Category Archives: mindfulness

Pain, exercise and mindfulness – Part 3

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In parts one and two we reviewed how pain can put us in a spiral of inactivity, gradually reducing strength and stamina which can limit function and lead to secondary pain from inactivity.  Exercise designed right can reduce pain by improving mobility and strength, yet too much exercise can increase pain.    Mindfulness has been shown to reduce pain.  When we combine exercise with a mindful mindset, we are more likely to make movement a tool for helping with pain.

When exercising to lose weight, we can get focused on burning more calories and getting enough steps each day.  This focus makes it tempting to ignore signals that the body cannot tolerate that amount or type of movement.  Add to that all too popular  “no pain no gain” approach and the use of competitions or challenges to boost motivation.  These are just a few of the ways popular approaches to fitness promote ignoring your body rather than listening to it.

Many people want to lose weight in order to reduce pain.  While weight loss may help to some degree in some cases, we need to look at what happens in the body with weight loss.  The fact is that weight loss without exercise promotes muscle loss. Muscle loss means less support on those painful joints that are trying to tell you they need more support.  This is one way weight loss alone could make the pain worse, not better.

Pain research is telling us that when we ignore pain, the body only speaks louder to get our attention, in the form of more pain.   If we practice ignoring pain while losing weight,  we are missing out on the benefits mindfulness offers to help us quiet the pain signals.    Mindfulness does not mean focusing on the pain, it is shifting mindset about the pain.  Three qualities of mindfulness are paying attention with:

  • Curiosity:  when we shift to curiosity, we move away from frustration about the pain and the temptation to either push past it or let it keep us from moving at all.  Instead we can try moving lightly at first and be curious about how to move in a way that could reduce the pain.  If you are an “all or nothing exerciser”, this can take some practice. However, the shift is key to getting out of this cycle of doing too much, ending up in pain and then moving less.
  • Openness:  This means being open to trying different approaches to and types of exercise. It means being open to learning about what your body needs right now,  letting go of comparing yourself to what you did in the past or what you think you should be able to do now.    Openness means focusing on what your body can do now as the way out of the exercise and pain cycle. For example, stretching may not burn a lot of calories, but it may be a way to start moving on a regular basis and build up your body’s movement tolerance so it is ready for more movement down the road.
  • Kindness:  Mentally beating yourself up while you exercise (or paying someone else to push you) can actually be keeping you in a pain cycle.  Think of how you would treat someone else you care about, a pet or a small child, who is in pain.  You would want to do what you can to help.  That is the attitude of kindness you can apply to yourself when you exercise.  The interesting thing about research on self-kindness is that is leads to more motivation, not less. Kindness does not mean letting yourself off the hook or being too easy on yourself. It just means you will work with your body rather than against. it.

The research is becoming more and more clear that movement and mindfulness both promote healing.  In order for these two resources to work together though, we need to shift how we approach exercise for weight loss away from pushing the body to burn calories and sculpt it into the shape we want to using exercise as a resource for taking care of this body we are trying to help through weight loss.  Just like anything else, it takes practice.  Practice exercising with a mindset that is curious, open and kind you will begin to find ways to use exercise t  help yourself feel better not worse.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | December 11, 2017 · 7:19 pm

Pain, exercise, and mindfulness – Part 2

Last week we looked at how pain can put us in a spiral of inactivity.  The decrease in movement can lead to more pain,  less movement, more pain… and so on and so on.  Exercising when you have pain is tricky.  There is a fine line between doing  enough to feel better and doing too much ending up in more pain.  Pain, in the end, lowers motivation, keeping the spiral stuck in the downward direction.

There is a key ingredient we can add when approaching exercise that can help us with this dilemma – mindfulness.  Research is showing mindfulness can be very effective in dealing with pain.    Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. Accomplished meditators can reduce pain by over 90 percent!  Mindfulness is not just a form of meditation.  When practiced regularly, it helps us to have a mindset that is open, curious and kind.  Mindfulness and pain research tells us that our thoughts about pain – its history, our fears, memories, beliefs, all affect the levels of pain we experience.  This three-part article explains the process in more detail.  It’s worth a read if you are dealing with pain issues right now.

meditation-1000061Exercising for weight loss can promote the opposite mindset. When we ignore our body’s symptoms in order to push the body to burn more calories, we are being anything but curious, open and kind.  The “no pain no gain“,  “if some is good more is better” and “just do it” mindsets promotes mindlessness.   These mindsets work for sports training but not for lasting success with weight loss and health.     There is no evidence that our muscles need to be sore in order to get stronger.  Studies show something really is much better than nothing when it comes to exercise.  And when we “just do it” we miss out on the helpful signals our body is sending us.

Next week we will blend our approach to exercise for weight loss with this skill of mindfulness to discover an approach to exercise that can reverse the spiral of inactivity and pain.  This week, check out the article on the connection between mindfulness and pain management so you are ready to apply it to approaches to exercise for true weight loss success.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

 

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by | December 5, 2017 · 2:39 pm

Holiday Preparation: Mindfulness Call-in Event

pexels-photo-268533I am pleased to share information about a wonderful opportunity to enter the holiday season with tools for managing stress and eating environments over the holidays and beyond.  This call is offered by Narmin Virani, RD who also has training in mindfulness. Narmin has a wonderful way of combining these two areas of expertise with practical tools and guidance.  I hope you can take advantage of her generosity of time and talents.

I will be offering a 45-60 minute phone session starting at 7:30 pm on October 29th and 30th, and November 1st and 2nd  (the 2 days before and after Halloween!), including 15-20 minutes of guided mindfulness meditation and 20-30 minutes discussion after.   I will take you through a body scan, which is a simple mindfulness exercise where you scan your body in your mind’s eye, starting with your feet, moving all the way up to your head, while breathing slowly and deeply, all the while observing your thoughts as they arise, without judging, trying not to get carried away with the thoughts, using your breathing/pulse/heartbeat as an anchor for your awareness, every time your mind wanders.  By the end of the exercise you might find yourself feeling more centered, focused, and calm.   We might even do guided imagery and mindful eating exercises with trigger foods later in the week, following the body scan exercise.

What are the benefits?

Mindfulness has clinically shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and chronic pain. There is evidence that regular practice shrinks the area of the brain associated with fear and anxiety (amygdala) while thickening the area of the brain responsible for rational/ logical thought and impulse control (prefrontal cortex).  Our natural human instinct is to avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, but this just prolongs our suffering as the distractions we seek hurt us more than they help, and the unpleasant thoughts/sensations don’t really go away when we distract, but keep trying to get our attention.  Mindfulness is based on turning towards these unpleasant experiences rather than away from them, with an attitude of curiosity (what are my thoughts/feelings trying to tell me?  Are these changing from moment to moment or do they last forever?), non-judgement (thoughts are not right/wrong, I am not good/bad for thinking this way, all emotions are organic), and self-compassion (it’s okay to feel this, what I am going through is natural, I am only human, I am trying my best).  How does mindfulness reduce anxiety? It increases body awareness. With practice we get better at noticing what  anxiety feels like in the body – heart racing, muscles clenched, holding our breath, etc, instead of getting caught up in our thoughts – “Why am I so anxious? Why can’t I just relax ?” When we feel anxious about feeling anxious or try to “think anxiety away”, it actually just makes it snowball; but when we notice what it feels like in the body, without judging, we instinctively unclench and breathe, which instantly loosens the grip that the anxiety has on us.

I have professional training in mindfulness-medicine from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School, where I worked for 10 years, and am currently pursuing advanced teacher-training at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School.

Why is this a good time to do this?

  1. Holidays can be a stressful time, especially for someone who has had bariatric surgery and is trying to eat healthy. From Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, it’s 2 months of temptations. All the impossible-to-follow rules being tossed at you by online forums and well-meaning relatives/health-care professionals – “avoid carbs, stay away from sugar” – make this time especially difficult.
  2. Winter evenings can be depressing as it gets dark sooner.
  3. I have done this with quite a few of my patients who were struggling with stress-eating, and found it very effective
  4. Regular mindfulness practice has personally changed my life and personality for the better over the last 10-15 years, made me less reactive, more responsive, and kinder to myself and others.

 I am hoping that this four-day mindfulness session, followed by practicing on your own, will help you feel more calm, collected, and centered as you navigate the holidays.  You can’t control the food-filled environment at this time of the year, but facing it with anxiety and fear could actually leave you more vulnerable to breaking down and eating distractedly or quickly, while facing it calmly and fearlessly might help you eat mindfully, in a way that leaves you satisfied, not filled with regret.  If people find it helpful I might offer it again around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How can you participate?

You can dial in at 7:30 pm on Sunday October 29th and Monday 30th , and Wednesday November 1st and Thursday 2nd, using the number 712-451-0901 and access code 222264.  You can join anonymously if you want, you don’t have to tell us your name, just your initials or an alias before we start the discussion, so I can get a head count, to help me decide if it’s worth offering again.   I would recommend doing some gentle stretching exercises for 5-10 minutes before dialing in, because a relaxed body is more conducive to a relaxed mind.  We will start with a brief description of the exercise at 730 pm, do the exercise from 740 to 8 pm, then answer questions pertaining to the exercise itself, or general questions from 8 pm to 8.15-830 pm.  If you join after 740 pm, please press Star 6 to mute yourself, and stay muted until we start the discussion.  You will need a quiet place in your home where you wont be interrupted, a comfortable spot to sit or lie down, comfortable clothes that allow for free breathing, and ear phones or head phones so you can rest your arms.   I assure you that I will be in a room by myself, to protect your privacy.  You can call in, any or all of the four days.  This can be a break for you from your busy day and responsibilities, time devoted to just you, to de-stress. You don’t have to RSVP for this event, I plan on doing this even if no one shows up on the call, because if nothing else, I’ll get a good meditation out of it, and sleep better that night!   Please let me know if you have any questions.  Narmin.Virani@umassmemorial.org

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | October 23, 2017 · 7:04 pm

Breathing

Take a deep breath.  How does it feel?  Relaxing or tense? Try it again.  Take a deep breath and this time pause after the inhale.  Are your shoulders up? Is your chest lifted? Where do you feel your breath, in the upper, or lower part of your torso?

We are often told to take a deep breath to relax.  When we take a deep breath, for several reasons we tend to breathe “up”, creating more tension than relaxation.

Breathing is an automatic process. When we try to fool with it, we usually make it less efficient.  Watch a child sleeping and you see a natural breath. Their whole torso expands and relaxes as they breathe.  As we grow and become more aware of our body, and perhaps a bit (or a lot) more self conscious about our belly, we can subconsciously try to hide this area.  Taking a deep belly breath is uncomfortable because the last thing we want to do is make our belly bigger!  Instead we tend to breathe up, not deep into our belly, making a “deep breath” not a relaxing at all!

Place onbreathing-2029614__480e hand at the bottom of your rib cage. Place the other on your collar bones.  This is the length of your lungs. Now place your hands on the side of your rib cage and feel the width of your lungs.  If you can, place your hand in the front and back of the rib cage and feel the depth of your lungs.

Now try taking a breath in these three dimensions.  Let your rib cage and lungs expand  – side to side, front and back, filling from the bottom to the top. Imagine expanding in all directions.  (It may take a while to let go of old patterns of breathing.)   This is our natural way to breath and is worth practicing if you find you tend to breath upward rather than deep. This natural breath triggers a relaxation response in your nervous system.  Also, tension in your belly can cause tension in your back too. Learning to let go of tension in your belly is one part of minimizing back pain.

Now for the relaxing part.  Exhale slowly and completely.  Let your exhale be twice as long as your inhale.

Before moving on, pause and remember that your breath is an automatic process.  Your body knows when to inhale and when to exhale.  Notice this for a few breaths. Like you are watching the waves in the ocean.  You don’t have to make the waves happen, simply watch them.   Let the air move in all three directions on the inhale and then when your body is ready to exhale, slow it down and let it be complete before the next breath comes in.  It may help to adjust and stand or sit in alignment comfortably, because that position allows the lungs to expand in all directions.

Close your eyes and ride the full waves of your breath.  Notice what happens to any tension in your body.   If it starts to feel more tense rather than relaxing, go back to watching your breath.  This takes practice, so give it time.surf-1945572__480

What does this have to do with exercise?

  • Knowing how to use your breath to relax allows you to turn moments of waiting in line or at a stop light into opportunities to relax and recharge your energy
  • With the energy you save from your body not “overworking” in those moments, you might notice you have more energy to move in more moments of your day
  • Breath awareness helps guide you during exercise to find the just right level for your body.

Keep Moving, BREATHE Well,

Janet

PS:  For more information on how this works in your body, check out this Mechanics of Breathing Video  (6:53min in length) by movement scientist Katy Bowman.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician

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by | June 28, 2017 · 3:26 pm

How Much is Enough?

enough-2Let’s continue to look at the difference between training for sports/military performance and training for well-being.

When it comes to fitness, how much is enough?   

  • How hard should I push my body?
  • How much weight should I lift? 
  • How many miles should I walk or run?
  • How many steps should I take? 

If what you are doing never quite seems enough, always feels like you should be doing more, you may have strayed from training for well-being.

In athletic training, there is always a next level to strive towards. That ‘never enough’ provides the motivation to push harder. For this type of training, then, we need to rely on external guides to inform about our progress. Numbers such as miles and minutes provide accurate feedback. Coaches help assess our performance, giving valuable information about how to keep pushing the limits to excel at the sport.

In training for health and well-being, enough is the level that allows you to achieve the definition of fitness for well being – “do activities of daily life with ease, having enough energy left over for recreation and to meet emergencies.”

For this type of training, you have a guide more accurate than the most advanced technology or experienced professional available. The best part is this guide is free and with you all the time! It’s your body! What your body tells you in the present moment is the most accurate and reliable information available for training for well-being.

What makes it not so reliable is when our mind starts dictating what the body “should” do.  I should not have pain with this exercise, it was fine yesterday. I should be able to lift that much weight, run faster, walk further. I should push my body harder to lose more weight. 

Our judgment about what the body is telling us right now squelches this most accurate guide. When we use the body as a guide, we realize we can have the ultimate “personalized fitness program” available. When we listen we might hear the body saying:

  • That pain you feel when you exercise is a warning signal… possible injury ahead!
  • Those tight muscles cannot tolerate what you are doing right now. The nervous  system has taken over and tightened the muscle to protect it.
  • That pain and stiffness you feel when I am still for a while means I need movement to help get rid of some of this inflammation.
  • When you feel exhausted after a busy, stressful, yet sedentary day, it is because I have been working hard all day, ready to move to respond to your stressor.  Please give me what I have been preparing for and move so I can really relax.  

It is really easy to get caught in the should’s when fitness marketing and the culture tend to mesh together sports training and well-being training. Using mindfulness is very helpful here for developing the skills for listening to our body without judgment, uncovering the most accurate and reliable guidance available when it comes to training for our own well-being.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

 

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by | November 9, 2016 · 6:32 pm

Mindset Matters

Pause for a moment.  Notice what you are thinking.  Notice the quality of your thoughts; positive or negative, fast or slow.

Can what is going on up there really change the body?

Lets experiment – imagine going to the refrigerator and taking out a bright yellow juicy lemon. Cutting it in slices and taking a big bite of the juicy pulp.  What is happening in your mouth right now?

Same if you think of a happy event, a smile comes to your face? Think of a nerve wracking event, butterfly’s in your stomach?

Our brain 1mind and body are connected by a two way street. What happens in one affects the other.

So can our thoughts actually change how our body responds to eating and exercising?

Research is pointing to a big “yes!”.  Check out this TED talk by Dr. Alia Crum.

Great news because it means we could very well have an added way to improve our health and well-being – by switching our thinking – in any moment.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

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by | February 24, 2016 · 8:16 pm

Mindful Eating Summit + Another reason to do strength training

Here is another great free online resource coming up.  The Mindful Eating Summit is a five-day, 20 speaker online event.  It looks like a great way to learn about how habits and emotions affect the way we eat and tools for eating healthy.

And here is a nice article about research on strength training and  brain health!  I have one caution – please do not do the exercise like they are showing in the picture – elbows above the shoulder increases the risk of shoulder injury. Only raise the elbows to just below shoulder height.  Otherwise enjoy the article.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

 

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by | October 22, 2015 · 8:13 pm