Mind-body Techniques to Control Pain 2

HERE are the mind-body techniques I used to control my anxiety and pain during a minor eyelid surgery two weeks ago. I also use these techniques to help me relax when I cannot go to sleep or when I am tense and anxious.

Belly breathing
Shallow chest breathing stimulates a "fight or flight" reaction. It makes you tense and releases stress hormones. Deep belly or diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, calms down your nervous system. It involves your chest, abdomen and diaphragm (a muscle at the bottom of your ribcage that moves downward and pushes your abdominal organs away from your lungs when you inhale, and moves upward and pushes against the lungs to help them deflate when you exhale).

1. Lie on your back and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.

2. Expand both chest and abdomen as you inhale through the nose. You may have to make a conscious effort to expand the belly if you are used to breathing only with the chest. Eventually, your abdomen will move on its own.

3. As you exhale (either through the nose or the mouth), feel your chest and abdomen deflating. You should feel your navel or bellybutton being pulled toward your spine.

4. Work toward inhaling and exhaling for five slow counts each. Practice for 1-3 minutes.

'Ujjayi' breathing

One of the most practical explanations I have seen for this type of yogic breathing is from the manual "Yoga Fundamentals: A Fitness Approach" written by Lawrence Biscontini.

1. Sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.

2. Place the palm of one hand about two inches in front of your mouth.

3. Inhale deeply through the nose, and exhale through the mouth, imagining that your palm is a mirror you are trying to fog. Notice the sound that comes from the back of the throat.

4. Repeat this inhalation-exhalation cycle until you are familiar with the "Darth Vader" sound on exhalation.

5. Close your mouth, inhale and exhale exclusively through the nose. Make the exhalation sound that begins in the back of the throat, still imagining that you are fogging up the mirror. The mouth remains closed.

Note: Once you know how to make the throat sound, practice ujjayi (pronounced ooh-ja-yee, which means "victorious breath") breathing together with the belly-expanding technique mentioned above. This helps you to have some kind of a rhythmical sound to concentrate on. However, to help you go to sleep, you may find it more relaxing not to make the throat sound.

Progressive relaxation
Lie on your back with your arms open and palms up. Legs can be straight but relaxed, or you can have a small pillow under the knees. You can also rest your lower legs on a step bench, a chair or the wall. The most important thing is that you are comfortable.

Focus on exhalations as you feel your body becoming heavier and heavier. Starting with the lower body, contract your feet, then relax them and feel them sinking into the floor. Alternately contract and relax your entire body as you methodically focus on your legs, hips, lower back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck and, finally, all your facial muscles.

The concept behind this technique is that the mind can't tell the difference between an actual event and an imagined one if the latter is realistic and vivid enough. Talking about athletes, sports psychologist Diana McNab explains that "when you envision a move in your head before you do it, your body sends a neuromuscular signal that can create more efficient movement during the real game. The result is what athletes call 'playing the game in your mind.'" McNab says that faster learning can occur with mental rehearsal because visual images make the fastest imprint on our brains.

Use visualization to prepare yourself for an important event like making a business presentation, playing a competitive sport, having an important talk with a special someone or, in my case, a minor surgery. The exercise made me relaxed and in control.

For this technique to work, your vision has to be realistic. You cannot visualize yourself winning a golf championship when you are just beginning to learn to play the game. If I imagined myself feeling absolutely no pain, my logical mind would have told me that I was not skilled enough in advanced breathing or relaxation techniques to feel zero pain. So I kept my vision realistic by imagining myself staying calm and relaxed enough to focus on my breathing to keep the pain within controllable limits.

McNab says that the best time to do the visualization technique is after you wake up in the morning or before you sleep at night when your brain waves are slower and you are more open to suggestions.

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