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Post herpetic neuralgia (nerve pain after shingles) and mindfulness


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Hello everyone. I am posting a question that I posed and Kit answered, (on the recent AMA Reddit thread), regarding residual pain after shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia). Better late than never! (That was over a month ago now, I think).

 

The happy news is that I am no longer experiencing this pain and haven't done so for a few weeks now. I hope this info may help anyone else who has the unfortunate experience of trouble with nerve pain.

 

The full thread and Kit's response is below, but just to summarise the problem:

- I had a bout of shingles 18 months ago

- Apparently out of nowhere, in my mid thoracic area on the left side, the pain flared up very dramatically - for several weeks I could not bear to sit, even for 5 - 10 mins. It was sometimes stabbing, sometimes throbbing, sometimes itchy or burning, and very intense, like I had been in a traffic accident. But not made worse but activity - in fact, it was worst when sitting, and I felt relief when moving around. 

 

The major turn around for me was going to see Danny G who I met at one of Kit's Into the Stretch classes in York recently. We did a few stretch sessions together which helped, but the real 'light bulb' moment came when he suggested that I watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwd-wLdIHjs - a 15 minute Ted talk by Lor Moseley on the topic 'Why things hurt'. (basically, the answer is, 'because we think they do.' In other words that the experience of pain is a matter of perception.)

 

Soon after that, I attended one introductory Pilates class with a 1-1 teacher, who walked me through some exercises that I found very difficult, though they would not appear so to an outsider - subtle movements I had not tried before that required intense concentration to execute. I was amazed when afterwards I realised I felt no pain at all and it did not return for about an hour. I surmised the reason that I felt no pain was not because the Pilates was a magic bullet (though I'm sure, Pilates is helpful for back strengthening), but rather because I was focused on something so intensely besides the pain in my back that I didn't notice it was there (much like a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it).

 

From then I started practising two things - one was Danny's suggestion and also in the talk, that I try focusing on the pain and trying to articulate what it really felt like. e.g rather than catastrophising every instance of pain, I noticed sometimes it felt less painful than other times. Often it wasn't really pain at all, per se, it was more a sense of 'wrongness' or something that will be familiar to nerve pain sufferers that I can only describe as 'sensation'. The other, (and this may seem contradictory) was endeavouring to be very mindful about everything else, from brushing my teeth to doing the dishes, so my brain would be too full of messages about the tasks that I was engaged in minute by minute to pay any attention to my back.

 

Finally - and I believe this also had a big impact, though I can't know for sure - I bought a Teeter hanging device and anti-gravity boots http://www.amazon.com/Teeter-Hang-Ups-Inversion-Gravity/dp/B000M83J5I- hanging upside down is great, but I think hanging in the usual way (hands, overhand or underhand grip, in various different poses, but mostly just plain old hanging) has made a great difference. This I got from Craig's excellent hanging series. It just feels great. I now hang several times a day. I have no real routine. I just hang on my bar every time I walk by, much like a kid on a swing set. I can't rate this enough.

 

I did also have a few sessions of osteopathy and dry needling, also helpful. But not, I feel, the cure. 

 

One more 'finally' - all this I believe has changed my attitude to movement in general. I try to do some movement nearly all the time. Rather than thinking of 'working out' for an hour per day and then 'the rest of life' the rest of the time. I think of my body communicating with the world and vice versa, all of the time. So can be found stretching at bus stops, in shopping queues, sometimes working in a squat with my computer on the floor... etc etc. I do a lot of things just because they feel good.

 

Danny, at one point, said to me 'Free your hips and you free your mind' and that has really stuck with me (it's true! Though my hips need a lot of work!)

 

Kit, if you are reading this, I am afraid I cannot tell you that I have cut down my work yet in any drastic way, but I have turned down various commitments on top of this, and avoided taking on a second job... hah. I have been doing far more relaxing in the past 3 months than I have the last 3 years, and a lot of getting outdoors (hiking, climbing, kayaking...)

 

Thank you to anyone who has read this far!

 

Hi Kit :-) it's Ngaire. I was going to do a bit more research on the forums (have done some) before posting there but since you are here now, asking. Today I've been diagnosed with post-herpetic neuralgia. I had shingles about 18 months ago and pain has flared up without rash. Mid-thoracic area left side. The skin in that area feels numb and pain there varies from stabbing to itching to tingling to throbbing and sometimes feels like I've just been hit by a truck in that one place. I believe general flexibility and strength will help so working on daily 5, hip flexors and strengthening glutes. I use a standing (adjustable) desk and have very frequent movement breaks (or move and work). Also practising mindfulness and relaxation to help with pain management. Sometimes it feels like a fire engine siren is going off on my side. It has the quality of being exposed to a loud constant noise that won't turn off. I want to avoid prescription meds for the moment. Wondered if you can suggest any stretches that relax nerves? (Or if I do the stretches that feel "neural" is that a good start?) I just put up a chin up/hanging bar in my flat and am practising Craig's hanging series which helps. Thank you!! Very grateful for all your teachings. I also do lots mobility work with resistance bands. Movement seems to help.

 
 

[–]Kit_LaughlinKit's the Tits[S] 1 point

1 month ago  

Hello there! N., the #1 route for you is to very significant reduction in your frankly insane work load (I am sure you knew I was going to recommend that!), if you haven't already. Shingles is the common term for the original complaint (adult chicken pox, one of the herpes viruses, and in many people the body remains overly sensitive following a severe episode (the "post" part).

What I will suggest (the lying meditations) are not fast cures; what is needed is to calm the whole system down over time. In my direct experience (I have had the same problem) time will fix it and gentle stretching (lateral flexion, rotation, and having someone rub some nice smelling skin balm on regularly over the affected area, very very gently) will all help desensitise the area. So will naps in the afternoon. Strong stretching likely will set off the wrong neural reactions, so wait until the body indicates that this is tolerable. All this will take quite some time. Please post this (and my reply) over at the Forums; it's a more common problem, I suspect, than we think.

 
 

[–]NgaireW 1 point

1 month ago  

Thank you Kit :-) am going to sleep now but will post to forums. Really appreciate your response. Well, I finished writing books now but then was promoted in my day job so I am working less but still working a lot. I am about to tune in to one of your relaxation recordings (which I used to listen to in Canberra 2004 and still works a treat!). Will move this topic to forums. Thank you :-)

 
 

[–]Kit_LaughlinKit's the Tits[S] 1 point

1 month ago  

still working a lot

The problem you describe is the residue of much stress for years; this needs to be 'exorcised!'. What you are doing is, IMHO, the fast track. And try to cut down how much you work—give a long hard think to 'how much do I really need?' and make adjustments. No one should do full time work, I feel.

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I should add, I also practised Kit's relaxation audio in the evenings (and sometimes, during the day at work, I would go into an empty office, shut the door, lie down on the floor and practise yoga Nidra or a kind of made up variant, e.g, observing my breath, imagining restful things like waterfalls). And took your advice Kit, with the balm - found anything with menthol (camphor?) ie minty smelling most helpful. 

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Post-shingles pain is one of the classic signs of how pain is produced.

 

It used to be thought that pain fibres in the skin were "high threshold" fibres, because they needed a strong stimulus to set them off. Then it was realised that they have very low thresholds for stimulation - as low as the sensitive touch fibres. In a normal light stimulus, the two sets of fibres are stimulated together, and the spinal cord works out that because of this, it was a light stimulus and is not pain-causing. However, with a strong stimulus, the touch fibres are at their max and cannot fire any more, but the pain fibres go on increasing their activation, so now the balance changes, and the pain fibres are stimulated more strongly. We feel that as pain. There are inhibitory networks in the spinal cord and elsewhere that work out if it is touch or pain (this is called Gate Control Theory, and you can read about it in many places).

 

In shingles, the touch fibres get damaged but the pain fibres remain, so the balance of activity is like that of pain - even with a light brushing touch. This gives an unpleasant burning sensation. You can also get this round a scar as it is healing - the pain fibres grow back first, and a light brush can give a burning pain (milder than after shingles by the way). After shingles, as the touch fibres grow back, the balance is restored, and it returns to normal. If the fibres are so damaged that they do not grow back, the pathological pain remains.

 

Pain is a very complex area. Though the TED talk did illuminate some of the issues, it was inaccurate in implying "its all in the mind" (a.k.a. implicitly blame the victim). At the same time, because pain reflects a complex neural computation there are many psychological methods that can be used to influence it. One has to be aware that once pain has persisted for some time, the central nervous system can rewire itself so that the pain persists even though the original cause has gone. This is a basic neural phenomenon which is not easy to deal with - nowadays pain control is started as early as possible (not waiting until it has become unbearable) to reduce this process as much as possible. Also with chronic pain states, the glial cells of the nervous system can become inflamed leading to long-term chronic pain which is a result of the self-produced inflammation.

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I have shared the Lorimer Moseley TEDx talk on the FB ST Page; brilliant work, and an extraordinary practical demonstration of this thesis.

And as I mentioned there, a teacher with whom I was very close once said (while we were both in a lot of pain), "pain is a sensation; suffering is the story we tell ourselves about it"; a lightbulb moment for me, as we were both in pain, and laughing, at the time.

@ DannyG: thanks, my friend; we will catch up while I am here in London, I hope. The Moseley talk is something that literally everyone should watch, multiple times. There is so much here in both Ngaire's post, and subsequent experiences, and that TEDx talk; only a summary now, and hopefully more people will post.

The 'dot points' (I will link to an amazing paper, "What the frog's eye tells the frog's brain" below) are:

the brain adds the key aspects of meaning, and the further process of attributing significance to the meaning of any sensation

if pain persists, surrounding areas start to feel pain, as well as have their ROM reduced in an effort to 'stop the spread' of something unpleasant; technically, this process is called "splinting"

re-occurrence of any past pain is processed the same way, with the additional processing of anger and resentment about the reoccurrence, especially if remedial work has been done in the interim (I speak from vast experience here, WRT back pain!)

And the part of Lorimer's presentation that he did not have time to present is what to do about all this—which is why I write here, as this is the core of the Stretch Therapy method:

changing the meaning and significance attributed to that meaning is the key to recovery from any physical dysfunction, and this is most efficiently done experientially (by this I mean other approaches can be effective, like the relaxation method I referred to above) but nothing remakes this suite of relationships faster than (in the case of trauma) re-experiencing the original stress without pain

a part of the body can be 100% healed biologically following trauma, and yet an old injury persists, along with any attendant pain or dysfunction

movement (and in time movement under load) is the fastest way to do the 'remapping' we talk about (remapping of lost ROM, and remapping of the significance of the experience)

when the brain re-experiences the original stress without pain or dysfunction, the map (in its entirety, including attribution of significance to any sensations) changes.

As I am fond of saying, the adaptations the body makes to any stress are not malicious; and they are not motivated—they are simple responses to stressors, without any consideration given to the alleged 'owner' of the body. They can be changed, by changing the environment in which these adaptations occur.

http://neuromajor.ucr.edu/courses/WhatTheFrogsEyeTellsTheFrogsBrain.pdf

And to say that "pain in in the mind" is to completely misunderstand this, even though it's accurate at one level!

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Hi Jim and Kit, and thank you both for taking the time to respond. Totally aside from my personal experience, I find this a fascinating subject and one I could talk about for hours (Danny G and I spent quite a bit of time talking about how pain 'works,' and his experiences of working with patients experiencing chronic pain, and this was really valuable to me).

 

To say that I thought it was 'all in my mind' isn't quite true (although it is, on one level). I imagined it more like faulty wiring (though I believe, as Kit said, my body was just responding normally to stressors, and not doing anything faulty). Or like a piano out of tune. Having worked out that I didn't seem to be injured per se - in that no movement or exercises made anything feel worse - I figured that I had a signal sending pain messages to my brain that were not aligned to any injury biomechanically. I figured that if a pathway could be mapped, it could also be unmapped or redirected, and basically, the way to do that was by concentrating on something else - sending lots of other messages in order to 'forget' (or un-map) this one. I also wanted to do this quickly, as I knew the more ingrained it became, the harder it would be to 'unmap'. This could be a somewhat simplistic way of looking at a very complex subject, but it wasn't going to cost me anything, and wasn't going to hurt me, so no harm in trying.

 

After I learned about catastrophising pain (again, from Danny), and had a think about that, I realised I was doing that to a degree. Don't get me wrong - the pain HURT, but along with the pain was frustration (I have an osteopath who works wonders but I wondered did I need to go every day to fix this? How could I ever afford that? Why was it helping only in the short term but then coming straight back again?) and fear (that I might have to give up some things I enjoy doing or I might have to work less, and remembering seeing my father who has suffered all his adult life from back pain crawling on the floor from the bed to the bathroom as he couldn't walk) and anger (it's not fair, I am young and fit, why is this happening to me). On the one hand, sitting still and really 'thinking' about how the pain really felt or imagining my breath was a waterfall instead made me want to break something, much like the way I feel when people post motivational messages in pastel colours, often involving italics and a sunset, onto Facebook. If I see someone practising what appears to be 'functional fitness' or Crossfit in the park with ease and grace, I feel I want to watch them choke on their chia seed protein shake. I know perfectly well that 'mindfulness practise' and meditation are very positive things, but many things about the whole package irritate me. Some might call this 'resistance'. Nonetheless, another part of my mind knows this, and I am quite willing to try whatever works from any discipline regardless of how I feel about it (especially if I know the way I feel is irrational). 

 

I've had some experience of the 'remapping' or 'body learning' before. Firstly in Kit's classes in Canberra in 2004. A couple of things really stuck with me. One was the experience of working through side splits by resting on cushions, so the body feels 'safe' and then relaxes more. I realised then, that flexibility is in a sense, in the mind. Another was an exercise we did balancing on our knees on a swiss ball - everyone fell off the first time. We did it again with a partner holding us balanced, so we experienced how it felt to balance on the ball (with support). Then three days later at the next class, everyone could balance on the ball, first time, without a partner's help. The theory being (and I think Kit likened this to sailors getting their 'sea legs') that our minds/bodies, having experienced 'doing it' (with partner support) had learned that we 'could' do it, so therefore, we had learned to do it - literally while in our sleep / resting / not practising. Incidentally I recently bought a Swiss ball for home and 10 years later I can still balance on it (though I didn't buy it to balance on, I bought it to practise glute activation, which I confess I have spent far less time practising!). 

 

Sorry if I am preaching to the converted here as I know this is a core part of the Stretch Therapy system - but these are all times when I have really realised, or experienced, that the mind and body, though both very complex, are very malleable, in a way, and responsive to learning. I figured the same theory would apply to my pain management, backed up by what Danny told me he had seen of the NHS patients he worked with, and also by the TED talk.

 

Before any of this, growing up, I had some experience of the idea that our experiences are created to a degree in our minds - I recall having some kind of problem or issue or frustration as an adolescent, and telling my father the story, and his response was 'don't worry, none of it is really real anyway. Like that chair (he said, pointing to a dining room chair). None of this really exists, we are all just figments of our imaginations.' This frustrated the hell out of me but part of the concept stuck (and I knew, that he meant our frustrations are what we make them to be, to a degree at least, rather than that we really all are figments of someone or something's imagination, although he would say 'maybe we are.') 

 

I used a similar method when I had carpal tunnel in 2006 (nerve pain, again, and totally horrendous - put me out of work for 6-8 weeks and my hands/wrists were so weak, I couldn't button up buttons or squeeze a tube of tooth paste). I was able to avoid surgery and the problem (in that particular form at least) has never returned.

 

The simplicity of the concept still startles me, and yet, over a ten year period with several direct personal experiences backing up the theory, I am still stunned by the 'amazingness' (sorry, can't think of a better word) of the human brain and connection with our bodies, and am still uncovering layers that I feel really, are so obvious, how could that possibly have taken me so long to work out, but then again, it is what it is.

 

My osteopath also remarked to me that many times he had seen patients crying due to their chronic pain, and even so bad that they admitted they had considered taking their own lives - and yet their scans showed a perfectly normal degree of spinal degeneration for their age/activity. Other people who would say 'oh, no particular problem, just coming for a check up,' or 'it's  a bit niggly' and their scan/ body would show a significant biomechanical problem so advanced he would be surprised they are even walking, never mind not apparently in any significant discomfort.

 

Going back to what Jim said, I would take care in communicating this to anyone else experiencing pain, as I don't think it is 'all in the head' (per se) or so easily 'fixed' and I would not want to either blame the patient for their experience, or insinuate their 'real pain' was anything less than what they were actually experiencing. Having had short periods of chronic pain, this is something I would not wish on my worst enemy, and now take care to avoid, with regular body work, stretching, using my standing desk, moving in a variety of ways, and taking very seriously every faint niggle that arises (I'm now somewhat paranoid).

 

I also think that making changes in this way or learning with the body is very experiential, one has to try things and see what happens. It's taken me a long time of trying things and seeing what happened to grasp these quite simple principles.

 

Sorry for rabbiting on, I do hope that anyone else suffering from any kind of chronic pain, especially nerve pain (horrid, horrid) finds something of use here.

 

Kit I am looking forward to seeing you on the weekend!

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I was about to follow this up, when Ngaire's posting came up first, but I havent read it all yet. However, as I have a limited time at the moment, I thought I'd just post a link to this video on the Phantom Limb Mirror Box - where someone using a mirror to "see" his real hand in the place of his missing one, and seeing himself wiggling his fingers, found that the pain of the phantom limb disappeared. All due to the work of Ramachandran, a very bright and creative neuroscientist  in the USA. I presume this will only work under a restricted set of circumstances(as described by Ramachandran in the video).

 

 

Kit - if you dont know Ramachandran's work already, I'm sure you will find what he does very interesting. Some of the techniques in the video linked to earlier look as though they are based on Ramachandran's work too. It might be even worth a trip to go over and see him, he's so good.

 

Jim.

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Next (if we wish to develop more flexibility) we need to arrange mirrors or a video system so that we look to ourselves as though we are moving further than we really are. Then it may unlock a further range of movement. I'll try it (somehow). Maybe a distorting mirror would be easiest.

 

Jim.

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Jim thanks for this - I was thinking of this bit of work too. I saw it on an episode of House but never looked up the original study. Stretching with distortionary mirrors is a great idea (does using cushions have similar effect, eg in side splits, using a prop may feel like touching the floor and so trick the brain into thinking the body is closer to the ground than in fact it is?)

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Ngaire - I've now looked through your earlier post. A couple of points struck me:

 

1. "telling my father the story, and his response was 'don't worry, none of it is really real anyway. Like that chair (he said, pointing to a dining room chair). None of this really exists, we are all just figments of our imaginations.'"

 

I was able to help a friend who used to get depressed after her (very exhilarating) trips overseas, and think that there was something wrong with being at home and blamed the situation in Australia. I explained it "was just her neurotransmitters". The exhilaration and energy expenditure of being overseas is likely to deplete the brains neurotransmitters that regulate mood, which when you come home and the excitement stops providing extra stimulation, leads to depression. Once she could just blame it on biochemical processes, she no longer blamed coming back to Australia, or faulted her environment here, and felt a lot better (she just "went with the flow" of mood swings; I do this too).

 

2. If I have ever felt this "remapping", it has been in relation to things that are more skill-related than purely flexibility-related. One was a single leg squat which I did at a ST meeting in Canberra, for the one and only time in my life - we did a preparation using a single stick as a wobbly support, which showed me the muscles to use and how much to use them, and then I was able to do it without support - always thought it was beyond me. Plus some other examples.

 

3. "made me want to break something, much like the way I feel when people post motivational messages in pastel colours, often involving italics and a sunset, onto Facebook." I agree absolutely.

 

Jim.

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Jim, thanks for reading all that (my reminiscing!) and your reply. Yes, I think in psychology (I studied a little at uni) they call this attribution. Or 'your story.' I.e the problem may not be the thing, but whatever you have told yourself or believe to be true about the thing. Invent a new story and with luck and depending on the situation (I recommend this for run of the mill problems and blues, not clinical depression, although can be helpful with other treatments).

Congratulations on the single leg squat. I often wonder how many of the things I think are beyond me really are. Currently I am working on doing a pull up, and am about half way there. :-)

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Ngaire, you did extremely well to tackle this early on and not let if fall further down the rabbit hole. What we have been taught as physio students falls in line with a lot of what you have experimented with already. I've been writing some thoughts, then deleted, then written some more. I am not quite sure what to write! A lot of what has been discussed actually have specific terms and definitions which could maybe bring more clarity to what is already a very complex subject. Are you interested in anything specifically Ngaire? I am not an expert but I have been taught how to treat chronic pain patients with the latest evidence (how pompous does that sound! lol).

 

Also, Lorimer, co-authored a fantastic book titled 'Explain Pain.'  http://www.amazon.com/Explain-Pain-David-Butler/dp/0987342665.

 

**Also Kit, I did ask a question during the AMA which you recommended I move to the forums. Never got around to it, but this seems like a good time. What has your experiences been with chronic pain patients? I know, a very open question haha, but just interested to hear your experiences at this point.

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This is an important topic, and I do not want to diminish the importance of the effect that changing one's perspective on one's direct experience can change the experience itself—I have written about this extensively, but I feel it's time to make some other, related, remarks.

 

I make these remarks with the background of having back pain so severely in the past that, at one time, I had to crawl to to the toilet in the mornings; at one time while living in Japan this lasted for months. At the outset, the pain was literally crippling.

 

Ngaire's remarks about her own experience (her whole third para., above) describes my own at that time, exactly. There was real pain, and there was my internal reaction to it, including resentment, anger, frustration, and so on. I was a Yoga teacher, dammit! But life went on, and I found it was perfectly possible to crawl to the loo, use my arms to get up on it, use the loo, and so on.

 

I quoted my old teacher, [L], above: "pain is a sensation; suffering is the story we tell ourselves about it". I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this distinction—because patients cannot make this distinction, usually. Everything Ngaire said about her experience of the pain of the shingles (and it's a full and lovely description), is squarely in the realm of suffering. When I was in acute pain, I learned quickly how to position my body parts to reduce the pain—and in time, learned how to relax. This is the opposite of her description, and my experience, at the time if first happened.

 

Back pain revisits me from time to time; there is pathology there (one chiropractor, very experienced, on seeing my X-rays taken last year while in Adelaide, pondered aloud, "I can't believe you can walk"; this was a serious observation on his part). But as you all know, I can walk, and more.

 

Let me get to the crux of today's comments and talk about aversion and resistance. Ngaire's description is a description of resistance, 100%. This is not a criticism, in any way. It is how one describes one's experience of this kind of event before having the realisation of the distinction I write about above. It is a description of resistance to what is. This is how it goes: I am feeling this pain, but it should not be happening (in my case, because I am flexible; I am strong; I have huge core strength, yet this is happening; it should not be happening, etc.). This is all the story we tell ourselves about the experience, and that is what magnifies the sensation; what provides the evidence for our perspective about how serious and wrong this all is, and so on. None of this is real; there is sensation, and the mind is magnifying/amplifying it and, further, resisting it because it should not be happening (or some variant), and resisting it because it hurts.

 

Aversion: we do not want to feel anything unpleasant. IMHO, Freud was partially accurate in his coining of the Pleasure Principle. Better, in my view, is the "avoidance of displeasure principle": this explains his position, and a great deal besides. Humans avoid discomfort; in the process, they find what is not uncomfortable; in other words, what gives pleasure. When we first feel pain, if you are quick enough to spot the move, the mind recoils from it. "I don't like this." This is why the advice is sometimes given to re-experience the pain, and to characterise it or scale it: this process is one of engagement, the opposite of aversion. Engagement changes the experience of what you think/feel. A quick story:

 

A senior management consultant came to see me in the clinic a year or two ago. She sat on the couch and talked about her back pain for 47 minutes without stopping; I made 'please continue' sounds from time to time. Then she said the following: "in all the time I have had this problem, and with all the practitioners I have been to see about this, not one has ever listened to me tell the whole story." Then she paused. She said, "I just realised that this has nothing to do with my back pain." I asked her, "how does it feel right now?" She said, "great; no pain at all." 

 

This is all I want to say, for now, except to add that in my practise (and talking about back pain now), asking the patient to put herself in whatever positions usually cause the pain, but with the trunk supported by the arms so tension is reduced to the minimum, and directing the patient to relax completely, breathe in and out deeply and slowly, and to let the tummy go completely soft (all this to avoid the anticipatory tension that all pain sufferers habitually do) allows movement into that usually dangerous/painful range, and this single experience can change everything: the door is opened, in other words. Up to this point, that movement (for example) has always hurt; this time, done the recommended way, it did not this time; shock/amazement/relief is experienced. Pathology, if present, has not changed; but everything has changed. It is in this limited sense we can say, "pain is experienced by the mind".

 

Until the distinction is clearly realised; seen; experienced; the aggregation of pain–suffering is what we experience as "pain".

 

A side note: it is not true that the chair is not real, from our Newtonian, human scale: if you walk towards it, and keep walking while saying, "this chair is not real", your shins will hit the chair, and the experience will hurt. At our scale, the chair is real, invariant, unmoving until moved, and so on. At our scale, Newton's insights rule. 

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'want to watch them choke on their chia seed protein shake' hah! I understand completely.

 

 

It is a very difficult thing to change the story we tell ourselves about pain. I have had neck pain (or more properly what i would describe as a fabulously tight neck and shoulders) for the last 10 months. After having intermittent neck pain for all of 2014 due to job, stress and posture and trying a variety of treatments, in January I did a 'neck strengthening program' using a weight stacker attached to your head to strengthen the neck and increase ROM (in hindsight, WTF??!!).   Following this, everything jammed up so much that when i went to South America on my honeymoon in February, we had to come home after 8 days as I had pins and needles in all my limbs, my shoulder kept 'dropping' and my opposite hip developed a problem. Not ideal when you are intending to go hiking in patagonia for a couple of weeks!  Whilst the neck pain is not currently at a level I cannot stand, the fact that it has been the same every single day and the consistency of it despite my best efforts has done terrible things to my ability to tell myself good stories.   I have seen every therapist i can think of and have had it blamed on everything from my big toe to my 'still stuck in my jaw' wisdom teeth and every joint/muscle/posture/weakness in between!  All to no avail. After struggling at work for the last 7 months, I have taken some extended leave from my job.  

 

As far as mainstream treatment goes, I am currently undertaking a rehabilitation program as an outpatient in a hospital involving physio (me and the 80 year-olds do laps around the physio room!), OT and psych.   Separate to that I have recently started stretch therapy classes, am trying to master the squat, I walk everyday and have started hanging in the park (currently on 3x20 seconds at a time). I also did my first session of spinal waves today (or more correctly, spinal block jerks :blink: ). I too have a great aversion to meditation/mindfulness but will start a mindfulness course in mid October.  Knowing myself, I have to commit to a full course, or else my aversion will get the better of me and I will just not.  Hopefully this will open a door to a different experience or at least trick my monkey mind into dancing in tune to a better song.  

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Thanks all for your responses.

 

@Kit, yes you're bang on, although I think I will need to read all this back a couple more times before I fully absorb it. I have a great deal of resistance to a great many things (opening bank mail, speaking on the telephone, being on time). Yoga is another. There's a well-reviewed, agreeably priced and perfectly lovely studio just up the road from me, no more than a 5 minute walk, which I have dragged myself to a couple of times. When I ought to be relaxing, I feel profound irritation. Particularly during the 'sun-salutation' series - I'm not sure if that's because of the pose per se or because this series usually comes first, when I am most irritated. Yet, I do not struggle to travel across town at an ungodly hour of the morning to go to go weight lifting or interval training sessions. Sometimes I even resist sleep (why else would I feel the need to refresh Facebook on my mobile phone or check my emails one last time at midnight?) And I wonder if I downright resist relaxing. As you know, I certainly resist cutting my hours down at work, and find myriad things to fill my 'spare time' with. I think of myself as a person happy in their own company, and when I am relaxed, I am not overwhelmed with unnamed terrors lurking in the depths of my mind; always I feel good afterwards. Yet, there it is. I flat out avoid the sensation of being relaxed! I'm also aware there is no solution to that but to relax anyway. Such is the nature of resistance (I think); one gets over it by letting go, and that's all there is to it. I also noticed, when in pain, that my pain was directly correlated to my mood. Sitting caused pain - but sitting somewhere I didn't want to be caused the most pain, regardless of my posture and other physical variants. I'm not sure how I feel about moving through life always just trying to avoid discomfort. It seems somehow... uncourageous (I know there is a better word for that... for the moment I cannot find it). 

 

@Cregan, thank you for the link to the book. And yes, sure I would be happy to learn from you anything further that you would like to share. It's hard to know where to begin asking questions, since for one, I'm okay now (touch wood!), and two, I imagine the topic is so vast, and so much has been written already, I don't want to fill the thread with things that I can easily Google and read about but others may be well aware of already (I'm fairly new to the forums and haven't been through all the threads yet so wary of repeating things). I do wonder - if remapping pain signals works like this - and stretching - what else can be remapped; what are the limits of our ability as humans to create our own experience? And as our eyes are so easily tricked (any studies on how optical illusions work, and also Kit's link above about the frog's sight, show this), how can this be used to our advantage? (Mostly on a physical level - I don't subscribe, for instance, to 'The Secret' or similar maxims although I do think that positive thinking is a powerful force). 

 

@hacure82 - I have nothing but sympathy, and sorry to hear about the experience on your honeymoon - in August, when I was particularly suffering, and couldn't bear to even sit down long enough to eat a quick lunch, I genuinely feared that I would struggle to visit my family in NZ/Aus (I live in London) because how could I manage the flight? In fact this thought was one that made me realise the degree to which I was 'catastrophising' - I feared I wouldn't be able to fly to visit my family, even though I had no visit booked and knew that unless something dramatic happened there that I had to fly back for, such a visit wasn't likely to occur for a good 8 months.  I've also experienced the group physio with 80 year olds (I was 24 at the time, with carpal tunnel, undertaking hydro-therapy and the youngest in the session by a good 50 years). You're in the right place though. And I'm not even sure that it's the stretching itself from Stretch Therapy that changed things for me on multiple occasions but rather what I learned from it that I was able to apply, or realise, regarding other areas of my life (like as you say, my monkey mind!)

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A small point of clarification: the process I describe in my posts above is not in any way deliberate (the pain–suffering story as I am calling it). Until it is disaggregated, this complex is one's experience of pain. It is likely to remain that way until another perspective is clearly experienced. 

 

Another morsel to chew on: the body and its suite of sensations lives only in the present whereas the mind lives in recent-to-distant past, or just ahead of the present all the way to a distant future. In this way, one's past can control the experience of the present moment very strongly, or one can dream of (be in) a future that will never come. When one is present, there is no thought in the usual sense; there is simply the experience of the present and awareness of what's happening, and most of that is physical. The strong negative emotions function the same way: they pull you out of the present, and there is always physical tension in the body. Anyone who is angry can always tell you the story of why they are angry—but it's never about now. The goal of our work is to be in this constantly unfolding present more often. There is so much more to this that what I can point to here, but it's something to go on with, I hope.

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Thank you Kit. So, forgetting more complex-seeming ideas of frogs' brains and brain signal re-mapping - my process of moving from 'experiencing pain' to 'not experiencing pain' was more or less a process of learning to be in the present moment? (She says with a loud internal clang, as the penny drops).

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what are the limits of our ability as humans to create our own experience?

 

Very interesting thread. I think Kit touched on this in his last reply. But when he says "there is simply the experience of the present and awareness of what's happening" I think it is important to consider that this "experience" is different than what Ngaire mentions above, and even the "experience of the present" that Kit mentions in the previous sentence. These latter two are our interpretation of what is, having been passed through the filter that is our self: thoughts, emotions, memories, knowledge, and all of it. Since this is an interpretation, it is very much changeable and thus it is quite possible to "create our own experience" to a very large extent. I would imagine the only restriction is how much we are willing (able) to believe in an interpretation. But while changeable, you have to remember that you're only changing that interpretation - not what is. Of course both are likely important.

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@Ngaire: yes. 

My advice to all readers is, as soon as you read this, drop your awareness into your tummy; take in a breath and as you breathe out, relax the tummy completely, and dwell in that moment. Notice how all thought stops? This is what being present feels like. 

@Nathan: what I am talking about is what is experienced when the filters are removed (so no creation of experience, or interpretation of experience, just the experience itself). Pre-cognition, if you want to get technical. And anyone can do it.

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I am experiencing the strange sensation (cognition?) of "mind blown" while at the same time "oh yes, of course," in other words, feeling surprised by realising something I think I already knew. Thanks again for your responses (which have opened several new interesting 'thought pathways' for my mind to travel!

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I am experiencing the strange sensation (cognition?) of "mind blown" while at the same time "oh yes, of course," in other words, feeling surprised by realising something I think I already knew. Thanks again for your responses (which have opened several new interesting 'thought pathways' for my mind to travel!

That is real understanding. Like Andrew Wiles said, mathematics [or learning] is a bit like stumbling across a dark room. You bump into all sorts of stuff and develop a bit of a feeling where the chairs are, where the couch is situated, and so on. You "know" the room. However, the moment you find the light switch and turn the lights on, that completely blows away any previous "understanding" you might have about the subject. You "knew" where the couch was before. But knowing where it is and actually seeing it there are two entirely different experiences.

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I wanted to just add something I feel is relevant here (another "lightbulb" moment) that I noticed on another thread (one of Kit's 'read these before posting' stickies). "one's pattern of flexibility is actually one's "self": one's personality, self-beliefs, fears, and so on. One's emotional self is precisely this pattern."

It occurred to me, and Kit's thread that I have pasted from above illuminated this further - our patterns of tension and ways we experience pain form a core part of our belief system, our "selves" and the way we present ourselves to the world through body language, posture, pattern of movement. I believe that we are to a degree a mirror of what we see outside ourselves, since what we see is the way others respond to how we are.

Thus, 'remapping' our experience of pain, and becoming more flexible (I see these as two sides of same coin), actually changes who we are, and therefore how others see us (which in turn, confirms our 'new self').

It is fascinating to me how the trajectory of our lives, relationships and so on can be affected by our patterns of movement. And how much the process of becoming flexible through the ST method is in fact 1) being present and 2) letting go of fear - and these two things alone, in any context, can dramatically alter a person, and when that mental and emotional change is experienced along with an immediate physical manifestation of the change (stretching further), the change is then total and permanent. We are like snakes shedding our skins, per se.

Just a random thought really... As you were...

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Ngaire wrote:
 

We are like snakes shedding our skins, per se.


That is a precise description of being human, and what the Buddha points to explicitly in his doctrine of 'anatta', or "no self".

There is the illusion of persistence of identity over time (our culture actually needs this to function), but the closer you look, the harder it is to find.

At the mundane level, I have a driving licence that locates my place of abode; there is an age written there too. I vote; so in some sense I exist and this is shared with others.

But if you sit long enough, and search hard enough, you can't find it. Most people do not persist in these sorts of activities for long enough to 'pop out the other side'.

In the meantime, shedding one's present skin, and uncovering the new 'me' is extraordinarily liberating; one feels as though the weight of the world has been lifted off one's shoulders—which literally is the case! :)

 

Thank you so much for starting this thread.

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