Now it is Monday. The feeling is “I need to get to work.” For many of you, you are working from home and perhaps have been doing so for a few weeks. What a shift this has created in regards to our work, our family time, our connection with the outside world. I am having to reframe what it means to be a Chiropractor (which means ‘done by hand’) in a world where we are physically distancing. What service can I provide to my patients that would help in this challenging time?
A large part of what we do is ‘education’, I prefer to think of it as stimulating a change in thinking. We have been brought up with a certain idea that medicine is going to heal us and yet the only healing happens within us. It is very helpful to have a cast on a broken bone, however the cast does not heal the broken bone, it assists with stabilisation and prevents movement which would disrupt the healing process – you heal the broken bone. Your innate capacity for healing is charged with this task.
How does this happen? We have an amazing controlling system – the Nervous System – which communicates with every organ, every tissue, every cell of our body. When this communication is working effectively we are aware of how the body is functioning and constant changes are being instituted to allow us to adapt to the changes in our environment. You smell some delicious food being prepared and your brain will send a message to your stomach, “Yummy food is on its way, please start to release the acids and enzymes to aid digestion!” When the stomach receives this message it happily complies and once the food has moved on it sends a message to the brain that this task is complete, the stomach acids and enzymes stop being released. This all occurs without our being aware of it until something goes wrong. When the message doesn’t get through, either not enough stomach acid is released or when the digestion is over and the stomach still produces acid. This will lead to digestive discomfort or even pain and now we are aware that something is not working the way it should be. So we can take some kind of medication to make us feel better but this is not getting to the root cause of why we are feeling the digestive discomfort. There is an interference in our nervous system, something is disrupting the message getting from our brain to our body or the message from the body to the brain.
Stress has been shown to disrupt the nervous system. It disrupts our body on a physical level, on a biochemical level, on a mental and emotional level and even on a spiritual level. This can impact on every aspect of our lives and especially now while we are going through such change. Lockdown can perhaps be an opportunity to look at the stress of our lives so that we can re-evaluate what is important and make changes to manage our stress in a more effective way. It is important to acknowledge that not all stress is negative. If it occurs for a short space of time and we recover from the stressful event efficiently our bodies can be strengthened by the stressful event. However when stress is prolonged, becoming chronic and our bodies don’t recover from it we will begin to suffer symptoms. This accumulates over time and often is so subtle we don’t notice what has been building under the surface until something pushes us beyond our threshold to cope.
Looking at each area of stress can help us identify problems and come up with solutions to manage our stress responses. The physical stress is usually the easiest to start with, it is so practical! My questions here often pertain to our daily physical habits. How are you moving through your day? Do you sit in front of the computer? How are the ergonomics of this work environment? What position do you sleep in? Do you give your body support while in these postures and positions? What forms of exercise do you engage in? How often do you manage to balance movement with being sedentary?
All of these questions will have personal, individual responses. Creating awareness in these areas will help you to look for solutions. Some solutions are fairly general and will suit many people, others need to be more tailored for individual circumstances. My suggestion is to move more. When you have been at your desk for more than 45 minutes, take an extension break. Lift your arms to the sides, sit up straight lifting your gaze to the ceiling. Feel your spine arching back, opening the chest, enabling you to breathe deeply. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. This will create flow within the fluids around the spine and wake up that nervous system so you are more efficient and effective at the work you are trying to complete. On a daily basis you should move your spine through a full range of movement, bend forwards and backwards, do a side bend in each direction and twist in each direction. Do this for your lower spine and for your neck. We have a video tutorial on the website for more information. http://www.fourwayschiro.co.za/videos/spinal-hygiene-video-1-basic-range-of-motion
Biochemical stress requires a careful look at what you are putting into your body and exposing your body to. The good stuff is going to help support the body in its ability to heal and repair, the bad not so much! Please consume nutritionally dense wholefoods rather than foods that have been processed and are potentially loaded with additives and preservatives. Avoid refined sugars. Be aware of source of your animal protein and how much you are consuming. Limit alcohol consumption and smoking. The toxins in our body and in our environment lead to acidity. Increased acidity leads to inflammation. Inflammation leads to pain. To help; drink more good quality water, breathe well to remove carbon dioxide and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables.
The mental and emotional stress area is probably the most difficult to work with. These stressors are around us all the time and we have to deal with them on a daily basis. What is important to recognise here is that it is not the stress itself that is so much the problem but rather our personal response to it. Could we face all the unknown of the future with complete inward restfulness, perfect tranquillity of mind? If we can approach the stressors of life in this calm relaxed way we are sure to reduce the stress response of our nervous system. I have found that stopping to breathe is most helpful to create a moment of calm. If you can, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Not a shallow breath, rather deep and relaxed, feel the tummy rise and fall as you breathe in and out. Slow your breath down. Try to do 12 breaths like this and become aware of how your whole system relaxes, your thoughts clear and how you can re-evaluate the stressful situation. Have a look at this video for more info on breathing. http://www.fourwayschiro.co.za/videos/breathing
Perhaps a short note on how we experience stress on a spiritual level. This for me is about connection, our connection with ourselves and our connection with those around us. I see a visual of a vertical axis connecting me with the earth below to my higher self and spiritual world above me and a horizontal axis connecting me to all the people around me. We each rely on these connections to help us feel whole. When we are separated and feel isolated this connection is diminished and it affects us right into our physical body, interfering and disrupting with our capacity to heal and repair. My suggestion is to connect to people that are meaningful in your life, a moment of heart to heart connection is an amazing therapy! Then find something that is bigger than you to engage with on a regular basis. Rhythm is very strengthening for the body, the rhythms of our heart beat and breathing can help keep us calm and relaxed.
Enjoy this time of lockdown. It is quite an adventure! There is much that is different and challenging which means that there is an opportunity to change something. Find your something to change and remember that little steps every day lead to great transformation over time. So breathe more. Drink more water. Move more!