Pain is good.
It might be surprising to hear an osteopath, a healer whose mission it is to relieve pain, say such a thing. But I believe that pain is a messenger and one of our most powerful teachers.
Everyone has felt pain. Maybe you feel the lingering pain of old injury, or maybe your pain is the byproduct of regular wear and tear on your body, a sign of getting older. Or your pain could be the burning pain in your lower back, the tightness in your neck, a soreness in your shoulder. Pain can be the aching knees that keep you from running, or the carpal tunnel that makes typing up those annual reports an absolute nightmare. Pain can keep you popping Advil to stay two steps ahead of chronic headaches or crippling menstrual cramps.
Pain is a signal, a warning from the body that something is not quite right. You might think you got that kink in your neck from the car accident or the slow burn in your lower back from sitting all day in front of the computer. But when you look into that pain you slowly uncover something even bigger: The truth about your life, your relationships, your work, your state of mind.
You see, the body doesn’t lie.
Your body is talking to you. Those aches and pains you feel are often the outer signals of inner pains you’re not addressing. All pain, every single kind, is both physical and emotional. And all pain, when you learn how to face it, understand it, and let it go, can help clear your path to a better life.
While Eastern medicine has tapped into the mind-body connection for thousands of years, recently Western experts have proven that the mind and body are not just “connected” — they are one in the same. Scientists from the University of Michigan did fMRI scans on the brains of 117 people and found that, whether people were burned by hot water or looked at photos of people who’d broken up with them, their brains showed an identical pattern: Two parts of the brain– the secondary somatosensory cortex and the dorsal posterior insula—registered physical pain. The exact same brain patterns occurred whether they felt a burn against their skin or they felt emotional pain—the brain simply did not know the difference.
For decades, osteopaths and other experts have noticed that people who suffer major traumas become more likely to develop chronic pain and inflammatory conditions such as fibromyalgia. Many of these pains are the result of a good process gone bad: When you experience an acute injury to your tissues, either caused by an accident or a trauma, or an invading bug or other pathogen, your body releases a flood of cytokines. These natural chemicals bring immune cells to the site of the pain and trigger your inflammatory response, drawing fluid from the blood vessels to cause swelling. White blood cells zoom to the area to help speed healing. Overall, a very efficient and smart system. Our bodies are truly miraculous that way.
Of course, this protective response against foreign invaders is meant to protect your body, not hurt it. But if those cytokines are triggered too often–whether through stress, a poor quality diet, undiagnosed food sensitivities, not enough sleep, or, yes, even emotional trauma—the inflammation can become chronic. This chronic inflammation is thought to play a key role, if not be the root source, of many dangerous conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even autoimmune conditions. If you don’t slow down to take care of yourself, the pain that started long ago from a broken leg or a minor infection may linger for years, age your body, damage your genes, prevent you from taking pleasure in things you once loved to do—and possibly even shorten your life.
As scary as that sounds, you have another alternative—and it is the only way to permanently release any kind of pain: You must turn and face your pain, seek to understand it, and then learn to let it go.
I’m not going to lie—you’ll need courage to do this. None of us want to feel pain—we want to get rid of it. Right now, immediately. But when we don’t take the moment to listen to pain’s message and learn from it, we risk prolonging that pain and making it much worse. What you need is a plan that helps you feel safe while you dare to mine your pain—a program that can be your life raft when your emotional seas get stormy and can ferry you to the other, pain-free shore. And that’s what the Positive Feedback plan can be for you: An unsinkable vessel to a pain-free, healthier and happier life.