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Move With Deb the Podcast

Apr 4, 2021

Using a fun and interesting experiment we can play with the volume and intensity of physical sensations thereby revealing their neural plastic nature. 

I discuss one part of a process from Dr. Schubiner called pressure testing in which we test and then retrain the brain to experience an innocuous sensation in a new way. Please when doing anything take care of yourself, as it can be a little trippy to feel the sensations you experience in your body shift around and change when you weren't expecting it. 

In it I talk about a video that I took about some dancing I did in front of a mirror which I'll be posting on my Instagram - @movewithdeb

Sorry this is 2 days late. I'll be talking about why it was late in the next episode. Everyday is an interesting day in exploring the relationship between thoughts, feelings, & sensations around here. 

It feels really great to share this with you. I hope that any or all of it is helpful in any way. 

And as always you're invited to chat with me and learn more about how you can learn about pain and how to change your embodied experience of physical and emotional pain and overwhelm by training your mind.

I've had the privilege of studying with Dr. Schubiner and watching his profound and effective work. You can learn more about him here. He is seeing patients in the state of Michigan and also I believe he is training other Doctors to treat persistent pain in this same fashion.


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]Hi, it's Deb with Move With Deb the podcast. Today is episode number eight. We're going to get back to the body and talk about pain a little bit today. So one of the things I'd like to explore is this idea of neuroplastic pain and sensitivity, hypersensitivity of the brain and how hypersensitivity to a sensation or somatic experience is the proof of neuroplastic pain.

[00:01:25]We learned from Dr. Howard Schubiner, who wrote the book, Unlearn Your Pain, and also wrote the clinical book, Hidden From View, and he is one of the leading mind body pain physicians in the country. And he's an extraordinary teacher. I want to just talk about one method, which is pressure testing. So it gets at this idea of hypersensitivity, light, touch and pain. One of the methods that he teaches us to help people understand the idea of neuroplastic pain or neurocircuit pain, is this idea of discomfort with light touch. So if you find that there's discomfort with very light touch in an area of the body that's hypersensitivity, right? 

[00:02:18] Because we can see that there's no tissue damage. Let's think of a part of the body where there's no open wound. There's no bruise. Maybe you have sensitivity, in your trapezius are the side of your leg, like it band or areas around your knee, like any place that you feel like there's tenderness with light touch.

[00:02:43] And there's something going on if you get discomfort, it's the brain that's reacting to the very light touch and there's no tissue damage here. There's nothing physically wrong with the area. You are applying very light pressure to the skin and you're having a sensitive or hypersensitive feeling of discomfort or pain. And so the next step of exploring this idea would be to place your finger or your hand lightly on that spot, and then close your eyes and imagine pressure being applied to that place.

[00:03:26] You might experience a few things, have you close your eyes and just place your hand very, very lightly on that spot and not pushing, but just imagine pressure being applied. You may have four different reactions come up. So you may have some pain or some level of discomfort arise. You might experience tension or anxiety. You might experience emotion like sadness or anger, or you might not experience anything at all. 

[00:04:02] We just want to notice. Noticing is the conversation that's already happening in your body, between your brain and the area of your body in which you are feeling a sensation. When we train the mind to notice without fear that is part of rewiring neuroplastic pain. As we go through this process, I want you to notice, and in the noticing we're looking for what's coming up as I'm lightly touching on an area of my skin where I've felt discomfort? And then I'm thinking about applying pressure what's arising? Pain, or discomfort, tension, or anxiety an emotion, or is nothing happening? If pain or discomfort come up, that's more evidence of brain induced pain. There's nothing wrong here. You're not pressing on the tissue. You're just imagining pressing on the tissue and your brain is delivering you an intensity of sensation. And this pain is due to neural circuits and it's not dangerous.

[00:05:22]So you want to tell your brain, this is not dangerous. I am not afraid. Sometimes when we have pain related to hypersensitivity, that increases our fear because we think, oh my God, nothing is happening, I'm now afraid of very light touch or this breeze or this tag on my shirt. And the hypersensitivity alone can be very scary, but all that's happening is that a neurocircuit is being fired and the volume is turned up. 

[00:05:59]The way to work with it is to breathe calmly. Watch the discomfort that you're having without fear, because all discomfort is, is a feeling is a sensation. And as you attend to the discomfort without fear, usually it changes right? We want to tell ourselves that we're okay, that we're safe, that what's happening in your body is just a neurocircuit in your mind.

[00:06:26]We want to attend to this sensation and breathe and let ourselves know that we're safe and that you're not in danger. And then when it subsides, you can close your eyes again and imagine having pressure exerted on the same place. And then see what that sensation feels like. Oftentimes the sensation or the intensity will be less.

[00:06:52] Or it might even be gone altogether. And you can just repeat this until the pain changes. So the sensation and the reactivity goes down. What's important to do is to notice with a sense of peace, with a sense of calm, with a sense of knowing that you're okay. 

[00:07:15]You want to let go of the messages that other people have told us about our bodies, about what's happening on the inside. Let go of these ideas of what's causing pain. The brain turns up the volume on sensation, or it can turn down the volume on sensation. Volume control is fear. 

[00:07:36] As you're doing this kind of checking in, imagining pressure, paying attention to the sensations that arise in the area when you are imagining pushing on the tissue. We also want to explore what's the opposite of fear? Safety, joy, and ease. As the sensation that you're experiencing changes, that becomes the proof that this is a neuroplastic  pain. So part of that next step you can do is to find the sensation of joy and ease. Maybe with a light smile. A smile tunes our inner sense of joy, it connects to our polyvagal nerve. And can imagine pressing this spot, right, we're still imagining it. Imagining, pressing the spot with joy and ease, connect to the happiness that you feel when you tell yourself that there's nothing wrong. When you feel the intensity decrease in the sensation, maybe it feels warm, maybe it feels tingly. Maybe as the fear subsides, something feels different and the feeling different can be very joyful. Because there's nothing wrong. So you can say some affirmations, like I'm safe, I'm not in danger, there is nothing wrong with me. And imagine pressing on that spot with joy and ease and happiness that this touch is safe and will feel good.

[00:09:23] I invite you to smile, can just be a light, little relaxed, smile, a smile at the wonder of the relationship between your mind and the sensation that you're feeling in your body. And then the next step would be to actually apply pressure to the spot with this idea there's nothing wrong with you knowing that you're fine. That there's no tissue damage. That you can feel calm and happy and oftentimes you'll feel a change in the sensation. And that's a change in your neural circuit, right? That's all the proof that we need that there's no damage going on in your body. That hypersensitivity is related to threat and self protection, and that we don't have to be afraid what's happening in our bodies.

[00:10:19] And maybe when you're doing this activity and you're imagining, pressing on an area of your body, maybe you'll feel some anxiety come up, the fear of having pain, the fear of the intensity of a sensation. And again, we want to say to our brain, look at the intensity of the sensation that I'm feeling. I'm not even pressing on my tissue. You feel the volume gets turned up, but there's nothing happening that proves that it's neurocircuit pain. And so it's normal for the anxiety to come. It's normal for the pain to be turned up. That's what your brain has been doing habitually. It's serving you what it's expecting to feel, but by observing that even with very light touch, your brain can turn the volume up. You can also make this observation and say I'm safe. I'm not in danger. I'm okay. I see you brain. You can even say thank you for keeping me safe. Thank you for letting me know that you think there's something wrong, but I know that there's not. 

[00:11:33]And if you have an anxiety or a feeling or a sensation or a fear, it's okay to feel that. We want to create the ability to feel as a safe experience in our mind body system. So you can just allow yourself to feel the anxiety or to feel the feeling, whatever it is, sadness, anger. It's just an emotion. It's just a sensation in your body. You can ask yourself, how can I make this safe for me? How can I make feeling this transitory feeling okay while you're imagining pressing on that spot? 

[00:12:14] The important thing is when we notice, we want to bring this lighthearted curiosity with us. And if you don't know what that means, you'll learn it over time. Just play with it. Crack open the relationship between the fear and the sensation that's happening in your body.

[00:12:33] And so it's an invitation to learn how to notice and how we notice. We want to bring a light quality, brings some joy and ease. I talk a lot about celebrating how important it is to celebrate, noticing, even if what we are noticing is an unpleasant emotion, is an emotion that feels hard or difficult or challenging. Noticing is worth celebrating. 

[00:13:00] How we notice delight, curiosity, ease, self friendship with the idea that this is part of healing neuroplastic pain. So we just keep doing this exercise of lightly touching, imagining pressure, giving our mind body messages of safety. And as you touch into an area, if there's no sensation, when you want to imagine pressing this spot with joy and ease. Connecting again to these affirmations that I'm safe. I'm not in danger. There's nothing wrong with me. 

[00:13:41] And then imagine pressing on the spot with joy and ease and happiness, creating that somatic smile that tones your polyvagal nerve, helps you connect with a sense of safety. And then when you apply pressure, light pressure, see what the sensation feels like. Feels less, or that there's no sensation when you're pressing lightly. You have just changed your neural pathway, your neural circuit experience. We've turned off the fear response and we've created safety. Sometimes I like to do is if this is very difficult, if you feel a lot of pain and discomfort and fear also like to invite you to use your other senses to pay attention to something that feels pleasant or neutral, that makes you smile.

[00:14:34] So you can do this activity while petting an animal, while wrapped up in a warm blanket, right? Create that idea of safety and okayness. Use your other senses to connect with something that gives you a feeling of pleasure, joy, happiness, peace. We're going to pair these experiences together to retrain the mind, and then we can do the same activity with firm pressure.

[00:15:05] So if there's an increase in pain with firm pressure to the spot in the body, we want to do the same activity. You want to lightly place your finger or your hand on that spot. Or have somebody else do it for you, if it's a place that you can't reach. Close your eyes and imagine pressure being placed on this spot.

[00:15:25] And again, some things might occur pain or discomfort might arise, tension or anxiety might come up, an emotion, such as sadness or anger or nothing can happen. Whatever happens is normal. What we want to do is to begin to notice. Create the ability to attend to these sensations with curiosity and self-kindness. Notice the words that might arise when you're thinking about it.

[00:15:59] I would say a lot of the times for myself, when I go to touch an area of my body, like on my thighs that have cellulite and lipedema, my mind might also deliver to me messages about these fat cells: they cause inflammation, inflammation, causes pain, or I might have thoughts about how I don't like my thighs. I don't like my cellulite. These are also thoughts that come up for me when I touch in or look at certain parts of my body. I might immediately leap to thinking about how heavy my legs are when I walk. 

[00:16:41] But these are all part of the neurocircuit sensitivity system, our thoughts, other people's words. Those are inputs into how we evaluate, how we tune our mind to the sensations, to the expectations, that our brain is going to deliver to us about what we should be feeling. So when we do this activity by imagining pain, or increased sensation. We are going to imagine light or firm pressure, and then notice what happens.

[00:17:20] Notice the words that arise in your mind. Notice the sensations that happen in your body when you're imagining firm pressure or even light pressure. And I'd like you to celebrate, noticing. Greet that area with a sense of calm and a sense of peace, knowing that there's nothing wrong other than your brain delivering you messages that it's expecting to experience because that's what it's experienced before.

[00:17:56] So in rewiring our neural pathways, even saying that makes it sound complicated, like rewiring a light bulb. And it's not that complicated because it's all happening really fast, super duper fast, super computer. The no pain neural pathway, the lower sensitivity pathway already is there to be taken by your brain. It's not like we need to create a new neural pathway, that's never existed before. But we're just asking the brain to pay attention in a new way, and then it will experience your body in a new way. We'll experience this relationship between that part of your body without fear. And that's going to turn the volume down. 

[00:18:49]And you know, it's not going to be perfect. It might be really hard to do. You might come up with some feelings or some thoughts that you don't want to have. We certainly walk around with a lot of thoughts about our bodies that don't serve us and have been given to us by lots of people, even well-meaning people. I want to invite you create your own experience of attending to your body with a sense of peace, comfort, and delight. 

[00:19:20]It's going to be very hard to not feel hypersensitive pain, if when you look in the mirror and you look at your thighs and the only thoughts that you deliver to yourself are I hate them. So one way to work with that is to begin to get to neutral, say, this is a human body. This is what a thigh looks like. You can even go on Instagram and look at some other fabulous fat bodies with lipedema or thighs with cellulite, and think, you know, look at their thighs, look at their beauty, look at who they are, how they move in their bodies, how unbothered it is possible to be. The more rejecting we are of ourselves, of a part of our body, of something we don't like about ourselves, it's going to make sense that our brain is very hyper reactive to a sensation, if we also believe that what's happening in your body creates that sensation. Now I'm not saying that it's all in your mind. I mean, everything's all in our mind. Our entire perception of reality is in our mind.

[00:20:43] Our brain and our nervous system are interpreting everything that's happening and delivering to us its opinion about what's going on. We live out a prediction of the brain because that is what is biologically conservative. Not because it's an asshole, but because we attune our brain to pay attention and then deliver us this output.

[00:21:11] And we create these autopilot, this conditioned response, the brain does what we ask it to do because the brain is busy trying to keep you alive. Right. It's managing all of the body's systems. It takes too much energy to take in an experience, evaluate it super fast and spit out exactly what's happening.

[00:21:37] So it just bases itself on what you've experienced in the past. And when we encode the sense of fear, threat, overwhelm to a sensation, that's what our brain delivers to us.  So this kind of example, when we touch in lightly and imagine increased pressure, and then if we feel this sensation that we feel, when we have pressure, then we can tell ourselves, oh, this is my brain.

[00:22:08] We create the evidence for ourselves that neuroplastic pain is real. And then we can begin to attend to it, delivering our nervous system and our brain messages of safety. And we change the embodied experience that we're having. 

[00:22:27]And I want to say that being human involves pain and sensation. There are things in life that happen that are painful. So I also want to invite to you. To let go of the idea that we're supposed to not be in pain all the time. Pain, like an emotion is a temporary sensory experience. It comes in and it goes away. And it may come back and it can go away again. What we notice when we're feeling something that gives us all of the clues that we need to begin to change the messages and the way we relate to ourselves in pain. So in all of this, I don't even really want you to take my words as fact, this is my invitation for you to experiment, to begin to question some of the messages that you've always believed about your body. 

[00:23:36] I made a video, I haven't posted it on Instagram, but I think I will in relationship to this podcast, in which I was looking at my legs in the mirror and I was doing very simple dance movement, this just happened spontaneously, I did not plan it.  It was not an experiment I did on purpose. But because I now think about my body in this way that I understand that my thoughts and my feelings affect my sensation, my experience of my body. I had this kind of aha moment. 

[00:24:11] I was looking in the mirror and I was doing these little dance moves because I've been roller skating. So when I'm not roller skating, which is most of the time. I am doing some little bits of movement that are helping create some mobility, some kind of freedom in movement that will support my skating.

[00:24:34] So if you see my Instagram, you'll see that I do balance board work that I'll use a feet up trainer where I'll do some inversions and work on core strength. Then maybe I just roll around on the floor. I like to have a lot of joy and play in my movement. Because that means I have joy in play in my life. I was doing this movement in which I was like moving my feet back and forth, rotating my femur and trying to get some movement variability in my hips, but through a lens of play and dance. And I was looking at my legs and I was having some thoughts about them. And I could tell that the sensation in my body was kind of sharp, that my legs felt heavy, that they did not feel like they moved well.

[00:25:28]And I thought, wow, that's really interesting. I wonder if this would feel different, if when I looked at my legs in the mirror, I looked at them with eyes of love. And so I started looking at my legs and feeling all of the love and affection that I have for myself that I have for my fat body. I started thinking about how lovely my legs are, how soft they are. I just started sending love to that reflection of myself in the mirror. And it wasn't even that I had to like my legs or even think that they were attractive, but that I loved my legs because they are me. And because I love me. The way that I even just looked at myself, I tried to fill that up with that sense of a somatic smile, just to greet myself as a friend.

[00:26:21] The fun part about doing that in a mirror is because you are looking at essentially what is another person, even though it's the reflection of you. And I think this COVID experience has kind of attuned my mind to look at a reflection of myself in a different way. Right, because we look at ourselves on zoom or we look at ourselves in the camera, or we look at ourselves in a mirror.

[00:26:50] I look different in all of these places. My overall sense of who I am, changes, has expanded. I'm no longer just looking in a mirror, seeing a reflection of myself and then just judging it, whether I like what I'm wearing, do I like my hair?  That's so often what happens when we look in a mirror, we're looking to see if we like what we see. If we are okay to go outside. If our makeup is okay. If our hair is okay. We are training our brain to look at ourselves and judge. Are we okay? Are we not okay? Whatever the hell that means. 

[00:27:37] I was looking at myself in the mirror. I am greeting myself like a friend. I am checking out those sexy, meaty thighs. I am saying you are magnificent. And then I begin to dance my like dorky, ridiculous, I'm moving my femurs dance. I am getting in movement variability, and I'm enjoying myself dance. And the sensation was completely different. My legs did not feel heavy. Everything moved with ease and yeah, maybe it was because two minutes previously I had been moving and I warmed myself up, but I don't know that that's the entire part of the story because this time when I moved, I had that inner smile.

[00:28:28] I was smiling at myself in the mirror, like a friend. And we were dancing together and we were enjoying this moment of life together. My thighs were not a problem. That how much I weigh was not a problem. My lipedema was not a problem. And then my physical experience of doing that movement was different, was lighter, was less noticeable, that there was more ease, more delight in the movement. And the more delight I felt, the more delight I felt. The more the light I felt, the more I wanted to move. I invite you to try that. We don't need to place our understanding of what's happening to our bodies pain or no pain, inflammation, or no inflammation, fat cells, or no fat cells.

[00:29:26] We can create our own understanding, our own relationship inside of our bodies. I create these own experiments for myself. I'm excited to share them with you. I help my clients bridge this gap for themselves all the time. And I watched them change their pain experience quickly. And it's hard only in that it is new, but what I tell them and what I remind myself is.

[00:29:52] Everything I know how to do. I have learned up until this point. I am in a constant state of learning. Learning is part of the human experience. Our brain learns something and then automates it. So let's learn no pain. Let's learn less reactivity. Let's learn new neural pathways. Let's learn new condition responses.

[00:30:22] Between our eyes, the information that we have gathered in our minds of thoughts and the sensations that we feel in our body, there's ways that you can change your physiological experience, without changing your physiology. And I invite you to hop on a curiosity call with me if any of this makes sense to you.

[00:30:46] If you know  that your pain comes and goes. That it changes positions, that sometimes it's lower and sometimes it's more intense ,all of this is evidence of neuroplastic pain. I can help you practice the methods by which you change your embodied experience of sensation. And it's not hard. It might just be new and I'm happy to be your guide.

[00:31:14] So maybe you listen to this again. And try this experiment. See how it feels and feel free to report back what you discovered. Thanks for listening. Catch you next week. Bye.