Pain is weird. In a nutshell, that is about all that Science and Experience (and my personal N=1 experiment) knows for sure. This becomes especially true when you get into chronic pain territory, meaning if you have persistent pain that lasts longer than 3-6 months.
And guess what.
I have chronic pain.
I’ve had persistent low back pain for ages. I remember going to physical therapy for it when I was working at HNI in Muscatine. Let’s see, that was…15 years ago. So, yup, I am in chronic pain territory.
It’s embarrassing to admit that, as a massage therapist, yoga teacher, and studier of the human mindbody and condition, I have been unable to resolve my own main complaint. I’ve seen PTs, chiropractors, the founder of neurosomatic therapy, myofascial release specialists, acupuncturists, functional medicine docs, yoga therapists, breath specialists. You name it; I’ve likely tried it.
Does it help? Sometimes and for a little bit, yet the pain returns. And I’m starting to get a sense of why.
- I don’t do my homework. I don’t do my breath exercises, stretches, etc. consistently.
- While I KNOW that humans are multidimensional beings, made of physical bodies, but also energy bodies, mental bodies, and spiritual bodies, I still revert to a default belief in a biomechanical model and reliance on Someone Else needs to fix this. This is amusing to my Higher Self, as my main driver/motivator in doing the work I do is because I want to help others realize their potential to heal themselves via a wholistic mindbody approach. Oh – THE IRONY!!
And so, as I slowly start to examine my Shadow Self (the side of myself that I don’t REALLY want to look at too closely), I am beginning to realize the strong connection between the low grade low back pain that’s been my constant companion these 15 years, and my habit of living life at Speed. This speedy living manifests in clenching – tightening up my shoulders, holding my breath while executing tasks, clenching my butt, and not processing feelings/emotions as they arise (I don’t have time to deal with this now; I’ll do it “later” when I “have more time” and when it’s “more convenient” (meaning never)).
It’s become evident to me that the reason none of these external therapies have worked is because my habits of daily life (daily clenching), immediately facilitate tension in my back.
I know the work I need to do to feel better. I need to FEEL BETTER. Meaning, I need to take the time to notice what is arising within my inner domain, turn toward it with openness, notice exactly WHERE I am feeling it and WHAT it feels like. It looks something like this:
I feel a sensation like a ball in my throat. As I watch it, it starts to shift up into the back of mouth and out toward my ears. I say “hi” to it and let it do what it wants to do. I take a moment to breathe long, slow breaths and the feeling and I just hang out together for a bit. Sometimes it stays, sometimes it moves on.
I think the secret to unwinding the tension in my back is in unwinding the tension in my emotional and mental layers. I realize that can sound a bit woo-woo, but there is actual proof that this is true. The biopsychosocial model of pain indicates that ALL of the following can contribute to our pain experience:
Injuries. Hormones. Metabolism. Neurochemistry. Nutrition. Sleep. Circulation. Breathing. Immune functioning. Personality. Behaviors. Age. Gender. Race/ethnicity. Socioeconomic status. Social network/Relationships. Life stress. Treatment satisfaction. Readiness to return to activities of daily life. Spiritual practices. Meaning and purpose. Autonomy/Self-management. Beliefs. Thoughts. Our ability to feel our inner state (interoception).
HOW does one go about doing the work of examining and processing their emotional and mental layers? I work with a life coach, and I’ve also worked with mental health therapists in the past. I also journal daily and get the stories out of my head and on to paper where they are more obvious and manageable. I meditate to build my “attention muscle,” so that I can get less triggered by my own thoughts.
If you would like to learn more about the different factors that could be contributing to YOUR pain, we can chat about that in your next session. Here are also a couple of interesting and helpful resources.
- Fear of Emotional Pain (podcast): https://thelifecoachschool.com/podcast/396/
- Pain is Really Strange (short book): https://bookshop.org/books/pain-is-really-strange/9781848192645
Space to be Human Updates
- NEW FACE CRADLE: OMG. I AM SO EXCITED!! Today my new cradle from Oakworks arrived. It is a specially designed face cradle to reduce pressure on the eyes and sinuses and reduce congestion when you are face down.
- NEW LTAP ASSESSMENTS: I am taking a 6 week online class on Locator Test Assessment Protocols (LTAP) to learn how to listen to the body and use its wisdom to guide treatment. If this piques your interest, let me know. During April I’ll add 10 minutes to your session at no charge, and we’ll see what the Assessments tell us about what your body needs.
And with that, I’m signing off. IT IS FINALLY SUNNY!!!!!!! I hope you can spend some time in the sun and warmth today.
See ya next week, My Peeps!
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