Change Pain With Somatic Movement and Distraction

The most powerful thing to change pain is your own mind. A practice used in Yoga Therapy for healing pain is the method of distraction. Distraction is about re-investing some of your focus. It does not mean the pain is gone. For instance, we often use the breath as an awareness point to distract ourselves from negative thoughts or feelings. This is one coping tool. In Somatic Yoga, distraction is achieved through movement; you are asked to pay attention to and initiate movement from a part of the body that feels comfortable, or is not in pain. In relieving pain, there are physical and emotional benefits to directing your focus on something other than that which wants your attention (the pain). This is method is particularly effective when it is emotional pain disrupting the physical body.

Pain Has A Purpose

The purpose of pain is to get as much of your attention as it necessary to get you to stop or change your behavior. Because of your hard wiring, associating your pain as “Self” is normal. Think of a paper cut. Hardly lethal, but the pain receptors get you to pull your finger away from the paper without a second thought. In that moment, all of your attention is on that tiny cut as if you are the cut. The paper cut is forgotten though as soon as something else at work distracts you. Distractions actually block pain signals in the body from reaching the brain. (If you are a neuro system geek and want to know more about the role of the nervous system in pain, read my blog “Embodiment, The Nervous System and Yoga Therapy”

Pain is both physical and mental/emotional. When you feel pain, it is very easy for the mind to think you are your pain. Unconsciously you may spend the majority of the time witnessing the grumpy area. The brain might even spend valuable energy trying to figure out the original source of the pain or continually scold/shame it.

Feeling Is Healing

Pain science teaches that you need to connect to pain to heal it; both physical and emotional pain. But healing comes when you connect to the pain in a new way. The challenge is to feel your body beyond the pain and create a new relationship with the pain. One way to do this is to focus on building a connection to some part of yourself that isn’t irritable. Think of it like this; if one of your friends leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted, you might spend time with another more enjoyable friend. This will give you a healthier view of friendship as a whole. With more optimism, you are in a better place to revisit your relationship with the more needy friend. When working with pain, a new relationship can be built just by exploring movement in some part of your body that is more pleasant, gratifying, or has no story to tell . Your whole body, with all of its personalities, can be your friend.

The Feet Are The Brains Of The Spine

On the physical level, I am a huge advocate of healthy feet. The range of motion and proprioceptive input of feet and ankles affects your whole body – even the organs, and particularly the back and spine. On the physical level, the spine supports the body, but it takes messages from the feet. Limited mobility or neurological disconnection from the feet and ankles often leads to spinal imbalance. In other words, foot or ankle pain often contribute to back pain. By initiating full body movement from the feet, you stimulate the communication in the nerves between the feet and spine. Re-training the nerves encourages the muscles in the back and neck that are always “working” (tight) to relax, and engage the “sleeper” (inhibited) muscles for movement.

Using the method of distraction can be the start to creating comfortable new movement patterns for the body and mind!

Peace, Megan

2 thoughts on “Change Pain With Somatic Movement and Distraction”

  1. Thanks for this beautiful way of explaining how we can build more helpful relationships with the body to heal areas or conditions of pain. This certainly resonates for me. I managed to heal a frozen shoulder using a similar method: moving the sound shoulder and arm to teach the ‘cranky shoulder’ how to move again with less fear.
    I’m intrigued by how we can use pain science methods like those successfully used by other modalities like David Butler and Lorimer Moseley (Australian physiotherapists) and Dr Michael Moskowitz in Norman Doidge’s book (The Way the Brain Heal’s Itself) – all seem to be based on using the brain to distract or rewire the brain’s pain circuits.
    Love how Somatics is an accessible tool we can help people to heal themselves.

    1. Dear Katrina, It is so helpful that you share your personal story of success while working with your “cranky shoulder”. I am using a similar approach currently with a grumpy knee…reminding it that it is just as important and loved as my happy knee! I am familiar with Butler and Moseley and appreciate their work. I continue to listen to bits and pieces from their studies etc; the new pain science is so hopeful in reaffirming the power of belief. I have not read The Way The Brain Heals Itself, but may need to now that it has been recommended several times. Peace and Happy Shoulder, Megan

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