Saturday, March 27, 2010

From Debt to Back Pain

Its like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. After months of seeing your income drop, your tension level sores. But it happens so gradually, you don't notice. One day you wake up and realize you are obsessed with your finances and next thing you know, your back hurts, you can't sit or walk properly and now you not only have no money, you have no money to do anything about your back. If this has happened to you, you know the state of helplessness and hopelessness you are left with. At this point, you need help and you need it fast. You need to turn it around in a way that is cheap, effective and immediate. How else are you going to get back on your feet again, both literally and financially?

The somatic connection between money and back pain is becoming more and more self-evident. What is the somatic connection? There is no line between mind and body, no separation. Whatever affects your mind and emotions in a profoundly adverse way will have a related effect in your body. In this case the fear translates to tension because the nervous system can't tell the difference between no money and any other potentially life-threatening experience. It goes into high arousal to be ready to protect you from danger. Breathing becomes shallow, heart rate rises, stress hormones are continuously released, especially if the situation remains, or worse yet, increases over time. However, do not despair. You can make a difference in how you feel, and you can do it yourself. You can learn to effect change in the state of your own nervous system. You can do it through the mind, or through the body. For the best results, you consider the possibility of working with both. Each is simply a doorway into a new way of responding. Think of it as working with your whole self, just entering the engagement from different places.

In Europe they use the phrase 'overindebtedness.' How much debt can one person hold before they are completely overextended? It's an individual thing. But when you are in debt or simply don't have enough money to pay the bills, it feels like being stuck in a steel trap. The muscles respond to the nervous system's signals to tense up because that is how any animal gets ready deal with an emergency: fight or flight. In fact, we become more like animals than ever when threatened because all that hormonal response tends to override normal common sense. We stop thinking and start functioning from the lower brain stem which is governed by instinctual response or by reactivity rather than conscious thought.

Herein lies the first key to dismantling the discomfort. Stop the pattern and you intervene in the pain. Conscious thought is a tool, like an opposing digit, you can pick up something new and run with it. Cat's cant do that, nor can any other animal without thumbs. Using your ability to be aware of your own movement, you can train yourself to preempt the pain pattern.

The fear feels like a steel trap because that is literally what your body turns into after long periods of that kind of stress. The stress response diminishes breathing because the instinctive response to fear is to hold still so that the physical location of the danger can be ascertained. So, now you're not breathing, your brain isn't getting as much oxygen, and the muscles of your entire torso are pretty much frozen in readiness to spring, just in case. The only problem is, a huge athletic response is not indicated as a solution to financial woes, unless perhaps you're a race horse. The result of this, over time, is that you begin to hurt because you are only moving in a few places, or only moving in the places you absolutely have to move to get around. Meanwhile, you haven't noticed anything about the deterioration in your own mobility. That, at this point, would seem to be the least of your worries.

Ah, but that's the lie. When you don't know what to do, just do something. Anything, first of all, shift your energy, shift your state of mind. How? Sing, call somebody, watch a movie, go for a walk. Do whatever it takes to move into a better-feeling state mentally. That's the first thing. Once you have gotten out of being frozen in fear, move into discovering the vast array of ways that you can deeply relax. It takes intention. Most people confuse relaxation with distraction. What you need is a profound shake up of your neurological state: you need the kind of rest that is deeper than sleep, so that the body can shift out of survival mode and make up for lost time. That level of stress creates a backlog of hormones, and physiological responses to deal with and only a deeply relaxing state can begin to repair the damage. The good news is that the repair happens at all levels simultaneously. That is the magnifigance of being a whole being, not just a mind or a muscle.

To access this kind of shift, the Feldenkrais Method of Awareness Through Movement can teach you everything you need to know. You can do it at home and you can, in many cases, do it for free what with all the resources online. It involves slow gentle movement while paying attention to different parts of yourself, simultaneously improving comfort, cognition and functionality. You may even find you start handling your finances more efficiently - because you are working with your whole self. But don't take my word for it. Try it. And remember, like anything else, you will get out of it, what you put into it. It helps if you approach it like a good novel. Suspend disbelief, at least until you have read through three or four chapters. You never know how much fulfillment you may find.

For a safe, gentle, free Feldenkrais lesson online that is appropriate for back pain, check out the breathing lesson on my website:

'The increasing number of over-indebted private households in industrialized countries and the importance of back pain for a countries economy and health care system, gave us reason to believe that a preventive approach to the "public health problem" back pain related to over-indebtedness is imminent. It may be found in socioeconomic, legal and political changes.'
explorative study of the prevalence of back pain in over-indebted persons in Germany, abstract on BMC Public Health 2009.

You can wait for society to change, or the economy, or, you can do what you can for yourself, NOW!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:09 AM

    Gabrielle - What an informative and timely (probably timeless) article. Thank you. bev


Comments and questions are always welcome.