Endometriosis Care: How I Integrated Complementary Medicine with Traditional Medicine

Written by Arielle Denise Dance, MA in Women’s Health

Pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Now take another breath and imagine a warm, healing light flowing through your body and hovering over any areas that may be causing you pain or discomfort. Now, one more relaxing deep breath.

This is a common guided imagery exercise I use to calm myself when I am having bouts of pain due to endometriosis or simply need to be reminded to be grateful for my body in spite of my ailments. Endometriosis is a women’s reproductive disease which impacts millions of women of worldwide. Women, like me, with the disease often experience extreme pelvic pain related and unrelated to their menstrual periods, pain with bowel movements and urination, infertility, pain with sexual activity, nausea, vomiting, pain in the legs, back pain, and many more complications.

Personally, I love to blend some complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with traditional medicine to cope with these symptoms. Treating endometriosis can be very complicated and working closely with one’s care team on an individual treatment plan is essential. Medical treatments for endometriosis include surgery (laparoscopy which are also used for diagnosis), birth control pills, pain medications, or GNRH analogs which suppress menstruation.

Throughout my journey I acknowledged that healing modalities that may not have been prescribed by medical providers were often equally, if not more so, comforting to me. I began integrating practices as slight as managing stress and modifying my diet (though I don’t have the discipline for the Gluten Free Endo-Diet). Throughout my life, practices like meditation/prayer and dance (but not necessarily exercise) have always been deeply engrained into my life. So I used these practices to cope with my illness and keep me centered. Over the years, I also explored other areas of healing like Reiki energy healing and guided imagery. Research also supports the use of acupuncture and yoga for endometriosis symptom relief. Like some treatments, these may target some symptoms but not others.

It is my belief that the combination of these CAM practices with the traditional treatments is what has helped manage my endometriosis pain. I truly encourage women to find their own CAM techniques that work for them and discuss these with their medical providers. Having open conversations about how biomedical and CAM therapies can work together is what truly makes healthcare holistic.

If you are not sure where to begin, here is my suggestion:

Take a deep breath. Imagine yourself in a healthy place. Imagine warm and healthy light flowing and beaming to your abdomen, around to your back and down your legs. Allow each breath to clear your mind from thoughts and memories of pain and discomfort– letting each breath replace any negative thoughts with healing and mending thoughts. Take several deep breaths, focusing only on calm, healing, warm light.  (Repeat when needed!)

Arielle Denise Dance, MA in Women’s Health, is a PhD student in Mind Body Medicine at Saybrook University. Diagnosed with endometriosis at 15 years old, Arielle has spent the majority of her academic career being an advocate in the women’s health community focusing on topics of chronic pain, disability, and minority groups. Arielle currently works for the American Cancer Society but is extremely passionate about her work within the field of Mind Body Medicine especially geared towards women’s health research. Upcoming research includes endometriosis and specific relaxation techniques including meditation, deep breathing, and guided imagery.

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Mindful Moments: Intentions and Meditations

“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.” -Thich Nhat Hahn

I remember being 6 years old and whining when my mother came home and had me to my chores over again. I grew up in a home where we all carried our own weight no matter our age. We couldn’t work so my parents decided that we would be in charge of dusting, making our beds and learning how to do laundry.  I remember my parents saying, “do everything as if it were for God.” Well, I did not know what that meant. I just thought they were trying to make me feel guilty. Now that I look back at that saying I see the beauty I didn’t see as a child.

In my lifetime I have done countless mindless and seemingly pointless things. I have felt empty and drained even though I was not straining or working hard at all. I have sat on the couch for hours just watching images on the screen because I was lonely or because I was bored. I have used the adult version of the “time-out” to just sit there with absolutely no thoughts. While I think we can all use a personal time-out every now and then, I also realize that instead of letting myself be completely empty, I can set an intention for those moments of silence or the moments of crazy when you just need to focus. Instead of being an empty vessel, find one word to think about.

An intention is a thought. A good thought. An intention is something you wish for. It is something you hope for. An intention is like holding something or someone in your thoughts. Intention is the recognition of something and having a non-judgemental thought about it. Intention is awareness.

For example:

Let’s say you are washing dishes and you are annoyed because you don’t want to do them.

Recognition: “I recognize that I am feeling annoyed, this is what annoyed feels like.”

Action: Take 3 full inhalations and 3 full exhalations

Intention/thought:  “I am at peace”. Repeat this phrase to yourself while you are doing dishes and as you continue taking deep breaths.

Another example is:

Let’s say you are practicing yoga and the instructor asks you to set an intention for your class.

Recognition: “I am really tired today and would rather be at home sleeping, this is what tired feels like”

Action: Focus on your gentle breathing. Feel your belly rise up as you breathe in, and fall as you breathe out.

Intention: “I am blessed to have the ability to move my limbs. Today, I practice for those who are unable to move about

freely.”

Using one word or phrase intention is a mindful meditation.  Meditating or thinking about one word helps with focus and attention. I know some people don’t know or understand the idea of meditation. It can be quite daunting for some people. If you are not a meditator and need a place to start here are some tips:

1. Make it your own: Start small. Start with breathing and just repeating the word “peace” throughout your day. Choose words that resonate with how you want to feel throughout your day.

2. Let it be a personal practice: This is an internal practice. No one needs to know all of your inner thoughts, prayers, etc.

3. Use an app: I have some reservations about meditation apps, however there are a few good ones that might be helpful for beginners or for anyone needing a reminder. Some free meditation apps go off at random times during the day. The sound works as a reminder to take a moment to relax and breathe.

Finding what works for you is important. Sometimes the things that have the biggest impact in our lives start as simple and easy practices. The less complicated you make it, the more you will want to do it. Soon enough you will do it automatically and not even realize you are doing it.

What is Reiki? A Guide for Women

By Shirley Johnson

When I first became interested in wholistic health, I studied mostly about nutrition, food, and herbs.  Learning about the foods to eat and herbs to take to fuel a healthy body were useful to me and interesting.  However, when I began to learn about the more energetic healing modalities, I became fascinated.  Reiki was one of these energetic healing modalities that seemed so powerful and yet simple.  This is one of the many reasons I love reiki.

What is Reiki?

Reiki is an ancient Japanese healing art modality.  The word Reiki is a Japanese word that can be roughly translated into English as Universal Life Force.  Universal Life Force is found in everything – trees, animals, human beings, bodies of water, wind and so on.  Many cultures around the world believe in this life force energy and it is called by many names – prana, chi, mana and num – to name a few.  In this practice, it is believed that the reiki practitioner is channeling this universal life force through themselves and into the recipient.  In this way both the practitioner and the recipient become recipients for this Life Force.

Who Can Practice Reiki?

Anyone is able to practice reiki once they are attuned by a reiki master.  This practice believes that all people regardless of their age, gender, race, socioeconomic class, career choice, etc has the potential and ability to share this gentle healing technique.

Why Reiki?

1)      Reiki is a non-invasive and gentle healing technique.  For some of us, receiving something that is so gentle and subtle can feel safer than techniques that use more force and are more invasive to the body.  Reiki can be transmitted by laying hands or just by allowing the hands to hover over the physical body while not touching.

2)       Reiki cannot be messed up by over-thinking or the brain.  Reiki works for the highest healing good so even if you are unsure about it, reiki will do what it needs to do.

3)       A growing number of hospitals and other healthcare institutions are bringing in reiki practitioners to complement treatments and provide added value to healthcare consumers.  Because reiki is so gentle and can be done anywhere, it is an easy addition to institutions and spaces that may have limited resources.

4)       In my own practice of reiki, I have seen this practice provide a state of deep relaxation for recipients.  Relaxation may seem simple, but it seems more hard to come by for many modern individuals.  Deep relaxation can help to bring better sleep, more calmness to an overactive mind, and more balance in dealing with life.  In this way, this simple technique can help women to live a life where they are feeling more empowered and confident in their decisions.

There is a great amount of power in the bodies and minds of women.  Not only is our intuition so perfectly connected to nature, but within our physical bodies holds the power to create life, nurture life and transform life.  Reiki is a practice that will help those who may need a friendly reminder of the power that is within them to create healing and healthy minds, bodies and environments.

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Shirley Kali Johnson is a native New Yorker, bringing inspiration, wholistic wellness and yoga to modern yogis and yoginis. A graduate of Brown University, Shirley  went to work in corporate finance and real estate development after college.  She found yoga the most effective way to deal with her stress and eventually decided to create a life around it.  Shirley  completed her 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Goa, India at Ashiyana with Paula Tursi and has studied with a number of yoga teachers and various lineages including Kripalu, Kundalini and Prana Flow Vinyasa.  She is inspired by astrology, dance, flowers and metaphysics. Shirley  is currently a graduate student at California Institute of Integral Studies studying psychology and is a practicing astrologist and reiki healer.

web: www.soulisticwellness.com

The Power of Imagination

 I have been told that I have quite the imagination. If I think something will go wrong, my mind takes it to the next level. I go from a concerned level to disaster level pretty quickly.

As I sit in class doing guided imagery, and read the research on how visualization can help improve a patient’s response to treatment and surgery, It hits me; we have the power to change our body’s chemistry through our thoughts?!

Sounds a little crazy doesnt it?

So what does “guided imagery” mean?

The Academy for Guided Imagery (AGI) classifies the therapeutic application of guided imagery into three categories:

  1. Stress reduction and relaxation
  2. Active visualization or directed imagery – for improving performance, changing behavior, or influencing an outcome
  3. Receptive imagery – in which words and images are brought to consciousness to explore and give information about symptoms, treatments, moods or illnesses

Guided imagery is the process of listening to someone’s voice guide you through a mental picture. Our minds (conscious and subconscious) can create images in our waking or sleeping (dreaming/daydreaming) lives. Guided imagery helps to harness this natural and amazing ability to CHANGE our physiology.

Amazing, right?

Years of clinical research confirms this. There are studies that show nurses doing a guided imagery with a patients before surgery. The patients decreased their stay in the hospital after surgery, and healed faster than the patients who did not participate in guided imagery.

How many times have you been sleeping and wake yourself up because you dreamed that you were falling? In your dream you may experience fear, excitement, rush of adrenaline. You wake up and notice that you are sweating and your heart is racing. Why, you weren’t actually falling? But you produced a physical response.

Guiding your imagination is a tool you can use but you have to be willing to give it a try. We already use it, we just have to learn how to use it to our advantage.

Professional athletes and olympic swimmers use it to help them focus on their goal. Imagine the possibilities in what you can accomplish if you just imagine that you can and you will!

The Mind-Body Connection

I am guilty of going about my day without thinking about how my actions impact my body and mind. There are days that go by without any self-care practices. When I finally take the time to just sit and breathe, practice yoga or get an acupuncture session I notice the difference instantly. My body is more at ease, my mind and spirit are calm, the back pain I experience is gone and my headaches subside. What is most surprising is what difference it makes in my interactions with my husband, co-workers and strangers I encounter on the road.

Though I have been practicing yoga for years now, I did not make the mind body connection until I practiced self-care for one week straight. As part of a movement awareness class I practiced qi gong, yoga and soft-belly breathing for seven consecutive days. I went online and found a couple of free 20 minute videos and  began my practice. Within the day I noticed a significant change not only in my body, but my mind was clear, my mood was lighter and my spirit felt at peace because I wasnt so worried or caught up in the daily grind.

I am a “worry-wart” by nature and I tend to rush because if I am not running late I have a long to-do list.  I am also a control freak and want to make the most of my day by cramming in as much as I can. Which, come to think about it is a little counter-intuitive for someone wanting to live with less stress.

Needless to say that despite my controlling characteristics I am learning to live more in the “calm and at ease” space that I discovered during my week of self-care.

Instead of living in the constant “fight or flight” state and doing damage to our adrenal glands why not take three long breaths?

Our bodies are capable of creating and living in a state of relaxation, why not take advantage of these free tools? Below are some easy steps you can take on a daily basis to kick start your journey to less stress.

1. Before opening an email take three deep breaths from your belly (you should feel your belly expand with every inhale).

2.  During your lunch break go outside (weather permitting), sit comfortably with your back against a wall or bench and your feet on the ground. Let your arms relax and close your eyes gently. Begin to breathe, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take 5 minutes and increase as needed.

3. Go for a walk! Walking meditations are easy and free. Instead of bringing your phone and checking it as you walk, plug in some of your favorite music OR go without media and bring your awareness to the sights, smells, what you hear. Feel the wind against your hair and the sun on your skin. How does this feel? Bring your awareness to your surroundings while walking in silence

If you need a guided soft belly meditation I would recommend Dr. James Gordon’s soft belly meditation.