Did you know that you can train your brain to perceive pain differently?
As a mindful somatic therapist, and a self-proclaimed fascia nerd, I’ve spent years researching and experimenting with myofascial tools like balls in yoga. I’ve discovered some surprisingly effective and innovative techniques that go beyond just self-massage. In this article, I’m going to share my findings with you and show you how you can train your brain to perceive pain differently, enhance self-awareness, and promote self-healing.
Unlearn Pain with Ball Placement
Did you know that incorporating ball placement into your yoga practice can help rewire the way your brain perceives and associates pain?
The science around what pain is, and how it can be addressed through the nervous system is still relatively new, but the concept of “pain memory” and “neuro-tags” is becoming more and more established in the field of pain science.
What is pain memory?
Sometimes pain can become ‘ingrained’ in the brain, continuing to be perceived long after the initial injury or cause of pain has healed. This phenomenon is known as “pain memory,” and it’s thought to occur as a result of changes in the way the brain processes pain information. But, did you know that our brains can also learn to change how we perceive pain? It’s true!
How does working with balls in yoga help?
One of my favorite ways to “unlearn” pain is to place balls in a body location that is not in pain. The process of creating pleasant inputs to generate a “competing input” between the pain and the new mechanical input is known as “counter-stimulation.” It’s been shown to be an effective way to “unlearn” pain. The working theory is that over time, the new inputs become stronger than the old ones, and the brain will begin to prioritize the new inputs, leading to a decrease in pain.
Want to know more about how this works? Check out my ebook, The Embodiment Solution, which goes into more detail on how this works and how to apply it.
Unlock Self-Healing with Mechanotransduction
Did you know that your body is capable of amazing self-repair and remodeling when exposed to a particular kind of stress? It’s true! And the key to unlocking this incredible ability lies in the process of mechanotransduction. (Stay with me here, I’m going to explain what that is in a (hopefully) simplified way next.)
Have you heard of schwann cells? How about fasciacytes? These are somewhat new discoveries, but they sure are amazing little cells! Schwann cells are a type of glial cell that are responsible for the production and maintenance of myelin (which is what makes nerve signalling faster and more efficient). And fasciacytes are a newly discovered cell type devoted to the production of hyaluronan (More on the relevance of this later!).
Turns out these amazing little cells play a huge role in the process tissue remodelling, but the exciting part? Piezoelectricity. This phenomenon is the ability of certain materials to generate an electric charge in response to pressure inputs. Isn’t that amazing?! Your body has the ability to generate its own electrical charge to aid in healing and mobility! How mind blowing is that?
But what does this have to do with balls in yoga?
Let’s go back to this big word mechanotransduction for a moment. I like to think of this phenomenon as a universal translator (🤓 🖖 🤓) living in my body. It takes various inputs from the outside world (especially touch, pressure or squish) and coverts them into electrical energy so your brain can make sense of it.
So you can see, THIS is where things get really fun! By using ball placement in specific yoga poses, we can target areas that are in need of energy, healing or extra attention. By using pressure and squish inputs deliberately you can generate more energy, and healing signals to your body! Imagine being able to activate your body’s own healing process and improve mobility, all while reducing pain. You can see why I get so excited about this work!
By incorporating specific yoga poses and sequences that apply targeted inputs to the fascial tissue, we can harness the power of mechanotransduction and piezoelectricity to support the body’s self-healing abilities.
Are you ready to discover the full potential of your body’s innate healing powers? Join us for our upcoming workshop with Carol Davis on January 28 & 29 to learn more and take your practice to the next level!
Enhance Self-Awareness and Consciousness with Interoception
You know that feeling when you’re in tune with your body and mind? It’s like you’re in sync and everything just feels right. Well, that’s what interoception is all about! It’s the key to unlocking the body-mind connection. And the best part? You can improve your interoception by practicing exercises that increase your awareness of internal sensations and help you understand the signals your body is sending you. This can lead to better emotional and physiological regulation, self-awareness, and consciousness, and can help improve overall mental and physical health.
Interoception is an automatic mechanism, you don’t have to think about it much to know you are hungry, but where interoceptive practices get really exciting is that you can bring more consciousness to these unconscious mechanisms, giving you a greater sense of choice and empowerment in your yoga practice (and life!).
You can use the sensation of pressure as a focal point, along with mindfulness, to enhance your interoception and tap into your body’s inner wisdom. With the help of these tools, you can improve your connection with your inner landscape, leading to better emotional and physiological regulation, self-awareness, and consciousness, and can help improve overall mental and physical health.
Incorporating Balls into Your Yoga Practice
Incorporating myofascial tools like balls into your yoga practice is easier than you would think! You can start by adding ball placement to your favorite restorative or yin yoga practice. When choosing balls, look for ones with a good amount of give, as the goal is to generate a pleasant sensation, not pain.
You can also use balls to target areas of general tension (not pain) in your myofascial yoga practice, by applying pressure and increasing blood flow to specific areas of the body. The possibilities for using balls in your practice are endless and I can’t wait to share them all with you!
Want to learn more about how to use balls in your yoga practice? Check out my eBook The Embodiment Solution for more information and tips on how to apply them.
Learn More About the Science
Some of the science behind these techniques may seem complex, but it’s truly fascinating! That’s why I am so excited about our upcoming weekend workshop. Our guest teacher, Carol Davis, is an expert in the field of fascia and is great at breaking down complex scientific theories in a way that’s easy to understand. You’ll learn how to use myofascial tools to reduce chronic pain, enhance tissue repair and regeneration, and increase interoception.
Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to learn from an expert, take your understanding and practice to the next level, and unlock the full potential of your body and mind. Join us on January 28th and 29th.
Please be aware that there are some contraindications for adding ball pressure to your practice, even when being extra gentle. It’s always best to consult with you’re a medical professional before trying any new exercise or therapeutic techniques. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Or come take the training to learn all you need to know about using these tools safely and effectively!
Curious to learn more about how you can incorporate myofascial tools into your yoga classes and unwind your pain? Join us on March 16th for the next Pain-Informed Yoga Workshop and deepen your understanding of your body-mind connection.
Dates: March 16 – 19 2023
Hours: Thursday through Sunday 10 am to 5:30 pm livestream on zoom
Phone: 403-701-9567 (text messages are welcome)
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What is biotensegrity?
If you are a yoga teacher working with chronic pain populations, or even with athletes who want to sharpen their performance, incorporating the principles of biotensegrity is invaluable. Biotensegrity brings a focus on balancing the two forces of tension and compression. The word tensegrity is the blend of the words “tensile” and “integrity.” The philosophy is that when tension and compression are in integrity, the body is in balance and its energy can be used optimally and efficiently. Ideally, this looks like smooth, controlled, and efficient movement. When there has been injury or stress, the tension and compression relationship can get out of balance and postural tension in one area of the body can lead to excess compression in other areas.
How do these imbalances occur? Our bodies and brains love efficiency, so when fascia restricts due to injury or repetitive stress, our body needs to adapt to the new limitations (or demands) and find new pathways for movement forces. Sometimes this looks like a change in movement habits to avoid pain, and sometimes it is a lack of mobility or flexibility (for example, due to muscle protection).
For the sake of efficiency, the body will very quickly “learn” this new habit and integrate it as a new normal so that we can get busy focusing on other important things. This habit then becomes unconscious, meaning that you are doing it but you don’t know you are doing it. Incorporating mindfulness into movement practices is something we’ll be addressing in this training as one of the key elements to restoring the biotensegral balance of our movements. This allows us to become aware of old habits, to shift movements into conscious awareness, and to then choose balanced and healthy movements to reflect a more balanced and healthy life.