Our sessions are casual. We meet in a roughly 500-600 square foot open space and arrange ourselves in a circle on chairs, stools or floor cushions. We often start with questions regarding the material we teach or a discussion of a pain related topic relevant to what we do. Everyone is free to participate or not. At the start we often repeat our advice to stop doing any exercise that hurts and to rest at any time.
We sit quietly together for about 15-20 minutes. Our meditation instructions emphasize remaining relaxed but alert with no attempt to clear the mind or visualize anything in particular. Instead we suggest that attention be constantly be brought back to remaining upright, relaxed and still, while breathing easily without moving the shoulders and chest.
Although this sounds simple, it is not easy especially if one is experiencing pain. We therefore make it clear that participants should adjust themselves during meditation practice to relieve pain as needed, including standing up if they have to. We ask that participants allow themselves to settle down, mentally and physically as well as they can without pressuring themselves to do so. We try to make the point that relaxation cannot be forced and that they need not be concerned about how well they are doing. The point is to do what one can. This is true for all we teach.
Immediately following meditation practice we perform gentle back, neck and shoulder movements while seated. These movements are performed in a relaxed fashion specifically avoiding strain and pain.
The remainder of a typical session may vary from day to day. We use a basic set of exercises taken from traditional Asian practices in most sessions. For these too, we stress avoiding pain and moving in as relaxed a fashion as possible. Most of the exercises can be done while seated or modified to suit individual limitations.
Importantly, we always ask participants to pay careful attention to what they are doing as they are doing it. Some exercises are accompanied by mental imaging instructions such as asking people to imagine the feeling of turning the neck even when they have reached their limit and to relax the neck while imagining.
Posture is trained by having people stand and carry out instructions on how to align the body mechanically. This is followed by guided relaxation and mental imagery practice while remaining standing. A similar approach is taken as participants are guided through weight shifting exercises and walking.
Maintaining relaxation and awareness is part of all we do. This helps avoid fatigue and strain, allowing individuals to practice at their own pace. Repetition of a few basic exercises enables each person to go deeply into each exercise so that its principles can be carried into daily activities. We regularly discuss how to apply what they are learning to daily activities and how to practice at home.
We have consistently observed how de-emphasis of performance and gentle encouragement to practice or rest as desired is met with gratitude by most who come to our sessions. Within weeks, many who practice regularly find themselves able to sit, stand or walk more easily or for longer than they thought they were capable of. They begin to learn mind-body strategies to cope with pain and not to be afraid of using their bodies.
The above describes what usually goes on in our pain group program, a combination of physical and mental exercises practiced in a friendly atmosphere that encourages relaxation over performance. But this is only the surface. I will write about what may be going on beneath the surface in the next post.