Sensations are the initial sensory experiences that result from the activation of our sensory organs and the transmission of these signals to the brain. The brain then processes these signals, leading to the subjective experience of the sensation, ie what we perceive and interpret. For example, when you experience abdominal discomfort, your stomach or intestines are sensing activation of certain nerve receptors and sending those signals to your brain which is then interpreting these sensations. Oftentimes, the brain is not just interpreting sensations, but also adding in cognitive (thoughts and beliefs) and affective (feeling and emotional) components.
In order to learn to rewire our brain and change these experiences and interpretations, we need to learn to pause and increase our awareness of what is actually happening. So practice this the next time you experience a negative sensation:
- Notice and name what the actual sensations are: burning, sharpness, dullness, gurgling, fullness or tightness.
- Drop the additional thoughts and emotions for a moment.
- Lean into the sensation with patience, kindness and curiosity. Does your body need something to support it? Can you extend some self-compassion to what you are sensing? Can you breathe into the sensation and as you exhale release any tension there?
Our goal is not to get rid of sensations altogether, rather to learn to pause and lean into them. As you drop the negative story and feelings associated with the sensation, you can learn to stay curious and neutral which can then slowly break the intensity of the sensation. Particularly with chronic pain, the pathway is fear-pain cycle which replays over and over. Remind yourself that your path toward healing is a journey and involves taking numerous small steps forward.
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