Tending Your Garden

I am planning a trip to the farmers market over the weekend.  According to the Ohio Farm Bureau, August is a great month for the fruit and vegetable harvest in Ohio!  Because I grew up in an agricultural county with a County Extension Agent Dad, I know a little about what goes into an abundant harvest.  It is HARD work!  Tending a garden is much like how we should take care of our own health: body, mind, and spirit.  There really are no shortcuts, it is about consistency and perseverance.

One such shortcut “attempt” is a chemical weed killer. This summer I put my proverbial foot down on the use of toxic chemicals to control the weeds in my flower beds and yard.  In past summers, my husband used Roundup to make our suburban house have acceptable curb appeal.  But it seemed that each year he needed to use more of the stuff to get rid of weeds in the same areas. I do admit there is some satisfaction of the nice clean edge of landscaping once those pesky weeds wither and die.  Granted, in previous summers I had trouble getting out there to pull the weeds because of lack of time or fear of straining my back while doing it.  This year was different! I read Mark Hyman’s book, “Food: What the Heck Do I Eat” and he explains the potential danger of glyphosate in our food supply, the chemical found in Roundup.  Why take a chance?  I’m motivated to keep toxicity out of my yard, I’ve dispelled the fear that I will get hurt, and I had a little time.  So I decided to try and stay ahead of the weeds before he could get out there with the sprayer.

What I noticed about the areas treated by Roundup in past summers, was the disorganized opportunistic mess of weeds that took over and spread to areas where beautiful green grass and flowers tried to exist.  The seemingly more potent weeds sneak in and spread.  As I was pulling these weeds, I thought about how this process in much like treating and experiencing Chronic Pain.

Taking opioids for chronic pain seemingly helps at first and provides satisfaction, much like looking at the bare ground where weeds once existed. But the pain returns and over time you may need more and more medication to decrease the pain.  This is explained in recent research that showed using opioids for chronic pain actually increased the sensitivity to pain resulting in the need for higher doses of medication.  I hope you get the irony here: the pain reliever ends up actually creating the need for more of the pain reliever!

Another parallel exists in the spread of weeds and pain.  Chronic persistent pain spreads beyond the original source of insult or injury due to changes in the brain called smudging.  Smudging is where the brain loses its ability to clearly define an area of pain.  For example, the original pain was in the neck, but after many years, you now have shoulder pain, elbow pain and wrist pain.  This spread of pain doesn’t indicate that you have injury in those areas of the body, but you have changes in your brain.  I always love listening to David Butler explain pain (probably because of the accent) and in this video he describes the complicated concept of smudging.  Thank goodness we have treatment tools available to affect the plastic nature of our brains so that we can reverse smudging.  Treatments like Graded Motor Imagery and practicing Left/Right discrimination are much like using the gardening edger along my flower beds and sidewalks.

Though pulling each weed out by the root is time consuming hard work, it is much more effective in the long term for week elimination.  And if you don’t mind the look or taste of these weeds, according to Bruce Ackley’s (another Extension Agent) book, some are also edible and provide essential nutrients.  Just like weeding by hand, the process of managing your pain with mind-body techniques; movement, activity and exercise; and maybe even counseling to address the emotional component can be HARD work.  Through the process you might also discover that the pain you experience has an important message. Working to relieve pain through hard work might lead to a discovery about your Self.  So like the weed that can also provide nourishment, your pain just might end up helping you understand your spirit or purpose.

I know, I know that’s deep stuff.  But the biggest most problematic weeds in MY garden have the deepest roots! 

Let me know if you need help tending your garden.


My Health, My Rules!

This title was inspired by my 9 year old daughter.  She has a sign on her door that says:

“My Room, My Rules!”

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And I try to I respect her (within reason of course)!  I acknowledge that she needs her space to be alone.  She needs a place where she can just be herself. She can go inside, literally inside her room, but also inside her mind to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. 

When you go inside, you can feel what is right. You find what is right for you. Whether you are making a big decision, like taking a new job or small, like deciding what to have for dinner.

This internal knowing translates to your health. When you really listen, you know what makes you feel good. You can slowly transition that sense of feeling good to consistently making the right decisions for your health.

People ask me all the time about what works for pain management.  Should I get a massage?  Is Physical Therapy the right answer?  What do you think about a chiropractor, physician, dietitian, health coach?  And the list goes on.  It is really hard for me to tell you what will help, mostly because I’m not you.

Pain is a very personal experience.  It is influenced by our belief system taught to us first by our parents and influenced by family, friends and trusted health are providers.  In a sense, if you believe a treatment will help, then it just might.  Pain is also influenced by our emotions.  Being in pain triggers an emotional response: fear, sadness, grief, anger, etc. When you have had pain for a while, those emotional reactions can then trigger pain.

What I do know is that we all need to move, but the type of movement and how much is, again dependent on your experiences.  If you were hurt in a yoga class.  The yoga is probably NOT for you.  If you enjoy walking and getting into nature, then that is a great way to begin movement.  But using some yoga principles can help with whatever movement that you do.

1.  In your activity you need to balance EFFORT with EASE.  You need strength and stability in your movements, but you should also have some joy and pleasant sensations.  Pushing and straining until exhaustion is NOT a good strategy.  You should enjoy activity so that you can return to it again and again. So the EFFORT or intensity of activity needs to be relevant to your needs.  You can't look at what someone else is doing and try to match or compete.  Again, it is a personal experience.

2. Another principle in yoga is AHISMA or nonviolence.  This follow perfectly after the principle of EFFORT  and EASE because is you push, strain and complete to exhaustion, you will probably end up getting hurt.  Or putting yourself back into the pain cycle.  You want to feel as if the movement or activity you do is NOURISHING.  That is, you want to feel as though you are giving your body something that it needs.

3.  TAPPAS is self-discipline.  Whatever movement, activity, or exercise you choose, needs to be performed with consistency.  When you find that balance of effort and ease, and find joy and nourishment in the movement, then you WANT to move and exercise.  

Take some time to really listen to your body and what it wants and needs.  The listening starts with a practice of Mindfulness or Awareness.  When you learn to really listen, you can create your own movement practice.  You can choose whatever activity or exercise to regularly engage, because it's your body and you get to make the rules.