The Power of Perception of Pain
Updated: Jun 30, 2022
My name is Yarrow Free (He/They) and I am writing to you as a LMT/Bodyworker of 8 years. My practice focuses on supporting people living with Chronic Pain, and adverse health conditions that hinder feeling comfortable in their body. I aim to help clients return to Alignment – internally and externally - and find a core sense of connection to their bodies so they can have a greater opportunity to get out of Pain. Alas, Chronic Pain is quite different than Acute Pain; overcoming it’s effects is usually addressed with a multi-pronged approach that reduces stress, improves body awareness/proprioception, addresses mental health and emotional well-being, and is held in a space of Deep Listening and Compassion.
I have been a Practitioner of the Healing Arts for the last 13 years. I have a background as a Therapist for at-risk Youth, Ayurvedic Health Consulting, Hypnotherapy, Yoga, Chinese Meridian Theory and many different forms of Massage and Bodywork that I’ve studied in other countries to deepen my knowledge of traditional practices. I merge this experience with a deep-seated practice of Trauma-informed care and Myofascial Bodywork techniques.
However, nothing has taught me more about the Body than my own health journey with an Autoimmune condition that has taken me to the depths of discomfort in every facet possible – along with a ride on the rollercoaster of our modern Medical System. I have been a person living in Chronic Pain, and a host of other symptoms, for the last 6 years after a serious Head/Brain Trauma. The focus of my practice has honed itself around supporting people through big Life Experiences, Accidents/Traumas, and Health Challenges – and I have found success in helping folks achieve greater connections via Holistic Mind-Body approaches.
Chronic Pain effects 1 and 5 people worldwide, so it’s easy to see why so many resources have gone into Pain Theory and Science since the revelation of the Opiate Epidemic; with that being said, evidence-based complementary health programs are just starting to get more notoriety. Modern medicine has struggled with ways to address Chronic Pain because it’s challenging to address idiopathic maladies, and because pain isn’t always purely physical (and when Chronic, it’s usually not). Most research points towards mindfulness and/or physical therapy based practices that deepen our understanding of the Mind-Body connection; and ways that our emotions and traumatic events can greatly increase physical discomfort and Fear patterns that can lead to Pain. An important premise to begin this journey is by understanding the difference between Acute and Chronic Pain.
Acute pain is a natural response to an injury, infection or illness, or procedure that subsides once the underlying trigger has healed – usually defined as less than 3 weeks. This pain is actually helpful as a flag that harm has been caused and that area of the body needs attention; and acute inflammation is helpful to bring healing elements from the body to that area. On the other hand, Chronic Pain is defined as ongoing pain and/or inflammation that does not resolve with common treatments after 12 weeks. It can be caused by an injury, medical procedure, infection or illness, but can also be idiopathic (without known cause). In contrast to acute inflammation, chronic inflammation can damage tissues/organs if left unresolved.
In order to safely address what’s going on in your body, we must know if the source of pain is warranted via a recent injury/surgery/illness because that informs modalities of care. If the pain is Chronic, it could be from repetitive movement patterns, old injuries/surgeries, and/or an underlying illness – so being examined by a medical professional is important to rule out underlying disease. When this criterion has been met, we can explore ways to address deeper MindBody techniques that support Mindfulness and address the disconnection that Chronic Pain perpetuates between our Conscious selves and our Bodies.
To begin, it’s helpful to understand that Chronic Pain is NOT made up in our heads; and that it is a very real experience and something that we take seriously. From that foundation, we also recognize that a lot of our sensations (but mostly our perception of those sensations) are ascribed meaning (via an unconscious process) that is informed by past experiences; and those perceptions can have a wide range of meaning to our minds and subconscious processing systems. Ultimately ALL experiences we have are perceived by projected “meaning making” that is a blend of Subjective, Objective and the greater Collective’s sensory input. We could go into detail around Epigenetics (cultural/ancestral Influences) and it’s effects on our perceptual realities, but that’s a whole other mountain of information in itself.
For the scope of this post, let’s focus on the
value of Contextualizing our Experiences
and understanding the Power of our Perception; specifically in regards to our
Sensorial Bodies and how connected they
are to our Emotional states and memories.
When we begin to give credence to how our
Past influences our Present, we have begun
the Journey of Unwinding unconscious
patterns that potentially keep us stuck in
loops that perpetuate Pain - in order to continue shining a light on what needs to be addressed - so we can move forward. One of the hardest parts of this process is releasing Expectation because we are not guaranteed to be free from Chronic Pain; however, we can find more conscious awareness to better traverse (cope with) the flare ups and obstacles that keep us from living the Life we want to Live (pain aside).
One goal is being able to individualize experienced Sensation from the Emotions that come with those sensations. It’s about “Being With” the emotions in a way that allows us to feel them without suppression, but also not being driven by those Emotions via Somatic Disruption that can cause Pain. This is a daily practice and has to be done gradually over time as not to overwhelm your nervous system. It may be challenging to fully understand this, which is why it’s great to work with skilled therapists and/or bodyworkers that can support you in this process. (I recommend a combination of the two because of the specifics of Scope of Practice.)
One thing that we can count on with this work is living with Greater Awareness, and that alone can improve our lives in many ways. When our Awareness has expanded, we usually see improvement in our relationships, our choices, and our Life trajectory as a whole. A reward of Living with more Awareness is that we get to step back in the creative seat of our Life, and Live with more Intention. This intentionality gives us a greater sense of Empowerment, which then improves our relationship to our bodies and our direct experience. This greater sense of Empowerment has the tendency to improve our Mental Health, which then lessens our stress responses. When we experience better regulated stress responses, we tend to have less flare ups. Are we starting to see how this process builds on itself? Both physiologically and emotionally, this work helps us
get back in the driver seat of our Life – which is ultimately one of the biggest obstacles in overcoming Trauma, Addiction and Illness. It’s ultimately a Path of Empowerment fortified through Resilience, Compassion, and Patience.
As stated, there are no guarantees in this work, but the work itself supports us in a Holistic Way that gives opportunities for Hope to sprout again – and when we feel Hope sprouting, we have access to doorways that we thought were no longer possible.
Let’s endeavor to grow Hope, together.