Resources mentioned in this episode:
FREE 5-day video course on Burnout Recovery! If you're like me, and have suffered from burnout, metabolic damage and/or obsessive food and exercise behavior, this course is a must-do. Get all the details, and sign up HERE: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/burnout-recovery-spectrum-later/
Christina Wei's website: http://christinaweihealthcoaching.com/
TMS Wiki website: https://www.tmswiki.org/
Book “Mindbody Prescription” by dr John E. Sarno: https://amzn.to/2TJdcMi
Book “Back In Control” by dr David Hanscom: https://amzn.to/2Ag73QP
Movie “All the Rage” by Michael Galinsky: http://alltheragedoc.com/
Dr Joe Dispensa's website: https://drjoedispenza.com/
Some of the links are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, I earn a small commission.
Conversation With Chronic Pain Coach Christina Wei
I wanted to have this important conversation with Christina Wei because she is the person who has helped me to significantly improve my lower back pain that I have suffered from almost three years. The solution that Christina has to offer, and what has allowed me to return to exercise and other normal daily life activities, likely surprises you.
May pain started in 2017. I saw many professionals and even when some of them helped, nothing lasted. After working with Christina, I've experienced the least amount of pain and in the morning before recording this episode, I was at the park doing box jumps! Something I wasn't able to do for years.
While my pain isn't completely gone, it's the least it has been in the last three years. Today, I'm bringing you my interview with Christina Wei.
Christina, who are you and what do you do?
My name is Christina Wei, and I'm a chronic pain health coach. Not too many people now what a pain coach does. In a nutshell, I'm someone who helps people with chronic pain, understand and learn about the mindbody connection so that they can heal themselves.
Usually it takes a few sessions to really understand what goes on in a person's life that affects their pain. This method has proven to work but is not very widely known.
I don't do any hands on work, diagnose or treat, but I can help people find the right resources and the right information to heal themselves.
What are the tools that you use to help people to recover from chronic pain?
The main tool is education. Most of us are thinking about pain in terms of only the physical, muscular and structural. This is how we treat it. But chronic pain that is not acute pain or something caused my an injury or cancer, should heal. The human body can heal itself within 6 weeks.
But oftentimes the pain goes on longer. In this case, it's a matter of unlearning it. You have to unlearn the pain, and learn to not be in pain, learn to take care of yourself on may different levels.
Would you say that our pain is not actually physical, it's mental?
One of the biggest barriers is that when people hear about this, they say: Do you mean that my pain is not real? But this is absolutely not what I'm saying. I know that the pain is very real. I'm not telling anyone that you're a crazy person.
I had pain for many years and your, Kersten, had it too. So it's not imaginary. What we are saying is that it's nothing that can be cured on the physical level. It has to involve the mind. It's important to look at the factors that keep the pain going.
Usually, there are two factors: Fear of the pain, and stress that is going on in your life, both past and present day stress. They cause tightening of the nervous system.
Dr Sarno says in in his book: There's a certain personality type that tends to get this type of pain. What is that typical person like?
There is a certain personality. Dr Sarno found that there were two types of people who walked into his office: perfectionists and goodists. People who have to do things perfectly and are very hard on themselves. Also, people who really want to please others and are hard on themselves.
My clients are exactly like that. They're never late, they never cancel on me. They want to do the right thing. They're perfectionists. All this causes enormous stress on the person and tension on the body.
There are a lot of women in my audience who overtrain, often diet, are perfect — they get best grades in school, have great jobs, everything has to be perfect…
I was like that too. When I set out to run 60 minutes, 58 wasn't okay, and when I went 10 calories over my daily goal, that was a disaster. There are many different areas in our lives where the perfectionism and people pleasing show up. We take on more responsibilities, make sure I never hurt anyone, but we're still very hard on ourselves. Would you say that this is a typical pattern on how this type of pain is created?
Absolutely. We're not allowing ourselves even a slightest slip. It's a lot of stress. It's the vigilance that causes a lot of tension. Dr Sarno's theory is that this vigilance causes so much tension in the body that certain areas of the body become oxygen deprived.
We have learned that it may be more complicated than that because we now know that there's a thing called a learned neuropathway. That means essentially, that your pain is learned. It's not 100% clear what the science is but it's very clear how to heal from this pain.
When your nervous system is really amped up, it creates this pain. If you're stressed out all the time, then it's very possible that you'll be in pain all the time. If you have this idea that I can't let go, I have to be a certain way, you can't get into the parasympathetic.. Then it's really hard for your nervous system to be calm and get out of this fear-pain cycle.
Fear of the pain causes the pain to remain, so you're stuck in this cycle. Your system is always in the fear-alert level. Your body just can't let go, and that way it can't let go of the pain. Fear = pain is the association that your brain makes. The pain can come up any time you have stress in your life.
My pain started out on the right lower back, then all of a sudden it was in my left butt cheek… Are there certain areas where people who come to see you, have pain, or can it be all over the body?
It can be all over the body.
First of all, it's amazing that your pain moved around.
Low back pain is very common. A lot of people tend to carry their tension there. But there's also knee pain, foot pain, migraines, neck pain, shoulder pain.. You name it. Even facial pain.
That's so interesting. Like I said, my pain started in 2017 in the low back. By the time we started working together in 2020, I had developed other pains too. I had pain in front of my left shoulder and chest, tingling in my left hand and foot, and in the lower abdomen, near my ovaries, I was feeling a lot of pressure. I even told my husband that I feel like I have a balloon there. I was miserable and really concerned. I felt like I was falling apart because I had pain all over. I still have some back pain, but my hand and foot pain is extremely rare, my lower abdomen pain is completely gone. I've finally started to put things together and when the pain comes back, I'm asking: What's stressing me out?
I've understood that the pain that's moving around like this is one sign that this is a mindbody problem, is that correct?
Yes, because it doesn't make sense! If it were structural then why would it come and go, heal and then come back the next day?
Another thing is that if it were a structural issue, why would you have it on both knees and both hands, for example?
It's fascinating that it can move around in your body. It's hard for people to accept that this is a mindbody issue.
Especially when someone had an Xray and they were told that they had a bulging disc that is causing the problem, and now they need a surgery… Dr David Hanscom shared in his book that many spine surgeries (I don't recall the exact percentage but I think it was about 70-80%) are unsuccessful — the pain comes back. And now you've had a surgery that always comes with side effects!
Yes, it's such a tragedy.
When someone says: I got my Xray done, I have a bulging disc and this is the reason why my back hurts, and what you are talking about, is nonsense… What would you say?
I would present them with hard evidence that there's no correlation between bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, other conditions and pain… There's simply no relationship at all between pain and these abnormalities.
Dr Sarno calls them the grey hair of the spine. There are many people who have one of these conditions, but they have no pain. And there are people who have pain and have perfect looking spines.
I give people articles and data to prove it to them. This is not coming from me, this is science.
I know a surgeon who often sees people with scary symptoms: They can't get out of bed, they can't walk, they're paralysed… And their MRIs look perfect.
What is this condition called?
Tthere are actually many terms for the same thing. People around the world are coming to the same conclusion, just using the different terminology. They're calling it TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome), the Mindbody Syndrome, Psychophysiologic Disorder, Central Sensitization Syndrome which is the one that the Mayo Clinic uses, Learned Neuropathway Syndrome, Learned Neuropathic pain. There are couple of more but these are the most common ones. Everyone has a different term for it, which to me, indicates that we're waking up to it.
It's great that people are waking up. I remember that the first time when I asked you: So if this is really the main cause of all this pain, how come surgeries are so popular? And you responded: This diagnosis doesn't make money. And this is so true because buying a $14 book and getting a couple of coaching sessions comes out much cheaper.
Yes, and this is just the monetary cost. But there are many side effects down the line if you get a surgery, that are the worst.
Plus, the constant disappointment loop: The surgery didn't help, and now I need another one, and then another one.
Dr Joe Dispenza talks about the same thing actually. He was paralized and saved his spine and his health through mental healing, and this is what he is teaching others too–how to heal your mind.
Exactly. That's absolutely fascinating.
I believe that think the hardest part is to do is to convince people that TMS, or the mindbody disorder, is really what they're dealing with. What do you do when you see that someone clearly has it, but they don't want to accept it? Do you still try to convince them?
I used to try to convince them. But I think every person is different and you have to meet people where they are. I tell myself that even if it feels like nothing I'm saying is accepted, I'm planting the seed. Maybe now the person is not ready, but maybe they are in the future. Oftentimes it's the accumulation of knowledge. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
What is the treatment for the Mindbody Syndrome?
It depends on the person. The most important thing is to learn what the diagnosis is, and accept it. There are a number of ways to do it.
First try to take the fear away from the pain. If you can do that, that can help immensely. People are able to realize that there's nothing wrong in their back. It doesn't make your back worse, the pain is harmless. There's nothing wrong with your joints or muscles. You can also stand up and tell the pain: Go away!
Another thing is to take a look at what's going on in you life. Are you under a lot of stress, are you hard on yourself, what's not quite balanced in your life?
There are also people who have suffered emotional trauma in the past and haven't fully processed, accepted, acknowledged and let go of. They need to find a way to process it. Talk about it, journal about it… It depends on the person.
I find journaling so helpful. I like to have specific journaling topics like the ones on TMS Wiki program. As I've mentioned you, I've had a couple of really intense sessions. One time, I was listening to this song that tends to trigger me, and I was journaling at the same time. I started crying really hard and it was really strange because normally I have a very hard time crying! I just don't seem to get any tears out. Maybe that's part of my problem? I can't get my feelings out. But either way, as I was writing and journaling, I started crying and I started hearing very loud negative adjectives that I have for myself… and as all this happened, my back got so much lighter. The same night and the next day, my back was so much better.
That is amazing. You've had couple of strong breakthroughs.
I was able to benefit from all the tools you mentioned Dr Sarno says that all you need is education, but other people need more guidance and structured work. I did the whole 6 weeks of guided journaling on the TMS website, which was really excellent.
I also read a lot about TMS, what it was and other people's experiences.
My first breakthrough was when I was just reading about TMS. I had very intense pain and tension in my upper back that would never go away. I read this article from this guy who said that he tells his pain to simply go away. As I was reading it, I started thinking: Could I do this too? And I tried, and the pain started going away. This is one moment that I can pinpoint, that was very important on my recovery. That was several years ago. I never turned back.
That doesn't mean that I never get pain. I am a human being and I have emotions. But I learned to understand that this is one ways how my emotions show up. You can't expect to not feel sadness or anger. But what you can do is to not let the pain put you down. You can deal with emotions without feeling the pain.
I tried to share this with someone that I work with, and tell her that she has to let her emotions out. She told me that admitting the feelings and journaling is too hard to do. She's used to always be really hard on herself, and for her, showing her emotions is a shameful thing. I told her: This is exactly why you have pain!
Journaling offers the most fundamental growth of the human being.
The pain is there to keep you from going to your emotions. You can even think about the pain as some other person who doesn't want you to go there. It's too scary. But when we face the emotional pain, we realize that it's just an emotion and it can't harm us.
By the way, we are not saying that the reason for your pain can't be a physical injury.
Yes. It's very important to get these things checked. When you came to me, you were getting some tests done too. That's important because you've got to make sure that it's nothing structural or physical. I believe that the majority of people who are listening to this probably have had all these tests done, and the reason why the pain hasn't gone away is that there's nothing physically or structurally wrong with them.
What would be a couple of resources you would tell people to go and check out?
TMS Wiki site, that is run by volunteers and is completely free of charge. Dr Sarno's books — any of them but Healing Back Pain is probably the foremost classic. You can find more resources on my website.
Reading other people's success stories is also very encouraging and helpful. I found the movie “All the Rage” great too.
Yes, how could I have forgotten that. Excellent movie.
If someone is interested in working with you, how can they do that?
My website: http://christinaweihealthcoaching.com/
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I want to take the opportunity and tell everyone: Be good to yourself. No matter what. If you're in pain, don't feel bad, worried or think that you can't overcome it. You deserve to live a life without pain. You can heal. You're not meant to suffer.
When I first came to you, I had almost accepted that I will have back pain forever. I was sad, because I was 35 and had back pain for 3 years. I had already thought that I have to find my workarounds and ways how I can still do my favorite thing which is working out, but I wasn't sure if I can do it the way I wanted. Now I know that I will absolutely get better, even though I may not be where I want to be just yet.
Exactly! But sometimes because of our perfectionist nature, we want to do too much and that can become a problem too. It's constant learning, layer after layer, letting go of stress.
True. I think that's why on the TMS Wiki structured journaling programs have built-in rest days. As everyone knows, rest days are important, and they are important in this case too.
Yes, you can overdo that too. They know our personality all that well.
Thank you Chrstina!
Connect with Christina: http://christinaweihealthcoaching.com