Forgetting Pain | Alisha’s Story
I’m Alisha Hale with The Movement Project and I recently spoke with you all about my journey back into a healthy, active lifestyle. The truth is that personal trainers and health educators are not exempt from personal problems and struggles. I want to share bits and pieces of my truth with you because I know that attempting to make positive changes in your life can feel unattainable. The reality is that anything is possible but it may not come easy. The value in that message is that when you achieve your goal it makes the agony, the sadness, the struggle, and the pain literally that much more worth it – the satisfaction is empowering.
I’m sharing a video of part of my workout doing an exercise that I literally could not even hold in an isolated position 4 months ago. I have had a chronic wrist problem since the age of 16, starting during Softball season while swinging a bat on a frigid-cold, Western New York kind of Spring day. Gradually, what began as aching and minor pain progressed into severe stabbing pain that kept me from doing everything I love. I couldn’t ride my bike because I could not hold onto the handlebars. When I would demonstrate pressing-type exercises for my clients I would hold my breath from the pain. I did what every normal person would do; I kept eliminating the activities that caused me pain until one day I couldn’t do anything with my arms.
Most of you know I’m in school for Acupuncture – I need my arms.
Four months ago, I was attending a Zhealth workshop in NYC and we were learning about neural chunking. Essentially, neural chunking is our brains way of organizing information to create learning, memories, and movement. According to Zhealth, “every movement dysfunction, pain, or skill performance is a neural chunk.”
In my efforts to avoid pain in my wrist I was creating larger and larger neural chunks. First, I was afraid of swinging the bat because that is how my pain started. Then I didn’t want to ride my bike. Then I couldn’t open tightly bound lids on jars. Then I couldn’t do a pushup. Then I couldn’t do a plank. Then I would sometimes drop dishes from the pain in my wrist. I couldn’t even hold a dish. I couldn’t do almost anything with my arms. The neural chunk kept getting larger and larger and larger and it was all based on my brains fear of what it perceived to be a potential threat.
This all became clear to me at that workshop in NYC 4 months ago when we were assessing bone rhythm on pushups. I didn’t participate because I “couldn’t” do it. I pulled Mike Golden, our instructor, aside at the end of the workshop and explained that I couldn’t do a pushup without pain. He said, “Ok, show me your pushup.” I then went into a frenzy explaining all the reasons I couldn’t do a pushup and never actually showed him my pushup. At that moment, in my embarrassment, I realized that I could use the neural chunking concept to re-educate my pushups in a pain free way. The reality was I could actually do some part of that pushup without pain. If I could do one pain-free push up then that is what I needed to do to get started.
I rehabbed my pushup with pushups!
Of course, I used other supporting exercises as well but the reality is that pain lives in the brain. It is based on a perception or fear and you can break that fear down by breaking down the associated neural chunks. You have to get yourself into the position, movement, or environment that once caused pain but be in that space or place in a safe, pain-free way.
Exercise is amazing. It is supposed to feel good. It is supposed to be pain-free. You have to start where you are.
If you find yourself getting further and further away from doing the things you once could easily do, let’s talk about how to break that cycle. You will probably surprise yourself, like I did.
Good luck and remain hopeful!