In my last post I outlined some ideas from Neil Pearson on how to stress our bodies in positive ways, in the hopes of re-shaping the way we process pain.
I continued my experiment at the gym last night, and I think I stumbled upon the beginnings of what something like that would feel like.
Normally, when I go to the gym, I’m pretty much there to use the pool. It’s the one form of exercise I never have to “pay for” in any way afterwards, in terms of pain or stressing out my SI joints. I usually just do my warm-up and cool-down in the pool as well.
So usually, I don’t hang around– I’m just in and out. I head straight for the pool and then make an immediate beeline to shower and leave because, well, I’m freezing. It’s fun, but it’s also kind of rushed. Some days I feel like kind of a robot.
With the lessons from Neil Pearson’s post in mind, I decided to switch things up a little bit.
Last night, instead of heading straight to the pool, I first stopped by one of the empty dance studios. I had it all to myself– a big room with a smooth, polished wooden floor and one wall that was all one big mirror.
I had my headphones on, listening to a playlist of music I really liked. And I picked up one of the yoga balls, and just started dribbling it back and forth, to the beat of the music, like it was a basketball.
Now, if you think about this in terms of exercise, it’s not particularly hard. It doesn’t require a ton of strength, and I wouldn’t technically call it cardio.
But, if you think about it in terms of the nervous system, it actually was a bit challenging.
I don’t play basketball. I don’t think I’ve tried to dribble a ball in years. It’s awkward to try to dribble a giant yoga ball… but it’s kind of fun.
However, it does require quite a bit of coordination, especially as some of the songs on my playlist had pretty different beats from each other. With each new song, I had to completely switch up my rhythm.
I ended up getting really into it, dribbling and jamming out to my tunes for about 45 minutes. And I think I managed to reach exactly the kind of state of “acute stress” Neil was describing in his post.
It was a difficult new activity for me, but it was fun. It was challenging, but in a controlled way. I felt as though I was pushing the limits of my nervous system, in terms of coordinating movement patterns that were unfamiliar to me, while at the same time limiting the overall stress to my system. (In fact, I think I probably was reducing my overall stress at that point– it was the end of a good day, I had all the time in the world, and I really love my music).
I think this is the kind of activity that, when performed regularly, could have a positive impact on reshaping the way the nervous system regulates pain signals. It’s “distracting,” in a healthy and fun way.
Obviously these would be topics for further research, but I think two additional components of what I did, which add to its helpfulness, are
- That I found the activity enjoyable, and
- That I was listening to music, which on its own can also reduce our perception of pain
This is what I find so fascinating about Neil’s approach to chronic pain treatment— an activity can be therapeutic not just because it makes us stronger, or increases our endurance, but because of its impact on the nervous system.
It’s okay to treat pain and the nervous system as your top priority, not just as a side effect or the means to an end of another exercise program.
I find the concept of treating nervous system directly to be so fascinating, and I hope you do too! If you want to know more, I would definitely suggest checking out more of Neil Pearson’s work. And, as always, let me know if you have any questions or comments!