From Pain to Possibility
Episode 6: The Body as a Barometer
Intro: You're listening to From Pain to Possibility, with Susi Hately. You’ll hear Susi’s best ideas on how to reduce or even eradicate your pain and learn how to listen to your body when it whispers so you don't have to hear it scream. And now here's your host, Susi Hately.
Susi: With this episode, I want to get into the concept of the body being a barometer. It’s a really important concept in the work that I do with my private clients, as well as when I train yoga teachers and other medical professionals in utilizing yoga therapeutically. And really, the idea here is that the body isn't this passive thing that follows at the whim of our emotions or our desire, that it actually has an interplay and that the symptoms and sensations that we can experience as feelings—not necessarily emotions, but as feelings in our body—they can give us indications of whether we are pushing ourselves too hard or too little or we need rest or something of that sort. It also plays into the concept of my yellow-light model, which I'll also dig into on this episode, and how these two relate and things that you can do moving yourself forward to support yourself or to support your clients or your patients.
To give insight into this, let me share a story of one of my private clients, who, after about a year and a half of working with me, became honest around one of these ideas that I shared with him. He said, “You know, for a long time, Susi, you would talk about listen to your yellow lights, listen to the whispers. And I sort of nodded in my way of nodding, but I didn't really appreciate what you were saying, nor did I want to take it on. And the reason was that all of my life, my success has been built off of not listening to my body. It's been not listening to those sensations, and it's been pushing aside those sensations. So to actually start to pay attention to them actually meant that it was a weakness of mine, that I couldn't keep overriding them. Because before, if I didn't listen to them, then I could push through; and if I listened to them, they were being the obstacle to my success.”
So this is not an uncommon thing that I hear. A lot of people tell me that they have been taught that their body is not an intelligent place. And so whatever the sensations are, they're just sensations and shouldn't be paid attention to. So why even pay attention to them, right? They're just getting in the way of getting things done. When in reality, what I have found is when people do start to pay attention to them, they actually unearth some really important intelligence and feedback of how they're moving along.
So to give an idea of this is if you think about the line, “when you listen to the whispers, you don't have to hear the screams,” when you think about the whisper piece, if you can uncover and recognize what those whispers are that are correlated to the screams that you might be experiencing in your body, then you can make a lot of change at a whisper level. So it's recognizing that these symptoms have something, or sensations, have something to share with you. So if you take that on as an idea, as a concept, then those symptoms are here to say, “Hey, something is going on, and we want you to pay attention.” That sensation in your body is saying, “Hey, I want you to pay attention.”
Now, if the symptom or the sensation isn't loud enough or isn't strong enough or it doesn't get your attention for long enough, then the likelihood is that you're just going to blow by it, push it aside until something louder or greater intensity or number gets your attention. And then you're going to start to change, right? So when I'm working with a client, that state that I just referred to, when it starts to really get your attention and you realize that life is no longer really working, that is what I call a red-light phase. It’s life is becoming constricted enough that something needs to change.
So when I'm starting to work with someone, I initially am helping them come to their yellow lights. Think about a traffic-light monitor, right? So I'm helping them come to those yellow lights. What are some of the quieter indicators that are letting you know that after yellow comes to red? And so initially, it might be things like how they're moving; and when they take their arms over their head, do other parts of their body kick in to make that movement happen? Are they borrowing from one area—or stealing, even, from one area—in order to make the other area work? which really isn't enabling the other area to work. It's just utilizing inefficient patterns from the other area and creating sort of a miscommunication between the parts and with the brain in terms of how movement’s meant to happen. So it can create some confusion and some compensation and perhaps even some buffering with how movement happens. So when I can help someone recognize what their movement is actually meant to be and how it is currently, the reality of it, they start to recognize some of the correlating factors between how they're moving and some of the symptoms of their experience.
So to give you an example of this, when I have someone come to see me who has back pain, I will tend to start by looking at how their leg bone moves in their pelvis, how their femur and their pelvis move. And I might do some movements like rotation or extension or flexion, and I’m looking at how overall their body moves. And invariably, I will find something that's not working as well as it could, that there's some inefficient movement pattern. And I'll explain to the person about that movement pattern and how that might be correlated to what's going on in their back.
Now, I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that it's causal to their back, because I don't actually know what's causal to their back being sore. But what I can say is, “There are some correlated patterns here to why that’s an expression in your back.” And oftentimes, when I'm sharing that with someone, they get a little bit pale through their face. And I'll say, “Actually, this is not bad,” because they'll say something like, “Wow, I'm effed.” And I’m like, “No, no, no. It's not bad. This is not a bad thing. This is a movement-pattern scenario that I can help you solve or resolve. And it makes sense that there is this movement-pattern inefficiency and that you have back pain. If you actually moved well and you had this back pain, I’d be sort of scratching my head, as to saying, ‘How can I help this person?’ But the fact is, there's an inefficiency in the movement pattern, there's some limitation here, and you also have back pain. And so the likelihood of your back pain starting to reduce as your movement pattern improves is very, very likely.”
So I'm helping them understand some of the yellow lights that are these biomechanical patterns, and helping them become aware of some of these biomechanical patterns, because a lot of times, these biomechanical patterns are under our level of awareness, and we can't change them. So a lot of times, these yellow lights are so quiet that we can't perceive them because they're just not loud enough. So as I can help someone become more and more and more and more aware of these yellow lights, of these whispers, then the less opportunity there is for them to experience the red. They start to see that the movement patterns in their body and the experience of qualitatively how their leg bone moves and even quantitatively how their leg bone moves or doesn't move, or how their arm bone moves or doesn't move, that starts to be some data points for them to why they have the symptoms that they have. The symptoms are merely expressing some of the issues that are going on.
So like I've said in other episodes, when someone can, then, pay attention to when those symptoms start to come back—so they've settled out after a session and they start to come back—they can begin to sort of look at it and go, “Hold on a second here. What else is going on at the time or before the time these symptoms increased?” And then, when they can start to map that out a little bit, they gain a much greater understanding of themselves, or their body as this barometer, that their body is simply looking to give themselves some information about what's working and what's not working. So then, as they have more of that data, more of that understanding, more of the dashboard and seeing what those monitors are, see what those dials are, they can pay closer attention to, “Oh, okay, I'm noticing that I’m in a little bit of a yellow zone right now. I'm no longer in green. Maybe I’m even going up to an orange as I move towards red. Maybe I actually need to do a walk, or maybe I actually need to do something else.” And so, then, they start to be able to make some better choices for where they are at and start to learn how to conserve some of their energy and utilize that energy effectively.
So this is the initial stages of recognizing that there's some intelligence here in their body and that the symptoms are this communication mechanism, which is why these yellow lights are so important. And so if they pay attention and pay attention to these signals, then they can listen a lot more closely to what's going on and give much more accurate interventions for themselves and give more information to their healthcare provider, who can then utilize that information to deduce what might be a good intervention for them.
So then where we can start to map more and more cleanly with a lot more clarity is thinking about the positive characteristics and maybe the negative characteristics, and start to plot when someone feels really, really good, and maybe when they don't feel really good, and starting to get clearer on some of those correlating pieces that are around about the same time as not feeling good and feeling good. And then, what begins to happen is you begin to see the patterns in the experiences that you're having. And when you can start to see the patterns and intervene at the level of a pattern, then you can make a lot more change. If you're just noticing one, like, the hip flexor is super tight, or the back is painful and then you take an Advil to have that pain go away, or take the Tylenol to have the pain go away, then you're only working at one point. But if you can start to get an understanding of some of these contributing factors to the pain coming up and starting to see more of a pattern over time, then you're able to do something much more specific, that might have a larger impact.
So what often happens is after a session, someone will head out and start to just be aware that their symptoms have abated, that they're a lot less. And then, after a day or two days, they begin to feel those symptoms start to come back. And then I’ll ask them, “What else did you notice that was going on?” And then oftentimes, they'll be able to say, “Well, I think I kind of noticed this, and I sort of think I kind of noticed it,” and then we'll utilize that “I think I kind of noticed something” because this exploration of being aware of one's body is somewhat new to a lot of people. So often, when we see commercials out there about pain, it's that pain is a normal physiological process, and it's really not going to get better, so you might as well take this pill and carry on with life, right? Or there's other ones I've seen around cold medication, around, “I'm not going to let this cold stop me. So I'm going to take this medication, get on with life.” And I'm not knocking the pain medication or the cold medication. But what I do see is that those types of advertisements help perpetuate this idea that the body doesn't have intelligence, that the body's symptoms are merely an annoyance, not actually some information that can be utilized. So then, the symptoms don't have to be feared or be pushed away. They can be utilized in a way of curiosity, a way of exploration, and a way of understanding.
It's also a reason why templates give you only so much sustainability, because templates are based off of categories of symptoms, where a bunch of people benefited from the protocol but not necessarily all of the people benefit from the protocol. So then, how do you know if what you're doing for yourself, or as a practitioner with your clientele, how do you know what—would you just throw the protocol at the person and hope and pray that will work? Whereas when you can utilize that mechanism, but then ask them, “All right. Now notice what's going on in your body. What are you feeling? What are you noticing? And how is this impacting your system?”
This concept also pertains not only to the initial process of reducing pain or reducing symptoms, but it also applies to when we want to have progress. So sometimes what can happen is a person will be following this process, and they'll notice that their symptoms of pain, or other symptoms like autoimmune flare ups, for example, or migraines, they'll notice that the symptoms are reducing quite a bit, and they’re noticing the pieces and the correlating factors associated with the pain dropping or the pain going up. So they're gaining a good understanding of what is contributing to this experience and expression of symptoms. And they will feel really, really good. Their energy levels are coming up. And what can sometimes happen is that they feel like they're through this pain. And I've had clients of mine say to me, “So if the pain is gone, does it mean that the pain is actually gone gone?” And I have to say them, that, no, it doesn't mean that.
And as I've said in previous episodes, the notion of improvement here is about improving neuromuscular patterning. And so you’ve improved a pattern, which you're aware of the yellow lights that were contributing to the old symptoms, and you have this new pattern. But this new pattern isn't as grooved as your old way of being. So if a load externally comes onto you, whether it's physical or whether it's emotional load, how you process it is very similar. And so if it's too big of a load, then you might go back into your old survival mechanisms. And going back into those old survival mechanisms will probably use neuromuscular patterning from those old patterns, and so your symptoms associated with those neuromuscular patterns can often show up.
So when I'm working with a client, I'm paying very close attention to the life curve balls because they can reduce their symptoms quite quickly and gain some traction and some stamina and build. And then something might happen, like somebody's parent dies or something happens with their child or something happens around them, in their environment. Like, when this is being recorded, we've got the coronavirus going on. So something around them starts to happen, and that can increase their stress load and pull into their survival strategies, and that can have an impact on how they feel.
So if the symptoms come up very drastically, then that gives me feedback and information for how I can support them, given their experience and their response to the environmental or to the loads that have now come in on them. And so I can take from their gains of understanding and awareness and build upon that. So what I really want to emphasize is just because an environmental or a physical load has come onto somebody and their symptoms have returned, it doesn't mean they've gone back to square one. Not at all. Because the awareness is that they gained in the process of recovery and healing are still there. You can't become unaware of the things that you're now aware of. And so we just build upon that. We recognize that the stamina that we built couldn't withstand this external load.
Then there's other times where these external load comes in, and the person sails through it just fine. So then we know in that circumstance that they had the stamina, and they were able to navigate that particular scenario really, really well.
There's other times where people will feel like they've gone through the line. They're like, “All right. Yes, this is done. The pain is over.” And then they go right back to their previous way of active living. And that can be problematic because the patterning, the neuromuscular patterning, that they've gained is for where they are at now. It's not for what they are now doing.
So a really important line to keep in mind is “the better you get, the better you need to get.” So the integrity, the neuromuscular integrity, that you're gaining by doing movements and improving your mechanical patterns for where you're now at aren’t the same patterns that you need for more complex, complicated movements. And so we have to keep that in mind, that as you continue to improve, more opportunities are going to show up for you. And then out of those new opportunities, you're going to need to improve the integrity of your system. And so, then, once you improve the integrity of your system, how you operate fully from a psychological, neurological, mechanical standpoint, that's going to then open up more doors, and then you’re going to have to improve the integrity, and open up more doors and improve integrity, which is why this is a consistent, ongoing process of growth, is that you have the systematic requirements for where you are now, and then that's only going to grow in function the more opportunities that come your way, which is why we come back to this idea as the body as a barometer. It becomes really important to keep paying attention to your system. So it's not that you're paying attention to your body as a barometer just in recovery. But when you're out and about, after you've made that big gain of improvement, you want to keep staying aware of your system so you can continue to make more and more substantial gains in a stepwise consistent fashion.
So let's look at this from the perspective of the healing model, where awareness leads to clarity, and clarity leads to better connection, and connection leads to better internal neurological, neuromechanical, psycho-emotional feedback, and then that improving of feedback then grows the awareness again, and so and so on we go. And so we keep growing and keep deepening our level of awareness and how our body is functioning, which continues to consistently provide us with clarity on what works and what doesn't work so that then we can choose more accurately what we need to reconnect, and that reconnection then continues to improve our feedback mechanisms. You'll gain a lot more clarity with that consistency, and you'll also gain a lot more confidence in what it is that you're experiencing. And it continues and it continues and it continues and it continues.
So where and how do you start with this process of the body being a barometer and utilizing the yellow-lights methodology towards supporting yourself? So the first thing I would pay attention to is just notice what it is that you're feeling. And if you're doing some of the small movements that you can find from me, whether it's on Facebook or on YouTube or in Susi's Resource Library, notice how it is that your body moves through those movements. Is there pain present as you're moving? And does that pain increase? Do you notice any gripping through your body while you're doing the movements, like jaw tension or holding your breath or gripping in areas that you don't necessarily need to grip in while you do the movements? And then, if you do notice any of that, can you now move in a range of motion that doesn't have your pain increase, that doesn't have you gripping or bracing? Just as an idea. And then, notice what it is that you notice. And then, from that point, you might then perceive that when you start to hold tension in your body, that might be something related to the symptoms that you experience. Or you might notice that there's factors that lead to you increasing tension in your body, which then lead to your symptoms increasing.
So do you see where I've gone there? So we look at the symptoms increasing as being a yellow light, moving to a red light, and that the gripping might be a yellow light. And then the factors that lead to the gripping might also be a yellow light, but more of a dimmer yellow light. So then when you notice that which is leading to each piece, then you have the opportunity to make an intervention anywhere along that spectrum and start to see if when you've added that intervention, does something change?
The example I like to use are clients who are celiac, and before they learned that they were celiac, they had all sorts of discomfort and pain. And then they, for a week, they got rid of the wheat, and it was like instantaneous, something had changed. And then they could start to pay attention to what contributed to that, and then they could then make more conscious choices about what they need to eat to support themselves.
So when your body and your system are given the stimuli that really works for it, then things change really, really quickly. This is why it's important to pay attention to the dimmer yellow lights and intervene in that bad area, because then you start to build a greater and greater and greater bandwidth for not needing to be in orange or red. You gain a greater bandwidth for being in the dimmer yellow and maybe even green.
So if I circle back to the story that I shared about a client of mine who said, “You know, all of this was really kind of interesting for you to share with me. But ultimately, I didn't want to listen because it felt like it was a weakness,” what ended up happening as a transformation was that they came to realize how powerful the communication is in their body. And as someone who would get sick quite regularly, they haven't been sick for an incredible amount of time, because they're able to more finely tune what their energy and their fatigue levels are and are able to intervene a lot sooner.
And this is something that I noticed happening a lot with people who experienced burnout, is that they don't even realize that they're burned out because they're people who tend to have a bias towards a lot of activity anyway, and that their pain is just this thing that sort of in the way, but they can just keep pushing through and pull up their bootstraps and carry on. But then they're also noticing that they are feeling more fatigued, and their brain’s not quite as clear, and getting out of bed in the morning, they feel like they're peeling their face off their pillow, and it's just really hard to get going, even though once they get going, they can kind of get rolling in a wired state. When they first start to recognize these yellow lights, it can be incredibly frustrating but also very clarifying because they recognize how their body is talking to them. And while all they want to do is create, create, create, create, create, they're realizing that their capacity and their capability are not a match, that there is a gap between what they currently can do and what they really can do. So when I'm talking with them about really where they're at and understanding their frustrations, what I'm also saying is that they have a huge capacity to create, so why not build up the resources to be able to do that creation rather than trying to create off of a really empty fuel tank? And then they're able to take more and more baby steps towards getting to that place where their capability and their capacity is a match.
There is a book called The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, and in that book, there is one line that stands out of all of them, and that is this: what is the one thing that, when done, makes all else easier or unnecessary? And so when I can give that sentence, or I can offer that book, up to a client, then they can actually sit back a little bit more clearly and say, “Okay, what is the first baby step that I can do? What's the one thing that I can do that can support myself in moving forward and in recovery? What can I attach my brain to to be able to continue to move forward?” And then in this way, that someone can then start to feel a little bit more clearly what's going on through their system and how that feeling is supporting or depleting them in what it is that they're wanting to do.
So when you can think about your body as being a barometer, as being a mechanism of communication, and those symptoms are really, really great communicators, and those symptoms can fall into the spectrum that I like to use the traffic-light analogy for—red lights, yellow lights, and green lights—and where they fall inside of that and how they're contributing to an expression of pain, then what you're developing is this ability to listen to the whispers so you don't have to hear the pain, which means that you can work in a much more efficient and effective place, creating things that are being more supportive of you rather than depleting.
Now, if this is something that you want to dig into more, and you're a professional and you're seeking professional training, then please reach out to us at [email protected] And if you want more personalized training, you’d like to connect with me for a one-to-one private series of sessions, then please connect with us, and let’s have a conversation about how I can help. And you can reach us, again, at [email protected]
Enjoy. Have a great day. We’ll see you on the next episode.