Holly Pinto is the owner and director of The Body Therapy Center and School of Massage, Ltd. In Swansea, Illinois. She has been practicing massage and a variety of different therapies since 1989. We are excited to have her contribute to ALS Connect as a guest blogger.
The first time I heard the word ALS it was when my father was diagnosed when he was 78 years old. Soon after his diagnosis, we figured out that the “nerve disease” that my aunt had died of was actually ALS. And just recently, I lost my niece from this horrific disease at just 40 years of age. This post is for you the caregiver and you the person LIVING with ALS.
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness, especially one as progressively debilitating as ALS is, can cause deep fear and anxiety and enormous amounts of stress. But there are ways to combat those emotions and diminish that stress — research shows that individuals can make a quantitative change in their mind by actively committing to a mindfulness practice. As an educator of wellness and meditation for the last 25 years, I know first-hand that lowering your stress level and getting control of your mind and thoughts can make a huge difference in your life. In fact, some mindfulness practices can help with anxiety, insomnia, and have the ability to slow your heart rate down which in turn can make you feel more relaxed.
Our autonomic nervous system – which controls your heart rate and breathing among other things – is divided into two parts: one part, the sympathetic side, is wired for fight/flight and the other, the parasympathetic, for rest and relaxation. When we are stressed our bodies don’t know the difference between fleeing from a saber-toothed tiger or the worry that we are feeling on a daily basis. It triggers the same stress response. When we deal with stressful situations — sometimes many times a day — physical symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, etc. result. The Body Scan helps to raise our parasympathetic side and lower the sympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system.
As you begin your mindfulness exercise and practice the Body Scan, it is important to think about a short mental statement or a deep desire and repeat it before and after your practice. It could be a desire to do something different or change something in your life. It should express your commitment to keep a powerful and positive force alive. It is not something that will happen in the future; it is something you believe is happening in present moment. It is profound and heartfelt. Yogis call this “Sankalpa”.
The Body Scan (Learn your body scan by having someone read the body scan to you until you can do it yourself. Go through each step very slowly, pausing to really feel each of your body parts)
Lay down in a comfortable position where you will not be interrupted for at least 20 minutes. You can do this exercise sitting up, too. Once in a comfortable position, ask yourself if you can make yourself 10 percent more comfortable and shift your body until you are the most comfortable you can be. Try to separate your limbs by keeping your legs spread apart and your arms and hands out to the side with palms up. Try not to move for at least 20 minutes. Take some nice deep breaths until you feel your body beginning to relax and settle down.
Setting your deep desire
Set your Sankalpa or deep resolve. For example, “I am safe and I am whole, I am at peace, I am already whole and already healed, I will achieve total health.” Repeat this over and over. Your resolve or deep desire isn’t coming so much from an intellectual place as much as a deep place in your heart. One of the intentions of your Sankalpa is to change your direction of thinking on a daily basis and change your perceptions to make your life more balanced and healthy.
Once you are settled bring your awareness down to your feet. Feel your feet. Notice the way your feet make contact with the floor. Are your shoes and socks covering your feet? What do they feel like touching your skin? Bring your awareness to the top of your feet, the bottom of your feet, the sides of your feet. Bring your awareness to your big toes, your baby toes. Notice heat, pressure. Any sensations you may feel in your body.
Notice your ankles. The front and back of your ankles. The inside and outside of your ankles.
Up through your calves. Get a sense of your calves three-dimensionally. Sense your whole calf. Not just the front of your calf or just the back of your calf.
Bring your awareness to your knees.
Bring your awareness to your thighs. The front of your thighs. The back of your thighs, the inside and outside of your thighs. Bring your awareness up your thighs and notice the connection of your legs into your pelvis.
Notice the weight of your pelvis as it makes contact with the floor, bed or mat.
A lot of things are happening in your torso: digestion, elimination, and breathing. Your heart lives in your torso, a little left of your sternum in your chest. What do you notice? Can you feel your torso spreading out as you breathe in and then shrinking back as you breathe out? Can you notice anything about your heart? If not, that’s ok. There are no expectations. If you find yourself getting confused by any of this just lay there and breathe in and out and let everything else go.
Bring your attention to your shoulders, your upper arms, your forearms, your wrist and your hands.
The skin around your neck.
Your face…can you sense the air moving in and out of your nostrils. Can you notice the air that is coming into your nose is cooler than the air coming back out? Notice your eyes and your eye lids that are closed. Your mouth and taste inside your mouth.
Notice your scalp and your hair.
Notice as much as you can your whole body and the sense of what it feels like to be in your whole body. Laying there not segmented out but a whole body. Lay there enjoying the stillness. If you can notice how the stillness supports you and surrounds you. When you are ready slowly begin moving your fingers and toes and when you are ready slowly open your eyes. Good job!!!
It takes courage to live in our bodies and to listen to our hearts in a still and quiet way. Take your practice slow and this month just practice your body scan anytime you are feeling stressed or before you go to bed. Let me know what you notice and what is changing in your life as you begin to integrate relaxation exercises into your life.