Image / Austin Barbisch
Recently, I was asked to give a radio interview about some of the work that I do at Dana Wyss Healing Arts, as part of a larger series on holistic health and healing practices. In the interview, I describe how I work with clients who come to see me for my signature sessions blending movement and bodywork.
My goal in these sessions is to assist clients in moving well, inhabiting their bodies more fully, and accessing the wisdom, joy and vitality that arise with embodied mindfulness. I do this by designing individualized programs incorporating mindfulness meditation, yoga and other movement practices, breathwork education, bodywork and energywork as needed to release areas of restriction and retrain movement and breathing habits to support ease and well-being. If you or someone you know would like to know more, please listen, share, and contact me to discuss your needs and goals.
Here's a brief look at some of the unique services I offer, who I work with, and how this all came about it the first place. Hope you enjoy listening to this interview as much as I enjoyed talking about my passion for helping others feel their very best!
Image / Ion Chiosea
As promised in the previous post in this series, this post will help us more fully understand how the pain alarm system works within the nervous system - or how danger signals arise before they make it to the brain, and how the brain makes it's determinations about what they mean. Since we've been looking at pain for awhile now, I thought it might be fun to learn about this through story and with a little humor ;) Hope you enjoy!
In future posts, we'll explore using practices of meditation and observation to help ourselves navigate pain situations.
Until then, breathe deeply, practice often, and be well.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Image / Ion Chiosea
Pain exists to encourage protective behaviors, and the brain’s perceived need for protection depends on factors beyond the current health of our tissues. While pain may not always be a signal of tissue damage, it is always a signal from the brain that an area or a movement or a behavior is in need of protection, alteration or cessation. Thus, contrary to our old popular (and fairly intuitive) understanding, pain is an output of the brain, not an input. Always.
“Pain is an action signal, not a damage meter.”
– Lorimer Moseley, Painful Yarns p. 34
The brain creates pain as a request (or a clear demand) that we avoid threat. Threats come in many flavors: physical, psychological, emotional, and social. Pain is a bio-psycho-social phenomenon. How the brain assesses threat varies, both from person to person and at different times for the same person. It’s a complex evaluation that may include: our present and past physical health; our general level of stress or ease; past experiences; our perception of our own resilience; our actual or perceived level of support (social, financial, etc.); our beliefs about our own bodies, about healing, and about the world; and our understanding of what is happening to or within our bodies. That’s an incomplete list of considerations, but you get the idea – our brain’s perception of threat arises out of a composite of factors. And all this transpires rapidly, below our conscious awareness. While taking in a great deal of information from various systems of the body, the brain is always trying to answer the question “how dangerous is this really?”, and the answer in large part determines: a) whether the brain elects to issue pain signals, and b) how strong those signals should be.
For example, let’s say two people bend over to pick something up and both feel some pain. In the forward bend, a small degree of mechanical damage was sustained, which triggered danger receptors (or, nociceptors) in the lower backs of both people. These nociceptors deliver danger reports to both brains. Let’s see how two brains may handle the same situation differently:
Person A has had a fair amount of back pain in the past, and the internal map of her back is very fuzzy. In fact, the brain isn’t really sure what’s happening on the back side of her body, and this contributes to a sense of threat. Prior to this incident, she’s been worrying a lot about finances and feeling troubled about her future. Additionally, two years ago she sustained injury to her lower back that began in just this way, and disabled her for several weeks. It was very painful, she was unable to work for two months, and even caring for herself was out of the question for nearly 10 days. When she was diagnosed, her doctor used the term “slipped disc” to describe her condition, and she now tends to envision her spine as weak and unstable. The pain medication prescribed to her back then did little to relieve her pain but greatly aggravated her digestive system. Thoughts of incapacitation, being a burden on others, and experiencing unremitting pain for weeks flash though her mind, all feeding into a growing sense of threat.
Person B is active and enjoys good balance, and has never had any noticeable pain in her back, nor any negative experiences with doctors, diagnosis or severe pain or pain medication. She has enjoyed a healthy, pain-free existence and expects to, and she believes her body to be very strong and resilient. She also has excellent health insurance, financial resources, and social support. All of this feeds into her brain’s assessment of how dangerous her situation is likely to be.
Person A and Person B had the exact same experience, mechanically speaking. But their experience in every other way will likely differ, and they’re unlikely to have a similar pain experience in response to the exact same stimulus. When these two brains sought to answer the question ‘how dangerous is this, really?’, the information each received painted very different pictures of what this injury could ultimately mean.
At this point, we have an idea of the function of pain, and some of the factors that affect the brain’s determination of threat. In future posts, we’ll look at how the pain alarm system works within the nervous system, or how these danger signals arise before they make it to the brain. We'll also look at some ways to use meditation and observation to help ourselves navigate pain situations. Until then, breathe deeply, practice often, and be well.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Image / Ion Chiosea
In the previous post, we looked at the ways our models of pain have changed over the years, which has contributed to a shift in how we view pain, healing and the body as a whole. This week, we'll be looking at the relationship between pain and tissue damage, or injury. Does pain always mean there is injury to the body? Do we always feel pain where there is measurable damage?
It frequently happens that tissue damage and pain occur commensurate with one another. So it’s understandable that many of us perceive that a great deal of pain must signify a great deal of damage in the body. Or conversely, that no pain means there’s no problem. We know now that the relationship between pain and tissue damage isn’t nearly so straightforward as our intuition might suggest. We know now that it is possible to have significant damage with no pain at all, and that a previously unimaginable number of people do.
In one study of people with no reported shoulder pain, 23% overall were found to have rotator cuff tears, and in one of these study groups 51% showed signs of tear and yet had no pain at all. Zero. Zilch. Do you find that surprising?
In studies of the knees, the numbers are even more striking. When researchers studied the knees of asymptomatic volunteers between the ages of 20 and 68, they found that all but one of them had some damage to the meniscus, and that fully 61% showed signs of damage in at least three of the four regions of the knee.
When researchers studied the lumbar spines of people with no back pain, they found that
52% of their subjects had at least one disc bulge, and that 38% had abnormalities in more than one disc.
A great deal of damage can be present without making us wince, it seems.
To the relief and validation of a great many people, we’ve also come to understand that people can and do experience pain – real pain – without the presence of any tissue damage at all. We know that amputees experience phantom limb pain in great numbers, especially if they experienced pain in the limb prior to amputation. And we know that this pain is as intense and as real as any limb pain you or I might experience in our palpable, visible and fully intact limbs.
Pain can also show up as an abnormal response to previously innocuous triggers. We’ve come to understand that in allodynia, people experience real pain in response to stimuli normally not associated with pain responses. And in hyperalgesia, others experience a far greater pain response than is typical even to a stimulus normally associated with pain responses. We know that these pain episodes are very real for those experiencing them, are legitimately occurring in the brain, and that they are neither exaggerations or fabrications. This invisible pain really hurts!
So we have seen that pain can exist without a corresponding injury, and that substantial damage can exist without pain.
What understandings have these discoveries given us regarding the function or purpose of pain? We'll explore that question in the next blog post. Until then, breathe deeply, practice often, be well.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts