Tag Archive for: emotions

Part 2 in the Self-Care for Emotional Healing series (read part 1 here)

Guilt is heavy. Ever get a sinking feeling in your abdomen when you feel like you didn’t live up to your own standards? Or experience a sensation of something weighing on the conscience, like you were carrying something heavy? The weight of guilt has even been shown to make physically demanding tasks seem more difficult [1]. And letting go of it can be tough.

In Chinese Medicine, the mind, emotions, and the body are intertwined, and we can use the points on the body to help resolve emotional issues. Some of the most powerful points for dealing with guilt are found along the Belt Vessel, the only major acupuncture channel that runs horizontally. As its name implies, the Belt Vessel encircles the waist, but drops lower in front as though weighted down. This channel is like a basement: a place to stash things we haven’t quite figured out what to do with, or that we’re not entirely proud of. We don’t go there very often, and it tends to get stagnant and damp. (“Dampness” is the Chinese Medicine term for energy that’s turbid, heavy, cumulative, and difficult to get rid of – yucky stuff.)

To lighten up that damp basement and clean out the stuck emotional energy from the Belt Vessel, first, conjure up what you want to let go of and extend a feeling of forgiveness towards yourself. Then, bring your fingertips and thumb together, and with firm pressure, massage the following points:

  • GaGB 41ll Bladder 41: on the foot, just outside the tendon that leads to the little toe, on the right side for women, on the left for men. This point opens the Belt Vessel.
  • Liver 13: on the side of your torso, Dai Mai Pointsat the tip of the 11th rib
  • Gall Bladder 26: just below Liver 13, at the level of the belly button
  • Gall Bladder 27 or 28: On the low belly, just inside the hip bones

To enhance the treatment, apply a drop of essential oil to these points. Neroli, cardamom, sandalwood, or bergamot help the body resolve dampness and guilt while fostering a sense of peace. Since guilt tends to linger, you’ll want to work with these points for a few days in a row, then take a break. Repeat that cycle until you feel a sense of lightness and liberation.

 

[1] Day MV, Bobocel DR (2013) The Weight of a Guilty Conscience: Subjective Body Weight as an Embodiment of Guilt. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69546. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069546

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I excel at hiding pain. It’s pretty easy as an active, fit, thirty-something who tries to rock a positive outlook on life – I don’t fit the profile of a person in chronic pain. But for nearly 20 years, I suffered intensely with intermittent, undiagnosed abdominal pain. It would come to visit for five days at a time, making its presence known as a tight fist under my rib cage, at times breathtakingly intense. But most of the time, it was merely a persistent, exquisite distraction – a wincing seven on a scale of one to ten, making it impossible to be fully present with other people, or even to think.

Every time I saw a doctor, I’d be sent for an ultrasound, and every time, I was told that “everything’s fine.” That was as far as any physician was willing to go. I was left with no diagnosis, no treatment, and no advice as to what to do.

Over the years, I tried cutting out all sorts of different foods and tried every treatment modality I could think of. Making the rounds to different health care providers became an expensive and not-at-all-fun hobby. So I quit trying to figure it out.

Meanwhile, here’s how I made my suffering worse:

I would try to ignore it and carry on as normally as possible — an exhausting and at times impossible strategy.

I isolated myself. I would retreat behind a closed door, not wanting to burden anyone else with my pain. Plus, it didn’t fit the image of strength I was trying to project. So I cut myself off from love, empathy, and caring just when I needed it most.

I felt victimized, wondered “why me?” and felt desperate to learn whatever lesson I needed to in order to make it stop.

I resented the pain for getting in the way of my ability to be fully present for daily life, as well as the highlights: yoga teacher training, my honeymoon, a trip to Italy, visits to my family back East.

I shamed myself for not knowing what to do, for not doing enough to figure it out. I raked myself over the coals for any dietary sins: “If only you hadn’t had that cup of coffee this morning or that piece of chocolate last night, you might not be in this mess.”

I let the pain undermine my confidence as a clinician. After all, if I can’t figure myself out, what kind of a healer could I possibly be?

When I finally got decent health insurance (and a few expensive tests not previously suggested), I found out that my gall bladder didn’t work. Like, at all. (It scored an impressive zero on the HIDA scan.) I had it removed last year and have been free of this pain ever since.

I don’t miss the pain. But I am grateful for the following lessons:

1) Pain is an invitation to learn about yourself. You honor it by listening. Stay curious and keep investigating. Trust your own experience, and find health care practitioners who will trust you as well. Just because conventional medicine doesn’t have an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Try different modalities, as well as different practitioners within those modalities — everyone looks through a different lens depending on his/her background and training, and everyone has their biases and blind spots. Advocate for yourself. It could save you decades of suffering.

2) You’re not alone. Pain sucks. So does feeling like you’re missing out on fully participating in life. But trust me on this: you’re so not the only one. As a clinician, I hear people describing various ailments and feeling lonely and victimized because everyone else can eat whatever they want, stay up as late as they want, overwork as much as they want, and feel fine. But here’s the secret truth: they don’t. Most people suffer unpleasant consequences for such behaviors – they just don’t talk about it. In the US, more people suffer from chronic pain than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined.

3) Allow the experience. Pretending it isn’t there is trying to argue with reality. It’s exhausting, isolating, and increases suffering many times over. I’m not suggesting you embrace it, love, it, or build a shrine to it; just be willing to acknowledge its existence. Give it a nod. As your resistance softens, you may even feel a bit more ease.

4) Stop blaming yourself. It’s hard enough to deal with pain without slathering on a layer of guilt. You can be doing everything “right” and still be in pain. It doesn’t mean you’re flawed; it means you’re human. It’s an inescapable part of the human experience – one that every person on the planet will experience from time to time.

5) Practice self-compassion. When someone else is in pain, what are the first feelings that come up? Empathy? A desire to help? You are just as worthy of that; give it to yourself, then do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

6) Own it. Admitting to a good friend or a partner “this sucks. I wish I could be connecting with you right now, but I can’t focus through this blinding pain,” and having them say “wow, yeah, that does suck. I get it. It’s okay.” Letting people in on what’s going on can take the pressure off of needing to feel “normal.” And it’s so much more honest and intimate than “I’m fine.”

 

When we are willing to acknowledge our experience of pain, we give others permission to do the same. In doing so, we poke holes in the cultural illusion that “everything’s fine,” reducing that social pressure to pretend that nothing is ever wrong or difficult. Pain then becomes a less lonely experience and induces far less guilt and shame, which makes it easier to bear. In showing up with our whole selves, even the vulnerable parts that we’d prefer were different, we allow for deeper intimacy with those around us and help create a more compassionate culture.

 

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Rope knotWorry. It’s the force behind that knot in your stomach, the clenching of your jaw, your trouble falling asleep and the furrow in your brow. You know it’s not accomplishing anything, but your mind resists getting off the hamster wheel.

How can you change the channel? Turns out, there are points for that. The Stomach and Spleen are responsible for digesting not only our food, but our lives: absorbing what’s useful, letting that nourish us, and passing on the not-so-useful stuff to the Large Intestine so we can let it go. Worry is the mental equivalent of sluggish digestion, or chewing on the same thing over and over again without swallowing. Just as there are points to aid digestion, there are points to help dissolve the mental knots. Here are three:

SP 5

Spleen 5

Spleen 5 is the point to use when your compassionate heart leads to a worried mind and you can’t stop thinking about the problems your friend (or your kid, or co-worker) is facing, even though you know there’s nothing you can do to change their situation. This is empathy gone astray. First, summon some compassion for yourself – it’s tough to watch someone you love go through something hard. Then, find the point on the inner foot, just below and in front of the bony bump on the ankle. Press this point firmly with your thumb, and massage in circles for a minute while thinking to yourself “I let go.”

Lung 7

Lung 7 is the go-to point to help clear your mind of worry. Like the breath itself, this point helps anchor us to the present moment rather than projecting into a future that may never come to pass. Take a long, slow breath and massage Lung 7 – Make a “thumbs up”, and HT 5 and LU 7locate the point about an inch towards your elbow from the thumb/wrist crease.

Heart 5

Tap Heart 5 when you’re worried about what you’re going to say. This point helps you express what’s in your heart, so it’s especially useful for speaking your truth, confronting someone, or having to say “no.” Located on the inner wrist, one thumb-width up from the inner crease, just inside the tendon that leads to the pinky. Tap this point gently for 30-60 seconds, visualizing raindrops striking and bouncing up from a puddle at the point.

Changing your relationship with stress is the most powerful thing you can do for your health. If you’re ready to revamp your nervous system for more ease and confidence, check out your bodymind toolkit:

 Calm Yourself: Self-Care Strategies for Stress and Anxiety

 

 

 

 

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My practice.  The love in my life.  Eating ripe cherries off a tree. The internet.  Being able to walk without pain.  Air travel. The roof over my head.  My amazing patients.  Tea. Music.  Sight.  Hot, running water inside my house. That the Earth continues to orbit around the sun without my help. These are just a few things I’m feeling grateful for right now.

In Chinese Medicine, our qi is said to follow our intention or mental energy.  And different mental and emotional patterns do different things to our energy: over-thinking  and worry knot the qi; anger makes it rise up , fear sinks it, sadness dissolves it, and so on. In addition to having directionality, mental/emotional activity also affects the internal organs.  For example, habitual worry tends to affect the Spleen, like a knot in the gut, resulting in digestive problems. Habitual anger tends to affect the Liver, resulting in high blood pressure, tight neck and shoulder muscles in its partner channel, the Gall Bladder.

I have not come across references in the Chinese Medical classics as to what gratitude does to the qi, but in the laboratory of my body, it provides a kind of gentle buoyancy and softening. I have used it to shift out of many less desirable mental/ emotional states. Of course, the so-called “negative emotions”  are part of life, and they are to be fully felt, digested, and integrated. But when any mental or emotional state becomes habitual or excessive, or when it limits our ability to experience anything else, it’s time for an intervention. And gratitude is great one.

  • Gratitude turns scarcity into wealth, whether the scarce resource is time, money, or energy. I remember my father in horrible physical condition after a particularly brutal week of chemo and radiation, tuning into the feeling of the sun on his face and saying “I’m a happy man.” It has turned me from completely broke to among the wealthiest people on the planet without altering my bank account one penny.
  • Gratitude can stuff a sock into the mouth of the shrill inner “to-do” list reciter.  When I tune into what I’m grateful for in my life, I realize that not accomplishing all the stuff on the list usually does not jeopardize any of it. When there is a potential consequence, that becomes the priority, and the rest can be let go.  Clarifying.
  • Gratitude can silence the inner critic.  Is it possible to be critical and grateful at the same time?  I don’t think so.
  • Gratitude makes loss bearable. In coping with loss of loved ones from my life due to deaths or break-ups, I have found that gratitude doesn’t wipe out grief or loss, but coexists with it, walking with it arm-in-arm in a way that allows moving forward.  Celebrating the life of the loved one who has died or the relationship that has ended helps the sadness to recede.
  • Gratitude ends worry. Worry is too much thinking about things that may or may not happen in the future or things beyond our control.  Gratitude reflects the present moment, which is the only moment that counts, or even exists. If I can find something  happening right here, right now that I can truly appreciate, that trumps any hypothetical future that may or may not ever transpire.

I love gratitude and have a few practices that I employ daily.  Before I eat a meal, I take a short moment to tune into gratitude for the plants, sunshine, earth, water, farmers, and cooks that went into creating the food, as well as the people with whom I might be sharing it. I try to thank each patient and student for coming in to see me, thus allowing me to do work I love, and to learn and to grow.  When I stretch out after a workout, I send mental thank-yous to the parts of my body that I am feeling:  the muscles, bones,  my heart pumping my blood, my lungs giving me oxygen.  I do these things because living in gratitude feels great, and that’s how I want to feel.

A Note on the Misuse of Gratitude:  I sometimes hear from patients  “I should just be grateful, because so-and-so has it worse than me” or because “people are starving in other parts of the world.”  These people are often extremely burned-out caregivers, castigating themselves for not being able to feel gratitude, but more significantly, for having any needs at all when they perceive that someone they love has it worse.  Note the use of the word “should” and the implied “I should just shut up.” This person is denying her own needs. What is called for here is acknowledgment  and honoring of the unmet needs, followed by self-compassion. (and perhaps strategizing as to how those needs could be met). Then gratitude can follow.

How does gratitude feel in your body? What does it do for you? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

 

*A photo I took at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley, CA. That day, I was grateful for being with my sisters, and for  delicious raw vegan strawberry cheesecake.