The Nervous System And Pain

Your nervous system, perception of the world and how you handle stress can have a huge impact on pain. However, at most doctors office’s or health care providers this topic is never mentioned. Let’s talk about what this actually means, and what you have control over to make change.

Last weekend I taught two workshops on low back pain. And, what might have been a surprise to the group is after I went over anatomy and biomechanics of the body and what can go wrong. I then taught about our nervous system. This is where the yoga and inner work really come in. 

Stress in life is good. It forces us to evolve and grow, it’s designed to keep us safe. It’s when we are stuck in the stress response 24/7 and 1) are not aware and/or 2) maybe aware but do not know how to move from a heighten stress response to more replenishment. 

If we are in the stress response 24/7 the hormones and physiological cascade taking place in the body is one designed to propel us to action, or keep us safe. For example, muscles are primed to run or protect, blood pressure raises, cortisol is secreted. This necessary at times, however to live here ALL THE TIME is not healing and will definitely tax the adrenals just to start. So how do we move to the more relaxing nervous system? And why? 
Well research is now showing the the exhalation breath (double the inhale) can help to stimulate the PolyVagal response disinhibiting the sympathetic fight/flight response. Certain scents (like from essential oils) can also help to establish an anchor point of relaxation by communicating directly with the limbic portion of the brain. At the workshops students experienced both of these techniques directly. 

But, first awareness is key. We have to catch ourselves when we are in a stressed or anxious state. Remember this stress or anxiety is caused by you! You are in control of how you feel. Someone didn’t do anything to you, for example. Imagine two 10 year old boys playing in a living room when a giant white fluffy dog runs into the room. Based upon past learned experiences one boy feels safe and happy with dogs so they run up and give the dog a hug, laughing and smiling. The other boy however, has had a bad past with dogs so he is scared and runs away to hide crying. Same dog, same situation it’s the boy’s interpretation of the situation that lead to the emotional response of happiness or fear. The same is true in life for EVERY situation. Each of us will perceive every situation differently, and therefore have a different response. Mic drop. 

So why do we care if we are stressed and anxious? What does this have to do with pain? Well research states, those that have a mediation practice, participate in moving meditation activities such as yoga, and have an improved awareness of their body’s responses are better able to modulate pain, and in research studies the frequency, intensity and even how far the pain spreads is reduced. This is huge! 

When you become better at this (it is a practice) you will feel more in control of your pain, less dependent on “healers” and more confident. That’s my goal to work myself out of a job, get you more independent on your own and checking in only as required by you. However, this does take time and like any new skill you have to be taught, and you need to practice. This is why one session fix everything sessions don’t work. It’s because I need to teach you the physical exercises to work with your dysfunction to reduce the pain, but also we need to unravel and work on all this as well too. This takes time and definitely more than one session. The upside is when you get it, it’s a skill to carry with you for the remainder of your life!

If you are interested in learning more schedule a free consult with me here:


Alison McLean

"I help the Entrepreneur reduce stress and live a more fulfilled and balanced life."