Back & Neck Pain, Headaches and Digestive Problems
Huge numbers of people today suffer from chronic pain or other chronic physical symptoms, including headaches and migraines, back and neck pain, digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome, knee pains, or skin conditions. A large part of this experience is the frustration and helplessness that come with feeling limited in what you can do, and the anxiety of thinking about when it will come again, or if you will ever be free of it.
Much recent pain research has shown what a complex phenomenon it is. (Here’s a great article summarizing some useful pain research). Obviously pain would ideally be a message from the body that something is up and we need to change what we’re doing. As pain is experienced via a network of interactions within the brain and between brain and body, however, this can get messy. A lot of information is integrated in order for the brain to actually influence how sensitive the neurons down to the body are, turning the volume of the pain signal up or down. So if we feel sad, we feel more physical pain, and if we feel safe, then we feel less. Our brains are very good at worrying about and over-focusing on problems. This can be useful at times, but when it is happening with your chronic pain, consciously and unconsciously, you wish it wouldn’t! Research in brain science has shown that anxiety about experiencing pain is actually enough to induce or maintain the experience of pain.
Through my coaching, I mix talk, touch, breathing and mindfulness exercises to teach you how to relate differently to your body and your pain, which alters how it is being generated in the unconscious parts of your brain. Often the painful places in us have become areas we try to shut out from our experience. Part of the work of our sessions is to reclaim those areas, to make friends with them.
How do we do that? Changing the way you breathe can alter your experience of pain. Research has also shown that introducing new sensations and new movements is another way of altering the way your pain circuitry is wired. It doesn’t exactly matter what – whether taping, heat, cold, dance -, the point is we are saying to the brain “look! something different!”. In my sessions, I use touch and movement exercises, and also body attention, description and imagery to help you get to a different body experience. Brains are such strange and complicated places that even imaging movement or imagining how an area would feel if it were the opposite from what it is now, can allow it to shift. Another key aspect is to expand the brain’s narrow focus to other body areas, to develop a sense of other areas that are not in pain. This is part of what can restore the feeling of safety, which can help the brain to turn down the pain sensations.
Through talk and body attention, we also use the sessions to track where the pain is coming from. Pain can have its roots in all sorts of places – the way we are when we’re stressed, an old accident, injury or trauma. We can tend to get stuck in old positions without realising: perhaps a movement we were trying to make in a traumatic event but couldn’t, or the way we hold ourselves to protect against the pain, or the way we tense up when stressed and worried. Bodies don’t like being fixated; they like to be in flow and flux. Through bringing attention to your body, we can uncover the movements that are stuck there.
Allowing those movement to take place, and learning to relax tensely held areas, gives the body better conditions for healing itself, which is what it is exquisitely designed to do. Again, I use a mixture of talking, instructions and touch to guide you to release tension or blocks, or restore feeling to an area that feels absent.