What is Pain

Diagram of BrainRonald D Siegel ( Harvard health publication) has written an article entitled Mind over Back Pain.  In it, he points out that accumulating research suggests that most chronic back pain isn’t actually  the result of injury or illness and that, in fact, back pain is very often caused by our thoughts, feelings and resulting behaviours.  There is no close connection between the condition of the spine and whether or not people experience pain.  Indeed, it appears that it is fear and stress that maintains most chronic back pain.  Abuse, painful loss, job dissatisfaction are all big risk factors in back pain.

People often turn to the Alexander Technique, with its focus on the head/neck/back relationship, for help with back pain, so I was interested to read what he had written.

My own experience is that there is a strong link between any form of stress and chronic pain, and equally, lack of stress and lack of pain.  

Some years ago, a lady came to see me on the recommendation of her daughter.  She had a pain in her shoulder. This was very annoying to her as she had never experienced pain before.  It was clear to me that she was ‘misusing’ moving her arm in such a way as to cause the pain she described. I explained this to her and helped her learn to move differently. Her pain disappeared and she went home, problem solved.

Now my confusion was this: She was doing everything to cause herself pain, and not just in her shoulder, yet despite the fact that she had been moving like this for years, it was only now, at 93 years old, that she experienced severe discomfort. Why?

As I talked to her, it became clear that she was a remarkable lady. Never once in her life had she been stressed. She didn’t believe in it.  She had had her share of painful incidents ( war, death of loved ones…the list was extensive) but had always maintained that these things were just part of life and there was no point in allowing them to affect you.  Her first encounter with pain ( even after childbirth!) was enough to persuade her to see me but she had no intention of seeing a doctor.  She was a living example of the degree to which fear and stress contribute to our experience of pain.

These days, as I work with people, I sometimes ‘see’ or ‘feel’ a link as muscles release their tension pattern and the body moves into length and more ease. What I see or feel intrigues me and I usually mention it to the student. It has always been accurate. ‘You are holding anxiety here’, I said once  ‘and it is linked to another person close to you, younger, female and she is very anxious right now. It is linked to fear of failure’.  In this case, the student was worrying about her daughter taking exams. She really wished she could take the exams for her daughter!

Sometimes, I may be aware of a specific trauma.  Whatever it is, the memory seems to be held in the body tissue and is released along with the physical release.  Change happens the moment we acknowledge something on some level.

As Alexander said:

‘You translate everything, whether physical or mental or spiritual, into muscular tension.’

So the next time you get that twinge of pain, give yourself the time and space to explore it.  Go inside yourself, focus on that part of you, deep inside.  From your heart, be the detached observer of your own self, empathetic so that you can be compassionate, but not sympathetic so that you get pulled into it.  Take note of anything you find, accept it as part of your past ( this life or maybe some other life) and then let it go.  Even if it is only the vaguest of strange feelings, send it somewhere – into the sun, into the ground, to a fire, to a candle flame. In your heart/mind, send out a request for help as you do this and know that the help you are asking for is right there.

We carry so much, and often don’t even know it.  It weighs us down.  As we become lighter, we have more space for joy, for love of ourselves, for fun.

2016 can be the year we press that reset button for ourselves.  And always remember, all the answers are inside us, not outside.

Go for it!


If any of you are interested in attending a workshop to explore this facet of healing further, please email me to register your interest.

Six week group courses ( beginners and continuation) resume in the autumn. Please email me if you would like more information.

One to one sessions are on – going, as are workshops this summer. Email me for further details.

Thank you


1 thought on “What is Pain

  1. Hi Sue! As always I was thinking about you in the few days before this post appeared… 😉
    I have recently come across Ronald Siegel’s his work and it went straight into my must-know-more category, so it’s nice to see this connection.
    I’m still on that list for the group?

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