Your nervous system, perception of the world and how you handle stress can have a huge impact on pain. However, at most doctors oﬃce’s or health care providers this topic is never mentioned. Let’s talk about what this actually means, and what you have control over to make change.
Last weekend I taught two workshops on low back pain. And, what might have been a surprise to the group is after I went over anatomy and biomechanics of the body and what can go wrong. I then taught about our nervous system. This is where yoga and inner work really come in.
Stress in life is good. It forces us to evolve and grow, it’s designed to keep us safe. It’s when we are stuck in the stress response 24/7 and (1) are not aware and/or (2) maybe aware, but do not know how to move from a heightened stress response to more replenishment.
If we are in the stress response 24/7 the hormones and physiological cascade taking place in the body is one designed to propel us to action or keep us safe. For example, muscles are primed to run or protect, blood pressure raises, cortisol is secreted. This is necessary at times, however, to live in this state ALL THE TIME is not healing and will deﬁnitely tax the adrenals just to start. So how do we move to the more relaxing nervous system? And why?
Research is now showing the exhalation breath (double the inhale) can help to stimulate the Polyvagal response, disinhibiting the sympathetic ﬁght/ﬂight response. Certain scents (like from essential oils) can also help to establish an anchor point of relaxation by communicating directly with the limbic portion of the brain. At the workshops, students experienced both of these techniques directly.
But ﬁrst, awareness is key. We have to catch ourselves when we are in a stressed or anxious state. Remember this stress or anxiety is caused by you! You are in control of how you feel. Someone didn’t do anything to you, for example. Imagine two 10-year-old boys playing in a living room when a giant white ﬂuﬀy dog runs into the room. Based upon past learned experiences one boy feels safe and happy with dogs so they run up and give the dog a hug, laughing and smiling. The other boy has had a bad past with dogs so he is scared and runs away to hide crying. Same dog, same situation, but it’s the boy’s interpretation of the situation that leads to the emotional response of happiness or fear. The same is true in life for EVERY situation. Each of us will perceive every situation diﬀerently and therefore have a diﬀerent response. Mic drop.
So why do we care if we are stressed and anxious? What does this have to do with pain? Well, research states, those that have a meditation practice, participate in moving meditation activities such as yoga, and have an improved awareness of their body’s responses are better able to modulate pain, and in research studies the frequency, intensity and even how far the pain spreads is reduced. This is huge!
When you become better at this (it is a practice) you will feel more in control of your pain, less dependent on “healers” and more conﬁdent. That’s my goal to work myself out of a job, get you more independent on your own and checking in only as required by you. However, this does take time and like any new skill you have to be taught, and you need to practice. This is why ﬁx everything sessions don’t work. It’s because I need to teach you the physical exercises to work with your dysfunction to reduce the pain, but also we need to unravel and work on all this as well too. This takes time and deﬁnitely more than one session. The upside is when you get it, it’s a skill to carry with you for the remainder of your life!
Alison Mclean, physical therapist and yoga teacher, is the owner of Ignite Wellness a clinic where physical therapy and yoga are combined to help active & busy adults get back to their healthy lifestyle, by reducing nagging aches, lowering stress, and boosting energy. If you are interested in learning more schedule a free consult with me here.
You can learn more at www.igniteurwellness.com or call (858) 248 2272.