Let’s Translate Neuroplasticity and Pain Relief into Finding Pleasure

The Essence of Neuroplasticity Might Just Be— Finding Pleasure!  

Are you wondering how to have less pain, and does the idea that your brain can change appeal to you? Well, it might be exciting to learn that pleasure and focusing on the good feelings can help you relieve pain. No, I don’t mean positive thinking, per se.

I just heard the renowned neuroscientist Michael Merzenich speak about his new book on pain relief, as it relates to his research in neuroplasticity. Here, I’ll share the basics.

To Begin, What is Neuroplasticity?

Like it sounds: neuro for brain and plastic for malleable (though why not beeswax?“ plastic isn’t very healthy or environmentally friendly!). It describes how the brain’s neurons keep changing and adapting, by growing and forming new connections, throughout life!  

The good news about this is that, when we have problems, we can improve! This is where I get excited….
How do we change the brain? Through our senses!

Using the senses to bring about change in my mind is fundamental to mind body, and somatic psychotherapy, approaches. The connection Merzenzich made that’s relevant here is that when it comes to pain, pain is a sensory experience —  and thus, by changing the way we sense, feel, and act — we can change pain.

Take a severe burn. Tissue damage in any part of the body is the equivalent of a screeching sound for that part of the body’s sensory receptors. Usually organized, (and here think of the difference between and organized and a clean room), they get disorganized by the traumatic event, resulting in ongoing pain “ i.e. sensory receptor chaos. (He said actually this also is what happens when your ears buzz after a loud concert, your hearing is temporarily disorganized.) What brings you back, or relieves pain, is paying attention to the rest of your body or senses, that are still organized. These parts team up to help the disorganized sensory receptors reorganize and calm down.

So you use what works to help what doesn’t. You work with comfort not pain. In Feldenkrais, this is exactly what we do, and also, through sensing and moving in areas of pleasure, you also learn to move and feel better!

Further, these ideas go beyond pain to healing emotional trauma.

In many of the somatic therapy approaches I am deeply familiar with, there is something called resourcing that also calls on our inner sense of strength, as an important part of the journey of healing trauma. Sometimes through words or memory, but usually through a direct body experience of sensing safety, we remind our bodies of the basic skills “ resources- we are capable of. Trauma can be thought of an experience of disorganization, and it is the sensory resources which restore order. The impact can be simple yet powerful.

Want a takeaway? Take time for a sensory walk in which you put down your phone, feel your feet, smell the air and look around you. Or just spend time using your senses where you are, in a sensory body meditation. Or find your own way to expand out of the box. Or spend time slowly moving and sensing the areas that are comfortable inside….