Two articles on pain came into my inbox last week, both of which point to the intricacies of the body-mind connection.
Sort of awesome highlights:
Researchers have known for some time that the brain stores maps of the body that are integrated with neurological systems that survey, regulate, and protect the integrity of the body physically and psychologically.
These cortical maps govern movement, sensation and perception, and there is growing evidence showing that disruptions of brain maps occur in people with chronic pain, like phantom limb pain.
It is possible for the body to be unharmed but the brain will respond by causing pain because it misinterpreted a benign stimulus as an attack. “We want to gradually train the brain to stop trying to protect body tissue that doesn’t need protecting.” (G. Lorimer Moseley, of University of South Australia)
So if you, say, break your arm, your brain’s map of your body gets disrupted, and sometimes doesn’t get rebuilt the same way. Result: your brain thinks you should still be experiencing pain in a place that is no longer damaged.
This is astonishing for a number of reasons, and it strikes me as yet another way that getting our brains and our bodies “on the same page” by increasing and focusing on somatic awareness may help “train the brain” as the researcher suggests above.
Another pain study, reported by Fox News, shows how distraction can help alleviate pain. This is a phenomenon that most of us have probably observed: keeping busy can help lessen the intensity of pain. But where it was thought that the distraction was mainly psychological (again, I find myself wondering if that phrase even has any meaning), now a study published in Current Biology suggests that pain signals in the brain are actually blocked when the brain is occupied by a difficult task. A followup study suggests that pain-relieving chemicals – opioids – are released in the brain when the brain is distracted.
One principle that permeates Rubenfeld Synergy is that attention intensifies whatever it’s turned toward. We can use this in practice to achieve any number of results: focusing on pain, physical or emotional, that has had attention diverted from it can bring it to the surface so it can be examined and perhaps discarded. When pain is too extreme to deal with all at once, however, giving some other part of the system attention can help the pain lessen. Knowing that there is a physiological basis for this phenomenon is exciting, if for no other reason than that it’s always fun to see things we’ve known for some time borne out by science.