Sunday, January 7, 2018

Body Awareness and God



Sarah is a deeply religious Christian who feels strongly connected to God.  This deeply felt connection has saved her from a life of depression and suicidal attempts as it keeps her connected to a higher power that she believes looks over her. 
Could sensory issues relate to the tendency to give oneself over to a higher source? I believe there might be a connection and specifically with people I call “languids.”
Languids
Languids are hypo-responsive to sensory stimulation, as they don’t process enough stimuli and consequently easily tune out the world. At the same time, they suffer low muscle tone and are lethargic and prone to depression.
Sarah is an example. Clumsy, she falls easily, doesn’t know right from left and is unable to cross the midline. She had great difficulty learning how to tie her shoes or cut a straight line, and never learned to dance, ride a bike, swim or do any sports at all. She did learn how to drive out of necessity but feels fearful behind the wheel as she constantly bumps into curbs and other cars, and she gets lost in a flash.
She has low muscle tone and finds it hard to get her body moving. Fleshy, she is an over-eater and finds it hard to maintain her weight.
Possessing low energy, she is lethargic and has suffered depression her whole life and has attempted suicide more than once.
Poor Body Awareness
Hyposensitivity, lethargy, low muscle tone and proneness to depression are all signs of poor body awareness, the inability to be aware of and in touch with one’s body.  
Body awareness gives us our place in space so we can feel our edges and know where our body ends and the world begins. This allows us to move in the world and be part of it, yet to have boundaries so we don’t lose self – to feel connected to the earth and to have roots, but also to have wings and be able to take flight.
Feeling this control of your body in space makes you feel a solid, strong presence on this planet that we inhabit and translates into emotional security and confidence. This physical sense of self lays the foundation for psychological self-awareness. 
Body Awareness and God
When you don’t feel connected to the earth, you tend to feel lost, floundering, anxious, and depressed. You turn inward to your imagination for solace and feel connected to the cosmos, whether through belief in God or a higher force.
In Sarah’s case, she turned to the “Lord” for solace and guidance and believed that everything that happens in her life was guided by “him.” When she gets depressed and suicidal, she prays and that helps jolt her out of her dark state.  
Could an association exist between being a languid and a desire to be off in the cosmos?  It’s possible. If you are uncoordinated and clumsy and always found it difficult to do the things most do automatically, like tying your shoe, riding a bike, dancing, writing out a story or cutting out a picture, it’s not much fun to be inside your body. What better place to be than in the cosmos where your body disappears?  In deep meditation or in deep prayer people may not even be aware of breathing.
Science and God
Science backs up a relationship between poor body awareness from hypo-responsiveness and low muscle tone, and belief in God.
The OAA or orientation association area of the brain orients you in physical space by drawing a sharp distinction between you and everything else. Orientation in space and time happens in the posterior superior parietal lobe, an area just behind the top of the head and is where our brain sorts “me” from the vast “not me” of the infinite universe. Basically it is your conscious sense of self and is dependent on receiving sensory input.
If you are hypo-responsive, easily turning off sensation and feeling ungrounded to the earth, like Sarah, you begin to lose self and feel a part of the larger cosmos or universe – in other words, the religious or spiritual experience.
And in fact science has found that inactivity in this area may play a part in depression, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and depersonalization, while damage to this area by trauma or stroke results in difficulty maneuvering in physical space.
Little wonder that numerous studies have found exercise to be more effective than antidepressants in controlling runaway depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and with longer lasting effects.
Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, TooTight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensoryprocessing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email info@sharonheller.net.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SPD & Rhythmicity


When we think about sensory processing disorder (SPD), we tend to think about someone who jumps when someone touches their shoulder, puts their hands over their ears when a siren whizzes by, and can’t be out in the sun without sunglasses.

But in truth, those with SPD experience chaos not just in reaction to sensory overstimulation but in many aspects of functioning. 

One is rhythmicity. 

Take my friend Samantha. 

She either eats too little or too much.

She sleeps all day or can’t fall asleep and walks around like a zombie.

Some days, she’s all over the place, her heart racing and her breathing rapid. Other days, she’s so lethargic, she can barely get the energy to take the dog out.

At times, she can’t get enough sex. At other times she goes for weeks without being in the mood.

What she rarely if ever seems to be is regulated, modulated, balanced.

Body Rhythms

Orchestrating all behavior are the body’s rhythms, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and brain waves. They exist within a circadian or 24-hour sleep/wake cycle, an inner clock that synchronizes body rhythms by the ebb and flow of light and dark. Our body temperature for instance, is higher by day and lower by night, while the right side of the body is warmer by day and the left side is warmer by night.

In an organized nervous system, rhythmicity is regular for the most part and behavior is modulated. 

But in those with under- or over-arousability, rhythmicity flows in extremes. Your behavior is unmodulated and everything is off key: movement, sleep, heart rate, respiration, temperature, appetite, sexual desire.

Sleep

Take sleep. If your system is under-reactive to sensation, you fall asleep in a wink:  without light, sound and movement there’s nothing to charge your system.

This is good. But you may also oversleep as a result and find it hard to get going in the morning and especially if you have low muscle tone. Not surprisingly, most on the low end of arousal are owls and don’t get going until late in the day. Such a late start probably affected how well you did in school and work performance as most jobs require morning alertness.

If you are sensory defensive, you are too wired to fall asleep. Once asleep, you easily awaken by noise, movement in the bed, odors, light pouring into the room or the sensation of your bedding or night clothes.  As a result, you don’t sleep deeply and awaken exhausted in the morning, even when you get enough sleep.

What’s the Answer?

What can you do to become more rhythmic? The answer of course is not straight forward.  There is no pill to make you regulated. 

Rather, you must avoid everything that throws you out of whack and feed your nervous system every day and throughout the day with organizing and modulating activities.  These include:

  • Movement and healing tactile sensations
  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Aromatherapy
  • Healing music
  • Light therapy
  • Non-allergenic, non-processed nutritional food, organic whenever possible


In other words, you must be committed to a lifestyle of healing and regeneration of your nervous system.  It may seem difficult at first and take much discipline. But in truth it is a life of supreme sensory pleasure!



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Even an Old Brain Can Change

If you have SPD, it’s easy to get discouraged. After all, there’s no pill you can take to make it go away.
Nevertheless by following sensorimotor interventions and mind-body techniques, like meditation and visualization, symptoms can be greatly reduced and in some cases eliminated so that your life no longer seems one of never ending left curves.
This will happen from neuroplasticity, meaning the brain’s ability to rewire itself.  And though neuroplasticity happens in leaps and bounds in the young developing brain, it amazingly continues throughout life. 
I suffered visual spatial processing problems my whole life, as well as slow auditory processing. As I was bright, I compensated well enough and problems were never picked up. Nevertheless, I felt dumb and my family thought I was dumb. 
In my youth, I took years of dancing, mostly jazz. In class, you learn a dance routine taught in sequential small sequences. By the end of the class, the students are joyfully dancing away, the steps learned and automatic.
My brain did not translate what the teacher’s feet were doing into my feet and I had great difficulty learning even a small sequence. By the end of the class, I was still struggling to figure it out and each step took effort. Needless to say, I never made it to Broadway.
At age 60, I became an avid painter and painted virtually daily for hours. Lacking formal training, I painted mostly from my imagination. This meant that it often took months to finally get a face to look like a face, as I continually reworked the shape, mouth, nose and eyes.
Six years after I started painting, I began Zumba classes. Amazingly, I picked up the steps immediately as the teacher demonstrated and danced away! No lag. No effort.
All the hours spent figuring out space on a small canvas had grown loads of brain highways that rewired the visual cortex in my brain and greatly improved my visual spatial processing. 
The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks proves false.
Granted, neuroplasticity doesn’t happen overnight. You must persist, persist and persist. And you must make sensory interventions and mind-body techniques your lifestyle … for the rest of your life. 
But things can get better.  The brain can change!




Friday, April 15, 2016

Walk Barefoot & Connect to the Earth's Frequencies

In the morning, I often take a barefoot walk along the grassy knoll behind my house as I joyfully pick the fruit of the season off the trees, such as avocados, mangos, loquats, mamey fruit, and indulge.
Why barefoot? Walking barefoot puts us in touch with the earth's frequencies.
Throughout history humans always walked barefoot until modern lifestyle necessitated wearing shoes. This has disconnected us from the Earth’s energy that vibrates at a specific frequency, known as the Schumann Resonance. 
All of life is composed of frequencies and vibrations and our bodies were designed to coincide with earth’s rhythms.
When our bare skin touches the surface of the earth, or if we are immersed in a natural body of water we tune to this vibration and experience profound healing. 
Some of us sensitive folks feel the vibration as a pleasant warm, tingling, sensation when trodding barefoot along the water’s edge at the beach or on a stretch of dew-moistened grass. 
Walking with a Natural Stride
There are about 5,000 nerve endings in the bottom of each foot. As our feet touch the ground, the feedback creates a light, natural stride in the body contrary to the impact and joint torque in a shoe. 
This stride reawakens muscles that have atrophied in our shoes, and reawakens our balance system as nerve endings on the bottom of our feet tell us that we’re leaning or tilting forward, or that we’re bending forward at the waist. Such feedback stimulates new neural connections and remaps the mind for greater balance. 
With practice, walking barefoot will translate into running, walking, and even standing with better posture, more mobility, a stronger body, and less joint pain. 
Barefoot is Healthier
And there’s more good news. Studies show that stimulating the nerve endings on the bottom of the feet can decrease blood pressure and reduce sympathetic activity, reducing stress and inflammation.
Get in Touch with the Earth
Walk barefoot outdoors whenever possible and especially after it rains when you get even more of the earth’s healing energy. Sit, stand, or walk on grass, sand, dirt, or concrete as these surfaces transmit the earth’s energy while wood, asphalt, rubber, plastic, glass, synthetic materials and block it.
When you must wear shoes, wear natural fabric shoes like leather or canvas as the popular rubber- or plastic-soled shoes disconnect you even further from the earth’s vibrations.
Earthing
Sleep, work at the computer, or relax watching TV in contact with conductive sheets or mats that transfer earth’s energy to your body (see www.earthing.com) and notice the difference when you don’t. For me it’s immediately evident.  
I have my bare foot on an earthing mat as I type this.  If I lift it up, I feel immediate pressure and stress.  Put it back down and my body relaxes!  Without it, I'm not sure I could work for the hours that I must as a writer.  It's too draining. 
At night, I sleep with an earthing mattress.  If I don’t, I won't sleep as soundly and will wake up feel tense. When I need to travel, I take it with me. 

Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060932929?keywords=sharon%20heller&qid=1452174028&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1 and Uptight & Off Center, How sensory processing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0692544801?keywords=uptight%20and%20off%20center&qid=1452087814&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&sr=8-1 Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email info@sharonheller.net.






Sunday, January 31, 2016

Do You Have ADHD, SPD or Both?


Do you find yourself easily distracted or hyperactive and also startle when the phone rings and jump when someone touches your shoulder?  If so, you might have ADHD, officially diagnosed or self-diagnosed, and sensory processing disorder?  This is not unusual. There’s a lot of overlap between SPD and ADHD.  

Both can cause you to be:
·      Distracted
·      Impulsive
·      Hyperactive
·      Disorganized
·      Anxious
·      Socially awkward
·      Depressed

So the question is -- how do they differ?  This is hotly debated. Researcher and OT Lucy Miller, fortunately has identified ways to distinguish ADHD from SPD.
Those with ADHD,
·      Cannot stop impulsive behavior regardless of sensory input
·      Crave novelty and activity that is not necessarily related to specific sensations.
·      Do not become more organized after receiving intense sensory input.
·      Have difficulty waiting or taking turns.
·      Wait or takes turns better with cognitive than sensory input.
·      Tend to talk all the time, impulsively interrupting, and have trouble waiting for turn in any conversation.
·      Stimulating meds work with ADHD but not with SPD
So do you have ADHD or SPD or both?
Actually Lucy Miller found around 50 to 70% to have both. For instance, ADHD children commonly demonstrate aggression, sensation seeking, and tactile sensitivity, suggesting sensory modulation difficulties, as well as clumsiness, dyspraxia and sensitivity to movement (poor vestibular processing) and become easily dizzy.
But it’s also possible that in some cases ADHD is mimicking SPD and mistaken for SPD. 
Ways ADHD Mistaken for SPD
Noise:  If noise distracts you, it is hard to concentrate and focus on what you are reading.  
Seeing:  If your brain scrambles what you see, you may ignore, or have difficulty following written instructions and seem distracted.
Hearing:  If your brain scrambles what you hear, you may ignore, or have difficulty following verbal instructions and seem distracted.
Sensory defensiveness:  If you are bothered by the tags in your shirt or, when you were a child other children sitting too close to you, you will squirm, wiggle or jump about and appear hyperactive. If you are auditory defensive, noise makes it hard to concentrate and focus. If you are visually defensive, hypersensitivity to lights, patterns, and movement make it hard to focus.
Overstimulation:  If your work environment overwhelms you with people too close, constant chatter, buzzing fluorescent lights, intense colors, and cold air conditioning, your mind will be in a fog and, finding it hard to make sense of what you see, hear, or feel, you appear spacey. 
Sensation seeking:  If you are a sensation seeker, you get too easily bored to focus on anything but the next buzz and might appear hyperactive and distracted. This is because your cortex lacks sufficient dopamine to engage in the world and you seek activity to boost it. 
Hypo-responsiveness:  If you are hypo-responsive to sensation, you tune out to your world easily and may not pay attention, appearing unfocused and out of it and have poor memory.
Treatment
Discerning whether you have SPD, only ADD, or both conditions is crucial as the treatments differ. For instance, if distractibility and hyperactivity result from SPD, taking the psycho-stimulant Ritalin has no effect and it will delay your progress as the sensory issues that underlie the behavior will persist. 
Treating ADHD & SPD
Stimulating Meds -Helps with ADHD but ineffective with SPD.
FYI:  One of the ways to know if you have SPD misdiagnosed as ADHD is whether or not the meds work.
Sensori-Motor InterventionsHelps both SPD and ADHD. 
FYI:  Studies show interventions such as deep pressure and strenuous exercise can significantly improve problem behaviors such as restlessness, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
CBT - Helps change thinking patterns and self-defeating   thoughts in both ADHD & SPD.
Talk Therapy - Helps both those with SPD & ADHD to feel better understood and validated, building self-esteem.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Power of Keeping a Gratitude Journal

If you don't think every day is a good day, just try missing one. 
~Cavett Robert

Neuroscience has a saying, "What fires together wires together." Those of us with SPD can be filled with negative, "I can't do it," "I'm stupid," "I'll never succeed," thoughts. But these thoughts perpetuate in our brain negative feedback loops and, focusing more on what we don’t have than on what we do have we feel too discouraged to take action. 
If we can learn to feel grateful for what we do have, rather than dwelling on what we don’t have and take on an attitude of gratitude, we will feel encouraged to take action to change our life. Once we do, we will break this negative feedback pattern and our life will take on different meaning and perspective.
How can we do this? Do what Oprah and Lady Gaga do:  keep a gratitude journal. Every night, make it a habit to write at least 5 things you are grateful for.  And it doesn’t have to be something life changing.  Simple joys will do, like seeing a rainbow or snowfall, watching an inspiring movie or having the will power to pass up that chocolate candy bar and so forth. Over time this will rewire your brain into a more "I can do it and I'm going to take the action to do so" mode.
Here are some ideas of what you can be grateful for when nothing extraordinary has happened in your life that day.
  • I am grateful for my kids, mate, or a loved one;
  • I am thankful for my dog’s unconditional love;
  • I am grateful that I live in a democratic society;
  • I am thankful for all my good friends;
  • I am grateful to have a considerate quiet co-worker;
  • I am thankful I didn’t get the flu that’s going around;
  • I am grateful for eating healthy today.




Sunday, January 10, 2016

How Art Can Change Your Brain at Any Age

I suffered visual spatial processing problems my whole life, as well as slow auditory processing. As I was bright, I compensated well enough and problems were never picked up. Nevertheless, I felt dumb and my family thought I was dumb.  
In my youth, I took years of dancing, mostly jazz. In class, you learn a dance routine taught in sequential small sequences. By the end of the class, the students are joyfully dancing away, the steps learned and automatic. My brain did not translate what the teacher’s feet were doing into my feet and I had great difficulty learning even a small sequence. By the end of the class, I was still struggling to figure it out and each step took effort. Needless to say, I never made it to Broadway. 
At age 60, I became an avid painter and painted virtually daily for hours. I painted mostly from my imagination and without formal training and it would often take me months to finally get a face to look like a face, as I continually reworked the shape, mouth, nose and eyes. Six years after I started painting, I began Zumba classes. Amazingly, I picked up the steps immediately as the teacher demonstrated and danced away! No lag. No effort. All the hours spent figuring out space on a small canvas had grown loads of brain highways that rewired the visual cortex in my brain and greatly improved my visual spatial processing.  
The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks proves false. Granted, neuroplasticity doesn’t happen overnight.  You must persist, persist, persist. 
If you like to dabble with colors, you don't have to be an artist to experience the joy of colors. Just buy one of the now popular adult coloring books.  
To see more of my paintings, check out my website.