By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall
There is often an inside joke among people that have Cerebral Palsy (CP) related to how often we get told by those in the medical profession to “just relax”. It’s funny, because, with CP of the spastic type, it is very difficult, if not impossible to get you muscles to relax especially if you’re trying or anticipating something painful. Personally, being cold, anxious, tired, excited, or even having a thought can make every muscle in my body tighten. There is a definite mind body connection when it comes to CP. This is why, when learning about techniques to help with anxiety, insomnia, and shame resilience, I’ve had a hard time understanding exactly how to be mindful. Mindfulness involves intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment, feeling relaxed, and accepting all of your thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgement. How do I stay in the present, remain relaxed, and accept my thoughts? That’s like the doctor telling me to relax before they poke me with a needle!
Yet, I decided to give mindfulness another try when my doctor recommended it as we were discussing the pain in my neck and shoulders from spasticity (I tend to pull my shoulders to my ears, especially at night). After researching apps, books, cd’s and websites (there are many to choose from) I decided to try an app called HeadSpace (also a website), aimed at beginners, that takes you through a 10 minute mindfulness exercise for 10 days. These exercises are free, but you can also get additional content with a paid subscription. The app is easy to use and provides funny animation tutorials before the exercise. The exercises themselves are easy to understand, and make a point to discourage efforting to make yourself relax. That’s when it hit me – I was trying too hard to make myself relax instead of letting it happen naturally.
Mindfulness is still not easy for me, it involves practice. I can say that I am starting to get it, feel more relaxed, and even fell asleep one night during an exercise! I’ve had to modify things a bit to help me stay in the present moment. For example, I trace my fingers as I breathe in and out as a sensory reminder. Other people have used tapping or hugging themselves as a way to enhance their mindfulness. Assistive technology like weighted blankets, adult coloring books or objects like a smooth rock, candle, soft fabric, beads, or a bracelet work for other people. My colleague, Aimee, has blogged extensively on alternatives to medication for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and relaxation. Check out:
Mindfulness doesn’t require you to sit with your legs crossed, burn incense, or say “ohm”. You don’t even necessarily have to have your eyes closed. It just requires intention and practice and there is really no wrong way to do it.
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Awesome post Laura! I had forgotten about the finger tracing and will revisit it myself! Always good to add more tools to the toolbox for relaxation and anxiety.