In her practice and in her books Kathi Casey has synthesized a variety of health and spiritual strategies, eastern and western, for dealing with stress and pain. In Stop Back Pain she uses plain English to give a myriad of tips, tools, and explanations for keeping pain at bay and remaining healthy.
In today’s Excerpt she talks about Stress, Relaxation, Breathing Exercises, and – the best medicine of all – Laughter.
Never underestimate the power of your emotions
I know many people who, without even realizing it, send all of their stress straight to their necks or lower backs. After a few weeks or months of holding on to stress in your back, or carrying that “stress backpack” in your neck and shoulders, it only takes getting out of bed in the morning or reaching over to pick up your socks to bring on a full blown episode of sciatic nerve pain.
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s difficult to keep up with all that we have to do for ourselves and others. My own children tease me about my cell phone, which they think is an antique. It’s only two years old! I have a nephew in the fourth grade who is learning what I did in high school. The world is changing so fast that sometimes it makes my head spin. It also makes for a lot of stress and is causing a lot of stress-related illness, including chronic back pain.
You might wonder why stress has become an increasing problem in recent years. Well, Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, has an interesting theory. Bill estimates that the speed of change is doubling exponentially every 18 months. And according to him, the speed of change will only increase in coming months, years and decades. Change is stressful, even good change. Think about getting married or having a baby—these are examples of good changes in our lives, yet they can certainly be stressful!
The problem today is that many people are constantly stressed out. In a chronic stress condition, your body continually releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. They’ve gotten a bad reputation in recent years, but these stress hormones serve a valid purpose. Cortisol’s job in our body is to take glucose away from our other bodily systems and functions, and get it to our leg muscles quickly, so that we can run away very quickly from a ferocious animal on the prowl. That was very useful back in the day when a ferocious wild animal was the only danger we regularly faced—although I know many people who refer to their boss as a ferocious animal…. Another stress hormone, called adrenaline, increases our heart rate and elevates blood pressure so we have the stamina to run away quickly.
Cortisol slows down bodily functions that would be nonessential in a “fight or flight” situation, such as running away from a grizzly bear. It suppresses the immune system and the digestive process; slows the reproductive system; and affects mood, motivation and fear.
Currently, we find ourselves “stressing out” about losing our jobs or homes, or worrying about how on earth we are going to help our kids pay for college with tuition costs rising higher than Mt. Everest. Many are working in jobs that they don’t even like, but feel stuck there for financial or other reasons, and the stress is literally killing them. Maybe you have the “boss from hell,” and you’re on edge all the time, wondering when the next explosion will hit and who will be blown apart by the verbal mortars.
All of this constant worrying triggers the release of stress hormones way too often, so that too much cortisol and adrenaline spin around the racetrack of the bloodstream, causing a big traffic jam! As a result, our immune and digestive systems, and even, sometimes, our brains, are deprived of glucose, a much needed fuel. After a while, these systems, and our brain cells, begin to deteriorate—sort of like that tiny rust spot on the side of your car that turns into a huge hole in a matter of weeks. This is how organs and glands become diseased. You are no longer at ease, and so your body becomes “dis-eased.”
In fact, according to a 20-year study by Kaiser Permanente, 70 to 85 percent of all illnesses sending patients to their doctors were caused by stress—not just aggravated by stress, but caused by stress. Good grief!
I’ve seen too many people sitting at their desks and wearing their shoulders as earmuffs. Well, stay tuned folks: stiff necks, back and shoulder pain, and afternoon tension headaches to follow shortly!
And don’t even get me going on shallow breathing! Well, okay, I have to at least mention it. The other problem with being under constant stress is that our breathing becomes shallower and shallower as the day progresses, depriving our organs, glands and muscles of oxygen—another vital requirement for healthy functioning.
Tomorrow at work, just for the heck of it, pay attention to your breathing and look in the mirror at where your shoulders rest before you start your day. Then stop at around 3:00 P.M. and check again. You may be surprised to find that you are taking shallow, little breaths from your rib cage instead of your diaphragm, and by 3:00 P.M., your shoulders are significantly higher. Shallow breathing causes your organs, glands and muscles, including those in your back, to become starved for oxygen. When stress causes you to hold tension in your lower back, or shoulders, and you’re also doing shallow breathing, you are restricting blood flow to your back and neck, and restricting the amount of oxygen getting through to your body parts. No wonder you are in chronic pain!
The bad news is that stress is unavoidable. The good news is that while you can’t avoid stress, you can change your reaction to it, improving your health in the process. It takes a little planning and effort, but it’s definitely possible.
Here are my two best tips for stopping this vicious circle of nonstop stress dead in its tracks: 1) take conscious-breathing breaks and 2) laugh. They are so easy to use—you’ll just love them!
Set your watch alarm or desktop calendar to go off once every hour. When the alarm goes off, stop what you’re doing, sit tall in your chair, and close your eyes (so that you don’t get distracted). Squeeze your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for a few seconds, then push them back as far as you can, arching your spine a little, and hold for a few seconds, and then let them rest in a normal position. Now inhale slowly, counting to five or six, and then exhale even more slowly, counting to seven or eight. Continue breathing slowly in this way for one to two minutes.
Everyone can devote at least a minute each hour to overall health. Why should you take these little breathing breaks?
1. This little conscious meditation on your breath will calm your mind and bring your breathing and heart rate back to normal.
2. Exhaling for longer than you inhale is a proven technique for lowering your blood pressure.
3. By sitting tall in your chair and stretching your shoulders a little, you restore circulation to your upper back and neck and improve your posture and ease of breathing as well.
4. These little conscious-breathing breaks circulate freshly oxygenated blood through your whole body, including your back, neck and shoulders, helping to restore proper functioning of organs, glands and muscles.
Now, wasn’t that easy?
Clients have asked me if they need to keep up this pattern of hourly conscious-breathing breaks at home. Stopping to take a conscious-breathing break in the middle of driving your kids to soccer practice or while you’re cooking dinner is not going to happen, so here is my recommendation: Once in the morning before you leave for work, and then once at night before you go to bed, stop and take a conscious-breathing break. Most people can fit these two breaks into their busy schedules, along with the hourly breaks at work. The powerful benefits you’ll experience are worth the extra effort.
Even if you think you can’t remember to take these breathing breaks, or can’t fit your morning break in, leave yourself a note to complete your conscious-breathing break at night and make it a longer one, let’s say five minutes’ duration. This will definitely help you sleep better. And to help with your back pain, I recommend using the relaxation technique described in the next chapter for five minutes before you go to bed, while doing your evening conscious-breathing break. You’ll sleep like a baby!
Laughter is the best medicine. Truly, we all know that laughter makes us feel good. But aside from being fun, laughter has many health benefits, both mental and physical. A regular ten-minute laughter session can have a powerful impact on our overall health and well being. Laughter is gentle exercise for the lungs (which is really important for people who don’t get regular aerobic exercise), and it enhances our core body workout. It also helps us fill our lungs and body with oxygen and clears breathing passages. Sustained laughter lowers your blood pressure, improves depression and mood, and boosts your immune system.
Laughing makes you feel energized and refreshed because it releases endorphins. It also releases T-cells, the little Pac-Men of the body that eat up bad cells, such as any cancerous ones. Norman Cousins’ account of using laughter to heal his own terminal disease has inspired millions of people.18
Researchers at California’s Lorna Linda University announced the following findings at the 121st Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society: “Laughing lowers levels of three stress hormones (dopac, cortisol, epinephrine) by 38, 39 and 70 percent respectively. Even anticipating laughter had the positive effect of boosting beta endorphins and human growth hormone, which has a positive effect on immunity.”
Stop those stress hormones from causing a car wreck in your body—laugh! When you feel yourself storing all that tension in your lower back, or if you feel the pressure building and those shoulders creeping up to your ears, take a laughing break! Read some funny jokes on the Internet or watch a funny movie or Comedy Central for a few minutes. Listen to an old Bill Cosby or Robin Williams recording while you’re driving so you can avoid being stressed out by aggressive drivers. There are many ways to bring laughter back into your life, and I highly recommend making the effort. Not only will your back, neck and shoulders thank you, but your entire body will be happier!
Laughter also helps us relax, and relaxation is a major factor in relieving and preventing muscle pain. I’ve discovered many wonderful ways to relax muscles quickly, easing your back pain.
Kathi Casey is known as “The Healthy Boomer Body Expert”. Her powerful yet easy techniques blend Western science with Eastern health practices for total mind/body programs that increase stamina and vitality, strengthen core body, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, and enhance the immune system. Kathi’s tips include a simple breathing technique that helps you achieve a longer and more restful sleep and easy techniques to “fit” fitness into busy schedules. She is currently teaching, training, coaching and speaking all along the East Coast. She has also developed her own Golf Conditioning Program and her clients rave about the improvements in their game and their over-all strength! You can visit her website at www.kathicaseypilates.com and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
TODAY’S PRIZE CONTEST!
Kathi is offering a Free Copy of STOP BACK PAIN to today’s lucky winner.
Today’s Prize Giveaway has the same rules as the other giveaways:
1.To enter to win, simply COMMENT ON THIS BLOG, leaving an email address so we can contact you if you win. All names of commenters go into the ‘hat’.
2.The giveaway period runs for ONE WEEK from posting. The winner will then be chosen by random drawing and contacted.
3. Only one entry per giveaway. (But you can enter as many different Daily Giveaway Contests as you want!)
If you don’t win this one, be sure to order a copy of Kathi’s book from Amazon:
An eclectic kind of guy, I'm a prolific Writer, a Speaker, Attorney, Teacher, a Doctor of Chiropractic, and an Interfaith Minister. I am available for Weddings, Funerals, Ceremonies, Speaking Engagements and Workshops (you can find out morehere). My books encompass Spirituality and Religion, Science, Mythology, Education, Healing, and issues of Tolerance, Compassion, and the restoration of Meaning in contemporary life. You can contact me at Andrew@AndrewCort.com
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