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Stiffness, Chronic Pain, & Osteoarthritis

Look to Nutrition and Movement for healing.

“Pain can easily kick you out of right relationship with your body.”

This is a delicious Rockin Tacos from Salud in Bend, OR.

1 in 4 people are suffering from Osteoarthritis. That’s a hell of a lot of us. It starts with stiffness, becomes chronically painful, and then the diagnosis: Osteoarthritis. I was recently diagnosed with Osteoarthritis in my right hip. I am a board certified health coach and a somatic movement/meditation teacher so it was a shock and well a little embarrassing. I kept referring to my discomfort as sciatic, which I had never experienced but “hey what else could it be” I thought.

I have been seeing a Physical Therapist for over 6 weeks now and although there has been progress she isn’t happy with how slow it’s going and suggested I may need a hip replacement. What!!!! My first thought was…she is young and a triathlete to boot and I wasn’t THAT disappointed in my slow progress. I do have one big cloud hanging over me. Osteoarthritis is tied to genetics and there have been a couple of hip replacements in my family.

My movement practices have been good for a long time. Currently I teach a Dynamic Movingness class twice weekly, practice with somatic teachers of mine regularly, and I was hiking and walking a lot in nature every week. When I am writing, reading or watching TV my posture is good and I take breaks or stretch as soon as I sense tension in my body. That’s what I teach and that’s what I practice.

There is one thing not to forget: “Pain can easily kick you out of right relationship with your body” says Willa Blythe Baker, PhD.

Pause while you are reading this and notice any stiffness and pain in your body. Just notice it.

There are emotions connected to your pain. More is going on then physical pain. Pain is compounded by fear and it has been shown to be paralyzing. Can you identify any fear that is associated with this pain? Listen deeply. For me it was the questions, am I ever going to hike again? If so, when? It’s summer and I am not happy about this pain holding me back.

Just start to notice the emotions that are attached to your pain and give them attention.

Ganga White, Director of the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California tells us in his book, Yoga Beyond Belief (2007), “there is no such thing as one kind of pain – pain is a language, an entire information system.”

All transformation comes from within the body. The body is home to all: bliss and pain, joy and sorrow, fear and trust, Anger and peace. They all live in your body and give you shape.

In my first book I wrote about my experience with chronic pain when I was much younger…I am too quickly approaching 70 and you may have heard what George Clooney had to say about the impending event of his turning 70…it’s f*cked up. Anyway, back to chronic pain.

I wrote this passage in my book about my experience with chronic neck pain and Complementary Alternative Medicine in 2018:

After twenty-five years of working in a stressful corporate environment before starting my own company in the same competitive industry, I had a truly frightening experience. In my forties, one morning I felt paralyzed in my bed; I could not turn my head. I was having acute shooting pain in my lower back; I felt like my body “locked up.”

How could this be happening to me? I had been practicing yoga for over fifteen years. I was getting regular chiropractic adjustments as well as massage treatments to address any acute pain. With pain, apprehension, and fear I knew then that I needed something different. Despite these treatments, I was still in pain and increasingly having trouble turning my neck. Anxiety, stress, bad posture, habits, and my ways of moving – my compensating for the pains I felt – had caught up with me.

It is easy to get caught in the “break-fix” model of traditional medicine - that is seeking doctor after doctor looking for a ‘cure.’

A friend suggested a chiropractor who specialized in neurology, a specialty that focuses on optimizing the function of the nervous system. I learned eye tracking exercises (orthoptics) which gave me a small increased range of motion in my neck, and more importantly gave me an awareness of my mind’s ability to both “lock up” my body and to “unlock” it. My pain was real but for the first time, I could clearly see the power of the body-mind connection. It finally became clear that no one else was going to fix me; I needed to do the work.

Once I was somewhat mobile, I became passionate about researching and practicing alternative health and self-care. Believe me, it is a much better alternative to having to make regular and costly visits to a chiropractor. What’s more I knew first hand that if left unchecked, the chronic pain would leave me feeling anxious, de- pressed and devoid of emotions. As I investigated I learned from multiple sources that depression is projected to be the second leading cause of disability!

I started hearing more and more about Somatics in our yoga community and I was hooked for life.

That horrible experience opened a door that has led to my combined, integrated practice. I now listen to the wisdom of the body. Even when my mind is relentlessly nagging about a to-do list, I know that just a few minutes of present awareness will give me the vitality to energetically engage. This is a now my ritual and I am convinced that the sacredness of ritual and practice is critical to our whole health.

Here I am 25 years later and chronic pain is back.

So for the last few weeks I have been researching diet as it specifically relates to osteoarthritis. I read Healing Arthritis by Susan Blum, M.D., M.P.H. It’s a wonderful book with leading-edge medical research. Although my diet is pretty good, anti-inflammatory diets are much more restrictive. Happily not a life sentence.

My diet is really good at least 5 days a week now for the last couple of weeks and I haven’t been drinking alcohol for four weeks and together with my PT exercise, and since I cannot hike right now I have joined a community fitness center that has a Current Pool…I walk and exercise while moving against the current. I love it!

I will be sharing more about my progress, research, and the anti-inflammatory diet recommended by Dr. Blum.

Be Well,

Mary Ellen

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