A common theme in many of the educational programs I’ve attended for fibromyalgia is “going to the breath” for pain relief — the premise being that deep breathing reduces muscle tension, which in turn reduces pain. Desperate for any alternative to the pain medications that I could not tolerate, I followed any and every suggestion I received. And so, I “went to the breath” in times of pain.
I tried every breathing variation that I’d been taught in pain management, yoga, and stress management classes. Most instructions focused on the breath alone — following its pathway in through the nostrils, down into the belly, and back out again. Stray thoughts were corrected by refocusing on the breath.
This never worked well for me. Truth be told, I disliked those exercises intensely. Focusing on any one thing (be it the breath, a candle, or my navel) for very long was just too difficult for me, especially when I was in pain.
As I continued to experiment with what I had learned, I realized that the exercises that involved an activity in addition to the breath were more effective for me. Among my favorites were Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 method. This breathing technique consists of inhaling to a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, then exhaling with sound to a count of eight. The whooshing sound I made on each exhale is what made this method more interesting and effective for me.
At approximately the same time, I learned about the value of gratitude. I began keeping a journal solely for this purpose. At bedtime each night I wrote in it the things that I was grateful for that day. At first I included only the biggies: writing this column, responding well to a medical treatment, establishing a good rapport with a new physician, etc.
But my list quickly expanded to more mundane things, like waking to sunshine in the morning, feeling a soft blanket against my skin, and laughing with a friend. Soon I found so many things to be grateful for that I often fell asleep before my list was complete.
That’s when it occurred to me to combine a breathing technique with my gratitude list. Why not be grateful during daytime hours as well as at bedtime? This would give me something to focus on in addition to breathing and would make it easier to do.
I began by taking a slow, deep breath in. As my abdomen expanded, I’d say to myself, “I’m grateful for …” On the out breath I’d mention something that would have appeared on my list that day. I quickly discovered myself looking forward to, rather than dreading, those breathing exercises.
As a result, I did them more often, and my pain did indeed decrease. As an added bonus, I became a more grateful person, more conscious of my blessings than I’d ever been before.
If you, too, struggle with breathing techniques, I invite you to try adding a little gratitude. Having difficulty feeling grateful? Here’s a technique that might help: Before going to sleep each night, let your last thought be, “Something wonderful will happen to me tomorrow,” and say it with conviction (either silently or out loud). You’ll be surprised at how observant you become.
The next day, you’ll be watching for that “wonderful thing” to happen. Along the way, you’ll find that many positive events could be possible contenders, and at bedtime you’ll try to assess which one was indeed that “something wonderful.” The rest are definite candidates for your gratitude list.
This practice results in spending more time thinking positive thoughts and less time dwelling on your symptoms. That in itself is pretty wonderful and can have noticeable healing effects.
The addition of gratitude has changed my life for the better. It doesn’t cost anything, and it has no side effects. Why not give it a try?
Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.
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