One of the things that has most surprised me about working with musicians with Focal Dystonia has been that in all the cases the death of a loved-one or difficulties in the relationship with their sentimental partner has been a significant factor in the onset of their Focal Dystonia. In most cases these events directly preceded its onset. In this article I will explain why loss and grief are a common trigger factor.
Let me give you some examples. One of the clearest ones is of a client that came to me suffering from very severe Focal Hand Dystonia. In the year that the Focal Dystonia appeared sadly both of his parents passed away. Very shortly afterwards the Dystonic symptoms began.
In another case of Focal Hand Dystonia my client had begun a highly tumultuous and painful relationship where he experienced repeated break-ups and reconciliations with his girlfriend. Within months of being in this situation the symptoms of the Focal Dystonia appeared.
Sometimes the loss is more deeply embedded in the life experiences of the musician. An example was of a client who I treated for his Focal Embouchure Dystonia. This client was orphaned at a young age. As we worked through the underlying causes that created his dystonic symptoms, the death of his father repeatedly arose as one of them.
As I began to realise that loss was a common theme in 100% of the cases I had treated I began to research what happens in the brain when we experience such a loss and the grief that accompanies it. There has been significant research completed on the subject and all conclude that it one of life experiences that has the most powerful stress impacts on the brain. They also conclude that a relationship break-up affects the brain in exactly the same way as the death of a loved-one.
One of the key ways that stress affects the brain is in its neurochemical production. In general the brain produces more survival stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and this has a direct impact on inhibiting the hormones (endorphins) that give us a sense of wellbeing. The survival stress hormones stimulate the body to be prepared to fight, flee or become fixed on the spot (like a rabbit in a car´s headlights). The wellbeing hormones on the other hand create muscular relaxation and the smooth and healthy functioning of the key bodily functions (breathing, heart and circulation, digestion…).
In the case of loss and grief this impact is especially potent and it has two important additional factors:
1. An imbalance is created in the functioning of the dopamine production.
2. The brain in many cases becomes blocked in this imbalance and the overproduction of the stress hormones and does not go back to its healthy balance.
The imbalance in the dopamine production is especially significant because research into the neurological causes of Musician´s Focal Dystonia have shown that one of the key factors is an erroneous functioning of the part of the midbrain that control automatic movements in the body (the basal ganglia). It´s correct functioning depends on a healthy production of dopamine in the brain. You can read more about this research in my article The Neurological Causes of Musician´s Focal Dystonia.
This impact of loss and grief does not exist in isolation in the musician with Focal Dystonia. As I explained in my article Causes of Focal Dystonia: Demanding Perfectionism there is also an underlying pattern of self-demanding and perfectionism. This pattern also creates stress and therefore, unbalances the brain´s healthy neurochemical homeostasis. This in turn creates a constant sense of alertness and micro tensions in the muscles of the neck, shoulder, arm, hand, scalp, forehead and jaw as well as a corresponding over stimulation of the heart, circulation and digestive system.
My hypothesis is that this underlying imbalance caused by the pattern of demanding perfectionism creates the ground for the propensity for the Focal Dystonia to appear when there is a significant stress event such as the loss of a loved-one or of a sentimental relationship. It is as if the blow that this highly emotional and stressful event gives the person and the resultant effect on their neurochemistry is the straw that breaks the camel´s back.
For this reason, within the method I have created, it is vital to reset the healthy functioning of the neurochemical production in the brain of the client as part of the Focal Dystonia Cure. This is done in parallel with guiding the client to release the underlying causes of the involuntary muscle contractions which create their Focal Dystonia. I use specific
Kundalini Yoga physical and breathing exercises to achieve this neurochemical rebalance. These exercises have been extensively researched and shown to create real and long-lasting changes in the balance of neurochemical production in the brain. I design the exercises and breath-work specifically for each client depending on their personal history and personal needs.
I think that in general we underestimate the effect that stress, pressure and perfectionism has on the healthy functioning of our brain and on the corresponding impact on our basic body functions, muscle tension and coordination. If in general teachers and musicians were more aware of how it affects their wellbeing and reduces their technical ability because of the way it restricts the fluidity of breath and muscle movement, they would take more time and care in educating themselves in how to learn and play music from states of flow and cerebral wellbeing rather than from demanding and tension.