The Holistic Medicine series is wrapping up. Over the last nine months, you were introduced to taking a look at your narrative and encouraged to look deeper within yourself to reflect on how you interpret your past experiences, unresolved issues, and any patterns of self-destruction. We took a look at some of the different types of holistic therapies and the importance of balancing the ECS through proper nutrition, regular exercise, and how stress and lack of sleep influence the disease process. Now let’s gather the knowledge and put it all together. I have chosen fibromyalgia as the base due to its connection to the mind, body, and spirit.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain throughout the body, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and emotional and mental distress. According to the CDC (Center for disease control and prevention), fibromyalgia affects over 5 million US adults or about 3% of the adult population.
Some symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
Chronic widespread pain throughout the body or at multiple sites – arms, legs, chest, abdomen, back, and buttock/hips that is described as burning, aching, or throbbing. Headaches and migraines are also common.
Fatigue or an overwhelming feeling of being tired.
Problems with concentration, thinking clearly, and memory (aka “fibro fog”)
Mood disturbances – depression and anxiety
Although the exact etiology of fibromyalgia is unknown, studies have shown that those who suffer from the condition have an increased sensitivity to pain, which causes them to experience discomfort when others do not. Studies including brain imaging have shown that fibromyalgia patients have abnormal signaling in the neurological networks that send and receive pain. The fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive issues that many people with the disorder suffer might be caused by these changes.
Since fibromyalgia frequently runs in families, genetic factors are believed to play a role in the illness, but little is known for sure about the specific genes involved. Environmental (nongenetic) variables may also affect a person’s risk of developing the condition, according to researchers. Having a painful condition, like rheumatoid arthritis, or mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, may be among these environmental triggers.
Researchers also speculate on other factors that may contribute to or trigger fibromyalgia including major stressors and traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, and accidents.
According to multiple research publications, fibromyalgia is much more common in women than in men at a ratio of 9:1, with a correlation related to hormones and stress.
Both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine believe fibromyalgia is a disharmony of the spirit or blocked energy. In the case of fibromyalgia, it is negative emotional energy trapped in the body. This obstructed energy reflects itself as pain, discomfort, or disease in the body. The energy may be trapped as a result of not being able to fully express yourself in what feels like a harsh, critical, and wounding world. Not feeling valued as a child (or adult), abuse either physical, emotional, or sexual, or from not feeling safe in their world.
You cannot suffer the past or the future because they do not exist. What you are suffering is your memory and your imagination. – Sadhguru
Clearing the rubble
Since fibromyalgia is such a multi-complex condition, we will look at what we can do on a holistic level, the simple little changes that will lead us to bigger and more positive outcomes.
So, how do we tackle the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia? Let us start with what we know. We know fibromyalgia can start from abuse or neglect. Do you fit in this category? Going back to those hard questions – Have you seen yourself as the victim or the survivor? Think about how that negative experience shaped your identity and how you see yourself.
Then, ask yourself, how did I grow (or why didn’t I grow)? What strengths or opportunities have come because you went through this? Now, how will your future be different because you’ve learned from this? What have you committed to doing and being because of what you’ve learned? The answers to the questions will depend on the amount of power you gave the situation. Most therapists will tell you that the abuse was not your fault. This may be correct, but you gave the situation power in the form of emotion. This is where the damage begins.
Your thoughts, how you perceived the situation, and how you ruminate on it create who you become. It is time to take back your power. Do not let the situation control and lead your life, it’s your life.
The above are just some basic questions, seeking out a therapist or someone trained in the specific cause of your trauma is where you should start. Psychology Today –Arkansas has a variety of counselors to choose from.
The mind, body, and spirit connection
The mind-body connection, or the idea that a person’s mental and emotional wellness has an influence on their physical health, is supported by research from 1999 and more recent studies.
The best way to treat conditions like fibromyalgia is to recognize, comprehend, and accept the interconnections between the body, mind, and spirit as well as their interactions with genetics, society, and the environment. It is also important to consider the impact and influence of both the conscious and unconscious mind, as well as motion and stress.
We know fibromyalgia can cause mental distress in the form of trouble concentrating, depression, anxiety, memory problems, headaches and migraines. Within the body, we know there is pain, fatigue, muscle tenderness, and digestive problems. But what about the spirit? A loss of spirit, a sense of purpose, and direction are involved with fibromyalgia. It seems as if the motivation and desire to engage in life disappear, leaving the patient without purpose or drive.
Physical pain, not caused by injury, was once thought to be a warning that something was physically wrong within our bodies. Research shows that the mind is a major factor in what causes pain in the body especially when it comes to chronic stress. Additionally, it has been shown that when we view pain as a friend or teacher, the muscles begin to relax and the pain decreases. From a spiritual perspective, pain may be a sign of being out of alignment with our true selves. Pain lets us know that we are not honoring our highest self or that we are selling ourselves short. And at the very least, it slows us down so that we can re-evaluate our lives. It is when you understand this, healing can truly begin.
Trauma and fear are major instigators of pain, so clearing the trauma from the body and releasing fear from the mind will help decrease and eliminate pain. Clearing this negative blocked energy is crucial to pain reduction. How you manage your emotions, and your mental state has a big impact on how you feel pain. Negative emotions and pain rely on the same parts of the brain that have strong connections. These parts of your brain are already more active when you’re unhappy, nervous, or depressed. As a result, pain might feel more intense and is easier to experience. It also implies that when there is a diversion, pain is easier to ignore.
Trapped negative emotional energy can present itself as resentment, poor decision making, self-sabotage, overreaction, increased stress and anxiety, depression, and fatigue weighing you down, affecting your mood, and draining you of your healthy positive energy.
How do we take back our power? By understanding the emotion we have attached to the pain and learning how to release it from the body and the mind.
Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. – Thich Nhat Hann
Laying the foundation
Pain may act as a diversion from dealing with deeper, more severe emotional suffering. Pain can limit our movement, but it’s movement that allows and enables us to express our emotions. For instance, muscular pain may actually be trapped anger, fear, insecurity, guilt, and even self-punishment. Or may represent a strong yearning for something or someone. It can also signify both a strong longing for mobility or change and an underlying reluctance to do so.
Movement and exercise have multiple benefits for fibromyalgia patients, and the benefits go far beyond just alleviating pain. Exercise increases the feel-good hormone serotonin, which is known to be lower with fibromyalgia, and may contribute to the development of mood disorders in fibromyalgia sufferers. Movement lowers cortisol levels (stress hormone). Lower levels of stress help protect you from a host of other health problems. Physical activity during the day can promote better sleep. Sleep disturbances are another issue common to those who suffer from fibromyalgia.
The key here is to start slow and easy, moving towards moderate intensity. Studies show as little as 5 minutes a day can have a positive impact on pain. Water exercise, walking, gentle yoga, or tai chi give the best results. Always listen to your body, stretch, avoid high-intensity and weight training, and record your progress. Keep a record of how a particular exercise routine or activity makes you feel for several days afterward to see if the routine is sustainable and healthy for your current pain level. Most importantly, do what you love and don’t stress over it.
One of my favorite things to do is dance. When I am feeling blocked I know I can put on music and just go with the flow of the beat. Grooving to the sound and singing along, waving my arms in the air, not giving a care, makes my moment and frees my soul. It’s a great diversion that gets me out of my head and into my heart, allowing me a better perspective of what I’m really feeling. It can be elegant and free-flowing or dramatic with sharp movements to shake it out. Either way, it is releasing trapped energy that has been causing pain.
Mixing the formula
All exercise can boost your mood by lowering levels of stress hormones, increasing the production of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins, and bringing more oxygenated blood to your brain.
Research indicates that the best results are likely to come from combining a variety of treatments. Appropriate medications, exercise, and mind-body techniques such as meditation and mindfulness can work together to help you manage your symptoms.
Research has shown that the following treatments can decrease pain and improve function, general health, and sleep in people with fibromyalgia:
Manual therapy (e.g. massage & acupuncture)
Building the pillars
Studies have shown when therapies are combined and performed routinely, the outcome is significantly better for patients. Here are a few examples of how you can mix and match different therapies.
Tai chi + music = emotional stability and mental improvement
Benefits: physical, mental, and emotional balance, as well as centeredness and focus
Tai chi has been shown to be more effective than standard care, and when practiced with traditional meditative tones (bamboo pans, chimes, flutes, etc.), the use of pain medications, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants was significantly reduced.
Just as physical exercise keeps a body fit, the mental concentration required for Tai Chi exercises the brain. Tai chi helps to promote neuroplasticity (the formation of new neurons) and protects them from the normal aging process. Tai chi was shown to improve the ability to multi-task, manage time, and make better and quicker decisions. Tai chi increases brain volume (gray matter) in areas associated with learning and memory, which is awesome since your brain volume shrinks with age.
There is ‘Tai chi music’ available on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, and Sound Cloud. Here is an instructional video (without music).
Acupuncture + cannabis = deep relaxation and multi-system homeostasis (balance)
Benefits: deep healing, energy release, a shift in mental thinking, stimulation of body systems
Acupuncture involves very fine needles placed at specific points along or near the body’s energy channels or Meridians to release/move energy. In the Mandarin language, qi is synonymous with breath and your life force is called qi or chi. TCM believes if qi is blocked, out of balance, or weak, then pain or disease results as a warning something is wrong and needs to be adjusted.
Cannabis consumed just before acupuncture produces a deeply relaxed mind, allowing the release of emotional blockages and a shift from fear-based beliefs. The key here is to low dose. You’re looking for a gentle relaxation that will allow the opening of the blocked energy.
Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy in which dried plant materials called moxa (e.g. cannabis or mugwort) are burned on or very near the surface of the skin or placed on the ends of acupuncture needles to produce a warmth that quickly radiates deep into tissues. Both acupuncture and cannabis stimulate the endocannabinoid system to release our internal cannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG to help ease pain and inflammation.
Water exercise + stretching + cannabis = stress-reducing and increases physical and mental well-being
Benefits: muscular strength training, cardiovascular strengthening, endurance, injury prevention, flexibility, and better sleep quality
Water is easy on the joints, relaxes muscles, eases deep pain, and strengthens the body. Performing range-of-motion exercises reduce stiffness and keep joints flexible allowing easier movement throughout your day. Aquatic exercise can relieve fatigue and depression, as well as elevate your spirit so you just feel better about yourself and your life.
Stretching is a good idea and should be done daily. Stretching increases your range of motion and flexibility, decreases stiffness, promotes circulation, helps reduce stress, and decreases the risk of low back pain. Stretching is a very rich sensory experience, so go slow and concentrate on what you are feeling. Stretching is more about your nervous system and safety than the physical muscles, so keep this in mind.
When you have fibromyalgia, your brain and spinal cord are in a constant state of high alert and your nervous system is continuously on guard for any potential threat. Exercise in warm water may be just what you need to decrease pain, anxiety, depression, and improve your overall mood.
CBD has been shown to be very beneficial at relieving pre- and post-exercise joint stiffness, muscle tension, muscle aches, and improved the rate of muscle recovery.
Meditation + music + aromatherapy (+ cannabis) = increased awareness and access to inner peace.
Benefits: a greater sense of well-being, helps to maintain brain health, alleviates mental stress, increases concentration, and easier decision-making.
Like exercise for your body, meditation helps to condition your mind. When you meditate you learn how to slow down and go inward to get a better understanding of the unwanted thoughts like fear and anxiety that are present. Meditation also helps to lengthen the time between low mood episodes.
Meditation creates physical changes in the brain through neuroplasticity and increases gray matter volume, which is found in your central nervous system and makes up most of your brain’s neuronal cell bodies. Studies show meditation can directly impact the level of crucial neurotransmitters produced in the brain:
Serotonin—increases this feel-good chemical to help regulate mood
Cortisol—decreases this stress hormone
DHEA—boosts levels of this longevity hormone
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)—improves calming effect in the central nervous system (CNS)
Endorphins—increases the natural high of this overall happiness neurotransmitter
Growth Hormone—elevates levels of this youth-preserving chemical that naturally declines with age
Melatonin—boosts our sleep hormone responsible for restful sleep and helps with mood regulation
Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand. – Stevie Wonder
Music is healing therapy according to research. In the last holistic article – Sleep, we took a look at the benefits of musical tones. With fibromyalgia, the low-frequency sound of 40 Hz for 23 minutes (2 sessions per week for 5 weeks) was shown to improve pain, mood, and activities of daily living as well as insomnia in 90% of participants. Something to note, just two weeks after stopping sound therapy, 68.4% reported the recurrence of pain and 17.8% reported sleep disturbances.
Solfeggio frequencies have been used by patients who state the 396 Hz tone helps unblock trapped energy related to fear, 639 Hz helped with unblocking the heart, and 852 Hz gave them mental clarity.
The Solfeggio frequency 528 Hz has been shown through a study by Akimoto et. al., to have “especially strong stress-reducing effects” from only 5 minutes of listening.
Aromatherapy and meditation can enhance the experience by grounding you and promoting a sense of calm. Grounding means becoming mentally and emotionally stable.
Here is a short list of grounding essential oils for meditation:
Cannabis may complement your meditation practice by reducing your stress and anxiety. Once again the key here is low dosing. You don’t want to fall asleep or be spacy where your mind may wander. You want to open your mind and boost awareness. A light Indica that is relaxing but not sedating would be best. There is no magic strain here. It is up to your personal preference and how it affects you as an individual.
I have found a low dose of 1:1 THC and CBD, Sandalwood aromatherapy, and the soft sound of the forest gives a gentle relaxation with a deep inner connection. Ylang Ylang in the morning is a great way to start the day. This uplifting aroma is perfect for expressing your gratitude while sipping on a cup of tea and watching the sunrise on a new day.
Now that you have the information it’s time to make a maintenance plan. The best maintenance plan should include journaling. Journaling helps you track your day-to-day feelings, mindfulness, diet, exercise and more. Journaling has been shown to be effective for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other conditions in supporting coping skills and reducing the impact of stressful events.
Writing things down allows you to process what has occurred and see the good side of life, even when things are difficult. Journaling also allows you to directly confront and process the things you’ve experienced instead of avoiding them.
Here are a few worksheets and journal entries to help get you started.
I hope you enjoyed this series. It is Plant Families’ intention to promote public health and well-being by bringing you the very best products, compassion, education, and professional care here in the natural state of Arkansas.
If you would like to learn more or get assistance in putting a plan together, Plant Family Therapeutics has an on-site consultant ready to help you.
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