A New Look at Pain (Part II)

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As talked about in the last blog, there is no such thing as a pain center. Pain is an output of many areas of the brain that warn of danger, basically changing your experience of your body so that you can respond appropriately. Pain is like no other sense, no other feeling we have. In fact, strictly speaking, it is not really a “sense” at all.

So where does pain come from? Pain is something the brain constructs out of information it receives. Once it has made this construct, it sends it to the self-aware part of itself, the part that you ordinarily think of as “you”. The brain builds constructs all the time, out of everything around it. Pain is just another thing the brain can make as it works to make sense of its own existence. Most of what the brain creates is useful. Pain is useful too, and the brain usually makes it for just long enough to slow you down to help the body heal. Depending on the reason for and the complexity of the pain, this may be a short, acute phase or a longer, more chronic issue.

When pain persists long past its “due date”, you may feel that you and your brain need some help with “de-constructing” it. This is when work has been done (or is being done) to address the actual sites where there is injury (e.g.-where the pain is experienced) and there is less concern about what is happening in the tissues. The brains of most people have no problem de-constructing pain production with treatment. Usually this is a quite straightforward process once treatment is initiated. With a bit of pain education as focus, and some judicious, well thought out manual therapy to provide novel input to the brain, the brain is usually more than happy to return to normal output. It “downregulates” itself, the peripheral nervous system follows suit, and the neurological reason for pain is ameliorated. This can be compared to rubbing your head after banging it against something: you are diluting the experience of “pain” by giving your brain something else to focus on.

This model of pain is more than a reductive biological view, it is a contextual view with the client in the center. It takes into account not just the injury itself, but the person’s full sensory-motor awareness, the basic internal “representational maps” of the body, and the emotional and experiential realities to name a few. It is harder to quantify or integrate, but it is more inclusive and orienting.

 

A New Look at Pain

What is pain? A simple definition is far from easy. It is easier to start defining what pain is not. The biggest mental pitfall to avoid is that pain and nociception (the experience of pain) are the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not have “pain receptors”, “pain nerves” “pain pathways”, or “pain centers”. There are, however some neurons in our tissues that respond to stimuli considered “dangerous”. For example, dropping a forty-pound kettlebell on your foot will send a prioritized signal to your spinal cord, which then is interpreted by your brain. Activity of this type in these nerves is called “nociception”, which literally means “danger reception”. We all have nociception going on all the time – only sometimes does it end in what we define as pain. Looking across various health professions, and in the literature, you could easily infer that nociception, in some cases, is equivalent to pain, as these two terms are often used interchangeably. But they are not interchangeable.

Pain is an output from the brain, not an input from the body. The fundamental paradigm shift that has recently occurred in pain science is the understanding that pain is created by the brain, not a “pre-formed” sensation that arrives from the body and is passively perceived by the brain. When a body part is damaged, nerve endings send a signal to the brain containing information about the nature of the damage – but no pain is felt until the brain interprets this information and decides that pain would be a good way to encourage you to take action that will help protect the body and heal the damage. The brain considers a huge amount of factors in making this decision, and no two brains will decide precisely the same thing. Many different parts of the brain help process the pain response, including areas that govern emotions, past memories, and future intentions. An injured hand means something very different to a professional musician than it does to a professional soccer player, and you can expect that they will have very different pain experiences from the same injury. The bottom line is: pain is in the brain, not the body.

The pain response is the combination of remarkable circuitry, with billions of neurons and glia with widely varying receptor sites. These receptors can change to different stimuli and alter what they are sensitive to, thanks to “synaptic plasticity”. There are convergence zones and ascending and descending fibers that create an interplay between the peripheral nervous system and the brain. Perhaps the most well-understood are the “brain maps” of body parts that change with experience. For the sake of even more confusion, we could add in ideas of gene expression: that genes make different things depending upon the environment. Or we could explain the level of description and detail offered by functional brain imaging (fMRI). Like the Humpty Dumpty story, there are all sorts of clues and truths in these levels of analysis, but no single integrated “pain center”.

More on this next week…

 

The Empowerment of Meditation

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Lately, there has been a lot in the news that has led to anger, desperation and a feeling of hopelessness. It seems that there is little we can do to make the changes that we know must be made in our world. We feel the frailty of our efforts, of our ability to fully understand our responsibilities, and even the ultimate frailty of our physical bodies. It may bring up the feeling that the teachings of the Buddha, of the Bodhisattvas and many other spiritual teachers is true: that all life is suffering.

This may be true when we are so enmeshed in our transient lives that we forget the bigger picture, the picture of the Unconditional Love of which we all are a part.

There is a way that we can find a deeper inner power and responsibility, and a connection with the ultimate power of love. With the appropriate serious effort we can take our suffering and make it opportunity for individual growth and a state of maturity that leads to an experience of total well-being. That simple conscious effort that we can use for the discovering of our own personal power and a new level of possibility is meditation.

Meditation can open us up to the vitality and the innate intelligence that animates our bodies, minds and energetic capacities, making our well-being constantly available.

We are not a “thing”. We are a process, an “event” if you will. Our bodies and minds connect us to our total environment. We absorb information, interact and change. We adapt so that we can effectively participate in our own lives. It is an endless process of exchange within and around us. This exchange is empowering. It morphs the feeling of frailty into a feeling of loving potential that transforms our reality.

Meditation is simply about rediscovering this way of being in the world and in spirit. It brings us back to the reality that we so often forget, the reality that is pure joy, pure awe. In terms of “changing the world”, all those around us are affected by this energy. The more of us that participate in this reality, the more change will happen.

More about Rolfing

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When she developed Rolfing more than 50 years ago, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. first called her work structural integration. The genius of her work rests on Dr. Rolf’s insight that the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity. She observed that, over time, the field of gravity actually accentuates the body’s imbalances and diminishes its flexibility. Based on these core observations, she developed her original method of hands-on manipulation – which later became known as Rolfing – to reduce gravity’s adverse effects on the body.

Essentially, the Rolfing process enables the body to regain the natural integrity of its form, thus enhancing postural efficiency and your freedom of movement.

Dr. Rolf recognized that the body is inherently a system of seamless networks of tissues rather than a collection of separate parts. These connective tissues, called fascia, actually surround, support and penetrate all the muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Rolfing works on this web-like complex of connective tissues to release, realign and balance the whole body. Thus resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain. Rolfing aims to restore flexibility, revitalize your energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body.

Evolution and Change

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Individual change and evolution toward Spirit can often appear as a difficult and sometimes frightening challenge. We begin to let go of who we think we are, and move into…what? Yet this process can be delightful beyond imagining when we allow ourselves to touch upon, and be touched by our true nature, by divine Spirit.

My vision is to make this process accessible, understandable and joyful. Opening the door to a new way of being in the world.

The first step is to realize that we are already perfect, and have within us everything we need to grow beyond even our most precious dreams. Despite what we consider to be our imperfections and limitations, we actually have an innate intelligence that is more than sufficient to move us forward, beyond the issues and boundaries that hem us in. Indeed, we are, in truth, that astounding intelligence.

The issues we have may show up in the guise of aches and pains, depression or anxiety, an experience of malaise or dis-ease. We may feel thwarted in our wish to grow and change, contracted or isolated within the confines of how we experience ourselves and our lives.

But we have the capacity to experience our total health, and begin to fully live physically, emotionally and in Spirit.

As we begin to feel at ease with ourselves, we start to experience new ways of being in the world. Our physical and emotional “aches and pains” begin to lose their grip, and a new sense of freedom ensues. Now we are free to explore new and exciting frontiers. We develop the self-trust, curiosity and freedom to redefine ourselves in passion and joy.

We are a work of incredible art. And can be nourished, with the proper support, to live in our most precious being, full of grace and ease.

 

An invitation to Shamanic and Meditative Counseling and Instruction

Beginning September 30, I will be offering of a 6 week individualized instruction of Toltec Shamanic practice, and/or Tantric Kundalini Yoga instruction. Sessions will involve 1/2 to 1 hour sessions as needed. You may also receive on-going mentoring during the instructional phase, and after the initial 6 session instructional phase if you choose to continue your studies. Please email me at info@thebodyofspirit.com for more information and to sign up for your studies. You may sign up to begin after September 30, and still have the benefit of the 6 week instruction.

 

sunrise 1There is a dual method of counseling and instruction that creates a practical foundation of support that is very powerful and effective, in everyday life, or in your own inner work (which of course comes to define your everyday life!). Working with the energies of the life force, you can safely release old ways of being, and develop the heartfelt truth of your deepest nature that many traditions consider the movement toward enlightenment. You may opt to work with one or both of these techniques:

 

 Toltec Shamanism is a specific practice within the greater shamanic traditions. Like other traditions, it has been employed for thousands of years to relieve human suffering.

The Toltec teachings were developed in Mexico over 2000 years ago. It opens the door to becoming more intimate with our own sacred being, creating the opportunity for healing on any level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is a powerful, non-sectarian process offering specific tools for self-examination, re-collection and re-connection with all that we are. It allows for the awakening of the life force within us:

Shamanic Journeywork.  This is a ritual that invokes your personal energies, aligning the energetic with the emotional and physical bodies. The intent of this work is to align these aspects of yourself, removing blockages (“extractions”), bringing back and integrating parts of yourself (“soul retrievals”) and healing your energetic and physical bodies. This opens the door for greater well-being, enhanced physical and emotional health. Most people experience more ease in their lives, and an ability to move forward where there were obstacles in the way before.

Shamanic Counseling.   The opening and clearing of the energetic body leaves a rich opening for the resolution of issues, past and present. The intent of the counseling is to work through these issues, with the rich background of the shamanic journeywork and a method of work called “recapitulation”, the practice of which brings new clarity and the release of the issues in your life. Also using the techniques of experiential psychotherapy with the vision of Toltec Shamanism, you can work through these issues for greater awareness and quality of life.

Shamanic Instruction.   One of the beauties of journeywork is that it can be taught as a method to work with your own issues. With training and practice, you can become your own practitioner, with only occasional counseling for things that arise that cannot be easily resolved.

 

Kundalini Meditation is a process, also non-sectarian, to still the mind and open to Spirit. Its intent has many similarities to shamanism. The practice taught is an ancient form of Kashmiri Tantric Yoga, called Trika Yoga. It is an interweaving of many ageless traditions. It creates and develops a strong container for pure energy.

As you develop your practice, you awaken and renew your life on every level, bringing dynamic new vision, vitality and love. You become lovingly self-aware and also experience yourself as an intrinsic part of the Whole; a conscious drop of water in an infinite living ocean.

Kundalini energy is a dynamic and powerful life force that, when awakened, creates a strong, direct experience of divine energy. It invites the place for a pure, vital and healthy relationship with the unconditional love and power of Spirit.

The interweaving of these ancient traditions creates a seamless fabric, unfolding the tapestry of our most intimate and unique experience with the oneness of Spirit. In this work, we create a supportive, practical and deeply passionate space for ourselves and others; a space for compassion and unconditional love.

The Gift of Longing

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Grace is a gift, our inherent right, a mysterious power which transforms the very structure of our experience. A first and important manifestation of this grace in our lives is any intense longing we experience. It is a true offering from Life Itself.

When such longing arises, however, we don’t necessarily recognize what is really happening. Usually, we identify this longing with the desire for some external object–a more fulfilling job, a better house, car or clothes. or a new and deeper relationship of some kind. We rush out to gratify one of these desires or another. There is nothing wrong with fulfilling our desires, but if this is all we do with our basic sense of longing, we are missing the basic gift of our lives: the capacity to live in Unconditional Love. We miss the boat. And we sink.

It is challenging to stay with our longing until we fully understand it, because it is painful to do so and we are conditioned to think of pain as bad: if we feel pain, something must be wrong. There must be something missing. Then of course we have to get a quick fix of something, The real issue with any longing, though, is learning to sit through it, to come out on the other side, and to learn something about where the longing itself originates.

When we do, that longing sets in motion something within us which, hopefully–and necessarily, if it is to succeed–leads us to feel a strong desire to discover authenticity in our lives. This is desire in its most profound sense. It leads us to turn away from what we begin to perceive as inauthentic experience. Then, our intuition that there must be something more to life, along with our desire to be authentic, leads us to look to  the deepest part of ourselves. It is our first step towards finding out who we already are.

Stages of Practice in Kundalini Yoga

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The first stage in your practice of Kundalini Yoga is one that requires a concentrated, conscious effort to learn to feel the chakras (the energy centers) within you, to breathe into them and feel them expand, and to feel the flow of energy that goes down through them and then up your spinal column.

This flow, which passes down the front of your body and up the back, forms a circuit of energy. This circuit has always been there; you simply cultivate your awareness of it through practice. This is another way of saying that you make a concentrated, conscious effort every day to open your mind and your heart. Your effort allows the energy to work its way through you completely, and to nourish every part if you.

This energy is nothing other than the Unconditional Love. It is Life Itself.

The second stage of your meditative practice is one of intense, concentrated awareness. You could say that because you have made a consistent, concentrated and conscious effort that you have come to have an intense awareness of the energy pulsating and vibrating within you. You may experience this energy as the essence of your mind, your senses, your emotions and your physical body. It is the essence of all your thoughts, all your feelings, and all your actions.

The third stage is the one of pure, concentrated relaxation. It is the release of all effort, in which there is simply pure awareness. At this stage you experience everything as waves of your own Creative Self.

As you work during your meditation, you will experience each of these three stages, even from the beginning. However, during your everyday life, although you may experience each of these facets during your day, one or the other will generally predominate. In the beginning, it’s one thing; in the middle, it changes; and finally, there is nothing but one thing: the recognition that your own inner Self is pure Creativity. It is the one Creativity which has given rise to everything and to all experience. It is at this stage that true success can be attained.

(With thanks to Swami Chetanananda)

A Simple Meditation

Copy (2) of SunsetMeditation can be what you want it to be. It can be a simple way of relaxing, or a way to connect with your deepest inner spirit…or anything in between. It can be simple or complex, it can take from minutes to hours, to days. It can eventually be present in your being in the world all the time, if that is what you want. It is totally up to you.

There are no “shoulds” or “if onlys”. There is only what you want, and how you want to get there. But really, there is no “getting there”. Because you are already there, or more to the point, you are already here.

On the surface, it seems kind of ironic: getting somewhere that you already are…
What happens in our daily lives is that we tend to get distracted: our thoughts, our bodies, our just plain lack of awareness. There are an infinite number of distractions in our world. That’s where meditation comes in.

Meditation can peel back the “veil” of our distraction, and let us rest in who we really are. At the very least, that is relaxing.

This elegant meditation is so simple, and yet so very powerful. It involves what is called “mantra”, a word or group of words that are repeated, that creates a vehicle for the mind to focus. You might notice what happens when you get wrapped up in something you tell yourself, like “I’m so mad”, or “I’m so relieved”. In a sense, these are mantras. They truly affect you: words hold a lot of power.

This meditation involves a simple mantra:
Begin by getting comfortable. Find a quiet place, and sit on the floor, or on some pillows, or in a chair with your feet on the floor. Keep your hips higher than your knees, so that your back won’t get tired. Roll your shoulders, your neck, stretch your back a bit. Let your hands rest on your knees or in your lap. Close your eyes.

Next, just feel your seat on the pillow or chair. You may think of this as simply “arriving”, locating yourself in time and space. Feel what that feels like.

Then take a couple of breaths, slow and deep. Just feel that. Don’t try to make it feel like anything in particular. Just “allow” yourself to breathe. Feel what that feels like.

After a few comfortable breaths, begin the mantra:

This is a mantra given by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “Being Peace”:

As you breathe in, silently repeat these words to yourself: “Breathing in, I relax my body and mind”.
As you breathe out, silently repeat: “Breathing out, I smile”.

Be gentle with yourself. Make this an offering to yourself. Doing this powerful mantra does not mean that you have to actually smile. Just remember the last time you smiled, and feel what that felt like. Stay with it for as long as you choose. If you find yourself wandering, or getting bored or agitated, simply come back to your breath and then the mantra. In any given moment, just feel what you feel like.

When you feel complete, take a couple of deep, delicious breaths, open your eyes and stretch a bit again. Feel yourself: body, mind, breath. Again, feel what that feels like.

As you get up, bring that feeling with you as much as you can for as long as you can. Marinade in it! Try it in the grocery store line. You may be standing there with a beatific smile on your face! One sweet thing about this mantra is that it’s portable!

Why I became a Rolfer

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Why am I a Rolfer?
It started in my mid-twenties, when I first got Rolfed. I was really in a lot of pain. Even at that age I was feeling the effects of what my doctor called congenital degenerative cartilage disease. My left knee was due for surgery, and my back was hurting a lot. I mean a lot! By the time my mom was my age, she had gone through two major back surgeries. By the time I was considering Rolfing, she was on number 10 or 12. She was still in constant pain. She was a mess. I really wanted to avoid that!
I was worried about getting Rolfed. It seemed pretty expensive, and I had heard that it hurt a lot. I didn’t want to give someone a lot of money just to do something painful and come out none the better for it.
But I had talked to a lot of people who told me that it really helped them a lot, so I signed up, and that’s when my life really started getting better.
As it turned out, my Rolfer was really good, and it is true that Rolfing doesn’t have to hurt. There were definite moments of intensity. But that was usually that “hurts good” feeling when you stretch a sore muscle. During the time I was getting Rolfed, my knee stopped hurting. I even cancelled the surgery! I have never had it and I don’t need it. My back got better. Not healed, but better. No surgery to this day. And the pain is generally minimal. My cartilage is still degenerating (slowly), but there is not much pain, and nobody could see by looking at me that there is anything wrong at all. I feel great!
What was really awesome was that I could feel my body shifting, changing. I felt lighter and freer. I seemed to be going through a pretty cool attitude adjustment. It was strange; I mean how can you stay depressed and tired when you’re standing up tall, with your breath deep and alive? I hadn’t been particularly depressed or tired, but compared to how I felt now…it was like night and day! I had more energy than I could ever remember having. I felt like a kid again! I got back into exercising regularly: yoga, biking, swimming, hiking…ah, stuff I love to do! Yes: life is good! Still going strong!
I really wanted…and want…to share that experience, to help people to get out of pain, to help them feel like a kid again! So I did it; I went to the Rolf Institute to get my certification.
I have been Rolfing since 1992, and I don’t see myself stopping. The rewards are too great…for everyone. It’s a kind of bodywork that lends itself to different modalities: it never gets boring! It kind of works out, because my clients feel better, lighter, younger, and I get to share in their movement to health and well-being. Yay!!