Get Out Of Your Head and Into Your Body

Do you take the time to check in with your body and identify where any pain or discomfort is coming from? In part 1 of a four-part series, Lockey shares advice on how to rekindle the mind/body connection so that you can begin a successful exercise program.

When your body is experiencing chronic pain (and/or side effects of cancer treatment), the brain changes. We start focusing on the pain, the fear that the pain will be permanent. Chronic pain causes stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can show up in the body as pain, insomnia, eating too much or too little, and changes our breathing patterns.

A good example of this is how we raise our shoulders and contract our neck muscles during stressful times. These tight muscles can lead to headaches and neck/shoulder pain. It can become a vicious cycle that is tough to break. It's only when we can acknowledge the mind/body connection and change it that we truly will regain control over our post-treatment body.

By taking a moment to check in with your body you can determine for yourself whether or not the pain/discomfort you are feeling is caused by stress or side effects of treatment. When you can determine this on your own, you are well on your way to regaining control.

Bringing awareness to your breathing is a great way to rekindle the mind/body connection.

Take a moment to try this exercise. Sit quietly for a moment and check in with your breath, place your hands on your ribcage. Notice how you are breathing.

  • Are you taking short, quick breaths?
  • Are you taking long, deep breaths?
  • When you breathe is your chest rising or is your ribcage expanding and contracting?

Once you acknowledge your breathing, you might notice your shoulders or neck feels tight. A few more conscious breaths might relax those areas, thus decreasing the pain or discomfort you are feeling.

Now that you have some awareness of your body, let's discuss returning to (or starting) a post-treatment exercise program.

A Safe, Progressive Exercise Program

Quite often, cancer survivors ask me how to start a safe, progressive exercise program. My answer is always: start at the beginning. Your foundation (posture) is the beginning of all movement.

Bringing attention to your breathing and your posture will create the mind body connection. Most of us live in a world where we are frequently in a forward hunched over position. By focusing on our posture, we can learn to identify whether stress and improper posture are the cause of our discomfort or is it chronic pain from treatment.

Take a moment to notice how you are sitting. Are you hunched forward like this photo? If so, sit up straight, with your feet flat on the floor under your knees, roll your shoulders back and see how you feel. Now take a couple of long, slow deep breaths and see how you feel.

Now that you have rekindled the mind/body connection you are ready to start an exercise program that you can tailor to your physical needs. In the coming weeks, I'll be posting blogs about starting an exercise program, creating a program that works for you and handling road blocks to exercise. In the meantime, let me know any questions/concerns you have about post-treatment exercise.