Monthly Archives: December 2013

Snow Day in Subtropical Kunming


Snow in Kunming!

Last year while still living in Miami, I researched Kunming seasonal weather and was quite content with the prospect of winter temperatures averaging between 40°F to 50°F … to over 60°F on mostly sunny afternoons.

But Murphy Law seems to work pretty consistently for me, so it turns out I moved to Kunming on an anomalous year, and last week’s Tibetan cold front produced the coldest weather recorded since reliable airport records were first kept here in 1994.

Overnight temperatures have been around 28°F and we’ve had plug-in oil radiators running round the clock in our otherwise unheated apartment .

In the rehab gym at the Tongren Hospital, not to mention every other building in Kunming, there is no central heating nor space heaters, because people here are accustomed to moderate winters.  So the gym has been around 40°F during the daytime while I am working out. Needless to say, I put on multiple layers of clothing before wheeling about quarter of a mile to the hospital.

And next came snow … to “eternal spring” Kunming!

I woke up one morning last week to find our garden covered with about four inches of snow.  Having lived previously in The Bahamas and Miami, I had not seen snow in many years and certainly have never driven my wheelchair through snow.  As my caregivers and I set out for the gym a few days ago, sub-tropical Kunming was a winter wonderland.


With Xiao Lin at 7 a.m. in our garden heading to the gym

suptropical-snowday suptropical-snowmorning

Kunming Winter Wonderland … early and later

Snow Yoga

Tiffany practicing yoga as as snowfall begins …

On my way to the hospital, I saw lots of children rolling around in the snow and building snowmen and throwing snowballs at one another.  Guess this is universal with kids.  And what a fine, slow-moving target I make!  Luckily, one snowball cleared my head by no more than an inch.

Other than the hospital gym being freezing cold while working out, what a lovely surprise have one day of snow, which promptly melted by the afternoon when the temperature soared above 50°.  After all, we’re in peak strawberry season here right now!

Christmas in China

Over the weekend, I went into the city center with my sister.  This was the first time I’ve been out since the pain became intolerable in August, so I think I must be making some progress with the new pain strategy I’ve mapped out with Dad.

Chinese Gingerbread House

With Tiffany at the Wyndam Hotel’s life-size gingerbread house!

I was amazed at how Christmas-festive all the stores looked, especially considering that the Chinese might seem to have little first-hand experience with Christmas.  Lovely decorations included a life-sized gingerbread house at the Wyndham Hotel, and in a department store traditional Christmas carols were being sung in both English and Chinese.  “Oh Come all Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” come off better in Chinese than one might imagine, especially when the singer is actually talented.

Closer to base, Dr. Zhu and the hospital staff made a commendable effort at decorating the gym with a little Christmas tree and presents underneath.  Suzanne Edwards and I were the lucky models to pose for the picture.


With fellow Tongren model Suzanne!

This year I will be spending Christmas with my Mom and Dad and sister Tiffany plus Tiffany’s boyfriend, Motts, who arrived early this morning from Raleigh, North Carolina.   And what a trip he had … Raleigh to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok and finally to Kunming, arriving at 5:30 this morning … 22 hours under way.  Tiffany went out to the airport this morning with our London Taxi to pick him up, and we’re really happy to have Motts with us.

We have actually put up a little Christmas tree in the house and plan on having smoked salmon instead of turkey for Christmas dinner.  I will post photos to the blog after Christmas.

Finally, but not at all the least … here’s to wishing my readers a memorable Christmas and Happy Holidays wherever you happen to be this year.

Reprogramming My Brain – Take 1


My sister, Tiffany, arrived in Kunming yesterday for the holidays, and I could not be happier!

When the two of us are together you would never know that we are 30 and 32 years old … we revert immediately back to our childhood ways!


Tiffany is a professional yoga instructor, and she arrived in Kunming with a suitcase full of yoga toys for me. She’s planning on helping me work on quadriplegic yoga and roll me around in poses that will help alleviate the pain in my neck and shoulder.

Tiffany recently started a new yoga travel business … … where she travels around the world throughout the year hosting international yoga retreats. Yes, I admit, her adventures do make me a little jealous 🙂

This past week I have taken fresh new steps to addressing my pain issues, both my neuropathic pain and postsurgical neck pain.  These initiatives are based on discoveries made in recent months by my Dad as he drives himself relentlessly to find a way forward for me that does not involve use of pain-killer drugs.

I am beginning to learn how to reprogram the way that my brain interprets pain signals. I have believed for some while now that this is possible, but the initial practical challenge has been finding an actual clinical application to get started.

One new insight had led to another and yet another … Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” led to Michael Merzenich’s leading neuroscience research and Dr. Merzenich’s recent book “Soft Wired” … and most recently to Les Fehmi’s “Dissolving Pain”.

After reading Dissolving Pain, I have started a journey through guided visualizations called Open Focus …

Les Fehmi is the founding director of the Princeton Biofeedback Center in New Jersey. He is one of the real pioneers in the field of bio-and neuro- feedback.

The concept behind Open Focus is called Flexible Attention, essentially willful control of movement from a narrow focus to a diffuse focus and back again … and this controlled shifting of attention (think of it as attention management) is at the heart of clinical application of the therapy.

Narrow-focus attention, also called narrow-objective focus, is how the vast majority of us pay attention most of the time to anything and everything, and not just visually but with all of our senses. For technically-minded readers,  narrow-objective focus is an emergency mode of paying attention that quickly and substantially increases brain EEG frequency.

As a result of common narrow-focus attention, most people tense muscles to prevent feelings from surfacing in both the mind and the body … and this muscle tensing ferquently creates new pain or exacerbates existing pain.   Almost everyone suffers from overuse of this chronic narrow-objective attention to some degree, predominantly due to emotional stress.

Open Focus Therapy offers a series of guided visualization recordings that help a patient gain power over pain by changing how you pay attention.

Over decades of basic research as well as clinical experience, Les Fehmi has proven that these kinds of attention exercises change the frequency of neuronal activity, which alters the experience of pain.  In other words, it turns out that the most significant factor at the root of pain is a hypersensitive and unstable brain.  Open Focus training engenders a more stable brain.

Dr. Fehmi illuminates an especially important insight called “Rigid Attention Theory” that explains the epidemic of chronic pain in our culture and the fact that much, if not most, of this pain has no detectable physical origin.

Neuropathic pain is a perfect example.  Narrow-focus attention causes people to avoid dealing with particular feelings and related pain issues, as a result of which our nervous system goes into over over-drive, creating muscle tension and blood flow disturbances, which in turn lead to manifestation of auxiliary pain.

Modern medicine has not historically acknowledged that the mind can so profoundly influence the body, and so physicians are not trained to pay close attention to the connection between pain and emotions.

Chronic pain sometimes has, of course,  a physical component and treating an injured muscle by stretching or with other medical interventions sometimes helps, at least temporarily.  Heck, I can get relief from neuropathic pain with morphine!

Unfortunately, treating only the body can leave behind a neural platform upon which the pain can and very often does rapidly rebuild itself. That’s what we see with neuropathic pain or with so-called phantom limb pain, for example.

So, how do I actually put any of this into practice?

Well, as I mentioned above, Dr. Fehmi has created a dozen or so 30 min. recordings for different pain issues. I listen to these 30 min. recordings twice a day and try to visualize what he is saying in order to change my narrow-focus attention so I can diffuse the pain. I suppose you could call it a form of meditation with the guidance of an instructor talking you through what to visualize.

So, there you have it … engaging with Open Focus training is my first step toward extensively reprogramming my brain.  I will keep you updated as I begin to take purposeful advantage my brain’s inherent plasticity … and as I start to re-draw my brain map, which presently harbors such a persistent and debilitating pain image.

This is challenging to explain, of course.  But in practice I sense it will get easier over time, and the prize — getting back working control of my life — seems to me worth all the trouble!