My clinical research and practice over the course of thirty years has been a constant pursuit to understand the causes of chronic pain and to develop treatment strategies.
My focus, to a large extent, has been on postural distortion as the root cause of chronic pain. Namely, how imbalances in muscles and fascia and compensation patterns can result in an array of bewildering symptoms.
But in recent years it has become impossible to avoid the influence and activity of two additional forces exerting a profound effect on the body, on our posture, and therefore the incidence of pain.
These two forces are breathing and the mind.
The action of breathing is something we take for granted but increasingly I've brought it under closer and closer scrutiny.
Since we breathe in excess of 20,000 times each day it's natural to consider the potential for problems if how we're breathing is dysfunctional in some way.
As I've considered this force and its impact while continuing to work with individuals suffering from chronic pain, I've arrived at the following conclusions:
I've been a mindfulness meditation practitioner almost as long as I've been a manual therapy practitioner, but it had always remained something I just did privately.
In 2017 my father passed away. His passing had a profound effect on me and I found myself taking stock of my life in a new way. How did I really want to spend the precious remaining time I had left on the planet, however long that might be? What was most important to focus on?
The answer that arose was that I wanted to begin teaching mindfulness meditation. It has benefitted my life in countless ways and I felt a strong urge to share that with others.
I now teach a mindfulness meditation course through the OSHER Institute at Dartmouth College every spring and fall.
What does this have to do with posture and pain?
One outgrowth of teaching mindfulness has been that it has bled over into my clinic work with clients and chronic pain. As ever, I'm continually learning.
It has become increasingly clear how profoundly the mind impacts not only breathing and its effect on posture, but also the nervous system itself.
So now, in addition to my focus on postural distortion and how it causes pain in the body, I now focus equally on how both breathing and the mind can set up and instigate pain in the body.
In my quest to comprehend the roots of chronic pain, coupled with my hope to share what I've learned over many years of practice and clinical research, I have devised a framework I call, The Three Hidden Roots of Unexplained Pain.
By unexplained pain I mean pain for which standard allopathic testing -- MRIs, X-rays, CAT scans, blood work, etc -- is either inconclusive or the tests come back normal.
Perhaps you've had the experience of consulting your doctor about your chronic pain, your tests coming back normal and the doctor implying (or even insisting) that there's nothing wrong with you. The doctor, in this instance, is operating in the territory of what can be explained by such tests.
What I am talking about here is what cannot be explained by such tests. And this brings me to an important point:
The territory of my work does not seek understand or explain ALL pain. The body suffers pain for innumerable reasons including pathological disease processes, injury and trauma, and many other causes.
The terrain of my work, on the other hand, is focused on the subset of pain for which no medical explanation is provided. This is what I refer to as unexplained pain.
Within this context, then, there are three primary forces responsible for a huge volume of mysterious symptoms and hard to diagnose problems.
These three forces are: Gravity | Breathing | Mind
To be precise, it is not the force in its raw or pure form that is responsible for unexplained pain, but rather the dysfunctional expression of the force.
With GRAVITY, the dysfunctional expression is postural distortion.
With BREATHING, the dysfunctional expression is chest breathing or what is known as paradoxical breathing.
With the MIND, the dysfunctional expression is the clinging or grasping mind, and what I call, Second Arrow Mind.
As we progress through this overview I will go into significant detail about what various unfamiliar terms mean. (Such as equipoise, paradoxical breathing, and Second Arrow Mind, as well as many other terms.)
But first I want to show this framework graphically.
As perhaps you can see, everything influences everything else. The dysfunctional expressions of the three primary roots -- Gravity, Breathing, & Mind -- often arise in unison and routinely reinforce and perpetuate one another.
For this reason it's essential to adopt an integrated approach in our effort to resolve them. What I have witnessed again and again is that by resolving one of these dysfunctional expressions, it's possible (and likely) that we have a positive impact on the others.
For example, by making improvements in postural distortion we can decrease pain and anxiety, and thus the mind can become more at ease.
Or by addressing paradoxical breathing we can greatly improve the postural tendency toward hyperflexion and thus its myriad problems can begin to resolve, to say nothing of the calming impact on the nervous system.
Or by developing mindful awareness we can dramatically release the grip of wanting everything to be different than it is, reduce regret and anxiety and reactivity and we can learn to discriminate between the actual sensory perception of pain and our secondary reaction to it, which often compounds the pain.
Resolving one dysfunctional expression can, and often does, promote resolution of the other two.
I am currently in the process of developing of a comprehensive video course specifically designed to address these roots of unexplained pain.
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