Understanding chronic pain is a big part of the work I do though I have to admit that I backed into it unexpectedly. Last week I wrote a post about chronic pain that struck a nerve with a number of readers so I wanted to address it further. One of our readers sent the video above along with a couple of others addressing the mind/body connection to pain. I had already seen this video when it was making the rounds on Facebook a while back and I had I told my wife that I thought it was great but it gave no credence to posture and movement patterns.
The video is well laid out and easy to understand. But I was definitely struck by the fact that there was no mention of structural issues, which is exactly what I work with. Truth be told, I did not set out to help people with pain. I created the CoreWalking Program because I thought people had terrible posture and moved badly even if/when they did yoga correctly. It was only after the program was already underway that people started reporting relief from aches and pains that had nagged them for long periods of time.
The basic thrust of the video is that all pain is produced by the brain. Chronic pain, which refers to pain that lasts three months or more, is confounding because very often things within the body are healed and body tissues are restored but the brain continues to produce pain so that people think that something must still be wrong with them.
Once things within the body are healed even though the pain should go away it does not, making it an issue with the nervous system rather than with the body. This complicates matters making dealing with the pain a much more complex situation that comes down to retraining the brain and nervous system.
The video covers three approaches to dealing with these situations.
- Medication, which offers limited results.
- A more active approach where medication might be involved short term but should be stopped quickly. This more active approach is about remapping the nervous system through stress relief and understanding the impact of thoughts emotions and stress on the nervous system.
- Diet & lifestyle- the deleterious effect of poor nutrition, smoking, alcohol and sedentarism.
This all resonates with me deeply but I wish there was a fourth approach that included correcting movement and posture. I have watched a number of similar videos that really talk to the issues with the brain leaving body mechanics aside.
For whatever reason about ten years ago I became very interested in the psoas muscle which I have repeatedly described on the blog as the warehouse for the body’s trauma. I offer numerous workshops but the main one remains the Psoas Release Party!, where I have witnessed first hand how the body can hold onto and release long held emotions and traumas through simple exercises that allow the psoas to release, relax and let go. The essence of what I offer though is that issues with the psoas, though often emotionally based, require movement and postural correction to allow for healing to take place.
And I have had some prior experiences with pain work of the video’s nature. Many many years ago my brother suffered from debilitating back pain and went to see Dr. John Sarno who championed many of the thoughts covered in the video under the name TMS, or Tension Myositis Syndrome. His first book Healing Back Pain brought this type of thinking/healing to a mainstream audience. I loved Sarno’s first and even his second book though I thought that by his third book he seemed to think that all pain fell under the umbrella of TMS, giving little credence to injuries such as car accidents and athletes that get injured due to blunt force trauma. Still his ideas stayed in my head, and like I said, this was long before I ever did yoga.
My other experience with understanding chronic pain issues involved volunteering in hospice and attending workshops and reading the work of Stephen Levine, an author who specialized in issues of death and dying. Volunteering in the hospice I was trained in Reiki and used a number of pain meditations that I learned from Levine and saw first hand the effects that this type of work could have with those suffering from debilitating pain.
After a conversation with my chiropractor over lunch last week I decided to buy the book Dissolving Pain by Les Fehmi, a pioneer of biofeedback, because it seemed to resonate with what I learned from Stephen Levine though I don’t think there is any literal connection between the two. It is the first book of this type that I have bought in a long while.
I believe in everything the video and the science around the video purports and I have seen first hand the profound effects of psoas release work. But I also work endlessly with people who are suffering long terms chronic pain for reasons that I can only deem structural.
Bad posture and movement patterns create long term chronic pain in the body that can be alleviated with physical corrections. Leaning backwards habitually compresses the lumbar vertebrae. Tucking the pelvis has a debilitating effect on the head and neck. Hyperextending the knees for years on end creates dysfunction in the body that can and does cause issues involving migraines, lower back and neck pain.
I have never been a “there’s only one answer” sort of person. I trust my intuition more than anything else. I treat every one as an individual with a story all their own. And everyone’s story is sacred and true. And more than anything I believe that almost everyone (there is always a caveat) can heal and everyone’s healing journey if different.
But in the work I do there is both a mind and body aspect that comes into play. I don’t really know how to do the work involved in the video at the top of the post. I am actually baffled by how to employ it, which isn’t to say that it isn’t the exact answer for many people. I just don’t know how to get my head around it in the context of what I offer.