do so.

Afterwards the nervous system acts to decrease the output or charge so those relaxing feelings return.  It’s like giving yourself a hot tub treatment using your brain and body.

Brain Tub

 

In nature, this is why all healthy animals with a spine self-regulate in this manner.  They use the brain to change the body to move well with daily reprogramming.

When the human animal gets back to restoring this lost art or natural process to calm the system, you get the:

relief,

relaxation,

and the knowledge you can replicate feelings of comfort.

You can do this as often as you need or when necessary to take out stress and tension from everyday life events which accumulate in the course of our busy lives.

While you can’t escape stress, you can take control of your central nervous system as best as you can and further the possibilities of a comfortable felt-sense of living.

When you remember how to do this – you can let things roll off of you like a duck ruffling its feathers.

You’ll have what appears to be uncanny ability to regenerate, yet this is how nature sets it up for us to learn how to wield it and not be held outta control.

There is evidence that your microglia cells “remember” prior assaults and turn things up painfully when necessary.  They can stay up and fire up more quickly.

Same goes in the opposite direction.  The better you get at using the brain and body, you can bank on turning on those chemicals of relaxation on much faster too.

According to Dr. Gary Kaplan, these 3 things seem certain:

√ The source of inflammation are tiny cells called microglia.

√ Your history of physical & emotional assaults add up and increase inflammation.

√ Chronic pain and depression are neurodegenerative conditions.

Fortunately, we’ve systematized an approach to use both brain and body with gentle, small or micro-movements of coordination done with a certain level of awareness to restore the nervous system and your body’s basic feeling of comfort and well-being.

Now that you have a better understanding of the tipping point, you can choose to naturally heal, self-protect, prevent and maintain your healthy state of living.

Comments (2)

What causes us to tilt or walk with a hitch in certain ways?  How do we get out of it?

Compensated Tilted Walking

Traumas, falls and accidents can leave you whomp sided, although you will do the best you can to move as well as you can afterwards.

Even habits–such as driving a car and sliding the leg long to depress the gas pedal over and over again or the way you sit or work creates certain patterns.

Our unconscious habitual ways we stand or motion or move ourself can reinforce patterns which serve us to a point.  When things become uncomfortable or we’re held in a titled or shifted manner, we’re left compensating.

Standing Compensations

The simple act of standing and feeling yourself can reveal comfort or discomfort.  You can stand as you normally stand and wait.  Feel whatever sensations or feelings come up as you simply stand and feel from within how you are feeling in the moment you take to check in.

When you take a moment to consider how you move your entire self or parts of yourself doing any physical activity, you might uncover certain surprises which can open both the brain and body to new possibilities and you’ll certainly learn how coordinated you are or aren’t.

For example, by driving a left hand drive or right hand drive car, you’d certainly feel a shift of a learned habit by fumbling for a moment on a new habit or physical activity to learn.

This can let you know how one sided, how predominant and how whomp sided you may have become over the years of doing a physical movement in a certain way.

There is nothing wrong with specializing a movement pattern or doing regular exercise over and over, unless we feel certain discomforts.

But what if you went inside and fine tuned your nervous system so it could respond in a different un-whomped, less cattywampus manner?

Fine Tuning the Nervous System

Regaining conscious voluntary control with the muscles and your movement system–a system of coordination–starting with signals from the brain to generate a movement can unlock cattywampus tendencies and patterns.

The lower brain does learned movement and acts to balance or coordinate a movement.  It becomes unconscious and automatic so you don’t have to think about it.

The signals up and down the nervous system to self-adjust tension, compression, extension, rotation–mostly go un-noticed.

The sense receptors of the tendons, ligaments, joints, bones, muscles and the fascia tune in and shift to move you around.

Imagine having to pay attention to all of that on a minute to minute basis.  It would almost be incomprehensible.  Your descriptions of all the senses you notice could be all over the place as to the what or how this feels like to you.

The inner game or inner knowing of our internal connections is a place where many no longer visit.  The price for not visiting and checking in can result in discomfort and the feelings of pain being generated.

Your inner self is waiting to be explored.  The act of pandiculation is your natural birthright to self-correct.  The system of somatics exercises uses the act of pandiculation to target the brain’s motor cortex.  This is far different than regular exercise since the movements are done with a greater consciousness.

Somatics Exercises Target the Brain's Motor Cortex.019
When you do this consciously by feeling, sensing, coordinating, exploring… you are learning and being with the process of self-evolution itself.

How you either evolve or de-evolve physically is a choice in the inner game or somatic mastery of yourself.

By not playing in the inner realm, you can lose contact with yourself, your own vitality, and your own sense of well-being.   Your memory can fade and most obviously, you may not move or feel as well as you used to.

This has nothing to do with age, it is simply abdicating the inner self. The painful or discomforting signals we feel have an opposite in the pleasurable signals, feelings and sensations you can regenerate.

To be able to walk comfortably can be set up by feeling and self-adjusting your joints, the smaller muscles, and the smaller parts of walking itself.  Then when you walk, you can feel at a deeper level whatever you want to tune into as you walk.

You might even feel the shifts which can occur as you walk when you quiet your internal dialogue and simply feel how your body moves and changes as you walk.

This type of inner knowledge is invaluable since it serves to keep you connected to yourself and to the earth as you navigate without walking sticks, special shoes, knee braces, taping your muscles, etc.

In other words, to move like a comfortable human animal is to fully feel the sensations of walking itself and how this grand act changes during a simple walk.

Instead of focusing on how far or how fast you walk, you could tune into the adjustments which take place when you walk on the cracks in the sidewalk, how your foot turns over a cobblestone path, or how your hips shift if the hill or slant is a bit sideways.

You can even play one of our  favorite somatic games – place your fingers on your ears and close them.  Then walk and listen as you walk on some pavement.  Can you hear your own internal sound?

Then find the earth and listen now to how your body speaks to you.

Please join us in a different somatics exercise walking class.

You’ll begin with our normal somatic way of exploring movements on the ground.  You’ll get to reset tension back to comfortable levels.  Then you’ll shift to our normal upright ways and play with walking in a way you may not have for some time.

You’ll gain greater awareness and ultimately better control which you can bank on, even as you age.

You can go from cattywampus and back to somatic mastery by joining us in our online somatics exercise class which is available for immediate access.

Categories : Somatics Exercises
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