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Tai Chi

Sometimes described as “moving meditation,” tai chi began long ago in China as a type of martial art. Today it is an exercise-with-meditation combination used to improve health and decrease stress. Tai chi employs the idea of yin and yang along with qi or life force. Some of the movement names are nature-centric and often groups of people gather in parks to practice.

How It Works

A number of styles of tai chi exist but generally the focus is on a series of flowing movements accompanied with deep breathing. One pose runs into the next gently and gracefully which allows for exercise and increased flexibility. Tai chi is considered a kind of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and boasted approximately 2.3 million practitioners in a 2007 survey according to the National Institutes of Health.

Benefits

Tai chi offers a number of benefits. It is weight-bearing which can help bone health while still being low impact and easy on the joints. Muscle strength and flexibility can also increase from regular practice. The focused, meditative aspect can promote decreased stress and anxiety. It may also aid existing problems. Balance and coordination can improve which may lessen the risk of falls while the gentle stretching movements can ease stiffness and pain. More research needs to be done but initial reports indicate tai chi may also boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure and increase overall well-being in the elderly.

Precautions

Tai chi is generally considered quite safe though it is important to make sure moves are being done correctly. (While it can be done at home with a DVD, experts recommend beginning with a live instructor to provide feedback and lessen risk of injury.) Individuals who are pregnant, have a hernia or suffer from any joint or back issues should check with their doctor before beginning tai chi to ensure which movements are safe for them.

Summary

Tai chi is a gentle flowing form of physical exercise coupled with mental focus and meditation. It is generally safe for most people and can offer benefits from reduced stress to increased strength, flexibility and balance.

References

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm

Mayo Clinic mayoclinic.com/health/tai-chi/SA00087

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Exercise for Fibromyalgia

Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to manage Fibromyalgia. Exercise can help reduce stress, improve serotonin levels, soothe muscles, and increase strength.

Careful attention, however, should be paid when creating an exercise routine if you’re suffering from FMS. Strenuous activity and high intensity exercise can actually be counterproductive and create more pain and inflammation. But, beginning slowly, finding your own personal limits and working with a fitness professional can dramatically reduce FMS symptoms and is highly recommended.

[themedy_media type=”youtube” url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLZD2c_yooY”]

Meditative-based exercises like Yoga and Tai-chi have proven quite effective in reducing FMS associated pain.

Yoga is an excellent way to increase muscle endurance, flexibility and deliver much needed oxygen to sore muscles. Gentle yoga and restorative practices also offer myofacial release and relieve FMS pain.

The gentle Chinese energy practice of Tai-chi is another great way to remove blockages and unwanted toxins in muscles and blood. Studies show that patients who practiced just 12 weeks of tai-chi slept better, felt better, had less pain, more energy, and better physical and mental health.
Lastly, Muscle Resistance Training can be beneficial to FMS patients. Using low weight and low repetitions, begin exploring your limits by exercising to the initial point of mild fatigue and then stop. Be sure to consult your physician and a fitness professional for an optimal and safe exercise routine.

In addition to these meditative-based exercises, working with a holistically trained professional may help you regain muscle mobility and flexibility. This includes seeing a structural integration specialist, chiropractor or a specialist in osteopathic manipulation.

For more information on Exercise and Fibromyalgia, visit Natural Holistic Therapies for Fibromyalgia.

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How to Meditate – 3 Easy Techniques

While meditation can sometimes seem like a difficult feat, meditating can be as simple as watching the breath or observing one’s surroundings. Supplement your life with a daily meditation practice by following these helpful guidelines and techniques.

Notice thoughts: do not judge or avoid them

The most important element of meditation is this: simply notice your experience. We all have ideas bubbling in our minds throughout the day, so it’s completely normal for thoughts to come up. Simply observe or “watch” what is happening: become aware of any thoughts, emotions, stimuli, or sensations that come up, and do not judge them as “good” or “bad”. Similarly, do not try to control or avoid thoughts since this will only create inner tension and resistance.

Prepare yourself

Meditate in a comfortable, quiet, and spacious area where you feel safe. Sit on the floor cross-legged with a pillow underneath you to elevate your spine. If you are uncomfortable or have hip or knee pain, sit on a chair with your back straight and your feet on the floor. Set a timer and try to let go of any concerns as you begin your meditation session. Make sure to shut off any devices that may distract you.

Start simple and be consistent

When just beginning your meditation practice, start with shorter sessions—set a timer for five minutes each day and gradually add time when you feel ready. You can meditate for five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, or however long you like.

Be brief but consistent: you can meditate when you first wake up or before you go to bed, as this will help set a positive tone for the day and will help you experience a relaxing and deep sleep. If you prefer, meditate in the afternoon or during your lunch break to balance yourself in the middle of the day.

Meditation Techniques

Technique 1. Breathing – Lengthening the exhale

As natural as breathing is, it has been used as a powerful tool for thousands of years to calm anxiety and establish mental clarity. One simple breathing technique involves “following” the breath and extending each exhale slightly.

Step-by-step instructions:

  • Sitting in a comfortable position, inhale gently and steadily for four counts.
  • At the top of your inhale, hold your breath for three counts.
  • Then, as slowly and gently as possible, exhale for six counts.
  • Hold the breath out for a count of one to finish.
  • Repeat for at least five minutes

*Note: When your exhalation is slightly longer than your inhalation, your vagus nerve (which moves from the neck down through the diaphragm) signals your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system, which is involved in the body’s activities while comfortable and at rest. Similarly, the vagus nerve cues the brain to turn down the sympathetic nervous system, which functions as a way of stimulating body functions associated with stress and the fight-or-flight response.

Technique 2. Walking meditation

Walking meditation is a way to practice moving without a goal or intention,” says Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It can be used to become aware of each step that we take, regardless of where we are, and it can be joined with the practice of mindful breathing as we walk through a space with our bodies and minds.

Step-by-step instructions:

  • Choose a place to begin your walking meditation and go there. Walking through a local park or forest can be therapeutic, and going for a walk around your neighborhood can work, too.
  • Set an intention to remain silent throughout your walk and to observe stimuli in a manner that is nonattached, observant, and calm.
  • Begin to take steps that are slow and relaxed. Observe your experience with awareness. Focus your attention on the feeling of walking and other parts of your environment like the colors, people, animals, sounds, and temperature. Notice the weather and the way the air feels around you.
  • As you move your body, pay attention to your inhalations and exhalations.

*Note: You can practice walking meditation individually or with other people. Tai Chi and Qigong are also types of moving meditation which you may be interested in.

Technique 3. Trataka meditation

In Trataka meditation, one focuses their attention on the flame of a candle or another object of interest. The technique is used to establish concentration and it creates stillness as the mind becomes focused on the flame. The benefits of Trataka meditation range from relaxation, to improved eyesight, to, activation of the third eye (pineal gland), and they can be felt by anyone.

Step-by-step instructions:

  • Light a candle and put it on a small table 3-4 feet in front of you.
  • Sit comfortably with the spine upright and the upper body relaxed. Any posture is fine; but try to refrain from moving for the duration of the practice.
  • Check to make sure that the flame is at the level of your eyes.
  • Close your eyes and take 4-5 deep breaths to relax.
  • Open your eyes and gaze at the flame without being distracted by thoughts or external disturbances. Keep your eyes open and do not blink, for as long as is comfortable. If thoughts come up, simply acknowledge them and get back to focusing on the flame and your breath.
  • Keep your vision steady on the flame rather than the candle or wick.
  • Continue to look at the flame until you cannot keep your eyes open anymore. Close your eyes.
  • When you close your eyes, you may visualize an after-image of the flame. Bring this image to the point between your eyebrows at the middle of the forehead, where your third eye is.
  • When the image begins to fade away completely, become aware of your breathing and begin to watch the flow of your breath for 7-8 breaths (If you cannot see the image of the flame, that’s okay. Simply continue with the exercise. With practice, the depth of your concentration will allow the after-image to become clearer).
  • Open your eyes and repeat the full routine 1-2 more times.

Conclusion

Meditating causes us to be less reactive, less automatic in our responses, and more intentional with our actions. There isn’t any specific result you need—you don’t have to be “enlightened” or reach some sort of nirvana—but hopefully you’ll feel more relaxed and grounded afterwards. While some meditation sessions are more successful than others, keep up a regular practice to improve concentration and grow in mental clarity. The purpose of meditation is to improve concentration and to become more comfortable with the present moment.

Written by Nicole Kagan

 



References:

  • Berzin, R. (2012, April 01). A simple breathing exercise to calm your mind & body.
    mindbodygreen.com/0-4386/A-Simple-Breathing-Exercise-to-Calm-Your-Mind-Body.html
  • Hanh, T. N. (2008). Mindful movements: Ten exercises for well-being. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
    life.gaiam.com/news-articles/how-be-more-mindful-just-breathing-and-walking
  • Trataka and the amazing benefits of candle gazing. (2013, November 02). in5d.com/benefits-of-candle-gazing-trataka.html
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Juvenile Fibromyalgia: Identifying and Managing Fibromyalgia in Children

What is Juvenile Fibromyalgia?

Juvenile Primary Fibromyalgia Syndrome (JPFS) is part of a group of conditions collectively known as Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome. Juvenile Primary Fibromyalgia Syndrome, or JPFS, is a condition that results in symptoms of overall musculoskeletal and joint pain and fatigue. Data is sparse in the area of prevalence, but it is thought that up to 7% of children under 18 have JPFS or similar condition. It is more common in females and the diagnosis in children usually occurs between the ages of 13 and 15.

Along with joint pain and fatigue, other symptoms include disturbed sleep, morning stiffness, headaches, abdominal pain, irritable bowel, tight muscles and periods of swelling. Depression and anxiety are often present. JPFS is frequently triggered by an injury, illness or stress. Many patients with JPFS also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

How Is Juvenile Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing JPFS starts with a medical exam which includes a family history, physical exam and a tender point test of all 18 sites. Diagnostic tests should be conducted to rule out all rheumatic diseases and arthritis. To meet diagnostic criteria there must be patient report of pain in three or more body areas over a minimum of three months. In addition, at least five painful tender points must be experienced upon palpation during the exam. Additional symptoms such as difficulty with sleep, irritable bowels, fatigue and headache are often present and these symptoms tend to worsen with stress and/or anxiety.

JPFS can have severe effects on a child’s physical and emotional functioning. School attendance, socialization, and general quality of life are all impacted by this condition.

Managing Juvenile Fibromyalgia Holistically

JPFS is incurable but its symptoms can be controlled by understanding and preventing triggers, maintaining a focus on physical and psychosocial wellness,  and effective management of pain symptoms. As with the treatment of any minor, family involvement is a critical part of the treatment plan.

A traditional therapeutic treatment approach involves a team. This team consists of a combination of collaborating professionals to include at minimum: a pediatric  rheumatologist, physical therapist, and psychologist along with the identified patient and his or her family. The traditional treatment course utilizes a combination of medication, exercise, physical therapy and a form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

A holistic treatment approach is meant to be “in addition to,” not necessarily “instead of a” traditional treatment approach. In general, holistic treatments focus on addressing all aspects of an individual, not just the physical. The overarching philosophy is to live a more balanced lifestyle and understand that physical illnesses are the symptoms of a greater imbalance that may or may not have a root cause in the physical. Holistic treatment of JPFS may include the traditional therapies discussed above in concert with non-traditional medicine.

Recently published studies suggest that the use of Yoga, Tai Chi, and/or Acupuncture may reduce pain, fatigue and stiffness and improve quality of life in patients with Fibromyalgia. Many living with Fibromyalgia manage their diet and nutrition to alleviate symptoms and also utilize therapeutic massage to ease muscle soreness. However, there has not been enough scientific evidence supporting the use of vitamins, nutrition or massage to date.

Many alternative treatments can assist with pain management in Fibromyalgia.  Though patients report positive outcomes in using these alternative treatments, scientific support has not been substantially rigorous enough to make any hard effectiveness claims. Nonetheless, so many are searching for holistic treatments and will consider these minimally-invasive treatments to avoid medication side-effects and to adopt a balanced approach to health and wellness.

The following alternative treatments have been used in the treatment of Fibromyalgia:

No child need be robbed of a full life following a diagnosis of JPFS. Incorporating a holistic approach to the treatment of JPFS most often includes the traditional route of coping strategies, physical exercise, physical therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and perhaps medication with any of the alternative treatments that help reduce or alleviate the associated symptoms of Fibromyalgia.

By Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D.

Resources

  • fibromyalgia-treatment.com
  • Treating Juvenile Fibromyalgia by Jennifer Cerbasi, (2012) FoxNews.com
  • webmd.com – Fibromyalgia Guide
  • KidsHealth.org – Fibromyalgia.

 

Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D. is a freelance writer with a doctorate in psychology. Her personal essays and parenting articles have appeared in various newspapers and magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four girls, one of whom has extensive special needs. She can be found writing about her adventures in parenting at her blog, Lost In Holland.