There are many ways to move toward positive health experience even if you have persistent pain or are suffering from health problems or posttraumatic stress. The first step is to identify portals, or starting places, into your body experience. This portal will serve to maximize your attempts at regulating of upsetting or painful experience.

An example is Marina, a young woman who has just recently lost both of her parents. Her father died only a few days before her first meeting with me; her mother had endured a long and difficult battle with pancreatic cancer to which she succumbed six months earlier. Marina was proud of her own endurance, and commented, “I have some reactions I need help with, like I’m not sleeping and I’m having flashbacks of how my father looked after he passed away. But I was afraid that I would go off the deep end with this and I haven’t. I’ve kept myself together.”

Key One: Defenses Are Important Strengths

First, Marina needed to learn to identify and then accept her protective and defensive mechanisms as strengths. “I can see how you’d feel good about how you’re handling these losses. It’s a lot to carry even on your capable shoulders,” I told her. “Well, actually,” she said, “my shoulders are pretty sore, as is my neck. And I can’t stop now because I have to settle my parents’ estate. My siblings want the probate process over with, and then I have my two children and my job to deal with…”

Marina could begin to see her wish to set down some of these responsibilities for just a little while, to get some rest, and some of that sleep she’d been missing so that she could find the energy to go the distance with all the challenges in her life.

Within minutes of accepting the ways she’d been burdening herself, Marina had begun weeping in relief. “I can’t go on like this much longer, but I’m not sure what to do, where to start to lighten my load even a little bit.”

Marina’s story illustrates one effective way to open the door to positive mindbody change, and that involves accepting and affirming the body’s existing protective defenses no matter how much pain or stress they may be causing. One of my cardinal rules is to insist that you not remove or dismantle whatever you’ve invested in to protect yourself from feeling any more vulnerable than you already feel.

Key 2: Consider What to Add

Then you can take the next step, which is considering what to add. In the example of Marina above, I ask her, “Marina, where in your body would you say that you carry the most suffering?” “That’s easy,” she said, “my shoulders and my neck.” “Are you willing to think with me about what we could add to help relieve the strain for your shoulders and neck?” “Absolutely,” she said.

‘OK, Marina, so what have you found that has made even a little difference in your shoulder and neck strain?” “Well,” she said. “Heat helps a little bit, but I can’t apply heat enough of the time to make much of a difference.”

“Yes, I can see your point,” I answered. “But what if we could find a way to generate internal heat, heat that comes from somewhere inside you?” “Well that would be terrific,” she said, “But I can’t imagine how we’d do that.”

So before you move on, ask yourself where you carry the most stress in your body and what has made even a little bit of difference in making you feel more comfortable.

Key 3: Generate Healing Resources that Make a Difference

So now that we have identified what might match what you have already found as a resource for the problem, we’re ready to go to work.

I have found that application of appropriate breathing techniques is generally the best place to explore as a foundational resource. For Marina, 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 asking her to place both of her hands over her chest and pressing down gently on the inhale, letting go on the exhale. For many clients, this seems to ease constriction in the chest and allows breathing to flow more easily.

After her breathing seemed more relaxed, I asked Marina to scan her body to find the area that seemed to hold the most warmth. After a pause, she responded that she felt pleasant warmth just below her belly button. We explored the felt sense of this warm area, and Marina described it like a ball of warmth.

I asked Marina if she could imagine how she might move the warm ball up toward her neck and shoulders. Following a few moments of silence, Marina 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. Again, I encouraged her to spend time refining this practice until it felt complete.

Marina seemed pleased by her discovery and eager to practice on her own. I explained to Marina that this was a form of pendulation, a Somatic Experiencingä technique (see that used natural pendulum rhythms such as breathing to help regulate various types of imbalance and discomfort in the body. We then discussed some ways she could practice her “warm ball” technique and set a date for a follow up session.

So what about you? Explore the use of the resource you have chosen—whether it’s rest or calm or relaxation or heat or light or any other possibility-- and then modify it as needed. Give yourself permission to try ANYTHING to generate positive change in the direction you are looking for. And if you don’t find much change with your first try, try again.

Key 4: Record and Track Your Results, No Matter How Subtle

Many people make the mistake of believing that if they can’t create an intensely positive healing experience on the first try or two, they aren’t going to be successful. The trouble with this approach is that it’s destined to defeat. Perfectionism rarely creates change that the mind and body can work together to integrate.

A more effective approach to healing is to track your results for several days faithfully. If you’re good at computer graphics, you can even make a graph to follow positive trends as well as negative ones.

If that idea doesn’t appeal to you, use a simple scale from 0-10 to track changes in sleep, optimism, comfort in one area of your body, using the resource you have chosen to study, such as an image or a type of breathing. Write down the number that reflects any change you are noticing, no matter how small. (If you’re stuck for ideas to try, see my online study course at which is overflowing with specific techniques).

One important rule about tracking results is to observe only one change at a time. Otherwise, when neutral or positive change happens, you won’t be sure what created the change and how to work with it further. The most effective approach to mind body healing is trial and error. That is, you try something that is already helping you; you practice a way to make an even greater positive effect (such as breathing to create deeper relaxation when you are feeling stressed; you notice the results (for example, 10 diaphragmatic breaths seem to help you turn off feelings of stress more rapidly than other ways), and you make corrections accordingly.

For example, if diaphragmatic breathing is helping you turn off the stress response, you can begin to practice more frequently or earlier when you first notice the stress reactions. If diaphragmatic breathing does not seem to make much of a difference, then try another kind of breathing such as “the calming breath.” (You can find many types of breathing techniques in my book, Reversing Chronic Pain, which covers many types of mind body problems including persistent pain).

Key 5: Understand How Your Mind Body System Works

The brain and nervous system are arranged according to the “power of 3.” That is, we actually have a triune brain beginning with the reptilian brain or brain stem as the most primitive, which regulates basic rhythms of life such as breathing and heartbeat. Next to develop was the limbic brain, which governs emotional intelligence. And the most recent third brain to evolve is the neo-cortex or the thinking brain.

What we know less about is that we have three nervous systems or circuits that direct our reactions to stress. The ventral vagal system, the most recent nervous system to develop, is in charge during nonthreatening situations and assists us in relating to others and to our environment. It also helps us to use our relationships to regulate our fear and aggressive reactions and keeps us in a safe window of tolerance.

When stress overwhelms the resources of the ventral vagal system, our brains automatically activate the sympathetic/adrenal branch of the nervous system to help us fight off the stress or to successfully flee or avoid it. If this fails, then we collapse into the freeze or immobility response, regulated by the dorsal vagal nervous system.

While we are in the freeze state, we are not necessarily uncomfortable because we dissociate from the stress or whatever is threatening us. The problem comes when we cannot surrender fully to the freeze response. A full surrender, which animals accomplish when they are threatened, allows the body to help us complete and come out of the freeze naturally. Completing the freeze response, as well as related fight or flight processes that led to the freeze, helps to reconnect us with our full energies and keep an inner balance or equilibrium.

Why is this information important? When we are in a zone of balance, stability, and security, we are within the limits of what we can tolerate and ultimately accept in our body experience. We need to understand our triune brain and triple nervous system so we know how to reach and remain within our window of tolerance.

One important strategy is to find the boundaries of this window based on our personal histories, the resources we have for support, the level of stress that exists, and the skills we have learned for coping. Some people have wide windows in that they can handle emotional highs and lows with much success. Others have very narrow windows and end up with unpredictable highs and lows that can trigger huge and frequent feelings of fear.

Ultimately, we must be able to draw on our ventral vagal social engagement system to “down regulate” or subdue any significant activation of our fight or flight responses in reaction to what appears to be an internal or external threat. We must also develop the ability to use our social support system to “up regulate” from the dorsal vagal freeze response so we can activate our energies to help us survive and even thrive.

Think for a moment about a recent stressful experience and what your reactions might reveal about your window of tolerance. For example, Eric recently had a “melt down” when shopping for his new apartment. He yelled at his girlfriend, became impatient with store clerks, and ultimately walked out of the last store he visited without buying the items he had gathered.

When Eric thought about his reactions, he realized that because of the stress he’d been under at work, the additional positive stress of moving in with his girlfriend pushed him beyond his window of tolerance. In order to stay within his “comfort zone,” he decided to limit shopping excursions to no more than one per day. This slower pace allowed him to enjoy the process of setting up his new living space with his girlfriend.

Take a few minutes now to analyze one or more of your stress episodes. What can your reactions teach you about your window of tolerance? How can you use this information to help you remain within your comfort zone? What, if anything, widens or shrinks the window related to this problem? Practice any of the strategies that you discover whenever you notice that your window of tolerance to stress begins to shrink. What happens?

Key 6: Examine Your Beliefs About Change and Commitment

You may have some negative beliefs about change based on your early history (for example, maybe you were born into an abusive family system that only became worse over time), or even relative to recent events such as a health diagnosis that has left you with little hope. We all struggle with this kind of negativity for various good reasons.

In my experience, the single most important change agent is commitment. Being in committed partnership with yourself is the fastest, most powerful way to forge positive beliefs about your ability to change.

The ingredient of commitment is a crucial factor. Are you a “fair weather” friend to yourself? That is, do you give up at the first sign of a setback? Do you hide behind excuses for your lack of progress, or do you blame others for poor results?

The truth is that we are not in control of every aspect of health—genetics plays a role, financial circumstances influence some of the treatment choices we have, and so on. Yet dwelling on these immovable factors can drain your reserves of the positive energies that can help you move forward.

So at this point, make a commitment to yourself that you know you can keep. For example, decide how many minutes you are willing to devote for how many days to practice a new technique that might help you create new mind body pathways. Even if you are only willing to devote 1-5 minutes on one occasion to try one mind body healing technique, change is possible and can become the foundation on which to build for larger, more lasting changes.

Some years ago I specialized for a time in helping people to stop smoking. As I interviewed each prospective client over the phone, I asked, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to stop?” If the answer was “no” I suggested that they try another professional because I had learned about the kind of strong commitment was necessary for success. Those who answered “yes” and began to work with me, without exception, became non-smokers largely because of the strength of their commitments to themselves.

A second level of commitment needed to embody positive beliefs about healing is the partnership between mind and body. Although we know now through neurobiological research that mind and body are not separate entities, our experience of “mind” and “body” remain different. We need to use our minds to regulate our body experience. Without using reason and relevant information, our primitive body experiences of pain and terror would destroy each spark of positive possibility. And, we also need to train our minds to trust our somatic intelligence about what strategy or method might be workable or even possible. If our minds override our bodies on these issues, we are doomed to failure.

The Practice Effect

Some months ago, Dr. Marty Rossman and I did a teleseminar together on using guided interactive imagery to create new healing pathways in the mind body system. We talked about the fact that many people have an initial positive experience with a healing method that feels almost miraculous to them, but then they begin trying to practice and find that the practice effect is not nearly as strong as the initial effect. So they often give up practicing and so the change does not become permanent.

It’s very important to expect this difference, and to understand that this happens because when working with a professional guide or product, you are required only to receive the benefits of the healing. When working by yourself, however, there is a dual requirement to be the director of the change process as well as the receiver. This dual requirement often creates a sense of more effort.

Because we are often trying to change habitual patterns that have been in place for many years, frequent practice is required to create shifts that are permanent. Without regular practice, this type of mastery over time is not possible.

Author Malcolm Gladwell who wrote The Outliers, as well as The Tipping Point, has made the compelling argument that people who generate outstanding success in their fields do so because they devote an average of 80,000 hours developing and practicing the necessary skills that bring successful outcomes.

Practice may not make “perfect,” but it is an essential ingredient in building toward permanent success and wholeness in caring for your health and well-being.

Author's Bio: