Mind and body : a series on pain

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Many people access yoga classes when experiencing pain. They may have journeyed through the doctor’s surgery, physiotherapy room and perhaps some “alternative” therapies along the way.  Yoga seems to help people recognize the mind/body connection and when this happens the “history” of the pain may become clearer.

In “Pain. The Science of Suffering”, Patrick Wall writes:

….mind, body and sensory systems exist as an integrated unity serving the biological needs of the individual ( p19)

Patrick Wall, was a leading British neuroscientist best known for Gate Control Theory of Pain which he developed with Ronald Melzack in the 1960s.  This revolutionary approach worked on the premise that pain is “gated” or influenced by past experience.  Melzack found that we are “born with a genetically determined neural network that generates our sense of self and can also generate chronic pain even when no limbs are present ..”(Wikipedia)

Janet Sternburg explores this in Phantom Limb:

It make sense that the neurological pathways in and out of the brain were laid down in the past and might well go right on carrying  old impulses.  The body’s unwillingness to relinquish its past …

The International Association for the study of pain asked a group chaired by the psychiatrist Harold Merskey, to provide a definition of pain:

..Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage….Pain is always subjective…”

This may be obvious, but it is the key to the long-term improvements that our sensory yoga practice can help to maintain.  Structure or the shape of yoga poses is not strived for, rather a systematic “noticing” of how we feel in each moment in each movement.  As we explore healthy movements and move to the edge of our pain, we move our attention away from pain as long as we move slowly and carefully.  This You Tube video is helpful.

All these academics and writers realized the need for a new language for pain so it is not perceived as simply  a message delivered by an insulated nerve.  Instead the message is made by a series of events or a story of all that has happened in our lives.  At the end of a recent yoga session, two students stayed to compare notes on this subject and one referred to her work life of sitting behind a desk which may be a factor in her sense of self/pain now.  The other, equally wisely, said that if it takes a long period of time for a problem/pain to manifest itself, it will probably take time for it to be reduced.  Both recognized that “quick fixes” may not be the solution; that moving in an intelligent way will help us to return to health – but it takes time.

Your fellow students in the yoga class can be a great source of knowledge – especially practical knowledge – but the confines of the class structure do not often allow for this and, indeed, some attend yoga classes in order to escape a preoccupation on pain.  Some students have shared links via this blog and that has been so useful so please continue to do so.

In my blog Practising yoga with chronic pain I linked NHS resources.  The spine health  website linked above to the Gate Theory of Pain, also has many practical tips to explore such as what to look for in a pillow if you have sciatica.

More in the next post but please comment if you have any suggestions for others.  Meanwhile, continue with our gentle spinal movements which slowly and carefully map healthy patterns for progressive recovery.

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