Tag: mindfulness

Book Synopsis: How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard


how-to-be-sickHow To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

I recently read How to Be Sick for the third time! Each time I read this book I take away comfort and knowledge…comfort from knowing I am not alone and knowledge from the helpful practices she shares in the book. The author offers both a chronology of her illness and an introduction and explanation of primarily Buddhist-inspired principles and tools that help her deal with being sick.

(Important side note: people of any religion can benefit of this book…the concepts in the book are not ‘religious’ in any way and I believe they should not conflict with one’s own spiritual beliefs).

As I read her book, a feeling of relief comes over me, from knowing I am not the only person practically home-bound due to their health. Of course I know this to be true without reading the book, social media is full of us ‘spoonies’ sharing snippets of our lives, but there is something about reading her account of her illness and its impact on her life which I really connect with. For instance, I can so relate to her going to great lengths to stay at her job. She resorted to teaching her class sitting in a chair instead of standing, not to mention peeing in her office (you have to read the book to get those details)! Her account reminded me of when I was still trying to work and I would lay on the floor of my office during every break and lunch hour and then, like Toni, I would go home and crash for the entire night. We both pushed until we could do it no more. She then shares examples of missing out on family and social activities, being unable to take care of herself and a myriad of others issues we all face when living with pain/illness. She shares her story in an incredibly honest, open and humble way. She admits to breakdowns and at times not handling things well, however, she always moves forward from these challenges. She details the specific tools she uses to handle each type of situation.

The tools she refers to include Buddhist principles and practices such as the four sublime states, Tonglen and mindfulness. In non-Buddhist terms, these principles relate to compassion for oneself and others, acceptance, peace, and awareness. She keeps her explanations simple and easy to understand so readers unfamiliar with Buddhism should have no problem grasping them; while those familiar with Buddhist practices, will welcome learning how to apply the principles to living with illness/pain.

She references the work of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh whose books, meditations and talks first introduced me to mindfulness and led me to the realization that I had finally found an approach that truly could help me live with chronic pain. Therefore, it was validating to have Toni include some of his practices in her book.

She also highly recommends and explains teachings of self-help author and speaker, Byron Katie, in particular, an inquiry tool called “The Work” where one is asked to go through a series of steps to challenge the thoughts towards one’s situation and then turn the thoughts around. I think we all have quite a few thoughts related to our pain/illness that could be effectively challenged with this method.

If it sounds like the book offers a lot of helpful tools and information, you are right! The author summarizes all the tools at the end of the book which makes the book easy to refer to and trust me you will want to refer to it over and over again.

Overall the book is wonderfully written and packed with so many transformative ways to approach dealing with illness and/or pain. Most importantly Toni serves as an inspirational example of someone who, living with illness, is changing lives and making a difference in the world. As Toni says, “there is sickness, but I am not sick.”

 

 

Adult Coloring for Chronic Pain or Illness

 

IMG_1021Adult coloring is all the rage right now. People living with pain should definitely explore this new fad as coloring can provide incredible relaxation and allow one to temporarily forget about physical pain.

Not to mention that scientists have found that coloring actually quiets the part of the brain, the amygdala, that causes stress and is often activated when we are distressed by our pain.

A recent Huffington Post article stated that the famous psychologist, Carl Jung believed that the coloring of mandalas could be used as a relaxation technique. I personally find mandalas to be the most calm-inducing items to color as the patterns are repetitive and require concentration. I get so focussed I literally am completely in the moment and don’t worry about my pain or anything else. Here is a photo of two manadult coloring bookdalas that I recently colored from the Just Add Color Mandalas Adult Coloring Book. I used two types of markers,
Stabilo Point 88 Pen Sets rollerset set of 25 and Stabilo Point 88 Pen Sets rollerset set of 25. These types of extra fine-tipped pens are required, especially if you plan on coloring the detailed drawings in the most popular adult coloring book right now, The Secret Garden.

secret_garden_roll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to see if coloring should be added to your “pain toolkit”, you can download two free beautiful coloring pages, “Today is Going to Be Awesome” and a gorgeous owl.

Creative-Coloring-Inspirations-PrintableNature-Mandalas-printable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For people with chronic pain or illness, the great thing about adult coloring is that it can be done just about anywhere. You can color laying down, standing up or sitting. You can be in bed, at a desk, in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or my favourite place to colour, at the beach.

Is coloring going to heal your pain or illness vanish…no, but at least for brief periods of time you can hopefully forget about your health and feel a sense of peace and calm…a state of mind that is a welcome respite from the stress of living with chronic pain/illness.

Have you found coloring to be helpful when living with chronic pain or illness? If so, I would love to hear about your experience!


 

Meditating has drastically improved how I am able to handle Chronic Pain

meditation for chronic painI posted back in September that I had completed a 21-day meditation challenge. Now I can proudly, and more importantly, gratefully, say I have completed a solid 6-months of daily meditation practice.

I continue to reap the benefits of using meditation to deal with the challenges of chronic pain. The challenge is to put into words how exactly meditation has specifically helped me manage my daily pain. What I do know is I have a greater sense of calmness, increased gratitude, and I have developed the ability to not panic when I have a flare-up. I have learnt how to stay in the moment, to feel my body as it is and accept it. These abilities grew gradually with time.

I don’t find that meditation has in any way reduced my pain but it has become the most effective tool I have ever used to cope with the challenges of living with pain. By this I mean that meditation has significantly diminished, if not prevented, the feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, and fear that in the past would overcome me every time I had a flare-up.

I have to clarify though, that this took time. I think around the 3-month mark is when I really recognized the difference in myself. The shift was somewhat subtle but at the same time powerful beyond measure. Now that I have been meditating for over 6 months I can’t imagine my life without this practice.

Another benefit of regular mediation is the spillover into the other aspects of my life. Meditation is assisting me in dealing with relationship, financial, and many other life issues. I have learnt how to stay calm, grounded and connected to reality and the moment, not to the stories that swirl in my head and attempt to control my thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Back to meditation and pain…I did find that specific approaches to my practice made me ‘successful’. I have found that regular body scan meditations are the most beneficial type of meditation. I do one every night before I go to sleep. I have also personally experienced, and recently read research, that the regular use of the same guided meditations is more beneficial than flitting from one to another meditation to another.

For instance, In the past I would get bored of guided meditations and want to listen to a different one each time I meditated. Over the past 6 months I took a different approach, I downloaded the Insight Timer app (a highly recommended meditation app which has 87 guided meditations and/or a meditation timer). I tried out many of the meditations and then selected approximately 8 that I really enjoyed. I then began to use these regularly.

The other thing I like about the Insight app is you get rewards!!! Yes, STAR rewards just like in elementary school. I have to tell you, you have no idea how many times the lure of a star on my meditation profile ensured I meditated every day! Hey, whatever it takes! The app also keeps a tally of how many minutes you have meditated, and provides a variety of charts showing your meditation practice. More recently I have joined the groups that are in the app and have connected with others who are using meditation for dealing with chronic pain and illness.

I know many of you have likely read that mindfulness meditation is a great resource for dealing with chronic pain and like me you probably really struggled with sticking to it. I am here to say give it another go, keep trying, I know if you stick with it you will experience incredible benefits. Maybe you are like me and have stuck with it and appreciate all it offers you, I would love to hear about your experience. Maybe you have even been meditating for years and can offer myself and other readers more insight and knowledge about using meditation for the management of chronic pain/illness. I would love to hear from you too.

What I do know is I will be continuing my practice and sharing my experiences here on my blog. On that note, it is time for my nightly body scan meditation 🙂

What helped me succeed at my 21-day Meditation Challenge

meditation challengeAs of today I completed my 21-day meditation challenge and I succeeded! Honestly a huge part of me didn’t think I would, due to how many times I have attempted to maintain a regular meditation practice and not followed through. I think the 6-step approach that I laid out in my blog post 21 days ago really assisted me in successfully meditating for the past 21 days. Below I will comment on how I found each step to be helpful or how I amended it to be so.

1) Make a public commitment to meditating
I wrote a blog post about my meditation challenge which made me feel super accountable. I suppose I could have not written a follow-up post but I would have felt like I failed at meditating and blogging!

2) Make a daily checklist or write daily meditation time on a calendar
I printed a checklist and posted it on my fridge. I found that this was the BEST type of reminder since I go to my fridge multiple times a day. In the past I have put a “meditation” daily notation in my online calendar but I found it is too easy to gloss over. A checklist cannot be so easily ignored as that empty box beckons to be filled. For a list-maker, type-A personality like me it is very satisfying to be able to check an item off a list.

3) Create reminders on my phone
I pretty much forgot all about this step. I did initially add a reminder to my phone but I dismissed it the first time it went off and I never did receive another reminder again. I still think creating a phone reminder could be a valuable idea for helping to ensure regular meditation practice.

4) Make a list of meditation resources for quick reference
I referred to my list of meditation resources and made a point of utilizing a variety of them so that I wouldn’t get bored. What I found was that I really do love using the meditation apps on my phone because no matter where I am I have my phone by my side and it was easy to just click on the app and select a meditation. I actually created an app “Meditation” folder and put it on the home screen of my iPhone so that I would see it throughout the day. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up meditating because I glanced at this folder when checking my emails.

In addition to the ease of using apps, I really like how some of the meditation apps, such as Insight Timer, keep track of your progress which I found REALLY encouraging and motivating.

As for types of meditations, I really found “body scan” meditations really helpful for when I was feeling pain and even when I wasn’t. I am slowly learning to just “be present” with my pain through the use of these types of meditations.

5) Pick a realistic time of day to meditate each day as well as a realistic length of time
I originally said that I would meditate after eating breakfast. That happened exactly ONE time! I quickly realized that upon waking up I enjoy activating and stimulating my brain (ie. reading the news) not meditating. To ensure success I knew I had to choose a different time so I started meditating once I got into bed at night. The only problem with this time I realized what that I often fell asleep during the meditation. So I revised my goal time to the broad period of “after dinner but before bed”. This ended up being the most successful goal. The result has been that I have ended up meditating at all times of the day with evening being the most common time.

As for length of meditation, I have been meditating between 5 and 45 mins. per day. My original goal was 10 minutes per day so I am happy with what I have been managing to do. Some days are less than 10 mins but others are much longer. I would say that overall I probably average 15 mins. per day. I often find that I start with a short guided meditation but I enjoy it so much that I do another longer one right after the first.

6) Report back to someone

I told my therapist about my 21-day meditation commitment. I provided her with an update after one week of meditating and told her how I was going to amend my practice to be even more successful. I am to report back to her next week again. I think having a specific person to check in with REALLY increased the feeling of accountability.

NOW WHAT?!:

Overall I am really, really happy and proud of myself but I don’t want it to end here. I want to ensure that I keep meditating every day. I also want to expand my meditation practice to include more specific chronic pain resources. So here are my next steps:

*I am going to keep doing all the steps in my 6-step process. I think it would be too easy for my practice to wane if I am not checking off a checklist, reporting back to my therapist, etc.

*I am going to incorporate more specific “chronic pain” meditations such as those by Jon Kabat Zinn and Peter A. Levine, some of which are listed on my website’s Meditation page.

*I am going to do more healing visualization guided meditations. I will try and see if there are any guided visualization apps for iPhone.

*I will report back here with another blog post!!!

I am always looking for more resources, inspiration, and suggestions so I would love to hear from you! Happy meditating!

21-Day Meditation Challenge for those with Chronic Pain

meditation photoDespite research showing that mindfulness-based meditation is very beneficial for those of us dealing with chronic pain/illness, I have yet to maintain a daily committed meditation practice.  I have definitely tried…I have taken meditation classes through the pain clinic at my local hospital, as well as online classes, I have mindfulness apps on my phone, I have chronic pain mediation CDs, YouTube mindfulness videos favourited, and I own many books on the topic. I have resources galore but somehow after a week or two of meditating I stop. Often a month later I will start my practice again. I don’t think I am alone in this start and stop relationship with meditation. Am I? Please tell me I am not!

As my level of disability and pain increase, along with corresponding depression, I recognize that I truly MUST make meditation be part of my daily routine. This time I am adopting a multi-step preparation approach to ensure I stick to my goal of daily meditation! I would love for you to join me for the next 21 days (this is the length of time it apparently takes to make a practice a habit!).


6 STEPS TO PREPARING FOR A 21-DAY MEDITATION CHALLENGE

1) Make a public commitment to meditating
 I am writing this blog post.
2) Make a daily checklist or write daily meditation time on a calendar
I have printed a checklist and hung it on my fridge.
3) Create reminders
I am setting my phone to remind me daily. Once at 10am and again at 4pm in case I chose to ignore the first reminder!
4) Make a list of meditation resources for quick reference
My resources are listed after these steps (see below).
5) Pick a realistic time of day to meditate each day as well as a realistic length of time
I am choosing to meditate after I eat my breakfast cereal which is the first thing I do each morning.
I am committing to meditating a minimum of 10 minutes per day but with the hope that I will do more.
6) Report back to someone
I am reporting back to my therapist in two weeks.
I am also going to do a follow-up blog post.

I encourage you to follow the steps above or create your own. I would love to hear what additional steps or ideas you think would be help yourself and/or others to stick to a 21-day meditation challenge.


MY FAVOURITE CHRONIC PAIN MEDITATION RESOURCES
I have used ALL of the resources below so I can personally say I found them valuable.
I will put this list of meditation resources on the Meditation page of this website so you can refer back to them in the future. I will also add additional resources and details to the Meditation page that aren’t in this blog post. 

iPhone and iPad Apps:
Calm
Insight Timer
Mindful

CDs/Downloads:
Jon Kabat Zinn – Mindfulness Meditations for Pain Relief
Peter A. Levine – Freedom from Pain CD or download

Online Meditation Courses:
Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s –  21-Day Meditation Experience
Susannah Conway’s course – The Sacred Alone

Videos:
Click here to link to my Chronic Pain Meditation playlist on YouTube

Please let me know if you are going to join me on the 21- day challenge! I would love the motivation that comes from doing a challenge with others 🙂