Vicky’s Pain Toolbox
Healer and osteopath, Vicky Vlachonis, is a regular in our daily lives—and a much-loved goop contributor, thanks in no small part to her holistic approach to pain. Vicky pinpoints the source (whether emotional or physical) and then releases it. We’re thrilled to preview her long-anticipated book, which offers a tactical guide to activating “Positive Feedback” in our lives: First, we must “Reflect” and identify the causes of physical and emotional pain, then “Release” that pain, and finally “Radiate” into a positive, pain-free daily existence. We also asked her for her toolkit of exercises and remedies, which bring a little more harmony to the daily grind.
Our History Is Written on the Body
by Vicky Vlachonis
Emotions, ALL emotions, are normal. They’re neither good nor bad; they simply ARE.
“Problems don’t start because of emotions themselves. The trouble comes when you don’t express or release them. Layers of buried emotions build up in our scar tissue, causing adhesions in our fascia, the layer of tissue that stretches around all the muscles and organs.
These festering, unprocessed emotions clog up circulation and generally create disharmony within the body.
Once you really see and feel those buried emotions, and can pinpoint where the pain is actually coming from, you can consciously increase the flow of your body’s natural painkillers and anti-inflammatory chemicals to help you release the pain and heal.
One of my clients has a scar between her big toe and second toe that she got 15 years ago, the night she broke up with an old boyfriend. He’d been the jealous sort. One evening, when his paranoia had hit a fever pitch, she dropped a piña colada on her foot and the glass smashed—and, with it, her relationship.
That point where the broken glass cut her—between her big toe and second toe—also happens to be an acupuncture point for the liver meridian, where Chinese medicine says anger is stored. Research at the Mayo Clinic found that over 95 percent of these acupuncture points, which Chinese medicine has described for two thousand years, correspond to common myofascial trigger points.
So after using acupuncture on her scar to good effect in the clinic, I taught her how to use the self-healing trigger point of that scar as a portal to her own healing. Now, whenever she is feeling overwhelmed or angry or she can’t sleep, she will put her thumb on that trigger point and press until she can feel it “give,” until the scar tissue softens and she can feel the bloodflow increase in her feet. At first, we used this scar to help her release the pain of her past. Now she uses it to unblock the pain of the present and to nudge herself back into Positive Feedback.
We experience all our feelings, thoughts, actions, and reactions through these connections between our nervous system and our musculoskeletal system.
Consider all the parts of the brain that intersect when we experience strong emotions:
• The limbic system, the site of our instinctual emotional reactions.
• The hypothalamus, which connects with the endocrine system and the gut organs.
• The amygdala, where we process sensory information into memory and learning.
• The cortex, where we regulate emotion.
Every emotion we experience leaves a trace throughout these areas of the brain. Those exact emotions can be retriggered by anything we experience, whether in the real world (through our senses) or purely in our minds, that seems similar to those memories written into our cells.
Emotional pain is the same as physical pain—not just metaphorically, but literally.
The body and brain process both types of pain in absolutely the same way. So while it may make perfect sense to you that your body still holds on to an old tennis injury or the whiplash you got in college, it should also seem reasonable that the pain of your breakup with your college boyfriend might still be locked in your tissues in the same way.
Those emotional and physical connections endure for years and years, drawing direct links between our past and our current experiences. Not surprisingly, researchers have found that people who endured trauma as children and still have lingering feelings of helplessness or despair have higher levels of inflammation in the body. Our early, unhealed wounds leave us more vulnerable to the many forms of pain.
We haul our entire personal history around with us in our tissues and nervous system for life.
Unless we become aware of our pain, we can remain befuddled and imprisoned by automatic responses to an event that we think we’ve long since consciously ‘gotten over.’
The Pain Toolbox
Salt and Pepper Bath
“This bath helps relieve pain and inflammation in muscles—and it also has a healing effect on the mind. A 10-minute bath after work or late in the day can press the reset button and allow you to be fully present with your family in the evening. A research review article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that washing your hands or taking a shower can help you release feelings like doubt, regret, or a sense of being morally wrong. The researchers believe that this mechanism might be one we evolved with, to help drive early humans to remove contaminants; alternatively, it might simply be that we like to link abstract thoughts (“I had a hard day”) with direct sensory experiences (“I’ll wash it all off in the bath”). If you think about how many religious and spiritual rituals involve bathing (e.g., baptism, mikveh), it makes sense that water would have an association with purification and a fresh start.”
“As soon as you arrive home from work or after a busy day at home, start the bath—
as hot as you can stand it—and add two cups of Epsom salts and three to five drops of aromatherapy black pepper oil. Because Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulfate, they help your body absorb magnesium, which helps balance out your calcium levels and support the health of your parathyroid gland. Epsom salts also help with bloating, stiffness, or soreness.”
“Sink into the tub, breathe deeply, and let the water wash the energetic dirt from your day.
All visions of others’ angry body language can be washed away, too. (Alternatively, you can do this in the steam room or in the shower at the gym.)”
“The following meditation is a vital part of the cleansing ritual
and allows for both grounding/resetting and self-compassion. Close your eyes and see a white light or a white sheet protecting you. Take a moment to think this silent meditation:
This exercise is especially important for mothers who run around and serve everyone else’s needs without properly attending to their own. In fact, it’s mandatory for those women. (Trust me: I know your excuses. Just make it happen.)
If you have a more intense weight pressing down on you, one that you may have taken out on an unsuspecting, undeserving loved one, this is an ideal time to give yourself a pass, too:
Then think of your kids, your spouse, a dear friend—anyone who makes your whole body smile and gives you “happy wings.” Think to yourself:
Allow yourself at least 10 minutes. It doesn’t have to be incredibly long, particularly if this will encourage you to do it more often. Frequency will help you more than doing a 45-minute bath once a month (or year).”
“One form of this ancient practice was invented in Greece, and it’s long been a favorite grooming habit in Europe. With its 17 square feet of surface area, skin is our largest cleansing organ, akin to our lungs and kidneys. When you dry-brush, you increase your circulation, shed dead skin cells, and stimulate lymphatic drainage, moving nutrients from your blood into your cells and removing toxins. Your lymphatic system, which is responsible for about 15 percent of your body’s circulation, transports white blood cells that help rid the body of toxic materials. Even blockages on the surface of the skin can cause congestion throughout the lymph system, and dry brushing is one of the most effective ways to ensure that the system stays active and clear. Another beautiful bonus: Brushing stimulates production of collagen and elastin fibers, which help support skin as it ages.
(But please note: Never do dry brushing on your face; instead, use a wet, soft loofah with some facial cleanser.) I find that dry brushing wakes up my skin and my psyche in ways almost nothing else does!”
“Start with a brush specifically designed for dry brushing. Some people recommend vegetable-based brushes, but I love the boar’s-hair brush that I bought in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, boar’s-hair brushes aren’t as common in the States. Be warned: Your skin may be very sensitive to dry brushing at first, so go gently.”
“Work the brush in circular movements, starting with the soles of your feet, working upward, and always in the direction of your heart. (When stimulating circulation and lymph system, you always want to be brushing in the direction of venous and lymphatic flow.) Proceed in the order below.”
- Soles of feet
- Tops of feet
“Now move to the back. Remember to brush in the direction of the heart, alternating sides, in the order below.”
- Lower back
- Lower abdomen
- Upper abdomen
“Stop there, and then start on your arms.”
- Backs of hands
- Upper arms
“Once you’re done, your skin should feel soft and alive and ready for a shower.”
“Visualize any negative feelings being washed away, circling down the drain. After your shower, do your self-massage with oil as usual.”
Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation
“The Tibetan Rites are a sequence of five poses believed to be several thousand years old that have been called “a fountain of youth.” First introduced to the West in 1939 in a quirky book called The Eye of Revelation by Peter Kelder, the Tibetan Rites are being embraced more and more as a rejuvenating, simple, portable, cost-free exercise program that can keep your chakras open (Kelder called them “vortexes”), your circulation flowing, your balance fine-tuned, and your muscles fit and strong until well into your golden years. (You’ll notice, in figures 4 through 8, that several of the poses are very similar to yoga!) Please note: Throughout each of the exercises, please breathe only through your nose with your mouth closed. “Pump” your breath through your nostrils. If you’re doing it correctly, your breath will be loud—don’t be embarrassed! This is the way it should sound. The sound of your breath will also help your concentration.”
“No matter where I am in the world, I do this sequence every single day. Sometimes, when I need an extra boost, I’ll even do it twice a day. I do 21 repetitions of each pose, which the original text stated was the optimum number. Start slow, with increments of three repetitions, and work up to 21. In between each exercise, lie on the floor, and take three deep breaths, in and out through your nose.”
Rite No. 1 “Stand tall and long, as if you have a string from the top of your head to the ceiling, with your arms outstretched. Concentrate on stretching your middle finger as far as possible. Keep your shoulders back and down, relax your jaw, and keep your tummy pulled in. Keep your eyes open and select a point on the wall to orient yourself and to help you count. Turn from left to right (clockwise), pivoting around your right foot, taking small, rapid steps, inhaling and exhaling deeply as you spin. Most adults can spin only about six times before they become dizzy. If you become dizzy, please stop, bring your hands together, interlace your fingers, and bring your hands to your heart. Stare at your thumbs and breathe deeply until the dizziness passes. Then you can start again. Start with three repetitions and by the end of Radiate, work up to 21.”
Rite No. 2 “From this position, place your hands underneath your lower back and upper buttocks. Fingers should be kept close together with the fingertips of each hand turned slightly toward those of the other hand. Index finger should meet index finger, and thumb should meet thumb, to form a little triangle to cushion and protect the spine under the sacrum/coccyx. Breathe in and hold it, and raise your neck gently, pushing down slightly on your elbows to protect your neck. Then raise your feet until your legs are straight up, with big toe against big toe. If possible, let your feet extend back a bit over the body, toward the head, but don’t let your legs bend. Then slowly lower your feet to the floor and allow the muscles to relax. Finally, slowly let go of your neck and breathe out. (This entire motion should happen with one breath.) Repeat the entire sequence again, working up to 21 times.”
Rite No. 3 “Kneel down on the floor and place your hands on the back of your thighs (or, if you have lower back pain, place your palms on your lower back). Exhale and lean your head forward until your chin rests on your chest. Keeping your chin tucked, inhale and lean backward until you feel the stretch in your thighs. Hold your tummy in and clench your buttocks, for extra support. Repeat, inhaling as you arch the spine and exhaling as you straighten.”
Rite No. 4 “Move into a sitting position on the floor with your feet stretched out in front of you. Flex your feet. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips. Now tuck your chin to your chest. Breathe in and raise your body and bend your knees so that the legs, from the knees down, are practically vertical, like a table. The arms, too, will be straight up and down, while the body, from the shoulders to the knees, will be horizontal. Allow your head to gently drop back as far as it will go. Breathe out and return to a sitting position, relax for a moment, and then repeat.”
Rite No. 5 “From a kneeling position, place your hands on the floor about two feet apart and stretch your legs out to the rear, with the feet about two feet apart. Stretch your fingers out wide, and then, bearing your weight on arms and toes, breathe out and allow the body to sag down and bring the head up, pulling it back as far as possible without hyperextending. Then breathe in and push the hips up as far as they will go; at the same time, bring your chin toward your chest. Draw your belly button in toward your spine. Repeat, breathing in as you raise the body and exhale fully as you lower the body.
When you’ve completed the Tibetan Rites, finish by lying on your back with your knees bent, close your eyes, and do this brief breathing exercise: Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your tummy. Take a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling from your nose only. Allow your stomach to expand on the inhale and retract on the exhale. (Make sure that you reach the “bottom” of your lungs, then exhale—that triggers a relaxing parasympathetic nervous system reflex.) Repeat three times.”
Excerpted from The Body Doesn’t Lie: A 3-Step Program to End Chronic Pain and Become Positively Radiant by Vicky Vlachonis, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2014 by Vasiliki Vlachonis.