Mindfulness: Week 3 – The Amazing Three-Minute Breathing Space

John among the Laurels

John among the Laurels

Week 3 has been a breakthrough week for me. When I started my eight-week mindfulness meditation course, I suspected that it would eventually help alleviate my chronic pain. However, I did not expect that help would come as soon as this, and in such a dramatic fashion.

First, a quick update on my ongoing struggle with scheduled daily meditation times. I have decided that it actually worked better for me to not have a schedule. This past week, I have been doing my daily meditations when the need arises and when time allows. It’s working fine so I will leave well alone.

This week’s meditations enabled me to take the enhanced awareness that I gained from my first two weeks and integrate it more closely into my daily life.

I completed three meditations daily – eight-minutes of Mindful Movement, eight-minutes of Breath and Body, and The Three-Minute Breathing Space meditation.

My Mindful Movement meditation consists of four interlinked stretching exercises. They are all beautiful in their simplicity. When put together, the total experience is soothing and profound.

Of particular note is a set of body stretches, where you reach upward with your arm outstretched as if you were picking fruit from the branch of a tree. As you return your arm back to your side, you are invited to mindfully observe your hands and fingers as they slowly move downwards.

Personally, I loved this experience. It gave me a heightened sense of body awareness and encouraged a child-like sense of curiosity. It was as if I had never seen my hands before. One has to experience it to fully understand.

Breath & Body meditation spot - Noons Creek

My Breath & Body meditation spot – Noons Creek

I usually did my Breath and Body meditation straight after Mindful Movement as recommended in the book. It worked really well given my already heightened sense of body awareness.

Sitting in a comfortable position on a chair, I initially spent a little time noticing the sensations of my whole body. Then I focused in on my breathing. Gently reminding myself that there is no right or wrong way to feel, I then simply observed my body and breath sensations that were there in the moment.

When my mind wandered away from the breath, as it does, to planning, remembering, worrying or daydreaming, I acknowledge where my mind had wandered to and then gently escorted it back to my breath and the moment.

If I felt any physical discomforts while sitting, I would either mindfully adjust my body position accordingly, or focus my breath towards the area of discomfort. Both of these techniques brought noticeable relief.

Near the end of my meditation, I sat in the silence, focusing on my breath, fully aware. It was as if my whole body was breathing. The experience was sublime.

As I finish this meditation, I am reminded that reminded that the deepest stillness and peace does not arise because the world is still or the mind is quiet. Stillness is nourished when we allow our body, our mind, and the world around us to simply be just as they are – moment-by-moment and breath-by-breath.

As for The Three Minute Breathing Space, I have become especially fond of this meditation this past week. It’s designed to be used as needed and I have therefore used it quite frequently over the past week.

The Three-Minute Breathing Space spot - Noons Creek

The Three-Minute Breathing Space spot – Noons Creek

However, the first time I experienced it was totally unplanned and what happened will remain with me always. Let me share the story with you.

Last Sunday, I drove out to the nearby Pitt River Dyke for my usual weekend long run at around 6:30am. I felt the need to get out and run despite having a bad migraine headache, so I took an extra-strength Advil and hoped it would pass.

The Pitt River Dyke is one of my favourite runs, since it offers some stunning views of the mountains and the river from the trail. There’s also an abundance of wildlife to be seen along the way.

As I ran along the winding trail by the slough that leads to Pitt River dyke, my headache was now getting worse. I am quite familiar with migraine headaches since my 2010 concussion injury. However, this one was now severe and my peripheral vision was blurred. I was understandably concerned for my health.

I was considered turning back when I reached the Pitt River. However, the trail turned and I was presented me with a beautiful river and mountain vista that lifted my spirits and soothed my headache somewhat.

It was a gorgeous morning and the air was fresh and sweet. I scanned the vast blueberry fields that run all the way on the other side of the dyke from the river. I was hoping to see a black bear or two as they are commonly seen feasting on the berries. Alas, there were none to be seen.

“I’ll just do another kilometre or so, and then I will turn for home”, I thought, as I admired the river’s wide expanse flowing gracefully towards the mighty Fraser.

Mountains and river - Pitt River Dyke

Mountains and river – Pitt River Dyke

Then I turned my head, looked down the trail and saw before me the largest black bear I have ever seen just a few hundred feet ahead of me, slowly meandering in my direction.

Delight was my first reaction, although I do know that it’s unwise to get too close. After watching the bear stop and have some blackberries from the bushes along the trail, I decided that it would be prudent to turn around and head back.

However, I just had to take my ear buds out and get a quick photo with my iPhone for the kids. As I headed back along the trail, I must admit that I did a few shoulder checks. I know that bears can run a lot faster than I can. Fortunately, he seemed totally preoccupied with eating the blackberries.

As I continued back down the path, my head and vision were a little better for the vistas and my bear experience, but still very much there.

It had so far been an eclectic morning from a musical perspective. I had set my iPhone songs on ‘random choice’. I had never done this before and it had been interesting to say the least.

The music ended and I was wondering what was next. Then, to my absolute surprise, I was suddenly listening to The Three Minute Breathing Space meditation through my ear buds while I was running!

I was caught totally off guard but immediately went along with what was now happening in the moment. Why not, I thought.

Led by my trusted meditation guide, I continued my run down the trail for the first minute, mindfully observing the river and the blueberry fields while becoming increasingly aware of my innermost thoughts, feelings and body sensations.

For the second minute, I gathered and focused my attention on the breath and the body sensations felt while breathing. During the third minute, I expanded my attention and my field of awareness to the entire body.

“Wow”, I thought. “In just three euphoric minutes, I am fully aware, mindful and grounded in the present moment, and accepting of my life as it is right now.”

By the still waters - Port Moody Inlet

By the still waters – Port Moody Inlet

Even more amazing to me was realizing that my vision was now clear and my migraine headache had totally disappeared!

I was “running on air without a care, in the moment”, all the way home.

Looking back, I have found that a well-managed running program works well for self-managing chronic pain associated with my ongoing concussion symptoms. Now I have discovered a new and significant addition to my chronic pain self-management tool kit – Mindfulness Mediation.

What’s also exciting is that Mindfulness Meditation will likely improve many other aspects of my health and well-being; indeed, all aspects of my life  – moment-by-moment, breath-by-breath.

As for the future, the positive impacts of mindfulness meditation on chronic pain are evidence-based and well documented. Therefore, I envision that it will soon become universally recognized as an essential part of everyone’s chronic pain self-management tool kit.

Thank you again to Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman for writing the book that inspired me to start on my exciting eight-week Mindfulness journey.

You can find out more about their book “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” at http://www.franticworld.com.

Of special interest to me right now is that Dr. Penman has written an exciting new book, along with co-author Vidyamala Burch, that’s entitled “Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing”.

Their new book will be available on September 5th, in the UK at least. I am looking forward to reading it with great enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, I will be starting Week 4 of my eight-week Mindfulness course on Sunday and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you in my next blog.

Namaste,

John

UVic colour - horizontal -NO Centre-crest on lhs

John Murphy is a volunteer Program Leader with the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging, based in Ladner, BC. He currently facilitates their 6 week Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops (2½ hour per week) available free of charge across BC, to adults and caregivers who are dealing with chronic pain.

For more information on our Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop and other free of charge workshops, follow this link to our website:

http://www.selfmanagementbc.ca

Other Self-Management workshop and programs include:

– Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

– Chronic Disease

– Diabetes

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Week 4 – Chronic pain self-management: the importance of physical activity and exercise!

Facilitating at the Dogwood

Facilitating at the Dogwood

Last week, I finished facilitating a 6-week chronic pain self-management workshop at the Dogwood Pavillion in Coquitlam. It’s a beautiful seniors facility where the people are warm and hospitable.

It was a highly successful workshop given that our participants are now well on their way to becoming excellent self-manangers of their chronic pain.

My co-facilitator Ursula and I were very pleased with what the group had accomplished together.

One of my primary objectives when facilitating a workshop is to equip our participants with a variety of different tools and techniques they need to become good self-managers of their own chronic pain.

One of the most effective tools for chronic pain self-management is physical activity and exercise.

As facilitators, we believe that all of our participants are able to enjoy the benefits and pleasures associated with regular activity and exercise. In fact, this may be the single most important thing a participant can do to help reduce their chronic pain.

This was certainly the case with me.

1983 Toronto Marathon

1983 Toronto Marathon

Prior to my 2010 accident, brain injury and concussion, I was an avid runner for over 30 years, having completed 9 marathons and numerous half-marathons, 10K’s, triathlons, and relay races.

After my injury, I could not run for more than 5 minutes or even walk for more that half an hour without experiencing major headaches and tinnitus.

Intuitively, I  knew that I needed to find a way to exercise. I could not run so I took up gardening. I really enjoyed puttering around in the garden. It was mental therapy as well as a good way to stay active.

After about a year, knowing my passion for running, my neuropsychologist and physiotherapist at the Coquitlam Concussion Clinic recommended a rehabilitation program developed by the University of Buffalo Concussion Clinic specifically for athletes. Needless to say, I was keen to try it.

After 6 months on the U of B program, I could run for up to 30 minutes without major symptom increases. I was absolutely thrilled with my progress.

Then, after another 9 months of well-managed running followed by 4 months of race training, I successfully ran the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon last May. It was an amazing experience!

Of course, I do appreciate that there are very few people that come to our chronic pain workshops who are former marathon runners and able to take on a running rehabilitation program like myself. However, I believe that everyone can enjoy and benefit from regular activity and exercise.

It’s a matter of trying different activities and exercises until you find one or two that you can do and enjoy.  Some examples might be walking, gardening, swimming and yoga. You could then put together a weekly Action Plan that included these activities and exercises.

At our workshops, we provide our participants with a 12-minute guided exercise program on a CD called the Moving Easy Program (MEP). It’s an excellent, head-to-toe stretching program that’s simple and easy to do.

Notre Dame de Lourdes - Maillardville 5K run

Notre Dame de Lourdes – Maillardville 5K run

In addition to the verbal guidance from the CD, the participants can follow along as the facilitators demonstrate the MEP for them. There are also diagrams in the workbooks given to every participant.

In my experience, everyone in the workshops seems to love the program. Many of them adopt the program as their regular exercise program at home.

For those that struggle with maintaining a regular exercise program, I like to remind them that all they need to do is find a spare 12 minutes in their day and then put on the CD. The rest will take care of itself.

Regular exercise can be that easy!

Personally, I have always enjoyed the Moving Easy Program. I regularly use it to stretch out and relax after my long runs. It always feels so great!

I will close, as always, by saying that if you or someone close to you is dealing with chronic pain and you are an adult living in BC, I strongly encourage you to consider taking the chronic pain self-management workshop. Please use the link below to find out more information.

Have a great week!

John

UVic colour - horizontal -NO Centre-crest on lhs

John Murphy is a volunteer Program Leader with the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging, based in Ladner, BC. He currently facilitates their 6 week Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops (2½ hour per week) available free of charge across BC, to adults and caregivers who are dealing with chronic pain.

For more information on our Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop and other free of charge workshops, follow this link to our website:

http://www.selfmanagementbc.ca

Other Self-Management workshop and programs include:
– Arthritis Fibromyalgia
– Chronic Disease
– Diabetes

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Week 3 – Chronic pain self-management: breaking the pain and symptom cycle

Me - heading out for my 5K neighbourhood run

Heading out for a 5K neighbourhood run

Well, it’s about 11:30pm right now. My wife Marjory and our two children are sound asleep, so it’s all quiet around the house.

I’m sitting here in my comfy red leather chair writing my blog with my earphones on, listening to some exquisite choral harmonies from musica intima. For me, their music is pleasure and therapy personified, and the perfect companion for my late night writing.

As a volunteer Chronic Pain Self-Management Program workshop facilitator with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Aging, one of the great joys for me is simply getting to know and help the courageous men and women that come to our workshops.

I learn so much as they share their stories and we work together within a warm, caring, non-judgmental and confidential workshop environment.

The source of chronic pain for participants that attend our workshops varies a great deal. Many of them are dealing with musculoskeletal pain such as chronic neck, shoulder and back pain.

Others are experiencing chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia, whiplash injuries, chronic regional pain syndromes, repetitive strain injuries, chronic pelvic pain, post-surgical pain that lasts beyond 6 months, neuropathic pain that’s often caused by trauma, neuralgias such as post-herpetic pain and trigeminal neuralgia, post stroke or central pain, persistent headaches, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes-related neuropathy, and severe muscular pain due to conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

A rainy morning - Fraser River 5K

Rainy morning – Fraser River 5K

Early in the workshop, our participants are introduced to some fundamental tools and techniques that they will need to become good chronic pain self-managers.

Brainstorming and Problem-Solving for example, are introduced in the first week’s session and used extensively during the next 5 weekly sessions. I will share more on these tools and techniques in a later blog.

Similarly, our participants develop their first weekly Action Plan for the upcoming week at the end of their first week’s workshop session. Each participant’s plan must identify something specific that they want, rather than have, to do during the upcoming week. It must be something that’s beneficial from a self-management perspective, and something that’s achievable, action-specific and measurable.

It’s also essential that participants have a high level of confidence that their entire action plan will be completed during the upcoming week.

Using a ‘buddy system’, participants check in with their buddy during the week to discuss their action plans and to offer each other support and assistance.

Mundy Park 5K

Lush forest – Mundy Park 5K

We then discuss how we all did at the beginning of the next workshop, offering feedback as required.

Action planning, brainstorming and problem solving are some of the cornerstone self-management tools and techniques that we learn early, and then gain experience with, throughout the 6-week workshop.

Most participants continue to use these tools after the workshop finishes, since the tools are now an essential part of their own self-management discipline.

During the workshop, our participants typically get to know each other quickly and quite well. They soon realize that the more they put into the workshop, the more they will get out of the workshop.

Most participants are soon comfortable enough to participate and give freely of themselves during every activity.

For many, our workshop is the first time they have been among a group of people that really understands their chronic pain and believes them. It’s a relief for many participants because they no longer feel alone!

Wild roses - Fraser River 5K

Wild roses – Fraser River 5K

Prior to attending our workshop, many participants think that chronic pain is the sole reason for their symptoms.

They are often surprised to learn that their symptoms can themselves contribute to or even cause other symptoms.

This pain and symptom cycle soon becomes a viscous circle that keeps going around and around, until a way is found to break the cycle.

We refer to this interaction as the Pain and Symptom Cycle.

Here’s a brief overview of the cycle:

– Pain
– Tense muscles
– Restricted movement
– Ineffective breathing
– Stress and anxiety
– Difficult emotions
– Depression
– Fatigue
– Pain

One of the primary goals of our chronic pain workshop is to give the participants the ability to recognize this pain and symptom cycle.

Ferns - Mundy Park 5K

Ferns – Mundy Park 5K

Additionally, we want to provide people with a set of tools that will help them break the cycle. We refer to this set of tools as our Self-Management Tool Box.

Here is a list of those tools:

– Physical activity and exercise
– Managing fatigue
– Pacing and planning
– Medications
– Working with health care professionals
– Problem-solving
– Using your mind
– Healthy eating
– Communications
– Understanding emotions
– Finding resources

Patience is a virtue - Fraser River 5K

Patience is a virtue – Fraser River 5K

Over the weeks that follow, I will share with you my knowledge and experience with the chronic pain and symptom cycle and how these self-management tools can help you break the cycle.

Perhaps the most gratifying and fulfilling experience as a workshop facilitator is to watch a group of individuals undergo such an amazing change in perspective over the course of a 6-weeks workshop.

They are seemingly transformed into a group of strong, positive, self-disciplined, and determined people who are now fully committed to their own chronic pain self-management; and also to helping other people in need. It’s a wonderful thing and truly a joy to behold!

I will close, as always, by saying that if you or someone close to you is dealing with chronic pain and you are an adult living in BC, I strongly encourage you to consider taking the chronic pain self-management workshop. Please use the link below to find out more information.

Have a great week!

UVic colour - horizontal -NO Centre-crest on lhs

John Murphy is a volunteer Program Leader with the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging, based in Ladner, BC. He currently facilitates their 6 week Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops (2½ hour per week) available free of charge across BC, to adults and caregivers who are dealing with chronic pain.

For more information on our Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop and other free of charge workshops, follow this link to our website:

http://www.selfmanagementbc.ca

Other Self-Management workshop and programs include:
– Arthritis Fibromyalgia
– Chronic Disease
– Diabetes

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Run#39 Mar 20: Brunette to Piper 9K & music therapy

Burnaby Lake - piper spit boardwalk

Burnaby Lake – piper spit boardwalk

They say that music soothes the soul; I know that to be true. I also know that music heals the body and the mind too. I felt it happening today as I listened to heavenly harmonies while I ran by the river and lake under a sunny blue sky.

I had to visit my optometrists in New Westminster this morning to be fitted with a new brand of multi-focal contact lenses.

Once my eye appointment was finished, I then started thinking of where I could go for a nice 9K run that was not too off the beaten track from my drive home to Coquitlam.

In a flash, it came to me. Before I knew it, I was headed down North Road from Sapperton towards Lougheed Highway and then parking the car at Hume Park on the New West/Coquitlam border.

Brunette River trail

Brunette River trail

My plan was run up the Brunette River to Burnaby Lake. Then I would continue running up the north side of the lake towards Piper Spit until my Strava Run app told me that I had done half of my scheduled 8K.

It would then just be a matter of turning around and retracing my steps back to Hume Park.

The perfect run, I thought!

The weather had been rainy most of the morning, but miraculously, the rain stopped just before I reached Hume Park. The sky was a brilliant blue with fluffy white clouds as I set my music and Strava Run on my iPhone, and headed off down the Brunette River trail.

Brunette River

Brunette River

The first thing that I noticed was that the river water was dark and murky, and it was running very high and fast.

It must be due to all of the rain that we have been having lately. The Caribou Dam regulates the river water that flows from Burnaby Lake into the Brunette River.

They open it up when they have lots of rain and the lake level gets high.

An old friend once told me long ago that there’s good trout to be caught in this river. I know that there’s lots of huge salmon come up the river to spawn in late October every year.

I used to bring my son and daughter up here to see them when they were young. It was a thrill for them to see the salmon thrashing upstream in the shallows headed steadfastly towards their spawning grounds. Such fond memories!

Burnaby Lake trail

Burnaby Lake trail

I soon found myself running beyond the river path and heading up the north side of Burnaby Lake trail towards Piper Spit.

The sun was quite warm as I ran through an area with no shade. I was beginning to wonder why I had put on my North Face rain jacket.

My Strava Run was soon telling me that I had done 4K.

I could have turned around and headed back to complete my scheduled 8K run, but I was feeling so good that I thought that I would continue running until I reached to Piper Spit, which to me seemed like the right place to turn-around. Besides, it was so beautiful outside and it felt incredibly good to be running again, and with such relative ease.

Burnaby Lake - view from piper spit

Burnaby Lake – view from piper spit

Piper Spit was alive with people and waterfowl. It’s a popular spot with children for feeding the birds. I stopped briefly to take a breath and enjoy the lake view from the end of the boardwalk.

As I headed back along the Burnaby Lake trail it dawned on me that I was feeling almost ‘normal’ for most of this run.

At the time, I happened to be listening to the heavenly choral harmonies of musica intima as they sang Le Port Mirabeau, a track from their Into Light album.

Burnaby Lake trail

Burnaby Lake trail

As I listened closer to the music, I became more and more aware that my head was actually free of pain and there was no headache or ringing in my ears.

Perhaps it was the run and the beautiful spring weather. That surely was the reason why I was feeling so relaxed and pain-free.

It couldn’t possibly be that my brain was healing. Surely not!

I know that music soothes the soul. I saw it first-hand during my brief time as a palliative care volunteer worker, just before our son was born. Also, from the time I spent with a close spiritual friend when he passed away.

Most recently, during the final hours of my father-in-law Carl’s life, my wife Marjory decided to quickly download two pieces of classical music.They were Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Burnaby Lake trail

Burnaby Lake trail

Marjory played this music on her iPhone placed on her father’s pillow. As they listened together, they were able to share a few precious moment of peace and tranquility for one last time while they listened to music they both loved. It was a moment they will treasure forever.

Through these and other similar experiences, I know that music often brings a great sense of peace and calm to those who are close to death and passing on.

Suddenly, I had an amazing revelation. All of the music that had been intuitively drawn to and was now listening to on my runs was helping me heal!

Music has always soothed my soul, and now it’s helping me heal my body and mind!

The sensations that I felt at that moment of realization took me back to my first ‘runners high’. It happened decades ago as I ran alone on a windswept road just west of Calgary.

Ironically, throughout my 30 years of running, I have been a bit of a minimalist and purist. I have always shunned the idea of listening to music while running. It just seemed inappropriate and unnecessary and an intrusion to me. I much preferred to listen to the sounds that were around me as I ran.

Burnaby Lake trail

Burnaby Lake trail

Despite my past minimalist and purist leanings, I decided to listen to music for my half marathon training runs.

It was an intuitive decision. The still small voice inside of me was gently letting me know that music was the additional therapy that I needed to help me heal my body and mind.

So what music should one listen to for music therapy? Well, it’s arguably an individual choice, but here are my thoughts on the matter.

I would say that I am eclectic when it comes to my musical taste, and the music I love comes from many different genres. Accordingly, my choices of music for my runs varied quite a bit.

There were days when the only sound that I wanted to hear was the cool trumpet of Miles Davis together with the rich saxophone of John Coltrane on the Kind of Blue album. At other times, I needed the sweet chords and harmonies from musica intima or Arvo Part.

There were other moments when only the soulful sound of George Michael or the deep warm voice of Johnny Hartman would fulfill my mind’s desire. Of course, there was always the classics from Bach and Mozart that were readily available when needed.

Burnaby Lake trail

Burnaby Lake trail

As I approached the end of my run, it occurred to me that there was a reason that I am drawn to the music that I have listened to when I run.

First, the music is a collaborative effort from two or more artists. That collaborate effort generates an immense amount of collective energy that I sense in their music.

Additionally, the music reflects each artist’s desire to seek truth in their lives, which generates a huge amount of positive energy that I can feel and harness through their music.

Brunette River - blue heron

Brunette River – blue heron

Collective energy and truth; working together through music to help my body and mind heal, while soothing my soul. It’s a beautiful thing!

As I stretched out against my little red car at the end of my run, I reflected on my healing experience that morning.

Then I gave thanks for that still small voice inside of me that keeps me strong and always open to new ideas while looking for ways to heal and grow.

Namaste.