• Asya Haikin

Pain and the Brain


Most of us will have to deal with persistent pain at some point in our lives. Feeling pain is a part of being human. Yoga gives us some tools to feel more in control of how we feel, but learning about how pain works can also help us reduce pain.


How Pain Works


We feel pain because, when stimulated, our nerve cells produce a signal that travels along a chain of nerve fibers, through the spinal cord, and to the brain. This seems pretty straightforward, but it’s not the whole story. Pain is not just the signals from the nerve cells - it’s your brain deciding that something is dangerous, and alerting you to this danger by producing pain sensations.


How does the brain decide what’s dangerous? There is no single “pain center” in the brain, it is our whole brain that analyzes the signals received from the nerve cells. This means that the brain decides what’s dangerous based not just on the signals that it gets from the nerve cells in the body, but also based on the input from parts of the brain that process our emotions and our thoughts. Because of this, the way we experience pain depends to a large extent on the input from our mind: our emotions, memories, thoughts and beliefs.


It makes sense that what we know, or what we have learned, can influence whether we are feeling pain or not. If we’ve ever touched the hot stove we are going to be extra careful not to touch it again. And it will likely be painful just to think about touching it accidentally, because our brain is intent on protecting us. That protection is, of course, a good thing, except, sometimes, we become fearful of movement, with our nervous system producing signals of danger when we are really safe. This, and our memories of pain, can affect our choices by limiting our movement. But, unfortunately, the less we move - the more uncomfortable we get, and the more our range of motion and our agility become limited.


Next time, if you are about to do something (and here I mean a daily activity, not something "crazy"), and you expect that might hurt, ask yourself the following question: "Is this really dangerous?" If your rational mind tells you it’s not dangerous, it will be helpful to take a pause to also help your nervous system feel safe. This may help you gradually rebuild your movement capacity. Just as our mind can work unconsciously to make us feel pain when we are not in danger, we can use the power of the conscious mind, and the power of relaxation, to send the right signals to our body and get us out of pain.


Interested in learning how yoga therapy can help you get out of pain and feel better in your body and mind? Book a free 30 min consultation call with Asya.

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