Monday, April 20, 2015

My Take - Pain

My Take - Pain

Wow, last week’s podcast, some interviews I was able to do with leading edge researchers in the field of mind-body medicine and some personal experiences gave me some new and important insights about pain and how to live a happy healthy life even when pain, emotional or physical, is present.

First, the podcast with Dr. Dan Twogood was a great reminder that the food we ingest can be part of the problem and that we must all be our own judges of what is best for our body. So many foods can produce an immune response and accompanying inflammation and pain, so it is important for us to be aware of what works and does not work for our individual constitutions. Listen to Dr. Dan Twogood’s podcast about diet and pain here:

Next, the opportunity arose for me to interview some super smart researchers about why mind-body approaches like meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong work for those suffering with chronic pain symptoms and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Initially I was a bit intimidated by the research findings as they were very, well -  scientific and challenged my left brain to fire up a bit more than it is used to. But the findings were dramatic and exciting. It appears that meditation can, with time and some diligence, change the brain and help us manage pain. Other practices like yoga and tai chi, research is finding, work on the whole person (body, mind and spirit) to move us back into balance. People are finding relief from some of the most troublesome causes of pain like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and lupus. It’s really exciting, cutting edge research that promises to change the way we are treating pain. We also learned that more and more, integrative medical approaches are moving into mainstream medicine and are becoming available at hospitals nationwide.

Then, as always seems to happen, life gave me the opportunity to further explore the subject of mindfulness and pain management. In my yoga teacher training we were discussing the positive effects of meditation and it’s application in a yoga class working with our students. As yoga teachers it’s important to impart solid information about the benefits of the practices we are teaching. As teachers we need to have our own meditation practice so that we can accurately and truthfully teach students. This has been a bit of a task for me. I have a thing with routine. As soon as I notice that I have one I tend to challenge it and ask myself why it is there. Is this necessary? Does it serve a purpose or am I just habitually and mindlessly repeating this routine. I have had to really work with my subconscious mind to let it know that this new practice of meditation and mindfulness is OK.

I am finding myself approaching everything now with mindfulness from eating a meal to running a race. Yesterday I ran a 10K and I challenged myself to take the biggest most awesome hill with a decidedly mindful approach. As I ran up this long incline I asked myself continuously how it felt to be in this body at this time, making no judgments but just noticing. The amazing thing about that was that simply noticing the body without making any claims as to the stress of the situation I was putting it through, made it somehow easier for me to conquer that hill. By the time I got to the top I was shocked by the ease with which I was able to get there just by staying with the experience and not trying to distract myself or convince myself that there was no pain with positive affirmations and the like.

In my interview with researcher Dr. Sara Lazar from Harvard, she talked about how simply noticing pain, without judgment, and sitting with it somehow allows it to dissipate. She has a really great Ted talk here:
Watch for my interview with Dr. Lazar on my you tube channel here:

So, my take on pain is this: Pain is a part of being human. We will all feel pain during our lifetimes, some more than others. The pain response can be elicited by the food we eat. Pain can be a great teacher if we allow it. Just as we know that pain changes the brain, so too can mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong. Instead of running from pain, if we work with it, feel it, and perhaps ask it what we are to learn from the experience, we stand a real chance of moving forward from it with more grace and ease. As I say in my book Back to Happy, we've all got to feel it to heal it! 

That's all I got for now. Peace.

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