Acupuncture. Chiropractic adjustments. Massage. Diets designed to heal various maladies.
What do all these have in common when viewed through the Mind Body Syndrome lens?
For chronic symptoms, they are only as good as the inner awareness we bring to the table.
Hoping that chronic pain, fatigue, or muscle tension will disappear through the use of any of these modalities alone is bound to disappoint.
Applying physical remedies to physical problems seems like it should do the trick, so why doesn’t it?
Because all pain is created in the brain. So are brain fog, exhaustion, and a host of other sensations.
On the one hand you can break an ankle, but if you need to get yourself to safety in order to escape the jaws of a tiger, guess what? The brain may hold off on sending pain until you are safe!
On the other hand, you may feel pain where there’s no need for it. Dr. Howard Schubiner tells the story of a construction worker who jumped off a scaffold and landed with a nail stuck up through his boot. He howled in pain until he could get to the hospital. Once there, the doctors carefully removed his boot, only to discover that the nail had gone right up between his toes and not punctured a bit of flesh. The brain had predicted that this situation required immediate attention, and therefore sent pain as an urgent alarm!
Emerging neuroscience tells us that our brains actually create what we experience in our bodies. This revolutionary statement is not only true, but it has major implications for all of us.
–Dr. Howard Schubiner, from his website unlearnyourpain.com
Why would the brain create physical pain where there’s no physical problem? Here are a few reasons:
–Learned neural pathways (like in the case of an injury that has healed but still hurts months or years later)
–A dysregulated nervous system (feeling overwhelmed by the environment)
–Predictive Coding (like the guy who was sure the nail had punctured his foot)
–An attempt to distract from or alert us to difficult emotions (most of us learned to suppress rather than feel our emotions).
The fact is, there’s a good chance every one of us has had this type of pain at some point in our lives. It’s just that for some, it settles in and stays awhile.
For me, it was when I neutrally observed a knot forming in my shoulder blades, the same knot that for years had portended a migraine, and saw it disappear before my very eyes, that I began to grasp the power of this work. Whoa.
What I was doing in that moment, by neutrally observing that knot through a process known as somatic tracking, was letting my brain know there was nothing to fear. The knot was just a sensation. It wasn’t threatening.
In the past, I would have responded with something like, “Oh shit. There’s that knot again. Dammit, I can’t afford to get a migraine right now.” I would have tried to will it away, quickly drunk more water, mentally flipped back through the food I’d eaten, or enlisted someone to massage that area.
But none of that would have worked, because I’d have been tending to the physical problem, rather than A) the brain and its learned neural pathways, and B) the underlying emotional and psychological needs that were not being met. (For more on B, refer to my blog post https://karolmiller.com/the-healing-power-of-emotions/) In fact, by fixating on it, I would have been reinforcing the very neural pathways causing the pain. My neutral observation of those sensations was beginning to form a new connection, veering off the well-traveled pain pathway. It still amazes me.
When we’re talking chronic pain, we have to look at the brain. Understanding this can be the beginning of true guidance on the journey to greater health and well-being.