Chronic Pain? This Mindfulness Technique Might Change That

Photo: Thais Ramos Varela

I’m quick to regret the label of chronic pain. I believe in the power of words and thoughts, so the idea of labeling a consistent pain as “chronic” feels like a resignation of control and possibility. For about two and a half years now, I’ve experienced persistent little nudges and discomfort in various parts of my bodies—mostly symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain, and the general discomfort that comes along with a desk job. Yes, I visited doctors and specialists to no avail and eventually turned to alternative healing modalities—like acupuncture, exercise, hot and cold therapy, physical therapy—searching for answers in the form of relief, management, and prevention. And while these methods worked, only temporarily so. Plus, I never feel that these practices address the root of the pain circulating throughout my body, which is sharp and rarely dormant these days.

Recently, my symptoms have fluctuated in and out of remission, except for, I noticed, during the periods of heightened stress and anxiousness, which seemed to exacerbate the symptoms. On my quest to further investigate the mind-body connection in relation to pain and body trauma, I stumbled across Pyeng Threadgill’s workwith mindful movement.

“It’s about guiding people on how to be more integrated into all areas of your life. It’s a practice, not an overnight thing.”

Threadgill came across the Alexander Technique years ago as a vocalist and performer looking for tools to help strengthen her voice and body instruments. “I learned a lot about how we’re using our whole system. There’s an opportunity for openness. Time feels less rushed,” she told mbg during a session at her studio in Brooklyn. Today, she’s a certified instructor who’s reframed the technique as mindfulness and movement re-education to help everyday people focus on their movement habits and the stresses that can trigger chronic injuries and pain. “It’s about guiding people on how to be more integrated into all areas of your life. It’s a practice, not an overnight thing.”

During our session, Threadgill led me through a series of exercises steeped in awareness and conversation. Different from other bodywork treatments like massage, both Pyeng and I guided the treatment, with Pyeng adjusting the moves depending on how I responded to a particular feeling, a gentle pull on my arm there, a guided neck stretch here. After all, one of the primary principles of the technique is cultivating awareness. She explained that the moves were to help retrain the nervous system. “A lot of what we’re connecting to is connective tissue—loosening the grip of connective tissue to allow the muscles underneath to move more freely.”

I walked away from my session with Pyeng lighter and with remarkably less tension and tightness. If we all learned to think about our full alignment and our daily habits, could we shift the conversation on chronic pain from coping to healing? Pyeng’s take: “It’s about the liberation from identifying with your energies. If we can recognize our body and habits, we can change the course of our movement and, ultimately, our outlook on pain.”

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