Writing about Living with Crohn’s Disease

By Kathleen Nicholls, author of Go Your Crohn Way

Living as I do with Crohn’s Disease and a myriad of other chronic illnesses, it can be exhausting just getting up in the morning. Without meaning to sound melodramatic, often everything is a struggle. Life is exhausting.

So when I can I like to do things to make it easier. Better. Less ‘all-about-illness’. Continue reading

Giuliana Fenwick on her book, ‘Indian Head Massage for Special Needs’

As a new author to Singing Dragon, Giuliana Fenwick’s first book, Indian Head Massage For Special Needs, sees the pinnacle of her work so far in a very short space of time. However, it is very much the beginning of the platform as she continues work as an author, public speaker and fundraiser for special needs, helping to give a voice to those who so often do not have one. Hear her story below…
Continue reading

Putting life first and CRPS second

Karen Rodham is a health psychologist who has spent seven years working exclusively with people who are living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (sometimes known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or RSD).

Karen 2aImagine your loved one has developed a pain condition. Medicine does not reduce the pain, they can’t tolerate being touched in the area affected by the pain; they find it difficult to leave the house because they are afraid that someone might accidentally bump into them;  they are less tolerant than they used to be and they can no longer do the things they used to do. You are desperate to help them, but nothing seems to work. You can’t even give them a hug because this makes their pain worse. How might you feel?

 

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a pain condition. Most people who experience it improve in the first year, but for a significant minority (up to 20%); CRPS becomes a chronic long term condition. The key symptom is burning pain, but this is a kind of pain that medication barely affects and because of this chronic CRPS is a very difficult condition to live with. Other symptoms include: swelling, colour and temperature changes, hypersensitivity, as well as increased sweat and hair growth in the affected area(s).  Although the symptoms are usually experienced in a single limb, it is possible for CRPS to occur in more than one limb, and indeed in other body regions. In addition to all of this, it can take a long time for CRPS to be diagnosed because the symptoms could also be a sign that other serious conditions are developing. These other serious conditions need to be ruled out first which can be a frustrating process, not just for the person who is in pain, but for their loved ones and for the health professional who is trying to work out what is going on. For the person who is diagnosed with CRPS, coping and learning to live with CRPS is not easy, but in the same way that the person with CRPS is learning to live with and cope with the condition, so too are friends, family and loved ones. So what can you do if a loved one is living with CRPS?

 

Things to do together:

  • Communication: First, find a way to talk openly and honestly about how CRPS is impacting on both your lives. It is very likely that your loved one is not only trying to come to terms with their CRPS, they are probably also afraid that they are becoming a burden. If this is how they are thinking, the chances are they will be working very hard to keep their feelings to themselves. You will also be likely to be skirting around the issue because you don’t know how to help them. This is a recipe for upset and misunderstanding for everyone concerned. Without open and honest communication you won’t be able to work out what the problems and issues are, and without identifying the problems, you won’t be able to think about how to solve them.
  • Seek external help: Many people find that those first few conversations can be easier if they use a couple counsellor. Couple counsellors can help you to find a new and non-threatening way of telling each other how you really feel in a safe and constructive way.

 

Things the person living with CRPS can do:

  • Stock Story: Many people with CRPS say that when someone asks what is wrong with them, they feel they should explain CRPS in detail. It is fine to do this, especially when you are talking with close friends and family, but it can be exhausting going over and over what CRPS is and how it affects you. One solution is to develop a stock story that gives enough information to give them the gist, without going into minute detail. Something along the lines of “I have a rare form of arthritis” works well, because people have heard of arthritis, know that it is painful and that it is a long term condition, but you can make your own stock story and find something that works for you.
  • Crisis Card: Sometimes things can get very difficult and it can be hard to know which way to turn. Rather than wait for the next crisis, it is a good idea to make a note of the coping strategies that work for you (e.g. go for a walk, phone my sister, take a bath). You could put them on a credit card sized piece of self-laminating card and carry it in your purse or wallet – that way the next time you feel thoroughly fed up, all you need to remember is to read your crisis card and be reminded of what works for you.
  • Pacing: A key aim of pacing is to make our daily activities and rest patterns more consistent. It can be tempting when you have CRPS to overdo things on your good days, but this can impact on how you feel on the following days. Doing things at a steadier pace actually helps you to achieve more in a more balanced way.
  • Building a support network: It is important to have the right kind of people around you. Some of this is to do with you being able to communicate your needs so that other people know and understand how to support you, but it is also about you growing your network and finding positive and like-minded people.
  • Change your focus: Allow yourself time to effectively grieve for what you can no longer do and then turn your attention to things you can do, or new things you can try. It is normal to feel sad and frustrated about the things you can no longer do when you are diagnosed with a chronic condition. Allow yourself time to process this and to come to terms with the idea that this is how things are for now. No-one knows the future, so you cannot predict whether you will improve or get worse. What you can do is to proactively focus on the positive. Don’t be fooled by how simple this sounds, it is not an easy thing to do, but it is a positive way of dealing with the changes enforced on you.
  • Relaxation: Stress makes pain worse. Finding different ways to cope when you feel stressed, and learning to head off stress before it takes hold can help reduce the tension you feel in your body, which in turn could reduce the likelihood of stress-related pain flares.

 

Things the family can do:

  • Keep your own hobbies going: If you can keep your interests and hobbies going, you will be able to maintain a level of normality. This will ensure that you have an external focus and will go some way to reducing the fear often voiced to me by people living with CRPS that their condition has had such an impact on their loved one’s lives that they are now a burden to them.
  • Learn about CRPS: This last point is one for the family and the person living with CRPS. Ask the health professionals who work with you for their recommendations about where to get good and accurate information about CRPS. The better informed you are, the better understanding you will have as a family about how to work together.

 

With all of these points in mind, I wrote the book Learning to Cope with CRPS / RSD: Putting life first and pain second. I share coping strategies that people who live with CRPS find work well. I have also included a chapter focusing attention Rodham_Learning-to-Cop_978-1-84819-240-9_colourjpg-webon loved ones (friends and family of people living with CRPS) who often feel bewildered, frustrated and neglected by the health profession and worry that no-one realises that CRPS impacts on them too.  It is important to remember that everyone’s CRPS journey is unique – we are all human beings with different backgrounds and experiences, but it can be helpful to know that there are a range of different strategies you can try that might make coping with CRPS a little easier. Whether you are a person living with CRPS or a person who cares about someone living with CRPS, this book should highlight how you too can move towards putting life first and CRPS second.

An Introduction to the Bowen Technique – extract from Using the Bowen Technique to Address Complex and Common Conditions

Wilks-Knight_Using-the-Bowen_978-1-84819-167-9_colourjpg-printIn this extract, John Wilks and Isobel Knight provide an introduction into the history and general usage of The Bowen Technique using a very unusual metaphor.

Read the extract…

Using the Bowen Technique to Address Complex and Common Conditions is available from the Singing Dragon website.

The rewards of using homeopathy with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Andrews_Homeopathy-and_978-1-84819-168-6_colourjpg-printThe rewards of using homeopathy with Autism Spectrum Disorder – by Mike Andrews

I have been practicing as a professional homeopath since 1990. I have an open door policy to referrals and most clients self refer to me. In the past I have had a special interest in working with clients with fertility problems, skin conditions and asthma.

I have over the years worked with many children, and their parents, with ADD, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. I find working with ASD children particularly rewarding as the changes that I have seen homeopathy bring about in their and their parents lives is immensely heart-warming.

As is common in the Autism community when parents find something that benefits their child they tell other parents about it. This is how my Autism practice has grown. The changes can be so obvious that other parents will ask ‘What you have been doing to help your child so much?’

The changes can be most observable in social skills in public, the changes that go on ‘behind closed doors’ are often dramatic in terms of improved family relationships, eating a wider range of foods and less repetitive or aggressive behaviour.

In my book Homeopathy and Autism Spectrum Disorder I wanted to look at the types of results homeopaths around the world were achieving and to see how they compared with my experience. Many positive small cohort studies have been published. I refer to these studies in the book and also chose to interviewed colleagues from around the world.  Homeopaths working in Australia, the US, Israel, India and the UK contributed generously to the publication.

Nutritional approaches or biomedicine are often the first step that parents take in to non-conventional medicine when they are dissatisfied by state provision of services. Myself, and other homeopaths, have found that significant further gains can be made even for those children that have been following a dietary regime and supplementation program for some time. Observing a seven year old boy, who had been on a nutritional program for a year when his parents first consulted me, significant cognitive and motor skill improvements followed the introduction of a homeopathic remedy. His nutritionist then suggested stopping the old program, and various tests, before starting a new revised program; at this point the child’s tantrums increased although other gains were maintained. He was then prescribed a different homeopathic medication which helped him greatly even before he started the new nutritional supplements.

Homeopathy is very much an individualised treatment modality which is both its strength and its weakness. Being so individualised it is hard to fit homeopathic treatment into conventional research protocols and it is difficult to give advice for self treatment. However with a choice of over 3500 homeopathic medicines to choose from the child, or indeed adult, with ASD can receive a remedy which takes full account of their individual characteristics and symptoms. Homeopathic treatment is not about de-toxing, although that can be part of the treatment plan, but more a holistic treatment. Homeopathy views everyone’s symptoms, whether autistic or not, as a dynamic whole mind-body disturbance and they are treated with a dynamic homeopathic remedy. Homeopathy works with the ‘vital’ force’, Chinese traditional medicine with the ‘chi’. The exact mechanism of homeopathy is still not fully understood, although it probably lies in the realms of quantum physics. Reading my book will give you as a parent or career for someone with autism, or a professional working with families, a good understanding of homeopathy and the results that have been achieved if you work with a properly qualified and registered Homeopath.

Mike Andrews DSH RSHom graduated from Misha Norland’s School of Homeopathy (UK) in 1990. He has taught at many UK homeopathic colleges: London College of Classical Homeopathy, Purton House School of Homeopathy and on the BSc (Hons) Health Sciences: Homeopathy module at the University of Westminster. He has been in full-time homeopathic practice since 1990 and has been a Registered Member of the Society of Homeopaths since 1994. He practiced in West Sussex for many years, but now works in London and Ludlow, Shropshire. Over more than twenty three years in practice, he has worked with many children and their parents, giving him a good practical understanding of child development. He has worked with children with diagnoses of dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, ADD, Asperger’s and Autism. He is the author of Homeopathy and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Raise awareness of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome this May

 

EDS awarenessMay is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Awareness Month, raising awareness of this multi-systemic and complex connective tissue disorder, and supporting those who live with this invisible condition.

As awareness and understanding of EDS are central to early diagnosis and management of symptoms, take the time to learn about the condition, and simple steps that can help the many people who live with it.

Learn more about EDS (especially type III – Hypermobility Syndrome) with these interviews and resources, and more:

Books:

Interviews:

Organisations:

See also:

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Understanding and treating the complex chronic patient – an interview with Isobel Knight

Isobel KnightWhat makes treating the chronic complex  patient so difficult? Do you think there is still a lack of understanding about how best to approach this?

I think that practitioners are very scared by complex chronic conditions and can become very overwhelmed. I’ve had so many medical professionals dismiss me because they really didn’t understand what the problem was. Treatment of chronic complex conditions really does require a multi-disciplinary team of people and medical experts, as well as an overarching approach to treatment plans. This can all be overwhelming for one person.

Conditions become chronic and complex over the years. There’s often a long delay in diagnosis (research by the Hypermobility Syndrome Association in the UK suggests that diagnoses can take about 10 years). As an individual gets older, he or she will gather more problems, which makes treatment even more difficult, relating to more bodily systems. If the condition is intercepted younger, these can all be addressed and hopefully better controlled.

How has being an individual with EDSIII (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – Type 3, Hypermobility) influenced the way you treat people in your clinic?

Based on what I’ve experienced, I can certainly spot the condition very quickly in people who haven’t had a diagnosis. Although I can’t officially diagnose, if the symptoms are there, I can get them sent to their GP for a referral to an expert rheumatologist. So in this way it’s really helped some people. I also know what ongoing management they are often going to require, so I can both refer them on to practitioners that I know, and support them with Bowen Therapy in the areas that I know they will need help with.

I’m never overwhelmed by what patients say, and I always believe them. And that helps a lot.

Why did you choose the autoethnographic approach in writing your new book?

That was inspired by an author I quote in the book, who wrote about life with a kidney condition and eventually turned it into a PhD thesis. I thought it was a really good way of framing the book. It uses my story as a basis, but also weaves in the stories of others, to ensure that it’s socially representative of that culture group. But also, this is a personal story. I include some quite personal details, and I hope that this makes it much more accessible to read, not a dry textbook. It really says how the patient feels, from my point of view and from the points of view of others.

Book cover: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Managing Ehlers-Danlos (Type III) - Hypermobility SyndromeIn the book, you go into quite a lot of depth on the psychology involved both in having a chronic complex condition and in treatment. Do you think that the importance of this area is underestimated?

Yes. I was actually really surprised how large the psychological section of the book ended up being. There are so many layers to it, trust being a very important one. The issue of trust is so important for any medical professional dealing with a chronic complex patient. Personally, I had been consistently told by a range of professionals that the pain I was experiencing was psychosomatic, and that there was nothing wrong with me. I think that most patients have years of that to contend with. In so many cases these conditions involve a legacies of problems that haven’t been fully handled since a young age. Behaviours change because of pain. That really has an impact on people. They get angry, they get depressed, they get anxious.

I’ve also included a section for the patient on managing chronic pain, cognitive behavioural therapy, and other psychological aids such as goal-setting, pacing, ways of communicating and dealing with doctors.

Medical professionals also need support psychologically in dealing with the complex chronic patient because, as mentioned, treatment can be very overwhelming for them, and quite emotionally draining. If one of your patients comes back every week with little improvement to their pain, it can be emotionally difficult as a therapist to make a positive spin on it and focus on treatment.

Social media seems to be a really supportive, positive force for the treatment and understanding of these conditions. How do you see this developing in future?

I think that because some patients with this condition can become quite disabled, and socially isolated, Facebook, for example, can be a real lifeline for them. It’s a way for them to get mutual support, to learn more about the condition, to realise they’re not alone in their experience. I’ve been staggered by the response to my Facebook page, and how it’s being used internationally to provide support and share information on this subject (but never any medical advice).

How do you hope this book will help professionals working with, and patients with the syndrome?

I hope that the patients will be able to see that there has been, in my story, quite a positive improvement due to the level of care I’ve had, and the experts I’ve managed to have access to. Physiotherapy has been essential in this. I’d like to offer patients hope but also the reality that this is a genetically inherited condition, which is about management, not cure. I hope that the book provides not only treatment information, but validation – they can take the book to their doctors to show them what’s going on. It’s as up to the minute as up to the minute can be in terms of medical research and practice.

In terms of the medical professionals, I hope that they can understand the full impact of a multi-systemic chronic complex condition, what it means to have bodily systems not working very well, and the impact that this has psychologically, physically and socially. I hope this helps them to develop a bit of a more empathetic approach.

I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to have 6 real experts in each field contributing to the book. This means that they’ve been really able to bring the book up to date with the latest research on treatment and medical management of the condition. That’s a real privilege.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

“Although fatigue may persist, it can go away” – An interview with Lucie Montpetit

Photo: Singing Dragon author Lucie Montpetit

Photo: Singing Dragon author Lucie Montpetit (Credit: Jackie Fritz)

Lucie Montpetit is an occupational therapist with over 25 years’ experience working in a variety of hospital settings. She runs workshops on managing fatigue, stress and pain using the approach she has developed incorporating a number of different techniques. She has personally suffered from debilitating fatigue and restored her health through the methods she now teaches others.

She is the author of Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue – coming soon from Singing Dragon.

In this interview, Lucie recounts her personal experience with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and how overcoming this condition through a combination of occupational therapy techniques and Eastern health modalities inspired her to help others to do the same.


Can you please tell us a bit about you and your personal and professional interest in improving the lives of people with persistent fatigue?

First, I’d like to explain that I chose the expression “persistent fatigue” because although fatigue may persist, it can go away. A frame of mind open to hope is important in healing.

When I started working as an occupational therapist, I was interested in understanding the drops in energy of my patients. Despite people’s motivation to get better, a lack of energy became apparent in rehabilitation. I encountered different types of lack of energy, whether patients were suffering from major depression in an acute psychiatric setting; war veterans suffering from late onset diabetes leading to leg amputation; or young mothers who just encountered their first major energy drop from multiple sclerosis or a rheumatoid arthritic attack. Personally, I went to see a neurologist at the age of 29 because of sudden energy drops and my GP thought I had multiple sclerosis, but nothing was found and it went away within two weeks. Then, after my second child was born, I had multisystemic symptoms that my GP did not understand. He said I must be stressed. But I did not feel I was more stressed than my co-workers and friends who had to conjugate career and family life.

Book cover: Breaking Free from Persistent FatigueEventually, despite my relatively healthy lifestyle, I had to find another doctor who put me on sick leave with the diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis. It took me about two years to recover from the persistent debilitating fatigue. After that I started to do workshops for patients suffering from similar daily challenges. My book reflects in part my own findings to regain my health as well as the work I have done as an occupational therapist with patients suffering from debilitating fatigue associated with different diagnoses. So it is not a book about disease but about finding solutions according to different ways of gaining back one’s physical, emotional and psychological energy balance. For many, it is also a path towards empowerment and finding a new meaning in daily activities.

Can you paint us a picture of what the person with fatigue goes through on a daily basis?

Once the imbalance is severe, here is what I observed in my patients: Sudden energy drops at fixed time during the day or after physical exercise; poor sleep of different kinds (inability to fall asleep, waking up many times during the night with an urge to urinate and/or unable to feel refreshed even after a good night’s sleep); food and environmental intolerances; exacerbation of known allergies or new allergy appearances; dizziness; mood swings; foggy thinking; no buffer to deal with stress; having a hard time doing little things around the house, such as washing dishes, due to lack of energy and reduced capacity to organise and plan; having projects in mind and interests to pursue but the inability to do so due to lack of energy; not being able to lift grocery bags without shaking like a leaf and needing to go to bed right after; preferring to be alone but not necessary being depressed – essentially just needing to use as little energy as possible to “survive another day”.

What causes this debilitating condition?

One thing for sure is that long standing exposure to stress is a cause of this debilitating condition, but not only psychosocial stressors like your work environment, a conjugal separation or the death of a close relative. These can also include viral infections, postural stressors that leads to jaw misalignment and lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies that prevent the production of energy at the cellular level, candidiasis, and long term exposure to moulds, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, allergens, electromagnetic smog and other environmental pollutants.

The accumulation of stressors leads to the imbalance of your psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine (PNI) super system, known by researchers as allostatic overload.

What makes it worse, and what makes it better?

Continuous exposure to stressors of any kind – insomnia, not respecting one’s limitations and forcing oneself to do more – makes things worse. To make things better, get rid of the stressors when possible; eat energising foods rather than energy draining processed foods; modify daily habits to optimize the natural chronobiological hormonal cycles of one’s body; learn to change one’s mode of reacting into a more energising way of responding to daily life challenges; and make informed choices while honouring one’s strength and limitations. Choosing the right physical intensity of exercise to regain one’s capacities is crucial, while choosing key nutrients to optimise cellular energy production is also important in the process. Learning how to breathe efficiently through the nose in order to optimise the oxygen input is also very important.

What is the book about, and what motivated you to write it?

For many years, I have been dissatisfied with medical answers that purport to address the debilitating fatigue suffered by my patients with auto-immune diseases. Lack of resources and understanding, finding quick fix medications such as antidepressants for patients clearly suffering from musculoskeletal symptoms such as fibromyalgia, and having difficulty finding answers with the variety of health professionals I personally consulted inspired me to write the book. I needed to find answers firstly for myself, and then got the urge to share my findings and what I had learned with others facing similar prejudices among some health care practitioners. So the book is about finding personal solutions, different for each reader because of their own type of debilitating fatigue and personal way of over-spending their energy. People will learn how to make an energy balance sheet like one would do financially when consolidating debts. From their findings, they will figure out how to save energy in their daily lives and regain their inner mind-body balance towards health.

Can you talk about how your work and approach is influenced by Chinese medicine and other practices?

As an occupational therapist I was trained to view my patients from a holistic perspective, which is in accordance with my personal understanding. People require a meaning in the activity they are doing in therapy; they need goals of their own to reach in addition to those of my rehabilitation treatment plan for them. From my perspective as a martial artist of many decades, I am also influenced by the efficiency of energy expenditure, the need for the energy to circulate through the meridians and the influence of the breath during outer and inner Qi Gong and martial practice.

For me, the autonomous nervous system (ANS) follows the yin/yang principles. Patients I treat, for different reasons, have lost the balance of their PNI super system. This has direct repercussions on the ANS as it reverts to a constant “fight or flight” reaction mode as a result of too many stressors that leads to a narrow, skewed perception of daily life. In these circumstances, the ANS becomes too much yang.

I teach patients to reconnect with their bodies through their senses, the awareness of their body and posture in space and their breathing pattern. Then I use different Qi Gong exercises according to the level of energy of my clients or Chan Ssu Chin Tai Chi exercises (known as Silk Reeling Cocoon exercises) to reconnect further with their breath and body and the body’s ability to heal itself. Sometimes I use Neurofunctional reorganisation – Padovan’s Method® (NFR) with the patients to regain the balance of their autonomic nervous system and sleep rhythm: it is a powerful tool that follows brain plasticity principles. I had used NFR mainly with patients suffering from neurological conditions that follows brain plasticity principles in the past. Many of the NRF exercises help my clients suffering from debilitating fatigue as well because it helps reorganise posture, breathing, and ANS functions and rhythms.

Once the body starts to regain its natural rhythms, I encourage my patients to implement what they found useful in therapy into their lifestyle. I teach them about chronobiological rhythms so they can choose for themselves the minor changes in their daily habits that can help foster the natural flow of hormones and chi. Finally, when the patient starts to get out of the constant “fight or flight” mode and is ready to respond in a new way, I make use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles to help make changes to the energy draining perception of daily life to energising life habits that are better suited for the recovery process. All of those life changes follow the yin/yang principle to break free from persistent fatigue while restoring the inner balance called homeostasis in Western medicine.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about health?

For me, health is a dynamic equilibrium within oneself. Equilibrium takes place in the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of our lives in relation to our environment. If a person is disconnected from one aspect of his or her self, the imbalance will eventually be reflected in the other dimensions of his or her life. I believe that every person who comes to consult me is in part responsible for restoring and then maintaining his or her PNI super system dynamic balance that we refer to as health. People are amazing at finding ways to change their lives in ways that make sense to them. Once they realise from a new point of view how they were living, they have no interest of returning to their previous lifestyle.

Our environment has never had such a strong negative impact on our health. Depleted soils and foods, pollution of all senses, the intrusion of technology in every aspect of our daily lives and having to deal with the compound effects of so many hundreds of chemicals even before we are born are also major stressors that health professionals too often neglect. These are also consequences of living in a world that is too “yang”. There is an implicit false belief that we have to be busy and multitasking most of the time. We can be proactive in maintaining or restoring our health once we gain knowledge of those relatively new phenomena. Knowledge is power. Feeling empowered rather than feeling a victim of a disease changes your outlook on your condition. This frees your body-mind and it starts to heal itself faster. Allowing a few minutes per day to be rather than to do is sometimes sufficient to maintain one’s inner balance.

Finally, how should this book be used by the reader?

The book is to be read and applied according to your level of energy. As a start, people who have low energy would benefit from knowing how to nourish their bodies to optimise energy production. Then they should go to the chapter that appeals to them. Usually, a gut feeling leads people to what they need. If a reader is too exhausted to concentrate on reading, I recommend bringing the book to a true friend or the health professional he or she is working with to do some of the exercises with the assistance of the health professional.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Managing stress and achieving balance through seated Tai Chi and Qigong exercises – An Interview with Cynthia Quarta

Cynthia W. Quarta has taught martial arts for over twenty five years and was the Activities Director at an assisted living facility. She continues to teach seated Tai Chi classes in a number of locations to a range of ages and levels of physical fitness. She lives in Great Falls, Montana, USA.

In this interview, Cynthia talks about how she came to develop the exercises in her forthcoming book, Seated Tai Chi and Qigong: Guided Therapeutic Exercises to Manage Stress and Balance Mind, Body and Spirit.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to practice martial arts in the first place?

I saw my first martial arts demonstration (jujitsu) when I was nine years old. I wasn’t able to take lessons, however, until many years later when one of my advanced ballet students asked to be excused from classes so she could take her black belt test. That was the first I had heard about her involvement in the martial arts. I offered to barter dance lessons in exchange for instruction in her style of Korean karate (Kwon Bup) to which she agreed. Shortly after that she began teaching several other classes in which I also participated. I finally received my black belt and, after my sensei moved out of town, opened my own dojo. Throughout the succeeding years, I had the opportunity to study Eagle Dragon Chinese Kenpo Kung Fu as well as a smattering of WuShu and Tae Kwon Do.

What motivated you to write this book, and what is it about generally?

While I was working as the Activities Director at a local retirement community, I used my dance and martial arts background to design an exercise program for the residents. When the community changed from one for able-bodied retirees to an assisted living facility for those with limited physical mobility, I had to change my approach. With the help of a core group of resident fitness enthusiasts, I developed a program of seated exercises based on the Yang style of T’ai Chi Chuan and the energizing exercises of Qigong.

This book presents a series of seated exercises to benefit people of all ages and levels of fitness. It is written for therapists and caregivers who want to provide an alternative, effective and creative approach to healing. The book includes instructions specifically for these health care professionals to assist them in their work with their patients/clients.

Why do the Tai Chi and Qigong exercises you’ve adapted in the book lend themselves so well to being practiced in a chair?

Both Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle exercise systems that provide healing and increase overall wellness. Regardless of a person’s situation – whether they are recovering from surgery, recently injured, elderly, or dealing with a chronic disability – these exercises are safe and yet amazingly effective. The emphasis in these exercises is on proper breathing and the involvement of the mind in the process of reducing stress, increasing energy and improving oxygen levels. For that reason the practitioner need not be in top physical condition or, for that matter, even able to stand in order to reap the benefits from the use of these exercises.

What positive effects can professionals hope to see in their clients and patients as a result of using the exercises?

The professional who uses this system with his/her patients will see immediate results in stress reduction, increased oxygen levels, improved appetite, more restful sleep, and a decrease in pain and stiffness. Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School and a number of other medical facilities with research divisions have published studies on the benefits of regular Tai Chi and Qigong practice. I encourage any health care professional considering whether or not to try this program to research these studies (most of them are conveniently available online).

Are there any common obstacles that professionals face when trying to guide their clients/patients through the exercise? How can this book help?

The primary challenge is the lack of knowledge and familiarity. Most of us in Western countries haven’t been exposed to Eastern medicine to any great extent. Overcoming the resistance to a new, holistic approach to improved health is usually the biggest obstacle at the beginning. As time goes on, though, and as patients begin to experience the benefits, their attitudes will change. This book contains a basic but inclusive explanation of Chinese medical theories to help professionals explain to their patients why these types of exercises can improve anyone’s level of health.

Why is it important to include a chapter on self-care for the professional?

If there is anyone who needs help in managing stress and achieving balance in their busy lives it is those who labor daily with patients who are ill or disabled! Therapists must be both relaxed and balanced in all areas of their lives if they are to help others achieve their wellness goals.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about health?

I believe that an exercise program that works in combination with a healthy lifestyle and a well-balanced body, mind and spirit is the secret to a long and vigorous life. The exercises described in my book are gentle and safe and because they are designed to be practiced while seated, they provide a program that can be used daily even by those with physical limitations or of advanced age. In other words, this exercise system can be used throughout one’s life from youth through middle age and on into the later years, while at peak physical condition or at a stage of life when diminished mobility and strength present a daily challenge.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Anywhere in Any Chair – Yoga for All – An Interview with Edeltraud Rohnfeld

Edeltraud Rohnfeld qualified as a yoga teacher at the Berlin Yoga Institute Asha Rekai in 1991. She taught private yoga classes in Berlin for 15 years and trained yoga teachers and healthcare professionals. She later specialised in chair yoga, learning from its founder Erika Hammerstroem. She moved to Ireland in 2008 where she runs seminars on chair and classic yoga.

Here, Edeltraud talks about the many benefits and joys of practicing yoga, and how the exercises in her new book,
Chair Yoga: Seated Exercises for Health and Wellbeing, can help individuals with physical disabilities take control of their bodies and their lives.


What drew you to yoga, and how did you develop an interest in the seated form?

When I was 22 my sister showed me my first yoga exercises. I had just returned from a six-month trip to Israel feeling a little confused and without a clear perspective. I had reached a point where I was wondering what I should do with my life. Discovering yoga helped me not only physically, but emotionally too. Every time I did yoga something beautiful happened in me. It was different than doing sport. Not only my body benefited, but my mind and my soul as well. I began to feel more stable and gained more clarity in this very uncertain period of my life. I became more focused and was able to be more aware of all the possibilities life had to offer me. I practised yoga for years and undertook numerous courses. As I became more knowledgeable, I began to practice yoga with small groups of friends and it gave me such a pleasure that I then decided to become a Yoga Instructor.

Two years after completing my education in 1993, I met Erika Hammerstroem – the founder of Chair Yoga. She was an experienced Yoga Instructor who felt a strong need to aid group members who sometimes found it impossible to continue classes due to physical, aging-related limitations. Not wishing them to be excluded from participating in their much loved yoga classes, she began to adapt and devise exercises based on the classic form of yoga but using a chair instead of a mat. The interest in the classes was so great that she then went on to educate the Instructors so they could go on to teach classes. I was one of her students and I began to take my own chair classes in addition to mat yoga.

I began to develop more exercises as my experience grew. I wanted to share as much knowledge as I could and, realising the interest was so great, I decided to write a book about it. Erika Hammerstroem loved the idea. Sadly, she passed away in 2004 at the tender age of 82, just a few months before my book was published in german. I dedicated my book to her and to the angel to whom we prayed together.

I have been teaching both Classic and Chair Yoga for the last 17 years, and I get great pleasure from teaching anyone who loves yoga. My hope for the future is that Chair Yoga will be practised more widely throughout the world, allowing yoga to become more accessible to people who previously thought they could not do it, and to offer my seminars to Yoga Instructors all over the world.

What are the key benefits of practising Chair Yoga?

The key benefits of Chair Yoga are very similar to those of Classic Yoga. The only difference is that the risk of injury is significantly reduced on the chair. The whole body is moved and becomes more supple. Movements incorporate the spine, and all muscles and inner organs get gently stretched and strengthened (including the heart). The exercises support circulation, enabling better oxygenation to all the cells of the body, to the digestive system and to the immune system. It helps to reduce and cope with stress, anxiety and insomnia and increases self-esteem. By practising Chair Yoga frequently, one can feel more balanced in life and it can enable you to have more joy in life whilst becoming more flexible.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about health and wellbeing?

In my opinion health and wellbeing is about finding a balance between one’s physical and psychological needs. By undertaking yoga frequently, one can improve and maintain good flexibility and strengthen muscles. Combining this with a good balanced diet, sufficient rest and regularly practising relaxation techniques, one can achieve good physical wellbeing.

The body and mind are strongly linked; if the body feels healthier, the mind will feel clearer and calmer and perhaps more receptive and better able to deal with the challenges in life. People need to have more self-awareness of their individual needs. Yoga empowers people to be more able to focus on their individual needs and not to give in to negative influences.

There is a strong connection between people feeling emotionally stressed and experiencing physical symptoms. Rather than trying to suppress worries and fears, yoga helps people confront their anxieties instead of ignoring them. This in turn can help us become emotionally strong and empowered. It has certainly helped me to find my way through difficult periods in my life, and to have faith and be more accepting of the things that I cannot control.

With my book I want to encourage everybody who is interested in practicing yoga to take their life in their own hands and make the best out of it. Despite any physical or psychological limitations, you can still practice Chair Yoga and significantly improve your health and wellbeing.

Why was it important to include a section about diet?

Whilst practising yoga greatly improves one’s health and wellbeing, in order to achieve the maximum benefits one needs to eat healthy too. A student who smokes, drinks alcohol and eats “junk food” will not gain as much from yoga as an individual who does not.

Throughout my years teaching yoga I’ve met many people who are not well-informed about how to make healthier dietary choices – for example choosing to eat “whole” foods as opposed to refined foods. Additionally I’ve had many students who were unaware of the importance of drinking water frequently while practising yoga. Yoga helps the body excrete accumulated toxins. With enough water the body is able to flush out these toxins; failure to drink enough water can result in headaches and joint and generalised pain throughout the body.

It was critical for me to inform my readers of the role diet and nutrition play in complementing yoga and in improving one’s health.

However, as I discuss in my book, it is not necessary for the individual to be vegetarian or a non-smoker in order to practice yoga. Awareness and understanding may enable students to begin to gradually change and alter their eating, drinking or smoking habits. It is important for people to achieve this in their own individual way. Many of us acquire bad habits over a period of years and therefore changes must be made slowly and at a realistic pace. Yoga is not about pressure or force and every person must respond to their own goals at their own pace.

How should this book be used?

First and foremost, I would recommend that the reader examine the Introduction and exercises. Try a few exercises which may be of particular interest or proceed to “Chapter 13: Exercise Guidelines” and start with a 15-minute program.

Depending on how you find the program, extend it to a 30-minute program in the next session. Try not to over-do the sessions. Instead, give yourself small realistic goals such as 2-3 times a week for 15 minutes, and aim to continue this at regular intervals. As you feel more and more able, increase first the length of each session and then the frequency.

Remember never to force yourself to do yoga, but practise it with joy!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.