Pain and Healing – Part VII

There are many paths to helping people.

Moving with more ease and more movement is the best long term recovery strategy.

As we continue to shift your thoughts and beliefs about pain, consider this: pushing through pain will not make you stronger or more flexible. It actually increases risk to sensitizing the nervous system even more.

The goal of movement should be more ease now. You should be thinking afterwards, “I don’t regret doing this movement.” Our breath test will tell us we are doing the right thing for our systems.

The neuro-immune system is impacted when you push too hard. The commonly held belief that pain is all in your mind is the main reason people push themselves. You don’t have to live with it or despite it. Starting with the belief that pain is not changeable goes against the research. We have to believe that change is possible. We don’t know the degree for each person but we know it’s possible.

Let’s look at the analogy of cook and how it relates to pain. If you make a chili and add too much spice, you don’t add more spice to make it better, you add tomatoes or something else. Pushing through the pain is not going to make the pain go away.

As we have learned over the last two months, pain is highly complex, and we can’t understand all of it. But it is possible to move with ease and understand pain better.

Evidence of increased safety in movement is related how pain is experienced.

SIMs and DIMs can be explored in yoga. The ritual of yoga and breath, calms the physiology and nervous system. Layer breath with ease of movement. Body tension is danger (fight or flight/DM) and you can’t let go and experience fast, shallow breath. You may not know how tight or how to let go. Start with breathing calmly then add benign movement, then move towards more “dangerous” or complex movement. Progression turns a DIM into a SIM. Navy Seals go through a similar process in their training – that’s how they can achieve intensely incredible feats by remaining calm while working through progressively more dangerous situations.

Process. Persistence. Compassion.

Often times we experience euphoria when pain is gone. Then we quit our practice. Consider this analogy: If you were playing darts and hit the center, you might think “whoo hoo! I did it.” You feel great. You did it. But, imagine if you tried it everyday for two months. Imagine how good you’d be.

What if you throw a dart and you don’t hit the target? What does that tell you? Doing something once doesn’t tell us much about what could happen in the future with practice. Repetition is key. Start simple with breathing. Try it everyday 5 times for 5 minutes and see in a week or two weeks.

There is also the common sports analogy. Practice makes you better. Imagery and visualization can stimulate movement that is not yet possible. Watch yourself doing it. Feel yourself do it from the inside out. Yoga Nidra is a practice of guided imagery. If you are someone who keeps pushing yourself, this might be a good place of peace to start from.

Facial muscles even feed into the parasympathic nervous system. Research suggests that when we clench our eyes, ears, mouth, tongue it sends a danger signal to our brain. Softening around these orfices is a SIM. Setting an hourly timer to consciously relax the muscles in our face for 20-30 seconds helps us to develop our neuroplasticity.

Pain can be so wound up that little things can have a big influence on it. One system can change another system. We don’t know the degrees and complexity.

Neil Pearson, physio and yoga therapist shares 5 steps for pain care and can be found on his website.  Here are 2 things to consider when looking for a practitioner to help you heal:

  1. Feel heard. This can change our pain.
  2. Someone who is a helper, a part of the process, not doing something to you. The client is the doer. This is key to the whole process. The practitioner should applaud lowering of pain in the session. Then give something to do to work towards maintaining that lowered pain.

It’s a Butterfly effect: 1 small change can change the relationship of the whole system. 

I’d like to conclude with a Summary of what is known about Pain and Healing.

Persistent pain is pain that is often undiagnosed from tests and not an infection. Doctors don’t know what to do. The complicated part is taking ownership of what’s really going on (eg. Hating your job, childhood trauma, diet). Are you coping in a healthy way? We acknowledge it is scary to nudge your comfort zone.

What we know is pain is subjective based on the individual. Your brains interpretation of what is going on is a protective response of a trigger. Further, emotional pain can manifest physically. It can be related to the environment, structural, sensory input, gut, thoughts, support systems, what you’ve been told or haven’t been told. When we feel helpless or out of control, that is danger. When we feel danger it can strengthen the fear, tension, sympathetic nervous system and pain. Where pain is, is not the problem. Pain is saying, pay attention to me. Low vs high pain tolerance is an interpretation by the brain of what is going on. We can work on flipping the script on how we use words. Finding the positives (SIMs) and retraining safety in our body/mind.

Remember, change is possible! Explore these on your own to develop your awareness:

  1. Educate yourself on pain science. 20 minutes a day can decrease pain. Knowledge is power. When you are empowered, you are in control.
  2. Stress exacerbates symptoms. When quiet, symptoms go away. Notice the quiet moments – change has happened! We can’t think clearly when we are in pain, we ruminate, get irritable and can’t recognize the good moments. Journal and plot out the good and bad moments over the week. Then make a decision about what they can do about it.
  3. Recognize, Reduce, Eliminate. Try Pain Train or Symptom Tracker app if journaling is producing too much anxiety.
  4. Support Groups can be a danger if members complain all the time and increase fear.
  5. It takes more than 1 time with a practitioner for a shift/healing. Be patient. Don’t resist. Own it. Ride the wave. Keep in mind that the first visit the practitioner could be having an off day or you could be having an off day. By the third visit some shift should occur. Could be any number of reasons why you don’t vibe with a practitioner. There is no fault, just that relationship in that moment didn’t work (context). You may or may not be in the right headspace to hear or listen. Instant gratification can’t be the expectation. Keep working through everything under the surface.
  6. Self development: create a web of support. You don’t have to do it alone. If your friend was in the same situation what advice would you give them? All the things that we do, is because we said yes. Do you need to take something off your plate? Do you need to say no? Walk more? Drink water? Stop smoking? Are you ready to take the next step? What do you already have? Contemplate that it might not be people, it could be animals or music or writing. Healing comes from within. No one is going to do it for you.

In health,

Lindsay

Pain and Healing – Part VI

Over the last month and half I have writing about pain science research to help us broaden our scope of understanding pain and how we can begin to heal ourselves. Today’s review comes from a talk by yoga therapist Matthew Taylor from the United States. He teaches from the perspective of the Biopsychosocial model. This brings all the parts together to make a whole. For example, if you roll your ankle, you experience pain physiologically in the sympathetic nervous system, but also psychologically, your active mind is upset that your weekend plans got ruined and you feel unsupported spiritually. This means we can’t look at the ankle in isolation. When we look through different lenses we help the mind shift perspectives.

Yoga is the science of transformation. Through yoga we seek to shift our state  into the parasympathetic nervous system and by doing so we unlock creativity, clarity and calm. Simply taking 3 sets of 10 deep breaths for a given movement (such as during a yoga pose) shifts the nervous system and turns the solution seeking inward rather than outward.

Yoga asana (the poses) is a process of the how, no the what. In yoga we use attention as a tool to notice how you feel and to gain insight.

Applications for persistent pain: Most people with persistent pain don’t trust their body because the pain is in the body. Try some of these suggestions from Matthew:

  1. Explore your identity around pain.
  2. Pain education and language. When we say “the damn knee” we are talking about it as something other but it’s actually you. 20 minute of pain education can help us to reduce our pain.
  3. Legs up the wall with weight on the belly can create a SIM situation.
  4. Build stamina around hope = possibility.
  5. Have compassion for yourself.
  6. Social media diet – content can raise sympathetic nervous system activation.

Your body is a barometer. Try the Breath test – our breath tells us if something was wise idea. Compare before and after. Fast/shallow breathing is a system in danger (DIM). Think back to the Protectometer. If your breath is long and deep and even you likely feel safe, calm and relaxed.

Salience and interest drives neuroplasticity. Want a stable enough nervous system to non-react to pokes/prodes without looping back into old patterns? A stabilized nervous system lasts 24 hours. So when you practice yoga therapy every day with awareness and attention the results might surprise and shock you. We are complex, we can’t predict anything and we are always changing.

Next week will be the final post on Pain and Healing. See you then.

In health,

Lindsay