By Lauren Fournier, PT, DPT
As some of you may know, we have kept our doors open throughout the pandemic even though there have been changes to the hours in the office and other days via telemedicine. At the beginning of each visit, a common question I will ask my patients is “how are you doing?” What I usually am referring to is the injury that I am treating the patient for, and once they give me that answer I’ll then go into how they’re doing on a more personal level. This is something that I have done every day, for every visit, even before the pandemic. However, this recent week with all the unrest that is going on in the world, especially in the US, this question began to get quite different answers.
Most of the responses resembled something like “I can’t quite explain it, but I just feel off.” Some of them would even feel that they were having a flare in their symptoms, be it pain, stiffness, dizziness, off balance etc. As the discussion continued to try to find a cause, there seems to be a common thread throughout all of my patients: the stress from a combination of being socially isolated over the past three months, political unrest, social injustices and economic uncertainty seems to be manifesting, not just in an emotional way, but in a physical way too.
As I indicated in my last newsletter submission, I have been learning more about how to apply yoga, Tai chi, and Pilates to physical therapy. The ancient Chinese martial art of Tai chi shows significant benefit for different health problems including osteoporosis, cardiac disease, arthritis and improving balance/preventing falls. I have learned about the life energy referred to as qi. This is found through all life and all things, and the healing art of qigong, which literally translates to “qi work or qi exercise.” You can think of it as electrical currents throughout the body. The Chinese believe that your qi can “get stuck” when there is an injury, mental illness, or other health ailments. The art of Tai chi and acupuncture helps to return the normal flow of that qi.
An example of how this exists is using an item called an “energy stick” that can detect an electrical current. When a person holds both ends it completes the circuit which will trigger lights and sound. You could have a group of 30 people holding hands in a circle, and when that loop is closed the energy stick will light up and make a sound. If anyone in the link of that chain of people holding hands lets go, the circuit is open and the energy stick stops making noise. This is an example of how our qi can be transferred and connected to other people. The human connection is important, and studies have shown that humans are quite social beings. Therefore, the impact of us not being able to interact normally with one another has taken its toll. The New York Times released a guide on June 4th on how to hug safely, saying “A brief hug, as long as we stay out of each other’s breathing zones, is probably less risky than a long conversation.” Here are the safer ways to hug:
So, when we are all feeling this stress and anxiety it can throw off that energy balance, and when a person is already fighting an injury or some other illness it can compound that. Receiving treatment is important and why many physical therapists use the art of physical touch to help with the healing process. Another way to help with a person’s qi is to practice deep breathing and mindfulness, which is a form of meditation. Yoga and Tai chi both use this practice to help heal the mind and body. Through my recent studies, I have started to apply these methods during patients’ visits and have already seen positive results. Here are two examples for you to practice on your own at home:
The first option is, if you can lay flat on your bed, to prop yourself with various pillows, blankets, and towels to work on what is called diaphragmatic breathing in a yoga pose called savasana. Starting from the head down:
- Place a towel roll at your neck to allow for a neutral spine.
- Avoid using a pillow so you will not have the tendency to flex your head forward.
- Prop both arms up so they comfortably rest on the pillows.
- Optional: Put a small weight on your stomach to focus your breath on filling the lower abdomen and avoiding “chest breathing”.
- Place a folded blanket or towel under your low back between where your ribs end and your hips start.
- This will help to open your rib cage and allow for your diaphragm to fully expand with each breath.
- Place one or more pillows (possibly folded) under your knees to help take pressure away from your back.
- You could even put your legs up on a chair, so your hips and knees are bent at a 90 degree angle if the pressure in your low back is not relieved by the pillows.
The second option is a Tai chi form you can perform while standing or seated:
- Stand evenly, keeping a 2-fist width between your feet, but not wider than your shoulders.
- Take a slow, deep breath bringing your hands forward and up w/ palms facing each other.
- Exhale and bend your knees slightly and let your elbows sink.
- Start with your hands as far apart as your face is wide, inhale and separate your hands 3-4 ins keeping the palms facing each other.
- As you inhale, imagine pulling against a magnet and pushing on your way back, but not creating tension.
- Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth touching your front teeth.
- Inhale and exhale through your nose only.
- Inhale into the lower belly.
- Exhale to lift the pelvic floor.
- Repeat those breaths 3 times, extend your arms back out and slowly lower your hands down.
Hopefully, these techniques will help you take a few moments out of the day to take care of yourself and quiet some of the anxiety you may be feeling. Remember that we are truly all in this together. You are not alone, so don’t be afraid to share your feelings and “qi”nect with friends or loved ones, because they are probably feeling the same way too.