Jul 2, 2021
In this episode I touch in briefly about why the brain as a predictive organ will continue to create body pain and muscle inhibition. I walk you through my experiences in doing a stair walking practice and the ways I am leading my mindbody through various internal conversation and the outcomes I'm experiencing. I talk about being out of breath and building strength and surety.
Welcome to Move With Deb. I'm Deb your friendly neuroplastician. And this is a podcast that explores the relationship between the body and the mind from a health at every size, judgment, free perspective. I teach you how developing a new internal conversation based on curiosity, self friendship and simple neuro-plasticity techniques can rewire your bodymind out of pain and emotional overwhelm to help you build the rich full life that you want to live. Disclaimer, this is not a replacement for medical care.
[00:00:50] Hello, and welcome to Move With Deb the podcast, episode 21. So today, I am talking about building belief before evidence. And this can be really for anything. But I'm going to talk about it in regards to movement. And pain.
[00:01:11] So I want to encourage people to stop obsessing and checking for progress. From your brain's point of view, keeping our attention on what we don't want, whether it's a habit, a physical sensation, or a fear, tells the brain and the nervous system that this thing is very important, gimme more of it, track it, make it bigger, louder, or more. Whereas we shift our attention and our belief on the thing that we're wanting, in a way that we can believe, then our brain makes that bigger, louder, more.
[00:01:56]Because the brain is a predictive organ. I said this on this podcast. I'm sure you've heard it in other places, certainly it is the foundational piece of Lisa Feldman Barrett's neuroscience work. The brain works off of predictions and it's not assessing things in real time. And the body is full of sensors. And all of what we perceive is essentially noise. It's just data, sensory data until it's interpreted by the brain. So we tune our systems to what our experiences should be, all subconsciously of course, but with knowledge and practice, we can begin, to practice the perception and meaning-making to get our life, our body, our somatic experience to be more of what we want. And less of what we don't want.
[00:02:59]In his book, Livewired, David Engleman discusses how neural networks decide what sensory information is important and what isn't. So for neuro-plasticity to happen, we need to care. Like the brain needs to care. The brain doesn't actually care about anything. It's like the human who has the brain is the one doing the caring. Whereas the brain is just like nom nom eating the sensory data, spitting out experiences, spitting out whatever it does with the assessment, with the meaning, right.
[00:03:36] It's like the conversation that's happening on the inside of the body, is happening from this brain that, is really only receiving and projecting. And then there's like the, you. I'm sure like philosophy has better words than I do right now for what we decide is important and not important, that's how we train and attune the brain. So neuro-plasticity for the sensory data to be interpreted, and for change to happen, we have to be curious about something. We need possibility. We need to believe and think something is even possible for our brain to say yes, this is something I desire. This is something I believe. This is something I can imagine might possibly be true for me. So belief is an essential component of rewiring neuroplastic pain. Because neuroplastic pain is the brain's interpretation of sensory data, not the true story of the body.
[00:04:55]Maybe I'll say that again.
[00:04:56]Neuroplastic pain is the brain's interpretation of sensory data, not the true story of the body.
[00:05:10]Here's a story about a new client. She tells me that she wakes up every day checking to see if she has pain. Because that will tell her if she's going to have a good day or a bad day. But because she's already onto this fear brain chronic pain business, she also is able to describe all the times when she's not experiencing pain. It is when her attention is elsewhere. Usually on things she enjoys. She went to a ton of doctors. She got lots of testing for her headaches. What the doctors didn't do when they found nothing was to affirm that she was well and safe and nothing was happening in her brain. But instead they filled her imagination with disease processes that might be happening even though they had no evidence for it.
[00:06:04]No one offered her the belief that her attention and fear response to the first headache, which frightened her, created the feedback loop that kept her brain delivering her, the prediction of this sensation.
[00:06:20]This theory of the brain. I know, sounds like a bad knock off of the matrix, but it is also true.
[00:06:28]And a lot goes into the interpretation and amplification of sensory information. Some of the things I discuss with my clients are the human desire for certainty, the equation of certainty with safety. The messaging of productivity of capitalism, the lack of financial safety nets, the lack of reliable health care with a warm and skillful practitioner. Seeing other people around us suffer with similar illnesses or conditions. Family systems messaging around illnesses or weakness or pain.
[00:07:09]But Hey, it's natural to want to feel okay. If not feeling okay, is something we never allow ourselves to do. We create rituals of okayness. Like progress checking, checking on symptoms to see if we're still feeling them. Checking and Googling symptoms. Going for repeated medical exams. There's all kinds of ways that we create reassurance. But that reassurance process is also a part of the sensory data amplification.
[00:07:49]So I've been doing a stairs practice because I want to build strength and ease with going up and down stairs. My left knee has a little bit of an opinion about this. My body likes to throw me a symptom to freak out about and distract me because there's a part of my story that I'm slowly unwiring, in which I don't trust myself to keep me safe. That I overdo things and injure myself.
[00:08:15]Neuroception, which is a word coined by Dr. Stephen Porges describes the body continuously scanning our environment for cues of safety or danger. We aren't usually aware of this process, but we often notice the physiological responses that it causes. Sometimes it's a pain or some kind of vagal nervous system response, fight flight freeze. Or nothing which goes unnoticed. But it's a story that our brain tells us about the experiences that we are having in a way that perpetuates our survival. The brain's job is to manage our body and keep us alive. So, how do we know what's a real danger and what's not? By learning to look for the holes in the story. Using logic, pain science. And self-awareness.
[00:09:11]Sometimes taking the first step in my stair practice feels terrifying, but there's no danger. I can feel the muscle inhibition in my leg due to fear. The fear feels like I'm driving my body with the emergency brake on. But I know I can climb the stairs. I did it this morning. I did it yesterday. But the other day I was walking up the stairs and my brain was saying fear fear. When I stopped and I checked in, I was actually annoyed because I left my house keys in the car and now I had to walk back down and get the keys and come back up again. Now I could take the elevator. But I wanted to challenge my brain. Because physiologically, I know that I am more than capable of climbing the stairs at my pace, twice in a row. There's lots of protests and thoughts my brain wants to offer me. I chose to let them be there and take this action anyway. I could feel myself wanting to stare at the steps. And instead I distracted my brain by shifting my attention to my tongue tapping on the roof of my mouth.
[00:10:27]And voila! I walked up the stairs for this second time with relative ease. Redirecting my fear brain while taking actions I knew I was capable of. And then noticing the way my body changed its motor pattern from stalled to more fluid. That's a part of the bigger bit of evidence I'm creating for my mind body. I create safety in my body with my mind.
[00:10:57]So yesterday I had another fun experience with the stairs experiment. My goal is to get better at going up and down the stairs with more ease. My brain's goal is to protect me by over analyzing my trips up and down the stairs. My nervous system's goal is to protect me from harming myself so it applies the emergency brake on my motor neurons, creating non fluid movement.
[00:11:23] So go body go?
[00:11:27]It all makes sense from a nervous system as threat protection mechanism, point of view.
[00:11:33]Yesterday on my last round, up the stairs, I could hear my brain critiquing that I was out of breath. Implying that there was some kind of mechanical error happening and being out of breath, wasn't a natural or expected circumstance from having walked up three flights of stairs. I even think my pace had slightly increased. So even more reason to be out of breath. So when I got to my door, I just laughed. And said, thank you brain, for your opinion. But I'm doing great. And I'm going to keep at this activity. Nothing is wrong. This is me getting stronger. This is me creating safety with stairs. I felt the fear and I let it flow on through me.
[00:12:23]This morning, I went swimming and I did a bunch of mind games with myself. I did a bunch of hopping around in the water that felt more intense on my quads and my knees when I placed my attention there. And then the same movements I didn't notice the sensations in my quads and my knees when I looked at the trees around me and smiled and really placed my visual attention on the trees. Some deep tree looking. I was using my visual cortex. And smiling, a relaxed smile to indicate to my safety self, that I was happy and relaxed in that moment. I know this is totally unscientific. But it felt different.
[00:13:11]So I decided that I'd walk back up the stairs with a belief plan. It's another thing. I work with my clients on, around chronic pain. Building our belief plan before having evidence of something being true. And it's all about directing the brain's attention, which in turn changes our interpretation of the sensory information being felt by the body. So this is an active neurological process. It's not like an idea. It's an embodied experience from an idea. So that's the difference. It's belief creating the somatic experience that we want. Using the power of the brain.
[00:14:01] So I walked up the stairs with my hands on my hips relaxed and the thought I am hella strong. Playing in a loop in my head. Each time I put my foot on a stair and lifted myself up the stair. I would feel into the activity. But not to check that I was doing it well or accurately. But to feel me lifting my body weight up with a single leg.
[00:14:29] And then I gave a kind of internal roar. And then I'd say to myself, I'm hella strong.
[00:14:39] I didn't say this will help me get strong. I said, I AM hella strong.
[00:14:46]Putting the belief in the now not in the future. Removing the evaluation and progress checking piece. I took away the impulse to compare this movement moment with past movement moments, because in the end I will reap the benefit of the cumulative effects of going up and down the stairs. To build trust in my body I need to be successful now. Not some vague time in the future. Because now is when I'm using these muscles. The future muscles will be used in the future. And then that will be the present, anyway.
[00:15:33]So all of the stairs I'm doing now are a cumulative effect of the stairs I have done. But also my attention and belief. It actually felt great to walk up the stairs in the, I am strong, rather than the I will be strong.
[00:15:51] And I think my movement reflected that. My mood when I got to the top, definitely reflected that. And now I'm not concerned about when it will feel easier.
[00:16:04]So I want to encourage you to stop checking for progress on your activities. Just try this out for a while. Pay attention to the thoughts that are arising and the desires for checking or evaluating. That's just a sneaky trick from your brain to see if you are allowed to have a feeling of accomplishment.
[00:16:28]But you can have any feeling you want to have at any time. There's no feeling police.
[00:16:38]Just like in OCD, recovery, excessive checking teaches the brain to find the dopamine in the relief of the urge to check. Rather than in the accomplishment of the activity. I'm going to say that again. When we feel an urge to check our progress, to check or compare or evaluate. Relieving the urge is what gives us the good feeling. That good feeling reinforces this process to the brain, and gets in the way of doing the activity. It certainly doesn't make us feel more excited about doing the activity. We build the excitement, apparently in the checking and evaluating and judging.
[00:17:32]This is why getting comfortable with discomfort without constantly tracking, checking, and evaluating is essential for building a belief system with our body, that we can do something that we aren't currently able to do.
[00:17:49] Like wire our brains to no pain. Like knowing our day will be amazing and maybe have sucky parts to it. But we aren't asking our brain to scan for a headache to tell us what kind of day we're going to have. We practice getting up every day. And having a day. We allow for urges for checking. Checking our weight, checking our steps, checking our pain. And we don't answer the urges. But we also don't resist them. We create our experience with our attention by believing that we are well, safe, strong and capable. And that the human experience is wobbly. And full of transitory sensory experiences that don't have any other meaning than what we assign them.
[00:18:46]Doesn't mean that life will always be sunshine and roses and unicorns and rainbows. There is no such life that is like that. There are moments of life that are rainbows. And there are moments of life that are giant piles of shit. That is the 360 human experience.
[00:19:11]I wanna bring it back to our lived embodied experience. The internal conversation between our brain and the sensory data that comes into our brain and nervous system is interpreted through all of our perceptions and through meaning. This is a reminder that our embodied experience can be plastic, can be live wired because the brain is a predictive organ.
[00:19:46]Checking for pain is one way that we train the brain to deliver us the repeated persistent neuroplastic pain experience. And then the meaning that we create around the sensory experiences that we're having also inform our embodied experience.
[00:20:09]So learning to invite in new meaning, having belief before evidence, and also getting out of the practice and habit of checking and evaluating will change your embodied experience. Will change the persistent pain that you are having. And at the very least. Will help your system turn the volume down.
[00:20:36] I hope some of this has made sense. I'm going to link below to David Eagelman's book, Livewired, and also Lisa Feldman Barrett. Seven and a half lessons about the brain. I can't recommend that book enough. It will blow your mind. So what sentence or thought or belief do you want to build for your body? Along with building the cumulative effect of the muscle movement. What beliefs do you want to bring? What beliefs do you want to build and hold true for your body?
[00:21:16]Send me a message. Let me know. Hit me up in my Instagram. at @ movewithdeb Or send me an email at email@example.com. And let me know. Thank you so much for listening. If you have interest in my eight week pain recovery program. Or want to hop on a curiosity, call with me, please check out my website at debmalkin.com. And book a call. I would love to speak with you. Maybe I will help answer any questions that you have about this live wiring of sensory data process. Thank you.