Why People Don't Heal And How They Can

I first came across Carolyn Myss, the author of this book, about 8 years ago. Since then, I've started this book 3 times and stopped because I saw different aspects of myself in the pages I wasn't yet ready to confront. If you were to put one self-improvement book on your summer reading list, I'd highly suggest this one.

Many of my clients initially come to me because they suffer from chronic pain and chronic fatigue. Naturally, they feel angry at their body and that they can't live their lives to the extent that they would like. Feeling stuck and depressed is an understandable companion to this anger. That said, the more anger we project back onto our bodies, the longer and more fraught the healing process is. A more effective path to healing is seeing the pain as a point of entry to explore deep within ourselves. In Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, Myss offers some ways to identify if we're suffering from what she calls Woundology and belief systems that could stifle our healing process.

These are the author's top 5 belief systems that most people get caught in when they're in pain or are ill. To move forward, we have to detach from the belief.

5 Myths of Healing


1. My life is defined by my wound (Woundology).
Seeing life through the lens of a traumatic experience means projecting that onto every future relationship and experience (though a book I wrote about last year here says the brain naturally will do this after trauma). Those stuck in this pattern will seek out a social support network that will be sympathetic to their experience and then they never have to move past it. Moreover, they connect with others by comparing wounds and feel empowered if they are more wounded than someone else. She specifically mentions survivor and addiction groups and that they are helpful at certain stages. To continue healing, however, one has to move past that identity of survivor or addict.

In short, we can get stuck in the healing process if we define our identity and live our lives through our wounds rather than evolving past them. It can be a tricky process because someone may think they're addressing their wounds, but what they're really doing is carrying them around like a badge of honor. Over time, our wounds accumulate and gradually suck our energy, leaving us prone to depression, pain and illness. To move past your wounds, focus efforts on things that feed you rather than deplete you. If a current event triggers you to recall all the other times this has happened to you, rather than listing the wounds, look at what you're doing in your life that is creating part of that pattern.

2. Being healthy means being alone.
This is a system that I've personally been guilty of over the last couple of years until I acknowledged that by engaging with others means I have to grow through the things that trigger me. When I envisioned myself as healthy, I was the only one in the room rather than being surrounded by those who I know love and support me. Myss contends healing is an ongoing process that is best done in a community that can help support our changes; "Healing does not represent the closure of the needs of the heart; rather, it is a doorway toward opening your heart." She cites American individualism as a culture block to realizing this yet also acknowledges that sometimes we do need to separate from someone or a community to grow.

3. Feeling pain means being destroyed by pain.
It's normal to believe that pain or illness is negative, yet these feelings can also push us to explore within ourselves and move away from destructive habits and behavioral patterns. She cautions against relying too much on prescription drugs or painkillers in general because they can mask the symptoms of what our body is asking us to heal. She suggests using a mindfulness practice like yoga or meditation to help with healing consciously.

4. All illness is a result of negativity and we are damaged at our core.
Myss encourages readers to not immediately blame a failure to heal on a past experience or negative belief. Illness is complex and there's plenty of toxins in our environment and genes that can be an aspect of illness. Our focus should instead be on our ability to create change over controlling our thoughts. Sometimes it's better to just let go of the negative thoughts or past experiences over trying to dive into them and understand them....that can do more harm than good.

5. True change is impossible.
Most of us don't really like change and to change but healing and change are the same thing. We associate illness with fear and negativity so it can be intimidating to confront the illness and look at how much we really take care of ourselves versus the needs of others. Try shifting the belief that healing will be hard or depressing to relieving and exciting.

This is one of the few books on healing that I've read that actually provides a structure for analyzing one's beliefs and how to better understand and forgive--she actually encourages making a chart/spreadsheet and guides readers on specificially how to structure it. That said, it's a very East meets West, spiritually-minded approach, so if that's not your bag, this may not be for you. If it is, Myss has a unique perspective on understanding how American culture looks at pain and illness that I found to be eye-opening in forgiving myself and others because we're all stuck in some collective, old mindsets that we can let go of reacting to individually.

Why People Don't Heal.jpg

Tips to Improve Forward Head Posture

Forward head posture is pretty ubiquitous in the 21st century. There's plenty of resources online about how to fix it from a purely physical approach, but I think the long-term solution is much more of a personal one.

Some common suggestions for correcting forward head posture include simply moving the head backward, which I feel does more immediate harm than good. If the head is forward, the shoulders are usually rounded as well (aka kyphosis). So, shifting the head back with this type of body shape collapses the breath by cutting off air flow through the throat. Another 'fix' is bringing the shoulder blades together, which most people find by arching their mid back in a way that the spine is not shaped, generating a lot of unnecessary tension and/or pain in their back and neck. I find that apporaching alignment from an energetic perspective brings faster change without ticking off another part of the body.

How does forward head posture have an energetic connection?

As the head drops forward, there's also a fold at the diaphragm or solar plexus (where the rib cage splits). From an Eastern perspective, this is where the third chakra is located. This area represents our personal power and autonomy, our sense that we have volition and agency in our life.

What causes restriction at the third chakra?

Pretty much anything that compromises our ability to truly be ourselves and love ourselves. This can be events in our past and it can also be aspects of our present life. You may have not have grown up in a family culture of complete love and acceptance for your true self. Maybe you now feel burdened by responsibility and you're unhappy in your job/relationship/life. If this rings true, you may not feel like you have personal power or ability to change the parts of your life you're dissastisfied with.

Shame shuts off flow through the third chakra and limits our ability to fully embody our power. It wasn't until coming across Brene Brown's work several years ago that I realized how much shame I've held onto--I don't think I fully understood what that word meant before reading her book. Shame=all of the ways you don't feel like you're enough. For me this came in sneaky ways....maybe I didn't say 'I'm not attractive,' when looking in the mirror, but I did hold myself to a super high standard and compared myself to my percpetion of others. Shame lies on the other side of all of that because I could never be or do enough. Finding self-love has been a beautiful thing!

Some of us self-sabotage as a part of being constricted in this area. Maybe we put too many things on our plate and have a tough time saying 'no' to commitments. Others procrastinate and feel shame for doing so. Regardless of our personal habits, we can find ourselves in the midst of a big ol' shame snowball.

So how does all this connect to posture again?

Basically, forward head posture, just like everything else in the body, is more than just you looking at your phone too much. It's also a relfection of feeling burdened and not enough.

What helps?

The third chakra is located at the diaphragm, so doing more things to connect with your breath and lift through that space will help. Here's a video to help explain that in a seated position.

In addition to connecting with your breath, start noticing how you treat yourself. Do you belittle yourself or have a harsh inner critic? Do you take on more than you can reasonably accomplish without feeling stressed? How do you approach your responsibilities? Is there a way to visualize the best possible outcome over feeling overwhelmed?

Allow yourself to feel more over thinking. We value thought over feeling as a culture and that contributes to the head falling forward--we decapitate ourselves from the rest of the body. Taking a moment to feel and appreciate something in your day can show you how much power you already have.

And that's always a good place to start. :)

Are you a tightass?

Most of us are, and the funny part is, we're completely unaware.

Ki Hara Active Hip Stretch

Ki Hara Active Hip Stretch

What is a tightass?

I define it as one who perpetually grips in their pelvis, specifically in the urinary and anal sphincters. Clenching here tightens muscles in the pelvic floor, which pull on the hips, which pull on the lower back.

How does one become a tightass?

Stress
Our bodies (nervous systems) are wired to process stress with fight or flight. Evolutionarily, if something threatened our survival, we fought or we ran. In the 21st century reality, it's usually not possible to discharge stress at the moment we're feeling it. Plus, we usually have multiple stressors hitting us simultaneously. We are then left with a freeze response, so the body goes on lockdown, as do our bums.

Breath
Building on the above, shortening our breath is a top physical holding response when we freeze. Unfortunately, this is where we spend the bulk of our time--barely breathing, which, only keeps our nervous system in a hightened state of stress. So the stress/breath cycle snowballs. Right now, take an inventory of your breath. Can you even out your inhalation and exhalation time? How many seconds does it take you to do an inhale/exhale? Can you increase that duration by 1 second, or maybe even 2 seconds? Does your body (pay attention to your pelvis, in particular) relax a little bit with this slightly longer breath cycle? Now pause and hold your breath...do you feel your sphincters tighten again?

Digestive Issues There's a greater awareness now about food sensitivities and allergies. When our digestive system is upset on a regular basis, it can lead to chronic clenching of the digestive sphincters. I also think sitting for long periods and the subsequent slowing of our metabolism can let things feel stuck in our digestive tract.

Sucking in the Stomach/Wearing Restrictive Clothing This usually applies more to women than men. Wearing restrictive clothing or sucking the stomach in, once again means the breath is affected so the tightass tendency follows.

Energetic/Emotional Component The area we're talking about in the body corresponds to the root chakra. This chakra, or energy center, represents our foundation, sense of safety, financial stability and tribal (family of origin) identity. Pretty much everyone has some emotional crap involving at least one of these issues. Emotional holding patterns surrounding fear, in particular, contribute to chronic clenching in the pelvis.

Why does it matter?

Tightening your holes pulls on your hip rotation muscles (especially the obterator internus), locking your femur (thigh bone) in a shortened range of motion. Chronic holding in this area of the pelvis directly affects not just hip rotation but also low back pain. The femur is a ball and socket, a super mobile joint. When we restrict its full range of motion (most of us don't even work the hips in their full range of motion on a regular basis, that will be another blog post) the sacral area of the low back gets pissed off because it's having to do the work that the ball and socket should be doing. Then we have low back pain. I'm not saying this is the exclusive reason for lower back pain, but it is a significant one.

What should you do about it?

Wear clothing that doesn't restrict your breathing and try to relax these muscles with your breath. For more information, check here on how to do that:

Pay attention to which foods your body is happy and nourished by and try to eat more of those. One of my favorite go-tos for eating more vegetables is eating 5 different vegetables each day. I find that the goal becomes the center-point of my meal planning because the focus is how I give my body nutrients rather than a thou-shalt-not-eat __ approach.

Do something for you throughout each day...even if it's just 5 minutes. As a movement person, let me suggest this be something movement-related. Not just because you're taking care of your body, it will also help aid your digestion and kick in your parasympathetic (calming) nevous system. Maybe it's taking a timer-motivated break for 5 mintues in which you just focus on your breathing or on your favorite cup of tea. Maybe it's repeating a favorite mantra each time you look in the mirror or take a bathroom break.

Start looking at your fear patterns and letting those fears go. We often hold onto fears that took root in our childhood that are no longer relevant and necessary in adulthood. A good place to start is noticing when you're triggered by something someone says or does and ask yourself why you had a reaction at all. Did it highlight a fear you have? Was it a way your parents/sibling/family member spoke to you growing up? Are you reacting to that trigger now the same as when you were younger? How does your body feel? Where do you feel tightness or restriction?

Trying a multi-faceted approach, meaning looking at your back pain (or maybe just your tight ass) from a physical as well as emotional perspective can lead to greater and longer-lasting pain relief...and help you grow as a person.