Recently while visiting my oldest son in Boise, I had the opportunity to have an interesting interaction with a woman about the seven different chakras that make up our body. She asked me to smell the different smells that are associated with these chakras and see which one of the scents was the most soothing to me. You have to understand, I have never really delved into chakras or the idea that they need to be in balance, but as a physical therapist dealing with people’s lifestyle imbalances, I was intrigued. So I took the test. Interestingly enough the smells I gravitated to that day were the lavender, lemon and the fir balsam. I joked with her about it and then I proceeded to read what chakra number three was all about.
Chakra number three is located between the chest and the navel. Hmm, I thought this is interesting. You see currently I have been learning the techniques of breathing and warming, for physiological quieting of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), so I can teach my patients how to control their pain levels and turn off their ANS till they really need it. The number three chakra is called “The Chakra of Intention” and its color is yellow. This chakra relates to the idea of how to have our motivation, power and desire present to make good decisions each day for our body to stay in balance. Needless to say she suddenly had my attention.
According to doctors Upadhyay and Maharshi from the Clinic and Research Centre in India, they stated that, ” The chakra system is the symbolic representation of energies which exist in the body influenced by the subconscious mind. Yoga and meditation help you awaken those energies for the most balanced state of the body, mind and soul”. In my practice I see a lot of people that seem to be unable to understand mediation or lack the “time” to do Yoga because of their fast paced culture, so sometimes it feels easier to just forget the whole idea of slowing the system down. Being still, seemed impossible.
In our physical therapy office, we often focus on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the little almond-shaped set of neurons or grey matter set deep in the brain that is associated with our “Fright and Flight” mechanism called the amygdala. Dr. Paul Whalen describes this area of the brain as our attentional area. He has studied the emotion of fear for years. The amygdala helps us be more aware, more vigilant of our surroundings. The amygdala gives the signal to the other areas of the brain, like our sight or hearing to pay attention to whatever is going on. Often my patients who have been in motor vehicle accidents tell me that when they saw the car about to hit them in their rear-view mirror, they braced themselves for the hit, way before the hit even occurred, this is the response of the amygdala and the ANS.
We need the ANS and the amygdala to keep us safe, but we should not live with it “on” all the time. Many of my patients that have experienced a trauma, surgery or injury have an ANS system that is on “high alert.” How do we know if our ANS is on “high alert” too much of our life?
The first thing you do is check is your temperature. I don’t mean your oral temperature; I mean the temperature of your hands and feet. Check to see if your hands are the same temperature as each other and if your feet are the same temperature. If your ANS is on “alert,” your temperature will not be equal or it will be too low compared to your core temperature. Often our patients have too high a temperature in a limb that is swollen or a decrease in temperature in an area where the body has had a trauma. Often our breast cancer patients who have had radiation have an area that is cold and their skin is white instead of pink and this signals an area where the body is not sending blood-flow, as it should be. This is where the physiological warming technique comes into play. Imagine your hands, your feet or the part of your body that is not doing well, getting warmer. The key here is to imagine it mentally and then if you need to, do it physically by rubbing your hands together or running them under warm water. This imagining also turns off the analytical side of the brain and turns on the creative side and changes the body’s chemistry.
The next thing to do is check your breathing patterns. Put your hands on your ribs on the side of your belly. These ribs should be expanding out as you inhale deeply with your breath. Now put your hands on your ribs under your clavicle. Do you feel more movement there or at the side of your trunk when you breathe in deeply? You should feel more movement in the side ribs as you inhale then with your high ribs. You then should practice doing three to five deep breaths every 60-120 minutes. This keeps your ANS in check. Do this exercise by inhaling slowly with your breathe to a count of four and exhaling to a count of four as you breathe out. Research indicates this will re-set your internal systems and dissipate unwanted stress.
The last step is to “check in” with your body. This is easiest to do at nighttime before you go to bed. It will help you sleep like an angel and you will wake-up well rested. Close your eyes and get in a comfortable position. Then start at your face and jaw. Ask yourself if you feel any tension there. If you do, imagine that all of the tension in your jaw and face melting away like an ice cube left on the counter on a hot summer day. Then sense the back of your neck do you feel any tension there? If you do, imagine that it is heavy and loose and let it fall back into the pillow where it can rest. Then note your shoulders are they touching the bed evenly? Do you feel knots or stiffness there? If you do imagine them letting go like the water down the stream after a heavy rain. You will slowly work through your entire body like this, attending to each area. Amazingly enough after you begin training like this you will slowly be able to decrease your pain, settle down your ANS irritation and you will be able to attend to your problem areas much better and will begin to identify the areas where you hold most of your tension.
These easy steps can be done in the comfort of your own bed, room and house. You don’t have to pay anyone, go anywhere or take any medications to accomplish this quieting of your physical self. This quieting can add years to your life and give you a new outlook on life even if you have disabilities. As you practice these techniques you will get better and better at them and you will see how healthy you can be by spending a little bit of time each day taking care of yourself.
Sheree DiBiase, PT, is the owner of Lake City Physical Therapy, and she and her staff want you to be well. Please make an appt if you need assistance with learning these techniques. We are glad to help you take charge of your health. Coeur d’Alene office (208) 667-1988, Spokane Valley office (509) 891-2623.