Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Would you rather be a Chocolatier or a Hammer Wielder?

Our Education Has Misled Us.
Most traditional education comes as information to memorize inorder to regurgitate it later. We work to understand books, articles, and a theory. Later, we do our best to prove we’re right in our beliefs.

Why would this ever be a problem? 
Because we are seldom left time to consider IF the information is actually plausible, we skip a step. IF and only IF there is a reasonable premise, learning the material is justifiable.

Good With Hammers.
If we want to be good with a hammer, we visit a Hammer Master. This expert shares with us their "Secrets Of Hammer Wielding™". How hard to hammerhow quickly and which special hammer to use. Taking a course on hammering assumes that you plan to use it on nails or some similarly yielding inert substance. The premise is that nails need a hammer in order to move them forward. The premise assumes there is no other way.
Yes, a chocolate hammer

Chocolate Feels Good.
When we have our first taste of chocolate it is a transcendent experience. The texture on the tongue; the sweetness. The warm, melting aroma with pretty foil wrappers peeling back. But we can be thrown back a variety of ways; to Easter, or Mom, or that fancy shop in Paris with the most delicious coffee. Or, we might have had an allergic reaction to it. In short, the past matters. A master chocolate maker must take into account the person who will experience the chocolate. A premise could be that the experience can't negate the past.

People Are Not Nails.
Far too many of us are busy trying to memorize another Hammer Wielding™ technique. Collecting hammer after hammer and constantly looking for new nails to hammer. If you work with people as a Yoga teacher, PhysioTherapist, Massage Therapist, or other type of therapist you have to work really hard to remember this. Our educational history has prepared us to want to work hard and become Hammer Wielders PhD not Chocolatiers. Since working with Humans is an experiential interaction, there is a history to consider, and without considering the premise we are working with we may be Hammering when we should be noticing. 

When I employ Simple Contact nothing sustains me, guides me, and it offers my patients a place to go that they should find helpful and relieving. Learn what you need to know, then try doing nothing yourself.” - Barrett Dorko

For Therapists In Hamilton
There is an opportunity to re-examine what you have learned and why you have learned it. Barrett Dorko is teaching a workshop in Hamilton for anyone that is interested in working with people who struggle with pain. It is not a "What to do" workshop, those are for Hammer Wielders. Barrett will talk about the experience and context you construct as you become a Chocolatier.

Simple Contact - Manually Managing People in Pain

Date and time: May 10-11, 8am-4pm
Location: Performance Physio, 50 Dundurn Street South, Hamilton, ON. L8P 4W3
Instructor: Barrett Dorko, PT
Cost: $350
Simple Contact is two things; an understanding of how painful problems occur and a method of managing them manually in a manner that is synchronous with that understanding. Ideomotion is a movement inherent to life that both expresses us and keeps us comfortable.

Contact: Jake Tumber, PT (905) 912 7127

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Top 10 things you should expect when visiting any Therapist for pain.

This list is 10 things that I feel any patient in pain should expect (possibly demand) when they visit a Therapist of any kind for help relieving their pain.

1) Their attention
If you are being treated by a professional who claims they can help you with your pain expect them to be paying careful attention to you. You are presenting expert evidence of your current experience and situation. This has nothing to do necessarily with the long story you tell about your pain to the many people who are not really interested in listening. This has to do with someone who is directing their caring attention towards you and noticing cues that you might not even realize you're demonstrating. According to the IASP definition, Pain is a sensory AND emotional experience. To resolve pain you need help sometimes from another person. A therapeutic relationship serves many more complex purposes than that of a mechanic working on your car at a garage. If they don't make a solid and consistent attempt at understanding you they can't help you.

2) Some education
The field of pain science has improved so much in the last couple decades. We all need to learn updated explanations for what is going on when we are in pain. Knowledge is power. And in this case knowledge is pain liberating. Learning what pain is and why we have pain experiences actually can go a long way towards the resolution of pain. In some cases, just learning why we hurt can resolve the pain! Neil Pearson offers some great stories and explanations in his 3 part series on Overcoming Pain. Part1, Part 2, and Part 3. A good Therapist should help you understand this better

3) A time frame

Any decent Therapist should have made some positive impact on your pain within 10 visits. Treating pain should not be like renting an apartment. You're not signing up for a 1 to 5 year lease with options for renewal. Unless you're recovering from a recent injury or major trauma (and even then really) there should be some expectation on your part that what your Therapist does is working or at least having an effect. I hear of people who continue to visit their Therapist of choice for years because it has been argued that they need the treatment to prevent pain from recurring. This is garbage. These Therapists are building additions on their house and taking trips to Bermuda because of the fear that they have instilled in you.

4) Atmosphere
It all matters. A clean organized room that is separate from others. An absence of distractions especially from other therapists treating patients. The context of the room is an input to your nervous system, it does not need to be a resort spa [although that wouldn't hurt in the least] but the focus should be on reducing the disruptive input to your nervous system. i.e. calming. Now professionals like Joe Brence suggests that patients may come to a Therapist with an expectation that therapy happens in a gym like environment and that it will probably be hard work. A Therapist may offer things to a patient because of these expectations. Keep in mind that this is part of the context of the input, and it is possible that some of your expectations will need to change. If in doubt, ask your Therapist about this and especially inform them if the environment feels distracting, overstimulating, or otherwise unnerving. A good Therapist will adapt.

5) Empowerment
The inner locus of control is fundamental to the patient / Therapist relationship. At the end of each encounter you should feel more in control and have a greater understanding of the importance of your role. I wrote this in the last 10 but it bears repeating. If you are becoming more dependent on your Therapist to "save you" or "fix you" something is wrong with the way the therapeutic relationship is going. At first you will be handing yourself over to a professional, but by the end (or hopefully very near the beginning) they will be putting you right back in the drivers seat.

6) Honesty and comfort with uncertainty.
Sometimes it is beyond a Therapist's knowledge level. Consider that your Therapist does not need to be an answer machine. Instead invite them to be a co-conspirator. Someone with some technical knowledge and skills willing to team up with your extensive experience in being you. Together, the two of you can problem solve, goal set, and scheme your way to overthrowing pains reign over your life. Some Therapists are afraid to be uncertain. Even when they are wrong they deflect it by saying you were the problem. This is nonsense! You need them to assist you in taking your inner locus of control to the street and kick some pain ass!

7) Encouragement to find movement
There is a great saying "motion is lotion". However, sometimes a Therapist will get locked into a prescriptive set of movements that they think are the cure-all for every condition. Movement is good, exercise is good, but we're not entirely sure why some of it works. Cory Blickenstaff advocates novel movements and has a number of interesting videos that show how you can use novel movements and a very basic knowledge of the nervous system to feed your brain new information. This new information can cause your nervous system to form a new, pain-free, opinion of the state of your body. Check out his whole series on YouTube.

8) An allergic reaction to pseudoscience
Phrenology was really in vogue in the 1800's. Back in those days neuroscience was a complete mystery and many Phrenologists thought they were practicing the cutting edge of science. But once Phrenology, and many others foolish notions [like Homeopathy] were proven wrong it was time to move on. Unfortunately, even though some of these old, outdated therapies have been thoroughly discredited, they still exist. Luckily, people like Edzard Ernst (an MD and former Homeopath) are working to remedy this. It is reasonable to understand that the Therapist who has invested many hours and many dollars learning a particular method or modality will have a hard time letting go. Hey, they can keep the business cards but ditch the explanatory model OK? If a Therapist's primary concern is with helping patients get better it should not matter. We have all moved on from the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause. Sure it hurt to grow, and we lost the money and presents, but hey, we're all grown up now.

9) A passion for learning
It is also reasonable to ask your Therapist what latest article, book, or blog post they read regarding pain or therapy. Do they read from a variety of sources? Or do they cling to one particular guru who they've learned all their masterful techniques from. There is no one person that understands it all. There are many people and organizations today doing truly awesome research. A Therapist who is not interesting in at least improving their understanding in some way probably hasn't read anything decent in the last few years or more.

10) A willingness to treat pain
Barrett Dorko has a great saying "if the primary complaint is pain, the treatment of pain should be primary". If you visit a therapist because of pain in your shoulder and they spend all of their time trying to increase your range of motion, improve your core strength, or something silly like balancing the difference in your leg lengths, run. Pain is a reasonable thing to treat first and if any exercise or movement activity is prescribed it should be in reference to lessening the pain experience. Pain is just not treated well and soon enough. Do not tolerate a Therapist who ignores it, have them address the pain or get out of there.

Pain is a really complex experience. Going into just any corner store for some good ole therapy is not going to help you get better. Learn everything you can and demand quality care from the people who earn their living from it.

*Side note all of the people referenced in this article have tons of credentials. I didn't post the alphabet after their name but you can easily look that up.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

10 things I wish my Doctor had told me about pain!

Jake Tumber, PT asked me what things I know now about pain that I wish I was told in 2002 when I visited my Family Doctor after a minor car accident. I decided to get it down on a list here:

1) You are probably not damaged!
Despite all the impact demolition derby drivers sustain, they have ultra low incidence of chronic whiplash and persistent neck pain. It has nothing to do with the forces (they get blind sided too) but everything to do with the meaning and context of what happens. This study may not be the most robust (Retrospective). But it does pose a pretty challenging question to some base assumptions. Physical damage is a poor predictor of how much pain you will experience.

2) Move it or lose it!
If you treat your body like it is fragile and damaged, it will become more so. There is a something called Hebb's Rule after Donald Hebb which states "Cells that fire together wire together". What this means in this case is that if you move less, you will lose some of those capacities to move. That sounds kind of dire but of course this happens over time. And time is pernicious when it comes to chronic pain. If you allow yourself to act fragile and breakable you will slowly, physically and mentally, change to support that belief over time. You are much more robust then you realize and with a little creativity you can find something that you can do. This makes all the difference in the world.

3) Banish fear!
Being afraid of the pain getting worse makes you fearful of movement. Along with point 2) this kind of attitude can lead to catastrophising, depression, and more fear. All these may cause you to stop exercising or challenging yourself which creates self perpetuating loops that slowly paint you in a corner. This is why "letting pain be your guide" is not helpful to your recovery.

4) Pay attention!
Blasting past the pain and ignoring flare ups will piss off the nervous system. And nobody's happy if the NS isn't happy. Diane Jacob's talks about the "Critter Brain", Todd Hargrove mentions the "Wild Animal". They are talking about that older part of you that is constantly monitoring threat and mounting defensive responses if it deems it necessary. Treat your newly sensitized nervous system like a wild animal or ancient critter brain that you are attempting to tame and soothe by building trust.

5) Exercise and move for the general benefit!
You can't stretch out the pain. And strengthening only indirectly affects pain, most likely because exercise and movement are so helpful in general. So forget about weak muscles and asymmetry, if you walked in the room and didn't fall over your core strength is just fine. Paul Ingraham started me on a wild journey a few years ago with that first stretching article, his site is well worth a visit.

6) No therapist should increase your pain!
If you ever have any therapist that increases your pain during therapy and implies that it is somehow good for you. Punch them and get out of there. (I'm talking to ART people especially here.) Increasing your pain through therapy can heighten the sensitivity of your nervous system which is the exact opposite of what therapy should be going for. Sometimes the best thing a therapist can do is Do Nothing as Barret Dorko writes.

7) Looking inside isn't going to help!
Getting any imaging done should be an absolutely last resort. Unless there is a serious red flag, chances are any findings on MRI's, X-rays etc will just cause you to worry about something unnecessarily. Many people have no pain and would have plenty of abnormal imaging findings.

8) Your brain is king (or queen) of it all!
Your brain is in complete control of the pain experience. Pain is produced as a pain experience just like hunger and thirst. Only with pain it is similar to a car alarm that has been set on high sensitivity. Sometimes the alarm may go off because a strong wind has just blown or some car stereo bass shook the windows as it went by. With pain, there doesn't have to be anything wrong for the experience to occur, it can be simply because the sensitivity is up to high. This one is the most vexing because it feels so real. And it often feels like your pain has a distinct location. You would swear under oath that something is wrong "right there". But our brain can be tricked very easily, I mean very very easily. You can't trust your experience.

9) Your brain can get cranky!
Your brain extends throughout your entire body. 72kms. All nervous tissues have their own blood supply and can get very cranky if they are not well fed. This is where you may need the help of a competent therapist. And the earlier the better. A proper therapist will always help you regain your inner locus of control, they will never attempt to be the "healer" or the "guru" with special knowledge that only they understand leaving you dependent on them for recovery.

10) Quacks are after your money!
Finally, here is a quick list of money wasting therapies. Craniosacral Therapy (CST), Ultrasound, Myofascial Release (MFR) Acupuncture, Cupping, Moxibustion, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, most Pathy's, reiki, Therapeutic Touch, energy work (of any kind), TENS, Chiropractors that believe in Subluxation Theory, traction devices, most anything that buzzes, whirs, bleeps, or rumbles, magnetic anything, copper bracelets, quite a lot of surgeries, any instruments that are used to scrape the skin in some way (especially aggressively), or any treatment that approaches the body as some dumb lump of meat that has no super sensitive tissue permeating every square millimetre of it.

Knowing this stuff 11 years ago would have put me on quite a different (and less money wasting) track than the one I ended up traveling so I hope it gives someone who is starting out now a leg up. I would love to hear from your experiences if you'd share them below.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pain vs 1,600lbs

Hauling 1600 lbs of shingles up on a roof, nailing them down, after having ripped the same amount off and taking it to the dump is not what I would ever suggestion to someone else with Chronic Pain.

It probably would have been easier to just call the roofing company 2 years ago when I started doing this job in 3 stages, but when the first quote came in at $10,000 I thought I have got to be able to do this cheaper than that. Actually, my plan was that I was going to complete the roof in just 2 stages. However the first time caught me so much by surprise and I was brought crashing back to reality when I found out how hard roofing really was. I had done a bit before in my 20's but memory has a tendency of taking away pain and replacing it with a sense of pride or a badge of honour.

The pain in my neck, shoulder and hip had seemed to take a sharper tinge over the last few years. I am not sure why, it may be that the larger load of stress at work and other challenges, plus having succumbed to the erroneous belief that the injury was getting worse and that I should avoid certain movements just in case I wore the joints down to bone on bone or something terrible and scary like that.
This belief had become deeply implanted in me and my plastic mind had shifted with this false information.

So over the last 2 years I have been able to learn an incredible amount about Persistent Pain and Pain Science through a website called SomaSimple and through other great sites like BIM, PainScienceBBoyScience, and BetterMovement. Learning about the discoveries that modern Neuroscience has made and what this has taught us about the experience of pain has not only given me a better understanding of "why" my body hurts, but also why, after 10 years of this, it is so difficult to change.

The last time I was up on the roof, or phase 2, was 1 1/2 years ago. Springtime 2011. I was only starting to get into the Pain Science reading and the cognitive shift that is required to "get" what the new information meant in the day to day reality had not taken hold yet. So that job was a real killer. It took weeks for my shoulder and back to calm down and the normal day to day pain experience had been stepped up a couple notches from that. My right wrist had also added this numbness and pain in the carpal tunnel area that was terribly frustrating and distressing.

This time I am more prepared. I hope. I had started some preparation in the early summer. Some of it was not successful, perhaps my goal of being pain free enough to get up on the roof was a foolish one, but conditioning is definitely a big help. Working hard to build endurance and stamina with whatever movements I could do in a non threatening way with weights if possible.

I know I could have prepared more and planned it better. But getting through with what I had while working 50 hours a week and running a Yoga Studio with my wife, I was happy that I had done anything at all.

Day 1)  Friday. Surprisingly the first day of stripping has gone right according to my 3 day plan. I have a bare wood roof after peeling off the old shingles. Lucky for me my brother-in-law offered to pick the shingles up off of the ground and load the truck while I tore them up and tossed them down. A huge help, seriously. The rain has been threatening all afternoon and forecasts for tonight so lucky for me again, my neighbour has offered some nice big tarps and just jumped up on the roof to help me cover up.

Roof Stripped. Yes this is an old roof.
1851 to be exact.Some of these boards
are 24" x 1" x 14 ft. Not found at
Home Depot.

Day 2). Saturday. Things are not going as well. The shingles I used in the first phase have a class action law suit against them right now so Home Depot no longer carries them. Of course I don't know there is a class action law suit yet so I have hunted them down at a Rona. Again, lucky for me they do not have Two Tone Black in stock, if I want them I will have to drive to Erin Mills, no thanks, something at Home Depot will have to look close enough. Put that job off until tomorrow and just take the plywood and other items back today. I have a limited window of time to get all of my plywood cut and on the roof with the help of my neighbour. I had decided that cutting plywood is not my forte, nor do I want to attempt to carry 4ft x 8ft sheets of plywood up on a roof by myself. As it turns out, 1/4" plywood doesn't weigh much and I could have done that as well if I had to.

Day 3) Sunday. Now 2 things will slow down this whole process. 1) Squirrels had gotten into the attic a few years ago and apparently this was the section of roof that they had gnawed down to tooth picks. Some wood replacement is required. 2) I have two chimneys on this section of the roof. One of them is no longer connected to any fireplace, and when my shovel peeled the shingles underneath I thought the whole chimney would topple over. I think this one will have to come down.

Day 4) Monday. The chimney came apart surprisingly easy and reinforcing the area with some 2 x 4's didn't take much, fixing the section that the squirrels had modified also was not that difficult.But due to all this messing around we are now into Monday and I have a big project shipping out at work that I should be present for. So half day of work lost.

Day 5) Tuesday. I have a seminar to attend this morning, lose another half day. And now this cold I seemed to have caught is really kicking in.
Added some thin 1/4" plywood
on top to stop the shingles from
wrinkling due to the old wood
planks expanding and
contracting with the weather.

Day 6) Wednesday. Rain is in the forecast so I think this will be an off day to hopefully recoup.

Day 7) Thursday. This work is bloody hard. All the conditioning I did manage completely neglected the hands and feet. Standing at odd angles for long stretches of time has my calves and ankles screaming murder and constantly grabbing, pulling, beating, and hammering has made my hands feel a little like hamburger. Each morning I spend some time just moving things around slowly and doing some simple warm ups and Yoga to make the work easier. Who am I kidding, it doesn't make any of this easier but it is at least a way of dialing the threats to my system down again. Today was my birthday and I have made a solemn oath that I will not entertain the idea of roofing a house again in this lifetime. There were some other prayers mixed in that one but I'll save my self respect and not share those.

On left side is the old shingles,
on the right side is the new
shingles. More or less.
Can you spot
the difference?
I don't care if you can.

Day 8) Friday. I am leaving for a week on Sunday to install a piece of equipment in South Carolina. There is no way I can take today off of work so the roof will have to wait until tomorrow. This is cutting it much closer than I had planned. We are already entering 8 days on a 3 day project. Yesterday went OK. At least shingles are getting laid down now. I have been bringing bundles up in sets that I have divided up over the whole project. Making sure to not get too wiped out doing it all at once which may cause me to move poorly due to being over tired. Perhaps that explains why this longer period of time has been good. I have gotten a little work hardened and did not have to move too much at one time.

Day 9) Saturday, I have to move fast today. No time for stopping, less breaks. Full out and get this done. Out of nails. For crying out loud, a trip to Home Depot steals an hour and a half. Today I have felt the stress of the project most. Knowing I have an immovable deadline and it is threaten rain at points today.
Each bundle weighs 75lbs.
This part really kicked my ass.
But I hauled almost all
of the bundles up on my
problem shoulder.
22 trips, 1,600 lbs - not bad,
and the pain didn't
increase at all.
How is this possible?
I have had to work hard to keep breathing as calmly as possible to prevent the stress from building. It is helpful that this is a physical project. Being able to work hard helps dissipate a lot of that stress. Nevertheless, my goal to end this project without increasing pain will need me to keep myself calm.

Somehow I manage to get to the point where I am putting the capping shingles on by 5:30pm. I have to cut each shingle into three pieces and angle them so that they lie neatly across the top. I am actually getting good at this part. The first time I did this in phase 1 I used about 2 - 3 times as many shingles as I should have and I cut the angle incorrectly so some pieces were peaking out that shouldn't have. But as I do this now I hear thunder in the distance. Being on your roof in a thunderstorm, I have heard, is not advisable. How close is it? I keep moving faster to get each cap in place. Another quiet rumble off in the distance. Faster, faster, but keep calm. The sun is going down now making this even more interesting. I manage to get all the caps on and take a picture for proof to show Mark Hollis in New Zealand. But I am still not done.I have to seal all the gaps and vents and chimney.

This is a pretty self indulgent article, I'll admit that. And most of the time I am just writing about the project. But I hope there is some take away points I can leave here and that someone will get something out of this somewhere.
A thing of beauty. Even if
I do say so myself. I sure
do have that capping down.
But don't ask for a quote,
I'm too expensive :)
  • If I had listened to the sensations in my Neck, Shoulder, and Hip I would never have planned to do this project. But I have learned that how they feel does not necessarily tell me whether they are capable or not.
    Pain is not an accurate indication of how much you should or can move.
  • Preparation makes everything better but we also live in a complex, shifting and challenging world.
    Don't wait for everything to be perfect to get started. Prepare as much as you can and then get going.
  • In the middle of this project, and incidentally in the middle of the other 2 phases, I wanted to quit or give up a lot. I had the voice telling me "this is too hard", "you won't finish in time" and "this is really going to cause you to suffer later". I had to ignore that voice a lot without ignoring every voice.
    When it is really hard just focus on the next little step you have to do.
  • Plan out your risks, learn as much about your strengths and weaknesses as you can and have back up plans whenever possible. I wore a safety harness, I had access to help if I needed it, and I wasn't working alone, someone was within earshot.
    Safety first.
  •  When things were getting really hard I remembered to breath deeper, to acknowledge that some of the thoughts I was having were not accurate I had to refocus my attention to what was really going on.
    Don't believe everything you think.
  • Finally after the project was over and I was on the plane Sunday and the rest of the week. I noticed that I did not have any increase in pain. In fact it had actually lessened a bit.
    Understanding pain and why we hurt can actually make a huge difference.
Oh and I really have to tip my hat to roofers everywhere. They earn every cent they get paid. Also, my wife, who absolutely hates cooking, did me the biggest favour all week and prepared all kinds of meals and coffee, helped a ton with ground clean up and warm hugs at the end of each night. She worked equally as hard as me and as always "it takes two to tango"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Doug The Great and Participation House

A few years ago I really wanted to be a professional speaker. I had been listening to people like Les Brown, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Steven Covey and of course Zig Ziglar to name a few. Sandy and I went to courses and live lectures and I even had the idea of speaking more in my mind when I joined the Rotary club. It is something I would still like to do more of but it is on hold for a little while longer.

When we were learning about the art of speaking we found miles of information. How to prepare material, how to look and dress, the importance of humour and eye contact etc. etc. so when we went to the Jaycees event back in 2002 (boy that is back a bit) we were prepared to critique the 2 speakers of the evening.

So as a side note, I have told this story a few times but the problem is that memory is a very slippery and unreliable thing. I have probably changed some elements and details over the years of telling it. But the important point of this story is I don't remember anything about the first speaker. Not his name, not the topic, nothing.

However, I will never forget Doug Hunt or the "Doug The Great" as he is billed.

It wasn't because Mr. 1st Speaker (we'll call him that) was poorly prepared. No, he was polished, he made excellent eye contact, opened with humour, and by all accounts was very good technically but
a) his message didn't move us,
b) I am not too sure if it moved him, and
c) it was missing that life's purpose.
Doug on the other hand, didn't make eye contact for more than a few seconds. He kept looking at the ceiling for some reason. He bounced around in the beginning, lost his place, and didn't seem to have any plan for how to begin. But boy did he have a purpose. And it wasn't to be a great speaker.

Sledge Hockey is not for sissies
 Doug didn't spend much time talking about how he earned his 2 Guinness World Records for stilt walking but of course I still remember that. What he did spend a lot of time talking about was his experiences at Participation House in Brantford, Ontario. Participation House is a community living arrangement for Physically Disabled Adults. The goal is to help the residents live an active and integrated life. To Participate if you will. And the founders had this foresight in 1978 which is truly astounding. One story in particular that Doug told was about Sledge Hockey. If you haven't watched Sledge Hockey, don't let the fact that these players are sitting down mislead you. They are out for blood just like any other Canadian on ice.

The residents at Participation House (P.H) learned about some disabled people who were playing sledge hockey somehow and thought "Hey, if they can do it, we can do it". Doug and the others at P.H were always looking for activities and this seemed perfect so the group set to work. They first acquired the equipment, got some ice time, arranged for training, skills development, all the things you need if you want to become a first rate Sledge Hockey team. They set up matches to play each other and learned all the rules getting quite good at their new sport. So of course now is the time to up the ante. An annual tournament was held in Toronto, and teams from all over would come to compete. It was a perfect place for them to show off their skill, bring home the title, and reign as champions. The dreams were starting and I am sure fame and fortune were among the minds of some.

So after all the weeks of grueling training and preparation, their turn to compete came. They took to the ice against their opponents in the first qualifying match and it was a slaughter. It wasn't even close. The score ran up so high that there probably should have been a mercy rule called. They lost that badly. Yes, they lost!!!!!

After the game Doug was afraid to go into the dressing room. He knew that all the hopes and dreams of the players were now shattered and that he would have to spend time helping them pick up the pieces. He knew how hard it would be to face the fact that they really weren't that good at sledge hockey at all and should probably retire to avoid further embarrassment.

As he prepared to enter the dressing room he heard something unusual. Shouting, yelling, and......laughing? Yes laughing. The players were cheering and celebrating as Doug walked in. Dumfounded he listened to them regale each other with stories of the trouncing they just received. After all the hard work and preparation Doug was at a loss to understand or explain what he was hearing. Why were they so happy?

So this is the big take home lesson. I mean, when we heard the answer the room was completely quiet. That sound when something truly profound has been told and everyone in the room has been transported by hearing it.

The dreams of fame and fortune were in the minds of Doug, the helpers, and the trainers, not the players. For the residents of P.H one of the things that they didn't get a chance to do very much was participate. Even when they did get that chance it was usually choreographed and controlled so that no one would get their feelings hurt and every one would get to be a winner. What they had never, ever had a chance to do in their life was lose. To give it their best shot, to prepare and compete and fall completely flat on their face. And to the players this was a revelation. This was glorious. They finally had something real and they were ecstatic.

If there is ever a single lesson I would like to remember it is this. Being able to participate in life, being able to fail, and to lose is something not to take for granted. It is not something to whine about. As hard as it is, remembering that being here and present and having this experience of life is precious and fleeting. And I hope to relish it and savour it before it is gone.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Understanding Pain

Diane Jacobs of SomaSimple tipped me off to this great little video that helps explain pain in under 5 minutes.

It is well worth reviewing a couple of times if you have persistent pain that has never been explained to you in a clear and concise way.
It was never explained to me. I had to search and dig for almost 10 years to find out what pain really was.

It also helps explain why Yoga works, and also why it doesn't sometimes. If we start to believe it is the poses or the breathing drill for a count of 10 that produced the magic we have completely missed the mark.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Monica Voss on Pranayama vs Breath Awareness

This video represents one of the reasons that we enjoy Monica Voss so much. She brings the human quality to Yoga that is so quiet, so unassuming, and yet represents where the real power of Yoga lies in our opinion.
Here she talks about the difference between Pranayama and Breath Awareness and how one might choose the most useful approach and include this in a personal practice.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Yoga and Neuroscience

A field that has fascinated me for over a decade is the field of Neuroscience. This field has changed the way we look at almost everything in the last 10 years. Books by the thousands now reference areas of the brain as if talking about items on a supermarket shelf the terms are becoming so common place. It is not unusual for an author to write about neurotransmitters like Dopamine or Serotonin, or areas of the brain like the Amygdala or the Hippocampus when discussing their particular point or topic.

So where does that leave Yoga? Well, in fact, right in the middle of it all,... hopefully. Yoga involves humans (most times), so it would be impossible, except with some very skillful surgery and advanced electronics, to be practicing Yoga without using your brain.

Despite what you may be worried about, you don't need to know or understand any of these terms or concepts when practicing Yoga to get the benefits [it's OK if you do though ;) ]. The research on Yoga and the Brain is just starting to come in such as Yoga and GABA. Yoga in this study was shown to increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels by 27% in participants after their Yoga session and reduced GABA levels have been identified in people with depression and anxiety disorders.

There will undoubtedly be much more research coming out in the next decade to help us learn about how to best use the best healthy living Yoga principles and eliminate those that provide very little or no help.

This is what is happening to the field of Pain Science. Many treatments such as Physical Therapy and Massage Therapy are radically changing as our understanding of the main role the Brain plays in the experience of pain and suffering. One site in particular that I have come to appreciate above all is A site devoted to deconstructing false Pain and Therapy ideologies.

Two major books that have helped catapult this understanding are:
The Brain that Changes Itself - Norman Doidge
Phantoms in the Brain by V.S Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

Doidge is a Toronto based Psychiatrist and his book fits easily in my top 5 books of all time. It is highly readable and if you have even the smallest amount of interest in what goes on in your attic you will really enjoy it.

Ramachadran is a Neurologist in California and has a number of fascinating videos on Youtube, he is engaging to listen to with his rolling R's and Indian accent making it well worth the time investment.

Of course as soon as there is any new technology or scientific discovery hacks and charlatans will come in and try to use it to explain their own particular kook theories. Take the video below for example. There is a genuine lack of use of Occam's Razor by the proponents of the theory behind SuperBrain Yoga. There is no reason to resort to the convoluted theories that the "experts" in this news program resort to when they explain their experience with SuperBrain Yoga, the fact that people are exercising everyday explains it all away. There are so many problems with the evidence they give for the rest of the purported results it is not even worth getting started.

It is because of the huge amount of this kind of crap in Yoga that I had to learn how to find my way to good sources of information and most importantly how to think. See the links to excellent books on this topic below the video. As well as some of the links on the left side.

There are literally hundreds of books and websites devoted to skeptical inquiry and critical thinking. 3 of the best books I have read in that area are below although there are many more that could easily have fit on this list.

The Invisible Gorilla -Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.
If you think you can talk on a cell phone and drive take their world famous Selective Attention test here
Why People believe Weird Things - Michael Shermer
How to become a really good pain in the ass - Christopher DiCarlo

I'll write some more on this soon?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keeping Finances Clear This Holidays

The other lecturer at the Hamilton Spectator Was Nina Lewin of Catholic Family Services. Nina has a background in the Banking Industry and a BA of Social Work.

It is always hard to get up the enthusiasm to speak about things when there are not many people in the audience but Nina was undaunted. Talking about financial matters with people is not an easy task at the best of times. It is not surprising that people may not show up at a lecture that would expose there financial hardships.

Nina was an enthusiastic supporter of choosing a realistic financial goal for the holiday season. We do not like to set limits on celebrations because they are by there very nature a time to forget the hardships and struggles of everyday life. However, what most of us continue to ignore is what Nina referred to as "The Holiday Hangover". The one that comes in January and February when the big bills start to roll in.

Nina offered her $$Million Dollar Tip$$. First a simple plan for a financially successful holiday season. Following this plan will help you reform your finances in under 1 hour.

Step 1 - Write down all of the money that you will receive between now and the last shopping day (the sooner you do this the better)

Step 2 - Write down all of the things that you must pay for, the essentials ( this may need to extend past the last shopping day to the next day when more money will come in.)

Step 3 - Subtract the amount in Step 2 from the amount in Step 1. The difference is what you can afford to spend on gifts this holiday season.

Afford is the key word because in today's day and age it is very easy to pass that amount. And once you pass it by a little bit what will a little more hurt.

$$The Million Dollar Tip$$.
Meeting unrealistic expectations is often the source of over spending!

A key phrase that Nina tries to teach the people who come to see her at her office is...
"The size of my gift for you can't match the size of my love for you this year"
She suggests that they share this with their loved ones as early as possible.

Nina also had some golden ideas that she has used to help prevent over spending.
  • Gift Certificates. - These ideas make it so much easier to budget because a $10 or $20 gift certificate is exactly that and you don't get caught spending more than you planned.
  • Redeem Points. - Some people forget that they have been collecting Air Miles or other such points all year. These points can be used to help buy gifts.
  • Name Draw. - As families start to grow with children and grandchildren, the amount of gifts needed can expand beyond reason. Try picking names from a hat so that each family member is only buying for one or two people.
  • Donations in Their Name. -Similar to Gift Certificates you can choose how much you are going to give and it can go to a worthy cause instead of to some unwanted nick knack that ends up on a shelf.
  • Just the Kids. - Instead of buying gifts for all of your siblings, parents etc.. just choose gifts for the young children. This can lighten the load of shopping.
  • Give Time. - Nina told the story of her grandparents who were getting on in years and who tended not to cook for themselves as much. She started earlier in the year cooking a little extra with each meal and putting it in the freezer, so come Christmas she would bring over all the extra meals and her grandparents could have great home cooked meals when ever they wanted. These kind of ideas take a little forethought but are often very appreciated.
The Catholic Family Services is located at 447 Main Street in Hamilton. They offer services like the debt reduction and financial help that Nina offers. Nina has a background in the banking industry and offers great advice like the above article. These services are available to anyone regardless of religion or personal beliefs.

Also, for people that are experiencing problems with mental illness or have Family, friends, or even neighbours who may be struggling and need help COAST (Crisis Outreach and Support Team) is a multidisciplinary team consisting of child and youth crisis workers, mental health workers, nurses, social workers and plain-clothes police officers in the Hamilton and Wentworth region. Hamilton Crisis Line 24 hours - 905-972-8338

We only found out about COAST recently and is a very helpful organization when dealing with difficult situations.

Have a happy holiday season!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Stress and Yoga

In keeping with our new roles as lecture attendees and note takers we have some notes from a recent Lecture we attended at the Hamilton Spectator.

Unfortunately the attendance at this excellent lecture was low but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the speakers Dr Karen Rowa and Nina Lewin.

The first speaker was Dr Karen Rowa Clinical Psychologist for St Josephs HealthCare.

Dr Rowa began her lecture by emphasizing that we all experience stress during the holiday season. The difference between those who move through it with grace and those who become broken, bitter and miserable has a lot to do with the strategies we employ.

She mentioned several strategies that she expanded upon. Relaxation, Self Talk, Challenging Expectations, Simplifying, and Saying No.

Relaxation, well what can we say, she started out by stating that how we breathe will influence our state of mind. Poor, shallow chest breathing increases fatigue, creates headaches, muscle tension and anxiety. During times of heightened stress stop just for a moment and take a deep breath in and let out a long, slow sigh and notice right away how effective breathing can be for relieving stress. Going further, learning to draw deeply into the belly will allow the diaphragm to expand the abdomen. This type of breathing has been proven again and again to counter the effects of stress as well as help deal with the onslaught of issues with a more level head.

Negative Self Talk is that running commentary in your head. Most of us have that ongoing voice that is the narrator of our days. But what we may not realize is that the voice has slowly and subtly implanted a negative slant on us and our world. "That was stupid", "I better not screw up the Turkey like I usually do", or "I will never be able to make it, it is just too much". All of these lines keep getting repeated over and over while they wear us down. Dr Rowa suggested that when these thoughts start to spell out doom and gloom try this:
  1. Question the story.
  2. Write down the facts and the evidence.
  3. Ask "What is the worst that can happen?"
  4. Try looking at the situation with a different outcome.
By shaking up that commentary and exposing it for what it is we can break free from its destructive cycle.

Expectations. Things we believe need to happen.
Everything needs to be perfect when Mom and Dad visit. I only buy the very best presents for my family. I have to visit everyone over the holidays. There has to be a lot of presents. I can't have a budget at this time of year. Every Christmas Card has to have a personal letter with it. I have to host a Party.

It is very important to stare these ideas down and challenge them. Questions like "What is most important here?", "What can I reasonably manage?", "Is something better than nothing?", or "Do I really have to say Yes?". These questions can't be answered with a knee jerk reaction, really look at where you are answering from to ensure that the answer is honest. It can be quite a liberating process.

Of course when Dr. Rowa came to Lifestyle choices we were pleased to see that she had a great list.
Exercise - Proper Diet - Adequate Sleep - Quiet Time - Simple Pleasure - Yoga / Meditation.
We spoke to her afterward about the interesting fact that she separated Exercise and Yoga. She said that she always felt that they were not the same thing. Sandy and I both agree with this although it is still a difficult thing to explain. We had discussed this very same thing with seasoned Toronto Yoga teacher Monica Voss and she also found it hard to turn into words. But I digress.
Taking some time to do some simple time management, clarify your goals and values, set a realistic plan, and actually follow through with it will make the season much more rewarding.

The lecture ended with Some Tips for saying No!
  • Set your boundaries and limits early and honour them.
  • Pick your battles carefully.
  • Strike while the iron is cool. Saying things in the heat of the moment leads to regret.
  • Keep it simple. Say no and don't embellish about why or how.
  • Don't over apologize. Respect your own right not to agree.
  • Take time to make a decision. If someone asks you to volunteer remember these 5 magic words "I will let you know".
The thing with stress is that most things just happen the way they do and we either feel obligated to comply or make up a constant story about how rotten it is. Make sure you examine where these things are coming from. You may still have a wonderful and busy holiday season but by taking some control of it there will still be some of you left in January.

I will have to write about Nina's lecture later, I had to examine my expectation to finish this entire blog in one sitting :)