Open Focus Results #1: High Shoulders with Pain

As a certified Open Focus coach (COFC), I’m prevented from making claims for open focus sessions.  I’m not licensed to treat anything, and can’t claim to have done so.  Which is fine with me.  Instead, I will share what I see and hear from the people I work with.  Like today’s session.

An orchestral musician presented with tension and pain in the right upper arm, neck and shoulder.  As we were on Zoom, I could see the shoulder elevation, and infer the tension.  I could also see pinched features and lines around their eyes and mouth.

I aimed the session at maintaining a narrow focus while simultaneously connecting to space in a diffuse, broad way, which is what musician’s must do:  You can’t stop being narrowly focused on the instrument you’re playing, and at the same time you must also take in other musicians, the conductor, and the balance of sound in the room.  If you are using narrow, objective focus to switch between these views, you will tense up and that will affect the sound you are producing.  What’s needed is a simultaneous attention that shifts effortlessly as the need arises, but never loses touch with all these elements.

The only way to do this while staying relaxed is to open your focus.  It’s the easy and effortless way to pay attention to several things without being too narrowly focused on any one thing.  We went back and forth from the space in the body to the space in the room (narrow, diffuse, narrow, diffuse), and when we both opened our eyes 30 minutes later, the hunched shoulders were now sloping away from the neck and the eyes were sparkling in a relaxed face.  As we processed the session, their shoulders fell even more.  It was wild to see.

I love this work!  I love seeing the results and hearing “Wow,” after a session, which is the response I hear most often.  It’s feels like a miracle.  It isn’t, of course – it’s just me helping someone use their brain and nervous system the way it was designed:  Changing how you pay attention changes your brainwave pattern which changes your physiology.  That’s how we are designed.

Beyond Resilience – Staying Out of Emergency Mode

Possibly you’re one of the people who are happily sailing through the toxic sludge of Covid pandemic and ill political winds that continue to blow. If so, I commend you. I am not one of those people.  The last several years took me down to my studs.  Not that all that time I spent stretched out on the couch was wasted though:  Oh no!  I was diligently looking for a way to come at the challenges of life differently.  I was tired of picking myself up and getting back in a race I no longer believed in, tired of all the ways I knew to recover.  I didn’t want to be more resilient, or to bounce back more quickly.  I wanted to stop bouncing.  And I really, really wanted to end the chronic pain I’ve been in for decades.

So when my physical therapist suggested I read a textbook for PT’s on pain, I thought, why not?  “Of the six causes of pain, only one is the original injury,” she said in a quiet voice.  “The others are…well, you’ll see.”

Put simply, my sensitive nervous system hadn’t gotten out of emergency mode in decades.  I’d been so tense for so long, I’d forgotten what relaxed felt like.  So I started digging and experimenting with ways to calm an overly-sensitized nervous system and found two: a vagus nerve exercise (keep reading) and a way of paying attention called Open Focus**. I want to share them both with you.

Open Focus is a simple technique that immediately shifts and your body from emergency mode to relaxed alertness. 

When you change HOW you pay attention from a narrow focus to one that is broad and immersed, your brainwaves shift into a lower frequency called alpha.  Alpha brainwaves unwind the effects of emergency mode, relaxing your muscles and letting stress hormones drain away.  It really is this simple:

How we pay attention matters more than what we pay attention to   

And it’s easy to learn and to do at any point in your day.  These are the kind of comments I’ve been hearing from my clients: “Oh, that IS better!  I can feel myself relaxing.”  “I feel like I just got a massage, inside.” “I feel completely stoned.”  “This makes such a difference.”  My own pain level went from a constant drone to a rare event that fades quickly.

Click here for a 25-minute Open Focus session you can try.

And, here’s the three no-cost sessions I’m doing this month.   Bring a friend, family member, or co-worker.

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==> Please join me for three no-cost Open Focus sessions:

December 3, 10 and 17, 2021.  Fridays at noon Pacific Time for 50 minutes

==> Contact me to sign up and I’ll send you the Zoom link, and the audio recording afterwards.

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The Vagus Nerve Exercise

This is from bodyworker Stanley Rosenberg’s book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve. I do this, first thing every morning.  I do it again if I’m having trouble going to sleep:  Lie flat on your back with a straight spine, head level.  You can bend your legs or not, whichever feels better on your back.  Without moving your head, look to one side for up to a minute (I count to 60 as slowly as I can)   Then look to the opposite side for up to a minute.  That’s it!  After two weeks of doing this, I started to feel relaxed.  That made recognizing what it felt like to be in an alpha brainwave pattern much easier.  More to the point, I could recognize when I was in Beta so I could do something about it.

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**More detail on Open Focus:  The late Les Fehmi, Ph.D., was a pioneer in neurofeedback.  He discovered this simple formula in the late 1960s:  Shift from narrow, objective focus to broad, immersed attention and your brainwaves shift from Beta, associated with tense alertness to Alpha and it’s relaxed attention.  The alpha frequency is the one we are built to live from, but we are taught to focus narrowly until it becomes a habit we don’t know how to break.  The more we do it, the more our brains think there is an emergency and the physical stress response kicks in – shallow breathing, stress hormones, muscle tension, tunnel vision, black and white thinking.  As we shift our narrow focus away from what is stressing us, we inadvertently add to our stress.  For me, this had become my unconscious response.