I wrote previously about the experiment that was conducted on people with spinal cord injuries and resulting thalamic pain (an extremely painful, non-mechanical pain situation), who improved with the use of visual cues (watching themselves walking). If you are interested in reading more on this topic, please check out the NOI group- they have fantastic education tools on this topic..
I am someone who loves to backpack. I’ve had a couple of scary experiences of being out in the woods and developing 10/10 searing sciatic pain (these are like migraines for me, which cause me to vomit and pass out).
A big part of my healing my sciatic pain has been visualizing myself with my pack in the woods, in the elements, hiking on the trails I want to hike on. Each time I experience visualized backpacking, I help transform my nervous system to accommodate and allow for this activity.
When we see ourselves doing our goal movements, we activate many parts of our brain centers that are involved in movement production.
We have to be able to see ourselves executing a movement before we can make it happen IRL.
To try visualizing a movement goal, start easily by visualizing yourself doing something you feel is completely enjoyable and completely safe.
Take in all of the physical cues (sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing).
When you get the hang of the meditation, try agin, this time choosing an activity that you really want to do, that is just outside of your skill level (this might be backpacking a certain trail, performing a yoga posture). Again bring in all of the 5 special senses as you witness yourself doing it. Witness as the body begins to feel safe doing this challenging activity.
With guided visualization, you want to train up, just as you do in strength training. Don’t start with something that is a 10/10 for you. Start with something just challenging your comfort zone, and work your way up to your ultimate goal.
Invoke as many of the sensory systems as you can: What do you hear? What do you see? What is the felt sense in the body? Is there an associated smell or taste?
Be gentle with yourself and always maintain a sense of safety during these practices.
Another related and crucial aspect of guided visualization, is right/left discrimination. This is a super fun brain game you can train yourself to get way better in a short period of time.
Check out the images below, and try your best to identify the following, and answer with either Right or Left :
What direction is the person rotating their head?
Which hand is being held up?
Which shoulder is closest to us?
Which foot are we looking at?
There are flashcards you can get to practice this work at home, which you can find here. There are also apps if you have a smart phone or tablet: recognise and orientate (which is free) you can find in your app store.
Right/ left discrimination and movement visualization can help you gently desensitize overactive sensory structures, stimulate parts of your brain involved in movement production and progress to a more true and accurate sensory experience that allows you to feel more safety and resilience in your nervous system.
Join us next week to explore graded return to movement to desensitize hyperactive sensory systems.
Image from the NOI group- example of right/ left discrimination