Rebecca Tolin is back for round two. She was a guest very early on in season one episode 16 to share her testimonial of how she overcame ME/CFS that she believes was a result of severe trauma. Since this first conversation Rebecca has stretched herself professionally and personally, she has created a mind body group coaching program called Be Your Own Medicine, and has witnessed hundreds of clients transform their lives too.
In today’s episode you will discover:
Learn more about Rebecca’s group coaching program, Be Your Own Medicine HERE. Next group session begins April 4th, so sign up now!
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00:00:00 Chazmith: Welcome to Our Power Is Within Podcast. I'm your host, Chazmith, and my mission for this podcast is to inspire you to take your power back and to realize that you are the healer that you have been looking for all along. We are capable of healing in mind and body and soul.
00:00:24 Chazmith: Today's episode is brought to you by Primal Trust Academy and Community, created by Dr. Kathleen King, who is a dear friend of mine and who has been featured on this podcast three times already. Primal Trust is so much more than just a program that you are left to do all on your own. It's a whole community. There's many different avenues of support. Within the community, you will find forums support moderated by coaches and other graduates of the mentorship program. You will have access to study groups and integration groups to help you navigate the Regulate Program, which is the foundational program that you would first begin, designed to help you find freedom from chronic illness and trauma by teaching brain retraining, somatics, breath work and more. They really focus on combining both top down and bottom up approach for a comprehensive healing experience. In addition to all of this, there is also an ongoing calendar of daily live classes. To learn more, check out the links in the show notes and use the code OPIW to save 5% off your monthly membership costs or sign up for a year to get two months free.
00:01:40 Chazmith: Our guest today is actually back for round two. Rebecca Tolan was one of my very first guests in season one, early in the beginning of the pod. She is not only a lovely human, but she's an amazing coach in the mind-body healing community. Rebecca first joined us to share her personal testimonial story of how she overcame years of debilitating CFS and now she's back. This time, we dive deep into all things that she's learned in the past two years through her own personal experience as well as through coaching and witnessing hundreds of other people's experiences. And since we last spoke, she has continued her education. So she is a wealth of knowledge and she shares so many wonderful insights with us today. She also has a group course starting in April called 'Be Your Own Medicine,' and she talks about it in today's episode. If you are interested in this course, there will be a link in the show notes to learn more about that as well. And with that said, please enjoy.
00:02:43 Chazmith: All right, Rebecca, thank you so much for being here with me today to just come back to the podcast. When was the last time you were on? It was very early in season one, right ?
00:02:52 Rebecca: Yeah, I was just looking back. It was December 2020, so over two years ago, and I know so much has changed for us both and I've loved just seeing how you've grown and developed this podcast.
00:03:07 Chazmith: Thank you. Well, I am excited to get to dive in and just see what you've learned and how everything that you're doing in the community has evolved and transformed over these past two years.
00:03:18 Rebecca: A lot has changed for us both, I think.
00:03:21 Chazmith: Right. Well, that's the one thing that's guaranteed has changed especially in this community. The more we learn about the brain and the mind and the body, the more it's like will we ever know it all? I don't know. We are constantly learning new things and that really gets to help us in this journey.
00:03:37 Rebecca: That's what's so exciting, right? It's this never ending rabbit hole. And when you learn that your brain is neuroplastic and it's always changing, it's even more exciting to challenge it and to keep growing.
00:03:51 Chazmith: Yeah, absolutely. So I know that when you first came on, we really focused on your story. It was very much a testimonial recovery episode. And you shared your whole story of what you went through and how you healed and what you were up to, which at the time was really just getting into your coaching journey. And what I'd like to know from you is what's it been like in the past couple of years from a personal perspective. Things like have you gotten sick? Have you had any uptick of symptoms? And how did you navigate these experiences this time around? And what did you do to make sure that if anything came up, it didn't become chronic?
00:04:40 Rebecca: Oh, that's such a good question. Yeah, because when we last spoke over two years ago, I was really feeling on top of the world. I felt I had fully recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome. And I would say that in the past two years, I have really challenged myself personally and professionally in many ways. I've gone from coaching to largely teaching and running big group programs and just grown and expanded so much that it has flared up symptoms at times. And I do like to say I'm recovered and recovering because I think we all are depending on what's happening in our life. When there's more stressors, especially in this mind body world, we see that show up in our body.
00:05:28 Rebecca: So yeah, the difference this time around, though, is for one thing, I'm much more aware of the personality traits that I developed in childhood, which are really coping mechanisms that we develop to feel more accepted and loved. But mine is really perfectionism. It's a big one for me, some people pleasing, but so I saw that really kick back in when I was growing my business. Just working so hard, working long hours, trying to get everything perfect. And when you are working with a lot more people and just bigger groups, you can't really get everything perfect. So I've learned to really watch that ease up. When symptoms flare up, it's just a sign I need more play, I need more rest, I need more breaks for my computer. My body does not like being on a computer 50 to 60 hours a week, which I was doing when I was launching a big group program. And then as I sort of listen to the messages, okay, what either am I lacking or what do I have too much of? Then I'll come back into balance and move forward again.
00:06:34 Chazmith: That is awesome. So you have a way to address things that show up in the process. Do you have any type of rituals or just day to day routines that really help support you to stay healthy and symptom free?
00:06:56 Rebecca: Absolutely. I feel like I really live what I teach and so I always start the day with different somatic practices to just reconnect to the body. Sometimes it's just a meditation where I'm connecting to the physical body, the emotional body, the mental body and then awareness itself and just feeling myself part of something much greater. I do that kind of meditation pretty much every morning. And then I do different kinds of mindful movement like chi-gong or yoga or walking in nature. So I just find for me movement is really an important resource. And then throughout the day, as I'm feeling stressed or so much in my head because I tend to be cerebral and I work a lot with my mind, I am grounding. I live in California so I can go out on the grass and feel my feet on the grass. I might do a humming or singing or different vagal toning, sounding, shaking.
00:07:56 Rebecca: I'm really big into shaking when I feel like my mind is just getting so intently focused and it's starting to rev up my nervous system, I'll just kind of really shake everything out or dance. So just taking these little breaks through the day and that's really hard for me because I just want to go, go so really like taking some breathers. And then at the end of the day, I always come back to yoga class, a mindful movement, a walk and again like somatic tracking or some other somatic meditation just to process the day because we all have stressors and emotions and now I've just learned that emotions aren't this separate part of me that I just need to deal with to recover. They're part of living a richer, fuller life and also processing what happens through our day.
00:08:42 Chazmith: Right. Yeah. So it sounds like you really bring a great deal of awareness into your days from the start to the finish.
00:08:50 Rebecca: Yes, I mean, ideally I am giving you the ideal for sure. I would say I'm very good at the book ending like every day, every morning, every evening and then throughout the day. That's the idea to keep bringing mindfulness and awareness. And if I don't and I just push myself for like six or eight hours straight, I will feel it in my body and I generally won't sleep as well. And so it's very much for me, the body has just become a barometer with how much I'm in tune with it and honoring its messages. But I'm like everyone else still just figuring it out moment by moment.
00:09:30 Chazmith: Yeah. It's crazy how strong those default patterns are, no matter how aware we become. I can relate so much to what you're saying. I have that same tendency where, especially when I'm working on something that is exciting because I'm building or creating something within the podcast, I get so excited and charged, and I want to just sit and do it all right now and get it all perfect. But I also like you in the body. I don't enjoy that feeling of sitting in front of this blue light thing, staring for hours, likely forgetting to bling. And so, yeah, I also feel it. And the goal is also like okay, every hour. Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique?
00:10:15 Rebecca: No.
00:10:15 Chazmith: Where every 30 minutes I think I'm going to get this wrong. I think you go for 25 minutes in focus, and then you take a five. Set a timer. It could be 20, 30. I feel like it's 25, but I'm not sure. But anyways, the whole premise is set yourself a goal where you'll focus for a set amount of time that feels reasonable, and then you set a goal for walking away. And my goal has been 45 minutes hunker down during editing, 45 minutes hunker down, and then 15 minutes go take a walk around your block.
00:10:50 Chazmith: Oh, I love that. That's so humane. But then there's real life, right ? And then your mind that's like, "Oh, wait, I can finish this."
00:10:59 Rebecca: Yeah, but one more sentence, one more pity.
00:11:04 Chazmith: And all those dopamine hits, too, that we get online. I want to keep going. I'm working out that routine for myself lately, too. And I like your 45, 50 in theory. I tend to do like, "Okay, I'm going to do one task," and usually one task lately, because I'm doing behind the scenes work on a course. It might take about an hour, then I take a break before I can start the next task. I've got to take a break, and that helps me a lot to just shake or move and also look in the distance. Yeah. I think it's so important for our eyes to get a break, too, from the screens. It includes the body. Yeah. Because the body has a very different vote than the brain does, typically, right?
00:11:51 Rebecca: Yeah. And I have to say, I also, particularly after sitting at a computer, love just shaking it all out. Like I don't know why. After the computer and you're sitting still and everything is frozen at the computer except for your fingers. And I love shaking it all out afterwards.
00:12:07 Chazmith: Shaking is so great. Yeah. I was recently learning that when we're in nature and when we're threatened, we are staring at this object. If it says it's a wild animal. I actually just saw a coyote in the canyon and I started staring. So that actually signals to the nervous system that you're in danger when you're staring as well as scanning because when we're scanning for exit routes like I was looking around to see do I need to go? So we're doing those same movements with our eyes on the computer, staring and scanning, and that can put the nervous system into a hyper vigilant state. So the shaking is a great antidote, right? Like that's what we naturally do in nature, and that's what animals do, is to shake out the stress.
00:12:51 Rebecca: Yeah, exactly. That's awesome. Okay, so we're just admitting here that everybody's just this perfectly imperfect work in progress.
00:13:01 Chazmith: We are all human. So in the past couple of years, we've kind of already touched base. Obviously, you have been really stretching yourself in the realm of business and growing your coaching practice and creating new programs within what your offerings are. And my guess is that over the past couple of years, you've probably had the experience of helping a lot of clients along the way. You not only now have your personal experience, but you have the witness perspective of watching what works and doesn't work and what transforms within each client. So I'd love if we could take some time to just talk about some of the things that you've learned over the years through having this extra experience.
00:13:51 Rebecca: Yeah. Oh, I love that question. I think so much of it depends on the attitude people bring to the work and when that shift can happen into self acceptance and even self love, but at the least, just sort of acceptance of the body and its symptoms and the process that's happening in the physiology. So I find whether it's with clients or students, if there's a lot of resistance, you can give all the best techniques and tools, but if someone's fighting themselves and constantly coming from that place of fixing themselves, it does keep the nervous system revved up and it's not as likely to work. So what I've really found, and I focus on more now is when in my class 'Be Your Own Medicine," I start out by saying I know you signed up to get rid of your symptoms, but I'm going to ask you to take a moratorium on fixing yourself for the next ten weeks. What is that like, to just allow yourself to be as you are and explore?
00:14:51 Rebecca: And then we start exploring knowledge, which is teaching us that these types of chronic fatigue and chronic pain symptoms aren't dangerous, but then exploring them as sensations more with an open curiosity. So I like to invite in the three C's of curiosity, consistency and compassion, where it becomes this process of exploration of what does this feel like in my body and how can I bring in more cues of safety to my brain and nervous system? And also, what are these symptoms calling for? There's a wisdom in symptoms. And I think I've grown a lot in that piece because I do teach this, this foundational body of work brought by Howard Schubiner and John Sarno called TMS. And that is this understanding that the brain and nervous system are overreacting or misperceiving the level of threat.
00:15:53 Rebecca: And also just really found over the past few years that these symptoms, as we were just talking about Chaz, they really have a wisdom. They're saying pay attention to my body, or set a boundary with that person, or challenge yourself to go for your dreams bar and even think of yourself as not being sick and fragile, that you actually are strong, that you are well and start living your way into that and acting as if. So I think those are some of the changes. And also self compassion has been such an important piece for me because as I was describing, I started falling back into a lot of the same personality traits that were part of my symptoms to begin with, although I actually think trauma was really the major cause for me, but the personality traits, too .
00:16:41 Rebecca: And so, I found that mindful self compassion has been such an antidote for me and so many people. It lands deeply with people very frequently in terms of when they're trying to heal in this sort of dogged way. And there's this almost like bullying themselves. Self compassion brings in enough softness that all these different techniques and tools can do what they're meant to.
00:17:11 Rebecca: Right. Yeah. And that's so typical in this community that we get people speaking of the personality traits that tend to be linked often to chronic conditions. Well, perfectionism, type A, those just in and of themselves can really set a tone for how somebody approaches healing. And it can be very rigid and like boot camp style. And they treat this journey like other things in life. And it's like, "Well, you can't heal the same way you got sick." That gets set on this podcast quite often. And so that makes so much sense. And I'm wondering if you could explain. I think everyone really knows what self compassion is, but what's different about that from mindful self compassion? And maybe you could start there. And then I have a follow up question to you.
00:18:01 Rebecca: Well, actually, I've trained specifically in mindful self compassion because I was just noticing all these clients and students were so hard on themselves and I felt I didn't have enough tools to counter that. And so I trained with Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. So that's really more what I'm familiar with. But of course, the word compassion means to suffer with. So it's extending that same sense of compassion we would have for someone else to ourself and learning to treat ourselves as a dear friend and to start speaking to ourselves in the same way we would speak to someone we love who is suffering in the same way.
00:18:40 Rebecca: And mindful self compassion, the way Kristin Neff developed it has these three steps that I find really useful, and I will sometimes pause throughout the day if I'm getting really hard on myself and do a self compassion break. And it fits in with mind-body healing, I want to say, because really the first step is acknowledging how you feel. Generally, on an emotional level, I'm really scared right now. I'm frustrated, I'm angry. I'm in pain. And studies show that just saying how you're feeling emotionally can turn the amygdala down a bit like I'm angry, actually, on brain scans reduces the activity in the amygdala somewhat because we're not pressing it. It's the opposite of what we think like, "Oh, that's going to make us an angry person," but it actually does the opposite. And that's the first step of mindful self compassion is just, I'm struggling now. I'm angry right now.
00:19:34 Rebecca: And then the second step is common humanity, which is saying, I'm human and it's so normal to feel this way, and I'm not even choosing to feel this way, it's just happening, and lots of people would feel this way in my situation. And then the third step is so important, which is self kindness, and it's like what do I need now? Well, maybe I just need to hear, you've gotten through this before, we're going to do it again. I believe in myself. I feel really crummy, but I accept myself and love myself anyway. And then what do I need? What's the unmet need? And it might be moving or it might be staying still with a cup of hot tea. Those three steps can take a few minutes and it can really make a difference.
00:20:20 Chazmith: What would you say or how would you support somebody or what advice would you give to somebody who's listening who is aware they need the self compassion piece and they've tried it, and they just keep finding themselves falling off and not able to really sustain it or not connect with it in a true way.
00:20:39 Rebecca: Yeah, I think that's pretty common because most of us weren't taught this when we were younger. Sometimes it depends what the resistance is. Sometimes people really resist it because they think it's gratuitous or selfish. One thing that I think helps a lot of people is just remembering yourself as a child. So it could be even looking at a photo of you as a child or remembering back to an early memory when you felt the same way you do now. So if you're feeling ashamed, when did you first recall feeling that way? And actually getting in touch with yourself as a child sometimes can help overcome the resistance because we mostly feel children deserve compassion, right? They deserve kindness.
00:21:27 Rebecca: But you could also picture that you are a dear friend and that you are speaking to someone else in your life that actually is going through the same thing,
and then eventually you just sort of turn that more to yourself. Or it can be helpful for some people to really imagine an archetype or a spiritual figure or an ancestor or just someone who's unconditionally loving in their life now, who is present sort of calling them fort. And imagine how would they see you, how would they speak to you in this situation? So those are some different routes that can help. And also then just not to beat yourself up for beating yourself up because that's often what happens. I wasn't self compassionate enough, I did it again. How stupid. So it's like, okay, just catching that. And I think when you ask the difference, mindful self compassion is like first bringing that mindfulness like, “Oh, okay, there I go again. Okay, yeah, I'm just beating myself up. I'm just noticing that maybe that's as far as I can get right now.”
00:22:30 Chazmith: Yeah, but it stops it because once you're noticing you're not doing it.
00:22:34 Rebecca: Exactly. And sometimes that's all you need is a mindfulness like, "Oh, I'm beating myself up again." And even like I used to make kind of a headline, like a funny news headline or name of a book or something like, oh, there's my woe is me story again. There's my beating up Rebecca's story again. And just kind of make light of it. So you're not in it like you say and just taking yourself too seriously.
00:22:58 Chazmith: Right, yeah. It's funny because as you were explaining, oh, not beat yourself up over beating yourself up. It makes me think of one of those vicious cycles we get in kind of like fear when we learn that we don't want to fear the symptoms, but then we catch ourselves being afraid and then we're afraid because we felt fear.
00:23:19 Rebecca: Right. And it just keeps fueling the same state.
00:23:24 Chazmith: Yeah, but I guess that too is also just noticing... just noticing that the fear is there. Not having to resist it or beat yourself up for feeling it or be afraid of feeling it.
00:23:36 Rebecca: Exactly. And really, I mean, I treat emotions like fear the same way I treat physical symptoms, because emotions are felt in the physical body and they're just an emotional sensation as opposed to a physical sensation. And so, yeah, that's also the key, is that pause between whatever the stimulus was or whatever triggered the fear and our reaction. So when we can extend that pause and just like, "Oh, I'm feeling scared," instead of just reacting and feeding that fear more and acting on it, just doing something. And it might be something that just calms your nervous system like singing or humming. It might be a warm shower or bath or a cold shower or just something that interrupts that then eventually you just sort of turn that more to yourself. Or it can be helpful for some people to really imagine an archetype or a spiritual figure or an ancestor or just someone who's unconditionally loving in their life now who is present sort of calling them forth. And imagine how would they see you, how would they speak to you in this situation? So those are some different routes that can help. And also then just not to beat yourself up for beating yourself up because that's often what happens. I wasn't self compassionate enough, I did it again. How stupid. So it's like, "Okay, just catching that." And I think when you ask the difference, mindful self compassion is like first bringing that mindfulness like, "Oh, okay, there I go again. Okay, yeah, I'm just beating myself up. I'm just noticing that maybe that's as far as I can get right now."
00:24:27 Chazmith: So speaking of all that, how would somebody be able to discern what tool they might grab on? How would somebody know when it would be appropriate for them to take a cool shower? That might not be the best course of action because some people overly stimulate or over activate. Is there any advice you have other than just experimentation and really leading into how it makes you feel personally that you can give us insights into how to choose what kind of tools to lean into in moments like this?
00:25:03 Rebecca: Yes. I am so glad you brought this up because I would say the way I used to do this for myself and with others is just what you said. And that's probably the most powerful thing is to notice how your nervous system is reacting to different stimuli, whether it's sort of intentional ones you're bringing in or unintentional ones in the environment. But then I started really learning about polyvagal theory and it helps a lot in the understanding of what we actually need in different states of our nervous system. And so I could talk a little bit about that if you'd like.
00:25:39 Chazmith: Sure.
00:25:39 Rebecca: Yeah, because I know we were going to go there anyway. So with polyvagal theory, basically many people know about it, but there's three main states in your nervous system and in social engagement we're feeling balanced and relatively at peace and we're able to do the things we want in life when we're in that regulated state of social engagement. But then when there's stress and we go down the ladder is often used as a metaphor for the nervous system. When we go down that ladder, we will go into flight or fight, which is sympathetic activation or mobilization in the nervous system. And that's where your brain and nervous system have determined they could potentially fight or flee from the threat. Now of course we know most of these threats are emotional and mental, right? They're not physical predators. They're an overzealous boss or spouse or whatever it is. So nonetheless, though, emotional threats affect our nervous system in the same way.
00:26:44 Rebecca: So then, when we're in that state and I actually find a lot of people definitely with anxiety, so anxiety is a clear presentation of the flight or fight state, but I actually find there's more chronic pain as well in the flight or fight state than the other state we'll go into in a moment. So when you have those kinds of symptoms and you can recognize, "Okay, I'm amped up, I want to run, I want to flee." Often trying to calm yourself is not that helpful. It's literally telling your physiology , oh, no, you should just sit there and look at the tiger in the face and it's fine if you get eaten because your physiology really does think this is a major threat. So in that kind of state, often it actually is helpful to have a physical discharge of energy if you have the capacity. I mean, I know some people are bedbound or homebound listening to this, but they're probably more likely in freeze or shut down if that's the case.
00:27:40 Rebecca: So when you feel the anxiety, the pain, the revved up feeling, do something physical. Show your body that you have outrun the threat. And it could be walking or running or punching something or dancing or whatever. It isn't even imagining you're getting away from whatever this perceived threat is. So that's often more helpful. But then once you can physically discharge, then calming of the brain is helpful. You don't want to overstimulate the brain in that state and do a lot of like social media. You might be inclined to really stimulate the brain and be in this flight response and get on social media and that will just stimulate it more. You need that physical release. So then you may want to bring more calmness to the mind through certain kinds of meditation or music, other kinds of calming activities. So then if you go down the ladder and there's more stress, it might be trauma or it could be just a series of life situations that are really stressful and your nervous system perceives you can neither run nor flee from this threat. That's when you go into freeze or shut down. And that's the state of collapse in the nervous system. And in that state, people get fatigue and brain fog, exhaustion, all these symptoms that are more associated with chronic fatigue syndrome and POTS and these kinds of things.
00:29:10 Rebecca: And so you actually do need different support when you're in that state. First of all, you probably cannot do an active physical release like I'm talking about in sympathetic, but no amount of rest is ever going to get you out of that free state in and of itself. So if you can't move, you rest, right? But you want to bring in gentle stimulation and actually that's where some cold water can be helpful. You may or may not jump in a cold tub, but even just an ice cube or cold water on your face, music that's just a little more stimulating than the move that you're in. Creative activities, anything that brings in more stimulation to your system that actually shows its safe stimulation and movement because you want to thaw that freeze response.
00:30:03 Chazmith: Yeah, so that makes sense. I know that there's a whole list of all these really quote unquote, "healthy tools" that we can use to help us when we find ourselves in this fight or flight or freeze state. Now, what is your opinion about somebody is in freeze and they find that doing something like watching a movie helps them get out of the freeze? Is that possible? Is that okay? Can that still be helpful?
00:30:31 Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. When I think it actually it goes back to your earlier comment. Just really notice what is most helpful for you because what is helpful for you may not be for me, but that makes sense according to polyvagal theory, because if you're in the state of freeze and you watch a movie, it's more stimulating than just laying there or sleeping. So you are bringing in some stimulation and even listening to a podcast that's activating the social engagement system. So watching something, listening to something can activate social engagement, which can help bring you up out of that free state. So can just having a conversation with someone that you like and trust.
00:31:13 Chazmith: Yeah, that makes sense. I was asking that because I can relate that in my own life, as you were explaining this all, it kind of just made me realize how in my life that when I am in that free state, when I just feel like I have absolutely no juice in the tank like I got nothing. I can't do anything. I don't even want to turn anything. I wouldn't even want to listen to a podcast per se, because that would need to think, use my brain. That's when I turn on some juicy, silly, Hallmark romcom and I lay on my couch. But what's so crazy is 99% of the time, by the time the movie is over, I actually have a little bit more energy and stamina and I might get up depending on the time of day, and actually get my dog her evening walk or something like that.
00:32:04 Rebecca: I love that. It makes so much sense.
00:32:06 Chazmith: I couldn't have explained that though , like you did. I'm like, "Oh, okay. It makes sense."
00:32:12 Rebecca: because it is a form of social engagement and you know who the characters are and you're engaged in the storyline, but I think the proof is in the pudding, right? Whatever makes you feel safer and is like gently nudging you into that social engagement. And then if you can take that next step and walk your dog, that's even better because you're interacting with your dog and the environment and then just the elements of being outside bring some natural engagement as well.
00:32:41 Chazmith: Right. Yeah. It's interesting though, because I think that not everybody has the ability to discern what actually does feel good, or at least not all the time. Because even as you were saying, "Hey, if we're in a fight or flight, you might be inclined to want to get on social media and scroll," but that's actually going to exasperate that. And I can actually attest doing that myself. And I guess there's like a part of me that knows once I do put my phone down, I knew I don't feel good. It didn't feel good. But for whatever reason, there's this drive to just do something like that, something really distracting when you're in that heightened state. It's so interesting. So just as you're speaking, I'm just able to see all these examples in my own life and watch it play out.
00:33:36 Rebecca: Oh, completely. And sometimes I draw from Aryurveda, which I had studied in my healing journey. And I love Aryurveda, even though it didn't necessarily bring me a recovery. But Aryurveda is the science of life, which is the sister science of yoga. And it talks about the imbalance will always feed itself so that scattered mind will seek out more social media, which scatters it further. Imbalance feeds itself and then the antidote in Aryurveda is to bring in the law of opposites, which is grounding feeling your feet. And I know what you mean because in the moment it does feel good to go on social media and you do get a little dopamine hit, a big dopamine hit, but with dopamine comes the cortisol. But then I think, like you said, then people will realize eventually after enough times of doing that like, "Oh, but actually feel worse." And that's where that pause, that mindfulness comes in and I have to do it all the time. It's like, "Oh, I still want to reach for social media," or whatever it is, it's just going to feed my brain. Or for me it's like working too late when I just keep going too late into the evening, it's like I still want to do it. It feels good in the moment, I'm getting this adrenaline boost, but every time I sleep worse and I feel worse the next day. And so it's like that pause of remembering, okay, it's taking the sugar away from the kid. Like the child who is going to get the sugar high is going to love that, but then it's going to get the big, crabby tantrum after. So it's like reminding yourself, "Oh yeah, I've done that so many times and that does not feel good afterwards."
00:35:15 Chazmith: Right. Yeah. So the theme is awareness. Once again, bringing it back into awareness, awareness, awareness, which requires us to slow down a little bit and have the pause.
00:35:24 Rebecca: Yeah, it really does.
00:35:26 Chazmith: Yes, it's really good insight. Have you encountered this? Is this even a thing? Is there like a freeze fight or flight combination or where somebody is in this heightened fight or flight feeling and you say, "Hey, it's kind of good at that moment to shake that out," but they have this heightened fight or flight feeling, but also this inability to actually shake it out because they're thinking, "Oh, that sounds awful. I can't shake anything out right now."
00:35:58 Rebecca: Completely. So I'm glad you brought that up too, because often the way freeze is used is as the state where you're in total collapse. But freeze, as I understand it through polyvagal theory, that term is actually a combination of sympathetic activation where your systems, the tired and wired, it's revved up and shut down or collapse, which is the lowest state. It's a combination. So it's like, "Oh, I want to do all these things but I really can't. I can't move my body." And so there's this tired and wired. For 13 years I had insomnia, of course, I wanted to sleep. My body was so heavy and exhausted, but my mind was wide awake and revved up. So that's a state of freeze where there's a combination of two different nervous system states.
00:36:48 Rebecca: And in that case, typically, there's different ways. You can still either try to get out the sympathetic charge unless you just can't move like you're too exhausted. But if you can try to do some movement and get out that sympathetic charge, it can move you up the ladder or again, finding some way to socially engage, which can be watching your favorite show, it can be singing a song, but things that will kind of move you out of that frozen state.
00:37:18 Chazmith: Got you. Yeah, I experienced that sometimes if I wake up in the middle of the night and say, I had a really intense nightmare, so I'm sympathetic, I'm charged, but I'm also it's the middle of the night so I'm really tired. So I don't really want to get out of bed and shake around when you're just in that, I'm so tired, I just want to go back to sleep. But you feel that charge in your body and you know, it needs to basically dispel.
00:37:44 Rebecca: Oh, yeah. And I went through that for so many years, and insomnia can still come up for me if I get really stressed. But what I found was for years I was just laying there thinking, "Oh , I should stay really calm." But then when I learned cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia as well as this polyvagal theory, I started getting up and moving more. And sometimes if I didn't want to fully get out of bed, I just tense all the muscles in my body laying there. You can take a breath in, tense everything up and then release it and do that a couple of times. But I notice when I do a little physical activity, if I'm clearly been laying there for over an hour and I'm just not going to fall asleep, I will fall asleep more quickly. So again, it's kind of counterintuitive from what I naturally did. I needed to actually have some movement to show my nervous system. Okay, I have escaped the threat even sometimes get out of bed. And I'll do like, Peter Levine has the [vu,] which is the [crosstalk]. And I'll even growl and snarl and just make sounds and do a little movement. And for me, that helps kind of close the gap of time that I'm awake.
00:38:59 Chazmith: That makes so much sense. Hey, this has got to be good for someone else out there because I know I'm not alone. So this is making so much sense for me because, yeah, I can think how many times that I was in that state and I tried to calm my way out of it, still my way out of it. And, hey, there's time to be calm and still and present and there's time to be not trying to force that like you said very early on, if you're in a fight or flight, and you try to just calm your way out of it, you're literally teaching your nervous system to just stand there and stare at the tiger.
00:39:32 Rebecca: Exactly. And it's just the nervous system is always going to win because it just wants to protect you that much. And then some of the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy were really helpful when I really needed to break this 13 year cycle of insomnia, which is, if you're laying in bed for extended periods of time, anxious, awake, restless, or doing things other than sleeping, you're training your brain that the bed is for wakefulness and the bed is a place of unrest. And so they really teach you in CBT, which is so hard to do, but it's like get out of the bed if you've been laying there more than 45 minutes and go on the couch or go do something else. And I did that religiously for a period of months and that really improved my sleep. And now I don't have to be quite as strict about it. But there's also that brain learning the associations of what happens in the bed. So they always say in CBT use the bed for sleep or sex, but that's about it. Don't even spend extended amounts of time before you're sleepy in the bed.
00:40:38 Chazmith: Yeah, I learned that, too, but I find it really hard to not want to just curl up in my bed and snuggle my dog when I read my books at night. For me, that's really regulating and soothing and it's my nighttime thing.
00:40:51 Rebecca: Yes. It's the best. I think it works for you then, yeah.
00:40:56 Chazmith: Yeah.
00:40:57 Rebecca: Great.
00:40:57 Chazmith: Yeah, I don't have some warm, cozy, oversized chair that I can go sit in and do that. So …
00:41:02 Rebecca: There's nothing like the bed, too, especially when you're little poochies. And honestly, I think the thing is if people fall asleep, okay, then it's not an issue. They could watch a movie in bed and fall asleep and then it's fine. It's more, yeah, if people are having a hard time falling asleep. But then generally that advice is more relevant, right?
00:41:22 Chazmith: Yeah. That makes so much sense. Well, you and I were actually I'm going to just kind of pivot here for a minute because I have so many more questions I could ask about all this. But I feel like we're getting some really good insights. And prior to starting the recording, we talked a little bit about the pilot study for COVID, long COVID. And I know over the past couple of years that's obviously a hot topic and quite frankly, a really important topic because it is now one of the really common diagnoses and or display of symptoms that we're seeing in this chronic community from that long COVID. And I know that a lot of us that have been in this community for a long time, we know there's hope and we see that it all kind of relates. So I'd love to hear what you can say about the results of that study that you did, which you said was from Harvard Medical Center.
00:42:15 Rebecca: Yeah. So a physician named Dr. Mike Donino reached out to me. He's a professor at Harvard Medical Center, and then he does a lot of research studies through he's also an attending physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is a teaching hospital of Harvard. And he said, "Well, I'm doing this long COVID pilot study using Sarno and Schubiner's approach. And we know that these symptoms of long COVID are very consistent with chronic fatigue syndrome, and you recovered from that. So can you come speak to these groups? So I felt really honored to come and be a consultant on the study. And it was just a pilot study, non randomized. There was not a control group. But he has published the results in what's called a preprint. It's not yet in a scientific journal, and so I can tell you a little bit about that, that used this mind-body protocol. To give you an example, Howard Schubiner's book, 'Unlearn Your Pain' was one of the textbooks, but it took this kind of approach, this mind body approach. And of the 23 people that were in the study, they had had long COVID for an average of about nine months. They had tried lots of other interventions, both conventional and some other mind body interact interventions that were not helping them.
00:43:37 Rebecca: And this study was 13 weeks long. The first four weeks were really the mind -body training. So for what Dr. Donino calls mind body syndrome. That's also what Dr. Howard Schubiner calls it. And many of the results came just after the four weeks. But I will say, by the end of 13 weeks, the 23 people in the study, on average, their somatic symptoms decreased 60% 60. Brain fog decreased 67%. Fatigue decreased 44%. Shortness of breath, which was really a big concern, decreased 80%. That was the biggest decrease.
00:44:24 Chazmith: Yeah. Even more than fatigue. But that doesn't surprise me, because think about how shortness of breath is so often intertwined with anxiety. And if you have this big, scary virus, the anxiety that you feel, anxiety, we felt for years, being afraid of something like that among so many people. And then when you start to have these long symptoms and you hear all these horror stories of them not ending, that creates anxiety. So it's this building effect that I could see how it could just exasperate the shortness of breath over time.
00:44:57 Rebecca: Exactly. And what we were talking about in the nervous system, when you're in that sort of panting fight or even in freeze, the shortness of breath is exasperated. And also you mentioned anxiety. Well, pain anxiety. So meaning anxiety about the pain went down 74%. Pain interference, which is how much pain interferes with your life, went down 77%. And pain itself went down 52%. So Dr. Donino has done a lot of clinical studies and scientific research, not in this field. And he said, these are very rare results to get such pronounced effects in a short period of time.
00:45:39 Chazmith: Yeah, that's 13 weeks.
00:45:42 Rebecca: 13 weeks. And actually, many of the games were after four weeks, because four weeks is really the part where it's the education about, okay, these sensations are absolutely real, but they're not dangerous, and we're going to teach you the science of why that's true. And then desensitizing triggers. So for so many people, they're just avoiding activities and workouts and things like that, even sitting or standing, that trigger the symptoms. So it's starting to visualize those things and noticing when I visualize the symptoms, actually, or when I visualize the activity, the symptoms come up. So really teaching your brain, okay, this is in the brain, and then starting to challenge those triggers with activity. Then there was another portion of the study which involved emotional expression, so really learning to express your emotions, and a lot of that was through journaling exercises, different processes. It was done in small groups, so there was also a lot of intimacy, and it was really low tech approaches. It's actually the same approach that I recovered from and that I use, but it was really effective.
00:46:55 Chazmith: That's amazing.
00:46:56 Rebecca: It is amazing. It's amazing. And I hope he gets it published in a scientific journal, because we really need more of this research. And it was interesting. Dr. Donino kind of happened into this because he himself had excruciating pain, back pain, and leg pain, and nothing was working. And he is a Harvard doctor , but he's going to the best doctors, and they couldn't help him. And so someone gave him John Sarno's Healing Back Pain book . By the end of that book, he was 50% better. And then he dove into this more, and he fully recovered, and he kind of just went back to work at Harvard and didn't mention a lot, but then he sort of realized, "Okay, I've got to start doing research on this," because John Sarno and other pioneers have not done a lot of research. And so he did a back pain study, and those were amazing results, using a similar protocol.
00:47:51 Rebecca: In fact, I think back pain, about 74% of people had little or no back pain by the end of the study. And what they realized during this back pain study is actually a lot of the people coming in during the pandemic had long COVID symptoms, which are really the same as PTSD symptoms, symptoms that soldiers have reported for millenia. And those symptoms, the lung COVID symptoms, were all improving in the back pain study. And so he realized, well, the same protocol works for so many different constellations of symptoms, and then he's expanding his research. So it's wonderful to see doctors like that in mainstream medicine, and it's not easy because there's a lot of resistance who really have the courage to do this to study it.
00:48:41 Chazmith: Yeah, I love it. How cool he called you. That's so fun.
00:48:45 Rebecca: It was so fun to get that email just through my website. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm such a science nerd." Because I was actually a science reporter before I got sick with CFS. So I was just thrilled to be in the scientific study.
00:49:00 Chazmith: That is so awesome. So speaking of just you and what you got to be a part of, I would love if you would just kind of tell me about what you're up to these days, what you got going on, what's your business evolved to.
00:49:16 Rebecca: Yeah, well, you know, I was doing mostly one on one work, but I found a couple of things with that one. I just couldn't see all the people coming to me one on one. But really, more importantly, as I mentioned in that clinical study, this is knowledge therapy. I mean, first you have to understand that the symptoms aren't dangerous. And you can't just say that to someone like, "Oh, your symptoms are no big deal." You really have to kind of understand the science of what's happening in the brain and nervous system. And then there's all these practices there's.... So for me, different somatic practices, not just somatic tracking, but 20 different processes evolved in my healing and coaching because I started realizing, well, people really need often to just feel neutral or positive sensations in the body. Whether it's breathwork orienting or positive memories. Different places in their body that might feel okay, that they're pendulating their awareness from something that feels okay to something that doesn't.
00:50:18 Rebecca: And I just started seeing that brought in a lot more safety with people. And then they could do something like somatic tracking, which is provocative, you're bringing your awareness into the pain or into the fatigue. So over time, I started developing these things and also different writing processes, which are very similar to expressive writing and things that others have developed. But I just noticed that I couldn't give the breadth I wanted in a coaching session. You can do a lot of depth, you can work with one issue and one emotion and be present to it, and that's very powerful and very important. But I couldn't give the breadth of all the knowledge and all the practices that I wanted them to have. So I started teaching and, you know, initially I was teaching with Michelle Uighurs and we taught a class called How We Heal. And that was just a beautiful kind of launching off point. And then she really was more for her writing was more pivotal and for me, somatic meditations were more pivotal. So we kind of went our own ways. And then I did a lot more trainings in the nervous system and somatic healing and mindful, self, compassion and these things that I was passionate about and I love for myself, but I also felt were like gaps in the way some of the knowledge was being presented in my field like it was very kind of top down right and just more more masculine, more young. I wanted a more feminine, embodied approach.
00:51:41 Rebecca: So I spent over two years just studying and developing that with clients and students and myself and then launched Be Your Own Medicine, which is now a ten week course that just has 20 different meditations and lots of live teaching and this online community. And the other thing that I found so I try not to encourage a lot of online social media time, but this sort of private online community, people were connecting with each other who had literally felt alone for decades. Like they felt I'm a unicorn, I'm abnormal, no one understands me. And when they started connecting with people and it's in a constructive way, we're not just complaining about our symptoms, we're really expressing emotions and what our growth and our learning is. It was so healing and it was like we tapped into this collective field of healing that was way beyond me, way beyond any of us individually. So now I'm loving the groups because there's a lot of collective energy and intention.
00:52:41 Rebecca: I think as a teacher, I just have to kind of create the container and set the intention and I teach, but then there's so much more wisdom from everyone. It's sort of like a hive mentality. When it's a safe space, it's got to have certain parameters that's not triggering to people, but it's very deeply powerful and healing. And I literally would see people almost popping like certain people would have this breakthrough and then someone else would have a similar breakthrough and it was like popcorn where I felt like we're all supporting each other in this evolution. So that's Be Your Own Medicine. And that's most of what I'm focusing on now. And I see clients through the course because I find that one-on-one coaching goes further with it. But I also recommend for people who have unresolved symptoms or especially a trauma history, it can be very helpful to work with someone one on one in somatic experiencing or EMDR or some other trauma therapy.
00:53:42 Chazmith: Yeah, it's funny. Well, it's not funny, but they say self healers doesn't mean alone healing, right? Like we thrive and can heal so much in community and connection when it's a healthy connection. And definitely, it's so valuable to be able to connect with people in a real way where you do feel connected and understood because how often we're surrounded in our regular life surround people who aren't also experiencing what we're experiencing and we can feel that aloneness.
00:54:13 Rebecca: Oh, completely. That's so much of what you offer here too, Chaz, because people listen to these stories and they say, "Oh, that's like me and this person found their way out and I'm not strange and I'm not alone." And it's important to hear our stories reflected. And then also I have a whole team that answers questions. So it's important, as you're learning different techniques and you're trying to figure out how it actually practically works in your life, to be able to ask questions from someone who's on the other side of that more or less.
00:54:49 Chazmith: Yeah. So within your container, you said it's ten weeks. Is it live courses? Do you teach live and everybody gets together on a Zoom and watches you at a live time, but then there's a recording or a replay of people missed it?
00:55:03 Rebecca: Exactly. Yeah. Right now I'm still doing it as a live cohort because there was a lot of structure and excitement and a lot of people did well with that. So I teach about 18 hours live, and a lot of that is me teaching Powerpoints, but it's also leading a lot of guided meditations. And there's some time for Q and A, but then the parts of connecting are more in this online community, which is optional. And of course, people are in all different time zones. A lot of people in Europe and Australia take the course, so they may just watch the recording. But there's also this learning site with many lessons, almost 100 lessons now that are guided meditations, handouts with writing exercises or knowledge and that they have access to for a year. So I think, as I mentioned earlier in this talk, one of the things that I find most pivotal is giving up that timeline and that pressure for healing. And so it's important to have access to these different tools for longer and to realize that once you start to feel safe and find the resources that work for you, your system will come into balance. It knows how to do that. It's just finding the missing links.
00:56:22 Chazmith: Yeah. Okay. And so when they buy the course and do the live course experience with you for ten weeks, you're saying they have access to this additional material outside of that ten weeks to support them on their continued journey.
00:56:35 Rebecca: Yeah. They have access to the course content for a year, and they can download everything to keep as well. The moderated forum is only about ten weeks with my whole team, but they can keep doing the practices. And I love like, I've been hearing from students that they've created their own routine and they do certain meditations or writing exercises certain days of the week. And yeah, I always encourage what we were talking about is just like, really find the tools that resonate with you and that work for you in different states of your nervous system and then it's sort of your own medicine that you have with you when you need it.
00:57:13 Chazmith: Yeah, I love that. I've always loved the name of your business. How are ways that people can connect with you?
00:57:21 Rebecca: Yeah. So the best way is through my website, rebeccatolan.com, because I actually have a lot of blogs and free videos and resources on the website and you can sign up for a free somatic tracking meditation when you sign up for my newsletter. I also have a YouTube channel which is Rebecca Tolan Mind, Body and Life coaching among Facebook a bit, but honestly my nervous system doesn't like social media, so I don't do a ton of it other than YouTube. And there are a lot of videos on there as well.
00:57:56 Chazmith: Yeah, there are. It's awesome. I don't think I asked you this question last time because it was something I started a little bit later in that year, in that first season. So I'm going to ask you the question that I now ask everybody, which is, if you were told that you could only share one message with the world for the rest of your life, what would that one message be?
00:58:18 Rebecca: I think it's very similar to the whole title of your show, which is the power and ability to heal is inside you and you know the way. You really do know the way. It's reconnecting with your body, your intuition, your awareness and trusting that and following that a day at a time. And my experience is it's not one big lightning bolt in the sky that heals us. It really is day by day, moment by moment, following your inner truth, the wisdom in your body, the wisdom of symptoms. And then when you fall off the wagon and you don't get it right, just bring it in compassion like, okay, now there's this moment and I can just see how I can tune into what the deeper needs of myself are.
00:59:15 Chazmith: Love it. Thank you. Thanks for coming back on and joining me again. I loved getting to chat with you the first time. I've loved being in connection with you this whole time and such a pleasure to just have you back here.
00:59:27 Rebecca: It was so fun to come back, Chaz and thank you so much for everything you do. I feel like you and the way you've developed your show are just a beacon. They give people hope and ideas and optimism. And thank you for all you do.
00:59:46 Chazmith: Thank you.
00:59:48 Chazmith: Friends, that is it for today. As always, I hope that you are in some way inspired by today's message from Rebecca. Please remember to click the subscribe or follow button. If you haven't done so already, scroll down to leave a five star review on Apple podcast or share this episode with a friend who might benefit from the messages shared. These are just some of the ways that you can help support this podcast if you find value in the content. Tune in Friday for this week's Awareness challenge. And until next time, make this week great.
Mind-Body Teacher & Coach
Rebecca Tolin is a mind-body teacher and coach who recovered from 13 years of chronic fatigue syndrome. She helps others heal from ME/CFS, Long Covid, chronic pain and other conditions in her Be Your Own Medicine course. Rebecca emphasizes the role that stress, emotions and trauma have on the brain and nervous system. Her work gets to the root of symptoms through neuroscience, nervous system regulation, somatic meditations, emotional awareness, self-compassion and brain retraining. Rebecca loves helping people find personal agency and recover their spirit!
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