Relieve yourself

As soon as she put the bun on the top of her head, she knew she’d made a mistake. She was helpless against its mighty pull, as inch by inch, it dragged her head down…

Breathing regularly has been shown to improve health, but what about wellness? Breath work is a common part of many methods such as yoga, meditation, hypnosis, relaxation routines, and more.

Most people focus on the inhale, with the emphasis placed on diaphragmatic breathing. This is important, but much of the release of tension comes from the exhaleSighing is the ideal way to exhale to release tension, something that we all intuitively know. If I’m working with someone to release muscular tension and we come to a muscle group that needs some extra help relaxing, I have them give a nice sigh of relief timed with the relaxation. I often invite my clients to relieve themselves while on my table. Some learn how to relieve themselves discreetly out in public places too.

Sighing can be used as you relax into a stretch, at the moment a particular manual therapy technique is used, or during the relaxation phase of a contract-relax technique like PNF.

Here’s a drill you can practice right now to feel how controlling your breathing can make a big difference. Go ahead and go into any gentle stretch you want to. It could be a hamstring stretch, a calf stretch, a yoga pose, anything. As you go to engage the stretch, leisurely breathe in like you’re yawning first thing in the morning. Slowly fill your body up with air as you stretch and then hold this for a few seconds. Holding your breath will highlight some of the tension in your muscles which you’ll soon release. After a few moments, smoothly release your air and let out a long contented sigh. Feel the tension you were just focusing on release. This release of tension will allow your body to go comfortably further into the stretch position. Allow yourself a couple of normal breaths in this new position. Then you can repeat the whole process again, yawning to inhale and engaging the stretch. Hold for a few moments and notice any muscular tension. Then sigh out and release that tension, letting your body settle gradually settle into the new stretch position with relaxation.

You can use this sequence to stretch any part of your body or direct your clients to breath this way while you perform a manual therapy technique such as a muscle energy technique or myofascial release.

EBS – Enraged bowel syndrome

Clean up on Aisle 2 in 3… 2… and… 1!

If hot lava is flowing out of you and someone asked you at that moment “how are your bowels?”, you are limited to saying they’re irritable. You have ‘irritable’ bowel syndrome. There is no stronger language. Even if your bowels are notably more than irritated even, dare I say, enraged. There is no need to water down IBS.

Now, I’ve spoken to some bowels before and sometimes they do snap at you. They are definitely irate. But most people don’t know that hypnotists are bowel whisperers. In a review of the research of hypnosis for IBS (“The Efficacy of Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis“), hypnosis was demonstrated to be effective at both improving abdominal pain and GI symptoms.

An acquaintance once called me due to gastric distress and pain. I guided her through a hypnosis routine commonly used for IBS (which I’ll detail below), giving suggestions for comfort and relaxation. Afterwards, she was able to tell me that she was feeling significantly better. Before, she was having such bad pain that medication wasn’t touching it and sleep was an impossibility. After, she was much more comfortable and she told me the next day that she was able to go to sleep and wake up feeling even better.

So why is hypnosis good for IBS? IBS is a disruption of your body’s normal digestive system. You have 2 systems in your body: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is your ‘rest and digest’ system. When it’s dominant, your body is calm and is focusing on normal things like smooth digestion. The sympathetic nervous system is your ‘fight or flight’ system. When it’s dominant, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood flow is increased to the muscles, and digestion is disrupted (no need to waste energy smoothly digesting food when you have to run away quickly). This system is dominant whenever you’re stressed because your body thinks it’s in danger and triggers all these reactions to get ready to fight or flight (run away). Hypnosis is used to help people’s parasympathetic nervous system take the reins more, thus allowing smooth digestion to happen by their body’s natural mechanisms.

This is accomplished with hypnosis routines that are very relaxing. They involve enjoyable imagery and suggestions for comfort. The body responds by relaxing, which is done by the parasympathetic nervous system.  This skill can then be used by the person during episodes of stomach distress, but also as a way of lowering stress in general. The more you use it, the more it helps. Probably the most common type of visualization is to add a metaphor of smoothness and flow, to help the body ‘smooth’ digestion and let it flow normally. Any scene that involves a flowing river accomplishes this effectively. With my acquaintance, I guided her through a relaxing hike in the mountains where she could enjoy a calmly flowing river. Just like how this smooth, flowing river could be in her head, the smooth flow of the river could be in her body.

If IBS (or even EBS) is disrupting the flow of your life, then give hypnosis a try. While it’s generally easiest to work with a hypnotist in person, you can also do it at home by practicing relaxation, meditation, or listening to relaxation recordings. Practice once a day when you’re feeling relatively good (and not having strong symptoms at the moment) to develop this skill. You can also do it extra times during the day when you do have GI distress for relief.

Pre-meditated meditation

“Peace. Peace. Pees. I have to pee so bad now. No! Focus. Peace. Mmm, peas.”

If you’ve ever had trouble learning how to meditate, it’s probably because you tried to do it while you were already stressed out. The thought process is that meditation is good for stress relief, but that’s really only true if you already know how to meditate. Otherwise, it probably just seems frustrating and ineffective.

Fortunately, your body has a natural way of making this process easy. Every 90-120 minutes your brain activity alternates between high and low phases, like a wave. This is called the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC). Most people have heard of this during sleep – you go up and down, alternating between deep sleep and light sleep. But this cycle continues during the day. For 15-20 minutes every 2 hours or so, you’ll hit the peak of alertness. This is when you’re super productive and engaged. About an hour or so after that, you’ll hit the low phase for 15-20 minutes. This is when your brain feels foggy, you might feel fatigued or tired, and you read the same sentence 17 times and have no idea what it said. Most people try to ’wake themselves up’ during this ‘slump’ by moving around, drinking coffee or some other stimulant.

This rest phase of the BRAC is actually your body’s natural way of trying to de-stress though! By skipping this phase, most people will become more and more tired throughout the day, which is why people often experience the effects of stress at the end of the day.

If you learn to be sensitive to when your body is telling you to rest, then not only will you be able to function much better during the day, you’ll also sleep better at night. This rest phase of the BRAC is the ideal time to practice meditation as well! Because your brain is already zoning out, you don’t have to worry about quieting your racing thoughts like you would when trying to meditate while being stressed out. All you have to do is notice when your body is telling you to settle down. Once you notice this, you can set a timer for 15-20 minutes (or not) and just let yourself zone out. Many people like to close their eyes and they may even nap, but that‘s not necessary if you don’t want to. It’s important that you don’t do anything during this time. Even if you consider watching YouTube a relaxing activity, it is still stimulating your brain. Now is a time to just zone out and let your thoughts wander. Many people also try to ‘calm’ their thoughts or ’empty their mind’. This is also unnecessary and, in fact, you should allow your thoughts to go wherever they want.

After the 15-20 minutes, you can rouse yourself back to being alert and continue on with the rest of the day until you feel it’s time for another break. While this cycle does happen many times throughout the day, it’s not necessary to take a deliberate rest break every time. Generally 1-3/day is enough to significantly improve your stress, energy, productivity, and sleep.


All the world is a stage = proof that Earth is flat

Something interesting about fear is that whatever you’re afraid of, probably isn’t actually happening. If you’re afraid of heights, then you’re not currently falling. Because if you were falling, you’d actually be afraid of landing. But if you’ve already hit the ground, then you’re not afraid of that – you’re afraid of further pain or injury. And so on and so on. This boils down to:

“I’m afraid of heights.”

“No, you’re afraid of falling, then hitting the ground, then dying or having horrible pain and injuries.”

Got ‘em! You sure showed them! Takeaway: you can’t “out-logic” emotion.

A fear of something (like heights) is basically when exposure to that scenario (and yes, just thinking about it can be an exposure) triggers your fight-or-flight reaction + negative expectation (something bad will happen). The brain then stores this reaction because it figures if you’re in fight-or-flight mode, it must be pretty important. To release a fear, you need to experience the scenario without the fight-or-flight reaction or negative expectations so it is stored in the brain without these associations.

The theater process: imagine you’re in a place that is very peaceful to you. This could be on the beach, in your childhood home, floating on a cloud – anywhere. Take a few moments to relax there, then imagine a projector screen in front of you. Now, float out of your body and back a few feet to where the projector is. From here, you can control the movie it will project while watching yourself, watch the movie. The movie that will be playing is you in the scenario you were afraid of. Start the movie at a point before the scenario happens and play it all the way to a point after it’s all over and you’re safe again (or not in immediate danger). Use the controls to now rewind to the beginning and then play the film again in fast forward. Repeat this, watching as many times as needed – rewinding and fast forwarding through it, until you have no emotional reaction to the film. No fight-or-flight response, it just feels like you’re watching a movie. At that point, float back into your body and stay in this relaxing place as long as you want.

Sleep like a dog

Hypnosis for dogs – results may vary

Here’s my night routine: check that everything’s locked then go to bed and blast my eyeballs with artificial light. After they’re good and burned out, I put it up and immediately go to sleep. Sound familiar? Probably all but the last part. What’s my secret? First, as far back as I can remember, I’ve been part-Asian. This is best done by careful selection of your parents. (Anyone who knows any Asian males will know their ability to fall asleep at any time.) Second, I’ve been practicing self-hypnosis for years. Does hypnosis put you to sleep? No (contrary to popular belief), but it does relieve stress. Let’s be honest, if you have trouble going to sleep, or if you wake up several times at night, unless you have to pee, it’s because your mind has chosen that time to wonder if you locked all the doors, why you’re horrible, and what you’d do if all your loved ones were in separate but simultaneous car accidents tomorrow.

Tip 1: add a nightly 5-10 min de-stress routine – somewhere besides your bed. What you’ll do is close your eyes and think of a time/place where you feel safe and comfortable. Feel that in your body – this is your “base”. Now let any stressful thought come to you, but watch it happen from a distance. This could be watching it on a screen or from above. It could be from today, your past, or hypothetical. Take 30 seconds to watch that scene resolve in a good way. Instead of failing your presentation, watch a version where you do really well. Return to “base”. Then repeat the whole process with other stressful thoughts that come – watching each resolve in a good way. The same thought might come multiple times – just watch it resolve in a new way each time.

Tip 2: now go to bed and mentally say to yourself the time you want to wake up refreshed at. Then, do a relaxation routine. This is simple – just relax each segment of your body, one by one. Sequence doesn’t matter: you can scan up/down or jump around. It’s useful to do it 2-3x to really relax.

Stress relief – ultradian rest breaks

Rigor mortis – if only she had taken a break, maybe she could have avoided this…

If you stress something, it means to emphasize that thing or draw attention to it. Most people don’t pay enough attention to themselves and their own well-being which is why, early on, I told people “Stress yourself!” “The more you stress yourself, the better you will feel.” “You cannot stress yourself too much.” “You really ought to brush your teeth twice a day.” Some of this was just general advice.

Everyone is looking for stress relief, but the best method is actually a natural mechanism. You may have heard of the circadian rhythm – a fluctuation in your body’s cycle that happens once every 24 hours. There is also an ultradian rhythm – a fluctuation in your body’s cycle that happens several times every 24 hours. Most people know it in sleep, where you wave up and down into higher and lower levels of sleep, every 90-120 minutes. The same thing happens all day. Every 2 hours, you will be at peak alertness for 15-20 minutes (that time when you are actually productive), and every 2 hours you will be in the low phase for 15-20 minutes (when you read the same paragraph 20 times and wonder if chairs resent us). This low phase is actually meant to be a time to rest and de-stress. Most of us, when we feel the signals our body is giving us to rest, decide to try to blow through it and do something like get a cup of coffee or try to ‘wake up.’ And so stress accumulates.

Stress relief tip: listen to your body. When you feel more tired or stressed, take 15-20 minutes to do nothing. It’s helpful to set a timer and then close your eyes, relax, and even just let your mind wander on its own. If you can’t take a break right then, you’ll have to find/make some time later.

The United Strengths