Looking after the brain & the gut are the keys to keeping young and ensuring that chronic disease and pain do not ravage your quality of life. Here are some simple tricks to keeping young and vital.

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Taking control of chronic pain may well require taking responsibility for the emotional responses you have to the world you experience. When it comes to integrating the complexities of living within the physical system we inhabit, there can be a great deal to consider and navigate. Past, present and future thinking and feeling, seemingly, gets stored within the cells in our body.

In Part 1 of this blog post, I explored the concept of pain within the body and how it is  inextricably linked to the emotional pain and false beliefs carried by an individual, sometimes over a lifetime. How the nervous system can become wired toward negative  rather than positive sensation depends on our thoughts and emotional responses. Be it  o perceptions of our environment, circumstances and to ourselves.  These emotional patterns form physiological patterns,  that can become chronic in thought and expereince without the awareness and introspective capabilities practiced by the individual; YOU.

In Part 2 we will look at:

  1. The physiological connection between our emotional state and pain.
  2. How different emotional experiences (guilt, fear, resentment) present in the body and where.
  3. In Part 3, we will look at some key ways that self awareness and introspective modalities like meditation can help manage and often eliminate the pain cycle.

Lets take a moment to consider what is actually going on in the brain when we experience strong emotions and all the areas that interrelate:

• The limbic system, the site of our instinctual emotional reactions.
• The hypothalamus, which connects with the endocrine system and the gut organs.
• The amygdala, where we process sensory information into memory and learning.
• The cortex, where we regulate emotion.

Every emotion we experience leaves a trace throughout these areas of the brain. Strong emotions can also be reignited by future experiences; be it in reality (through sensory experience) or in our minds (through memory experience).

“Pain Is Pain”!

We Process Emotional & Physical Pain The Same

The body and brain process both types of pain in absolutely the same way.  Psychology Today reported “When people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain: in the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.” Researchers have found that people who endure trauma as children and still have lingering feelings of helplessness or despair have higher levels of inflammation in the body. Our early, unhealed wounds leave us more vulnerable to the many forms of pain.

Without awareness and having the courage to look a little deeper than surface at what could be going on when pain strikes, there is a real chronic danger that we will be hauling our entire personal history around with us in our cells and nervous system, for life. Pills can mask the pain briefly, but it will keep recurring until we ‘deal with it’.

Dr. Candace Pert, a neuropharmacologist who worked at the NIH and Georgetown University Medical Centre famously stated that “Your body is your subconscious mind. Our physical body can be changed by the emotions we experience.” . Dr Pert explains:

“A feeling sparked in our mind-or body-will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. [Organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands], they all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information. This means the emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain. You can access emotional memory anywhere in the peptide/receptor network, in any number of ways. I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in the body.  The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed.

Emotional Pain Chart-Figure Genie Files

Where Pain is Held In The Body & Its Possible Meaning 

Common Sites for Deep-Seated Emotional Pain

  • SubscapularisEmotional Pain Sites-Subscapularis

The subscapularis lies beneath the scapula, filling the subscapular fossa and inserting into the lesser tubercle of the humerus and the front of the capsule of the shoulder-joint (coracoid process).  It is thoroughly protected and is often identified as the ‘tickle site’ below the arm pits. Because the subscapularis is well-hidden beneath the scapula, it is the most likely place for neurotransmitters, toxins, and other metabolic waste to be stored in the shoulder area. For instance, chronic depression could result in deep-seated pain being stored in the subscapularis due to subtle postural imbalances from slumped shoulders, a defeated stance, or cowering.

This habitual behavioral pattern will create trigger points, and will usually eventually negatively impact the myofascial connections of the subscapularis, which can lead to problems with the rhomboids, trapezius, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and the coracoid process.  If given enough time, the shoulders will become immobile thereby creating strain on the levator scapulae, which can further reduce range of motion in the neck.  This chain reaction can also alter the curvature of the spine resulting in further pain and discomfort in the lower back, which can spread to the gluteals, and down the legs.  Some patients suffering from deep tissue problems in their subscapularis have been misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia because of its similar far-reaching ill-effects that can eventually result in nerve damage and joint pain.

  • PsoasEmotional Pain Sites-Psoas

The psoas is the deepest abdominal muscle, originating on the spine near the solar plexus and inserting at the top of the femur.  The purpose of the psoas has, until the late nineties, been somewhat of a mystery.  Additionally, the common consensus remains that the psoas muscle is one that is out of reach and cannot be directly palpated or massaged. Because the psoas is a deep – and thoroughly protected – muscle, it is a perfect place for the body to store deeply-rooted emotions.   There is nothing that can touch the psoas, with the exception of internal organs, so it is therefore the primary resting place for deeply rooted emotional trauma.

Much like any species, people are born with the ability to protect themselves.  When faced with a fearful or dangerous situation, the strong psoas muscle is (1) the source of the ‘jolt’ we receive when we’re surprised, (2) the power behind the initial burst of speed when we need to get away, and (3) the primary muscle used when ‘playing dead’ until danger passes.  It also causes the reflex of the spine when a person assumes the fotal position.  Regardless of the strain placed on the psoas, emotional traumas can constrict the psoas to the point of causing chronic back, leg, hip, and knee pain and can even lead to joint deterioration, bursitis, and other ailments without the presence of any trauma.

 

The psoas muscle  is most central to our fight/flight response.  When we don’t respond, these stress hormones go unspent and become stored in the body. This can bring many health problems including insomnia, lowered immune system, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and living in a constant state of fear or alert. 

Chronic Recurring Pain & The Emotional Connection

Guilt

Guilt can affect us in a variety of ways, because it is a judgement of self, based on your unique experiences. Forgiveness of your judgements or addressing the source of the emotion will help in healing this.

Rejection

If it is in a personal relationship or in a professional context, a slight snub from a  friend or a relationship break-up, rejection, can have a detrimental effect on anyone and make them question their self-worth. Understanding that rejection is a part of life and not a reflection of your personal worth is key to navigating this.

Grief

We all experience grief in various forms through our lives. The key is not to bury the emotion and to understand that the 5 stages of grief have time frames, experientially, that are unique to the individual.

Failure or Fear of failure

The pain felt with failure can often be similar to that of rejection, both have the ability to strike a blow to your self esteem and may be tinged with shame. The key with failure is to reframe the experience as a learning opportunity.

Emotional Pain Meanings and Body Sites

Where do you store your emotional pain?

In conclusion,  lets not forget that we all have stresses and challenges to navigate, that is what life is about. Training pain has a very unique feel and experience compared to chronic pain. In my experience, both personal and with my clients the connection between the emotional experience and the physical cannot be ignored and I believe that to do so is to a small extent naive and in the extreme, arrogant. We are understanding more and more the positive effects that practices like meditation and yoga have on changing the nervous system and managing stress when engaged on a daily basis. As a preventative measure these self management modalities put responsibility for personal health and wellness squarely back with the individual and the over reliance on pharmacology may, hopefully, finally begin to diminish.
If you are a sufferer of chronic pain, reading through this blog, much of the information if not new, may well be confronting. I hope however that by looking at the emotional link to the pain experienced,  insights and greater understanding may follow.
The key is to explore the possibility of being pain free via combined modalities to achieve overall wellbeing. In Part 3 we will look at how Talking Therapy and/or Meditation may be some of the modalities utilised to unlock the emotional triggers to the pain model.
The key is taking an honest and uncensored appraisal of your inner world and the possible physical markers as your road map to guide you through.

Ive recently moved to London from a comparatively sleepy Australian city. I say comparatively because Melbourne has approximately 4million people compared to London’s 8.7million, spread out over a greater area. Once you get over the initially overwhelming volume of bodies cramming themselves together, in what can only be described as an urban battle for space on trains, on the streets, in cafes, well,  basically everywhere. Its an ‘attack and defend’ experience in every aspect of existence. For me the yoga studio, gym and my apartment have brought the term ‘sanctuary’ into its own.

Living in London as a transplant, like any busy metropolis, requires some getting used to. The first few weeks I will freely admit I felt like i was swimming in people soup and it wasn’t pleasant. Now, 6 months in, I am still not a fan of the constant jostling about, but with a little stress inoculation to navigate the cavalcade of humans, their collective energy, insular focus, lets just say you tend to get on with it. Yes, I believe people get more self-enclosed the bigger and busier a city gets, more protective, more demanding, more arrogant and more fearful.

I find myself doing a very ’trainer-centric’ activity more and more. Perhaps because i have gone from driving my own car daily, to using the London tube system. I say ‘trainer-centric’, but this quirk relates to anyone that has studied movement and biomechanics. Indeed anyone that has an awareness of these aspects for their own training, body management or care. I learned very early on to analyse and problem solve peoples movement patterns/posture issues. Its a throw-back to being a dancer and a habit fostered through my personal training that comes in handy when idle and bored on a monotonous 30min train journey.

What have I discovered? Fear has a posture all its own. You can tell a lot about how a person lives, thinks and feels about themselves and their environment by looking at how they stand, sit and move. Body language experts have been telling us for years that you have seconds to make a great first impression. But are you aware of the signs and signals you are giving complete strangers every moving moment of your day?

Headspace

A study from the University of San Francisco has shed some light on how walking with a slouched, despondent body posture can lead to feelings of depression or decreased energy. Luckily, walking in a more upright position can reverse those feelings. Professor of Health Education Erik Peper found that altering body posture to a more upright position improves mood and energy levels. “We tend to think the brain and body relationship goes one way. In fact, the passages go both ways,” Peper said. “When you choose to put your body in a different mode, it’s harder to drop into depression.”

For anyone that exercises regularly, you will be acutely aware of how much better you feeling after moving. You have increased mental clarity, great sense of wellbeing and feel physiologically ‘charged up’ too. Movement and posture shifts can either change your mental state from negative to positive or visa versa. The key is being aware of it, which from my London Tube travel observations, most people are not.

Pain in the neck

More than 80% of neck and back problems are the result of tight, achy muscles caused by years of bad posture. Smartphone use has had a major negative impact on the number of neck related issues, particularly tight ‘scalene’s’ and that nasty neck tendon the ‘sternocleidomastoid’. When you have spent too much time hunched over your computer or smartphone, that sucker will be the source of your pain and boy do you know about it when you get it treated.

Stress

A study from Columbia University and Harvard University argues that stress is increased by bad posture. The study showed that people who adopted powerful postures, open shoulders, and straight spines had a 20% increase in testosterone levels and a 25% decrease in cortisol level. Those who slouched had a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. What do all of these changes in hormones mean? High stress and greater fat storage around the gut, so bad posture contributes to making you fat.

A hunched posture (cue the ‘smartphone addict stance’) directly impacts how we breath. Yogis and meditation practices have long extolled the virtues of deep belly breathing as a means to calm the nervous system, increase immune system function, lower blood pressure and regulate the hormones (lowering stress hormones and increasing serotonin, dopamine and endorphins which are positive mood regulators). The shallow breathing and carbon dioxide circulation that shallow breathing causes flips all those positives on their head, placing stress on the system and taxing the heart. The result is a vicious cycle where stress prompts shallow breathing and in turn creates more stress on the body.

Interestingly enough a lot has been reported recently about the increase in depression cases amongst teenagers correlating to smartphone use, is it the phone itself or the posture adopted in using the devices? Ponder, ponder!

Confidence

Poor posture can affect not only how confident you feel, but also how confident others see you. How often have you been in a new situation or meeting new people and you felt far from confident? Im sure we have all been there, what is the immediate response? Closing the body in and protecting your core (the vital organs). Here the old saying ‘fake it till you make it’ is so true and something that actors and dancers get taught very early on in stage craft. It does take awareness until it eventually habituates as your normal. Chin up, shoulders back, take a big deep breath and…GO!

So next time you are rushing to work on the tube, enjoying a brew at a cafe or even walking down the street, take a moment to reflect on those around you and their posture and movement patterns. How they walk; is it fast, even paced, or erratic tempered or perhaps more considered strides, do they stay their course and direction as others dodge them or are they constantly weaving out of others way? All these say so much about those around you and of course seeing these aspects in others brings greater awareness and understanding of our own internal states, external modalities and how we may be percieved.

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