Helping people in ongoing pain and stress is a challenge for a number of reasons. One important obstacle is that usually they have learned to disconnect from their body experience to reduce the feeling of pain. The problem with this strategy is that it also cuts them off from the resources and wisdom of the body that can help resolve pain and stress.

I have found that working with breathing is generally the best place to start. For Marina who struggled with neck and shoulder pain related to computer stress, I suggested that she simply follow the movement of her breath through her body and let me know what she discovered. “My breathing seems OK except it feels a little shallow,” she answered. We spent a few more minutes deepening her breath by suggesting that she place both of her hands on top of each other her diaphragm, press down gently on the inhale, then let go completely on the exhale. We then repeated this with her chest. This seemed to ease constriction and allow breathing to flow more easily.

Once her breathing seemed more relaxed, I asked Marina to describe her “hot spots” of discomfort, which were her neck, shoulders, and back. When I asked what helped those areas, she told me that heat helped temporarily. I asked Marina to find the area in her body that seemed to hold the most warmth. After a pause, she responded that she felt pleasant warmth just below her belly button. We explored her sense of this warm area, and Marina described it like a fuzzy ball of warmth.

I asked Marina if she could imagine how she might move the warm ball up toward her neck and shoulders. After a pause, she told me that she was able to move the ball up toward her shoulders each time she inhaled. Encouraging her to take her time, I suggested that she notice what that warm pathway was like for her.

After several minutes, Marina described the warm ball as moving across both of her shoulders; when she breathed in, the ball moved to the left shoulder, and when she exhaled, the ball moved across her neck and through her right shoulder.

Marina seemed pleased by her discovery and eager to practice on her own. Because she experienced success during the first practice session, she was motivated to keep practicing. Her “warm ball” technique gave her confidence that she could work with her body to make a difference. After a few weeks, her pain and stress levels had dropped significantly.

What can you learn from Marina to make a difference in your pain and stress?

• Make sure you are connected with your body by connecting with your breathing. At first, don’t change it. Just feel your breath move naturally.
• Next, find out what might help your breathing feel more relaxed. Just bringing your mind awareness to your body experience will open new mind-body pathways.
• Identify what is already helping you and build on success. Find a way to recreate or strengthen this resource and begin practicing to learn how your body can best use it.
• Practice, practice, practice to create permanent change! Then add the next resource and repeat these steps.

Author's Bio: 

Maggie Phillips, Ph.D., has taught at major conferences on hypnosis, Ego-State Therapy, EMDR, behavioral medicine, Somatic Experiencing, and Energy Psychology in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, Scandinavia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, and Japan. As the author of numerous papers and articles on trauma, hypnosis, and mind-body healing, she specializes in the treatment of stress and pain disorders. Maggie is author of the best selling book Reversing Chronic Pain and the creator of a multi-media self-help program at She has recorded two CD programs on pain: Hypnosis: The Pain Solution and Hypnosis: The Headache Solution. As an innovator in mindbody healing and in the treatment of persistent pain, Dr. Phillips is particularly interested in the interface of trauma, stress, and pain conditions.

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