Photo: Art by Christos Barbalis
Do-at-home, no-equipment-needed, non-invasive therapeutic skills are indispensable for effectively managing stress, anxiety, exercise burnout, pain and more.
The following three self-care skills and accompanying practices will help you understand and transform your experience of pain.
Self-Care Skill #1: Notice Your Pain Vocabulary
Pain may be a response to a physical injury, but did you know that emotional reactions can also cause physical pain? Emotional reactions are linked to pain areas in the brain.
Just thinking of the word “pain” can elicit a pain response. No thank you.
This is why updating our pain vocabulary can help us transform pain by reorganizing our bio-psycho-emotional relationship to pain.
Here’s another benefit to changing our pain vocabulary: Not only are we expanding our vocabulary, but in order to do so, we must listen to and name the sensations we are feeling. It’s interesting how often we skip this step and hop right over to p.a.i.n.
It turns out that we have almost 200,000 words in English, so it’s confounding that we overuse the word “pain” as much as we do.
Pain is a spectrum of sensation and as such, our verbal expression of our sensations should reflect that.
If you hear yourself talking about your pain all the time, begin to identify other words you can use besides the “p” word.
Reframe Your Pain Vocabulary
Monitor your self-dialogue. Each time you’re about to describe your discomfort, take a deep breath, close your eyes and focus on the location and sensation that you are feeling. After taking some time to feel that sensation, name it something other than “pain.”
On your phone or in a notebook, start a list of all the different sensations your body is trying to communicate with you.
Practice coming up with other words to describe sensations you’d typically label “pain”
Here are some examples of other ways you might describe your sensation: discomfort, ache, strain, fatigue, catch, spasm, tight, burn, pinch, stab, throb, twinge, poke, sting, sear, itch, pierce, hurt, swollen, burn.
Below you can continue updating your vocabulary through the self-massage practices on therapy balls.
Self-Care Skill #2: Get to Know Your Vagus Nerve
There’s no better way to tune in to your body, down-regulate, decompress and recover from injury than by reprioritizing your nervous system.
Your vagus nerve is the head honcho of your nervous system; it rules and regulates every vital system in your body.
The vagus nerve “wanders” throughout your head, neck and trunk
Breath practices, micro-movements, and self-care can help you restore your vagal tone and bio-psycho-emotional resilience, which is key for pain management.
Chest Decompress Self-Massage Exercise
Lie, face down with a Coregeous® Ball (or a small, firm pillow) under your chest and ribs. It should be in the middle of your sternum. Alternately, if this position with your bodyweight on the ball is too intense, you can stand with the ball between your chest and a wall.
Resting your bodyweight on the Coregeous® ball might be intense at first so take your time
Let your shoulders slouch so that your arms cascade to the floor around you. You’re aiming for the majority of your body weight to envelop the ball.
As the ball presses into your ribs, it will massage your heart, lungs, esophagus, diaphragm and oh so many of those vital nerves! However, it might not be pleasant at first.
As you ease into these instructions, listen to and name the sensations you are feeling. Describe the sensations you’re feeling to yourself.
- Breathe normally for about two minutes
- Inhale into the ball, retain your breath as you tighten up your muscles, slowly exhale
- Repeat 3-5 times
- Gently rock, left to right, seesaw-style over the Coregeous® Ball
Come off the ball slowly and take your time reorienting to an upright position. Which sensations did you feel? Add to your vocab list.
From a “Breath and Bliss” Immersion
Self-Care Skill #3: Update Your Sensory Input
The following client story is a great example of how pain skews our proprioception-to-nociception (body sense and “pain” sense) relationship:
After a period of being pain-free, my client’s back pain suddenly returned. After careful assessment, we identified that her pain always returned just after teaching spin classes. Additional intake inquiry revealed that whenever she wore her microphone pack clipped to the back of her pants, she’d have back pain.
At first, we thought “perhaps it’s the electricity?” but we soon figured out that the headset cord leading to the microphone transistor pack kept tapping her low back as she rode.
It didn’t hurt, but due to her chronic pain history, all sensory input to that area was automatically being processed as pain. We repositioned her audio equipment and her back pain went away.
Can you think of a time when you experienced some startling sensory event and you said “ow” even though it didn’t hurt?
Together with retraining our pain vocabulary, we can also re-condition our sensory awareness and change our experience of noxious stimuli so that it no longer registers as pain.
Shortly after I became certified as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher in 2010, I experienced debilitating back pain. The pain was overwhelming and it made exercise impossible.
Rolling on therapy balls provided new, non-threatening sensory stimulation, increased blood flow, and improved my embodiment so that I could exercise again.
Low Back Self-Myofascial Massage Rollout
This Low Back Rollout simply uses the Roll Model® therapy balls to massage achy, sore, tight and otherwise cranky muscles and fascia.
Another benefit if you’ve been stuck in cycles of pain, is that you can use self-massage on therapy balls as a way to re-stimulate nerve endings. Gradually, gently, you can recondition how you sense physical touch.
Once again, as you practice this technique, also try to pinpoint the best possible words to describe the sensations you’re feeling. Listen to and name those sensations.
Take your time noticing and naming the various sensations that accompany your self-massage
- Stand next to a wall
- Place an Original, PLUS, or ALPHA therapy ball above your waist, beside the lumbar spine
- Rest your weight into the therapy ball and take several breaths
- After you have acclimated to the sensation, rock your body right and left
- Continue until you sense a change in your lower back (greater ease, less tension, more sensation, pleasantness, etc.)
Conclusion on Managing Sensations of Pain
Keep the following guidelines in mind when sensations of pain arise in fitness and life.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Be realistic about your timeline for healing.
- Expect setbacks.
- Continue to find novel ways to fine-tune and understand your the vast spectrum of sensations that you deal with on a daily basis.
- Rest as needed but keep your eye on the prize, which is to keep moving so that you can return to your daily activities.
- When in doubt consult a trusted doctor or specialist.
Shop this post: For chest massage, get the Coregeous® Sponge Ball. For low back massage at the wall try the Original Yoga Tune UP Therapy Ball, Therapy Ball PLUS or the ALPHA. Choose the size therapy ball based on your personal proportions.