Samskaras and Pain

Pain is an interesting word. We all know that pain means we hurt. Sometimes the reason we hurt is obvious….an injury for example. Other times the source of pain is not apparent. But how does pain develop? Pain can occur when there’s tissue damage….i.e. a broken limb. It is also true that pain can be severe even when there is no tissue damage. Pain is the brain’s response to trauma. This response can take place even if the area has healed.

Physiologically this works through neural pathways. The brain receive a signal from muscles and other organs. If the message is that there may be danger (think touching a hot surface) the brain sends it’s own painful signal via the nerves to pull away quick. All this happens in seconds. This is an important response that is designed to protect the body from injury.

This response can become a habitual one that occurs even when the danger passes. So the brain interprets a signal that previously was associated with danger, and it sends a signal of pain to protect from tissue damage. It seems a little screwed up, right? However, if the brain did not respond to touching a hot surface with pain, you may leave your hand on a hot surface and suffer 3rd degree burns. The problem occurs when the brain gets into the habit of sending pain signals when there is no danger to the body.

There is a yogic term for these habitual patterns. It is a samskara…a  learned response or pattern of behavior. Samskara can refer to emotional, social or physical behavior. The physical aspect of a samskara is the learned response of the nervous system to some sort of action or stimulus. Sometimes this happens quickly. A good example is practicing a balance pose. The first side often feels more shaky than the second side. Sometimes there’s a physical reason for this, such as strength differences between the two lower limbs. However, it is often a samskara. The brain and nervous system has already learned what to do from practicing the posture on the first side. Therefore side number 2 seems easier.

Samskaras can also contribute to chronic pain. The neural pathway signals for pain to occur in response to danger. Sometimes something occurs that has indicated danger in the past. Even though there is no current danger (i.e. no tissue damage) the brain still signals the nerves to respond with pain. This can  become a vicious circle because pain can increase stress which can make nerves more sensitive and thus more susceptible to pain.

It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all approach to reprogramming your samskaras or your pain. The first step should always be to visit your doctor, physical therapist or other healthcare practitioner. In addition to medical care it is useful to reduce stress levels and shift your focus away from the pain. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices can help to resolve painful samskaras.

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Magical Breath

What do you always carry with you that has the power to alleviate pain, release stress and promote a healthy heart? It may seem like the answer is a magical amulet or potion, but the answer is our breath. It can do these things and so much more. However, many of us do not use the simple tool of Pranayama (Breathing Techniques) to help us improve our health.

Being able to control our breath is important. With each inhale we bring oxygenated air into the lungs. Oxygenated red blood cells travel through the blood  to all areas of the body. The oxygen then converts glucose to energy, thus supporting physical activity and keeping tissues healthy. As this is occurring, the de-oxygenated blood cells become the waste product of carbon dioxide and exit the body through the exhale. So much is happening at once from one simple breath, it’s really quite miraculous!

The pace and rhythm of the breath is a good gauge of where our mind and body is at. Shallow, quick breaths may occur after running a distance, or indicate an anxious mind. Practicing Pranyama is a wonderful way to establish inner focus and slow the heart rate. Additionally, it  can reduce stress or anxiety, and help manage pain.

Pranayama is absolutely something you can do at home (or anywhere) on your own. Try starting with these simple techniques and let the magic of the breath help you with your wellness goals.

5 Second Breath:

  • Take a slow breath in through the nose for 5 seconds
  • Exhale to another count of 5 seconds
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Double the Exhale:

  • Inhale to a count of 4
  • Exhale slowly and smoothly to a count of 8
  • you can do this with any count, as long as the exhale is double the length of the inhale
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Inhale/Exhale Count:

  • Breath normally, but count each inhale until you reach a count of 10
  • After you get to 10 inhales, repeat by counting 10 exhales
  • This is great for calming the mind

I love to use the exhale to allow the body to relax. Lately I’ve been closing my yoga classes with two inhale/exhales through the nose, encouraging relaxation and release on each exhale.

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Walking The Labyrinth

Recently I made a small rock labyrinth in my backyard. Many people think of a labyrinth as a circular maze. However, a maze is like a puzzle that you have to solve. In a maze, you run into obstacles and have to turn around, or perhaps even start over. It can be quite frustrating. In contrast, a labyrinth has one clear path to the center. If you follow the path…..you find the center. This makes a labyrinth perfect for a walking meditation.

My labyrinth is made up of stones that sometimes get knocked aside (I suspect my dog has something to do with this), so sometimes while walking I place the stones back where they belong. Some days I walk to the center and directly back out, and other days I sit in meditation when I reach the center. Walking a labyrinth is about the journey, not the destination. You can walk quickly, slowly, pause during your walk, replace stones, coax your dog out of the path, etc. The only real rule is that you follow the path. How you follow it, is up to you.

When you walk a labyrinth it initially looks like you’re going straight to the center, then the path turns and takes you to the outer edges of the labyrinth. It turns again and you are on your way to the center again. It’s a lot like our path in life. Sometimes you’re heading towards what you feel is central and meaningful, then your path takes you another way. Then the path turns again towards the center. This is can be compared to the twists and turns we have in life. We may be headed somewhere, only to have to go in a different direction. Another turn or two brings us back to our purpose, our center.

Overall, adding the labyrinth as an option for meditation has been a wonderful way for me to start the day invigorated, or end the day with a sense of serenity. I highly recommend taking a little time to yourself outdoors focusing on breath, even if you only have a few minutes. This pause in your day may bring you to your center, or just allow you to follow your path in the direction you need to be.

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie