By Angela Grace
In preparation for my workshop on yoga and pain, I have been studying about the nature of pain and
how it affects our nervous system. Pain captures our attention and protects us by activating our emergency responses. That’s how is should be. We want this physiological response active when there is acute tissue trauma or any immediate danger. However, what do we do when pain remains though the threat has abated? Is there a noninvasive, non-drug mediated method to deal with persistent pain?
Our bodies are so amazing. Once your physiology has dealt with a trauma, it remembers. Your nervous system resets to detect threats more easily and activate your emergency systems more rapidly. It’s the once bitten, twice shy philosophy in action. This becomes a problem when your nervous system readjusts to make a heightened state of arousal the new normal. When this happens, your nervous system reacts to non-threatening physical sensations as if there were an emergency.
There is a way to break this detrimental cycle. The solution is to reset your nervous system, to remember that you have a physiological relaxation response that counters your fight or flight response. Your body is indeed amazing.
Two books I highly recommend are Relaxation Revolution by Herbert Benson, MD and The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi, PhD. Both emphasize the power of the mind to bring about healing. Both books provide techniques for resetting your nervous system to a calmer mode and alleviating persistent pain. I also highly recommend attending talks by Dr. Kevin Cucarro. He is a physician who holds talks on pain science in Corvallis. These healers, along with many others, are voicing similar ideas. All pain is real. Pain always functions to protect. We can change our pain experience. Yoga techniques address all three elements of a pain experience.
You can completely change how you experience pain.
I am so excited to share this information. I have been using these techniques myself to help with headaches. The techniques have transformed my experience of pain.
In the Yoga for Pain Resiliency workshop, we will use simple yoga poses, breath work, and meditation to build resiliency in relating to pain. The following is an example of an open focus meditation that we will use in the workshop. This meditation is particularly helpful with headaches.
First, sit in a position that is comfortable for you to maintain for about 10 minutes. Lying down is just fine as long as you can remain alert. Close you eyes and notice how your breath moves in your body. What part of your anatomy moves first on your exhale? What part moves first on your inhale? Just notice with no need to change anything. Observation is always the first, and most powerful, step. Observe your breath for five rounds of exhale and inhale.
When you are ready, explore the following guiding questions adapted from The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi, page 64.
Can you imagine the distance or space between your eyes?
Is it possible for you to imagine the space inside your nose as you inhale and exhale naturally?
Can you imagine the distance between your nose and your eyes?
Can you imagine your breath flowing behind your eyes as you inhale naturally?
While remaining aware of the boundaries between the space inside and outside these regions, can you imagine the space freely permeating and flowing through these boundaries?
Stay with your observations as long as you would like. When you are ready to conclude the meditation, slowly open your eyes. Move slowly from your meditation seat.