Monday, March 25, 2013

Pain & the Brain: The Not-Magical-Thinking Approach

In case you are wondering and because I use the phrase a lot, "magical thinking" is the whole "if I think something, it will come true/I will get it." Like you are some little mini God who controls your world with your whims and desires. Or like God is a vending machine. It is superstitious thinking taken to a whole new level. (See my rant on the secret.)

When we talk about the brain, it is easy to oversimplify and fall into this whole area. It's super slippery in the land of mind/thoughts/physical reality.

All of this also easily falls into "blaming the person with the problem/illness," and nothing makes me madder. As if my dear friend who passed away from cancer, somehow "couldn't/wouldn't" just think enough effing positive thoughts to get better. Please...if you think like that at all...there's the freaking door and close it behind you.

With all of that in mind, we will attempt to move into this shadowy, see-it-out-of-the-corner-of-your-eye territory, but I will be letting the brilliant man in the video below do most of the talking today.

If you are in chronic pain or help people in pain, ALL the minutes of this talk are worth your time. That's not to mention that it should probably be watched at least twice.

This guy is a world leader in this area, and he says a few super important things that are key to distinguishing this from the pseudo science talk of people trying to be gurus.

The biggest takeaway for me, though? We all know about the idea that pain is a message that yes, something has happened in/to the body...but here's the kicker...that pain message is based on EVIDENCE gathered by your brain through ACTUAL past experience.

Did you catch the importance of that?

Extrapolating from that, it seems to me that there are some basic things we can do for ourselves, not the least of which is to mindfully and with awareness gather evidence of our body's health and wellness. Write down every day what is awesome about your body, how your body surprised you. NOTICE when your body does something new/exciting/risky/successful.

This reminds me of Thich Nhat Hahn's morning meditation wherein he instructs us to sit quietly and send love and gratitude and smiles to all the parts of your body. You know, "hey! Thanks, Liver, for doing such a great job!"

Which SOUNDS like magical thinking but it's just the process of creating healthy tape loops in the brain to counteract the sick ones.

And a personal story that makes even more sense to me now. All along I knew this intuitively:

I tell people that movement is not the key to health, but rather JOYFUL movement is the key to health. You have to give your body something it loves. I ask people to think about what they loved to do as children. What made them giggle and feel hyper-focused?

For me, this has always been dance.  And roller skating.  (With pink glitter wheels...)

Then I go on to tell the story of my return to dancing at the age of 40. I was really out of shape at the time, but I dove into a daily practice.

I got back into GREAT shape within 9 months without decreasing my food (had to increase it) and without noticing that I was "trying."

I have always asserted that my quick turnaround had nothing to do with the time and effort that I put into my practice but with the fact that my body was all, "OH MY GOD! I AM DANCING AGAIN! I WAS MEANT TO DANCE! HERE'S YOUR DANCER BODY! THANK YOU!"

And yes, body was really screaming all of that.

That totally seems like magical thinking, doesn't it?  But...but...

What if this pain-based-on-evidence thing works in the other direction? My body had actual physical evidence of that dancer body. My body had lived like that for many, many years so it knew the road to take to get back there...and it knew the shortcuts.


Here. Watch. (Also, he is Australian so he is amusing. I think they come out this way. HA!)