account My cart 0
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Why Yoda Was A Low Back Pain Expert

low back pain

I’ll admit, when I told Jessica I was going to write this post she gave me the look that you probably would expect from when someone would tell you that Yoda was a great low back pain expert. She is pretty used to my movie references though so she had faith that there was a point to be had, in the end she went from that raised eyebrow (maybe a eye roll in there too) to nodding along and saying, “that makes a lot of sense!”

Plus, any time I can use Star Wars references in any post, that is a win too. Believe it or not, much of Yoda spoke about  is being confirmed by more modern neuroscience when it comes to chronic low back pain. Remember, chronic low back pain IS different than acute low back pain. The acute pain is when you maybe do something in the gym and “tweak” your back, versus chronic is when the pain has been persistent in some form or another for 3 months or longer (many people have years of such pain).

low back pain

Chronic low back pain tends to be more of a function of a series of processes that lead the brain to misinterpret signals in our brain and create pain when damage is not really present (we go much deeper into this in our upcoming online Low Back Pan & Pelvic Control Masterclass HERE). ALL pain is created in the brain, but when the pain becomes more chronic we start to perform a series of incorrect interpretations of signals that cause persistent pain that gets our brain’s often “stuck” in a pain loop.

Okay, but how does Yoda play a role in all of this? The more current chronic pain science is telling us that what IS very important is not always chasing after reducing one’s pain, but the suffering that often comes along with living with chronic pain. Everyone experiences chronic low back pain differently and it impacts people in various ways, but research shows that overall, people that experience greater and longer bouts of chronic low back pain also end up experiencing depression, anxiety, and a host of other health issues related to a lot of the suffering that happens.

I’m not going to lie, this is VERY hard to convey in a blog post, but do we want to reduce or eliminate someone’s pain? Yes! Is focusing on doing just that the most productive way of accomplish this? NO! What some new landmark studies are telling us is that when we focus on reducing the fear and change the relationship one has with their chronic low back pain, they can actually see greater success.

low back pain

This exciting new study about a method called Pain Reprocessing Therapy shows how dramatic the results can be if we apply these strategies over time. They are not easy, many times they don’t happen overnight, but they can change people’s lives. 

What this tells us that if we can learn to teach our brain that sensations we are experiencing aren’t dangerous (assuming we have been cleared by a doctor for all potential causes of pain) and we are safe, we can greatly influence issues of chronic low back pain. This is where Yoda does come in as promised!

Fear Is The Path To The Darkside

This iconic scene and quote is actually VERY relevant to chronic low back pain. Fear is a driving factor in some of the most key issues that cause people to have low back pain persist and actually can increase pain without any damage to the body occurring.

There is A LOT in such a classic quote, when it comes to low back pain though, fear leads to pain and ultimately a lot more suffering because it increases three key concepts…

low back pain

Catastrophizing, hypervigiliance, and a loss of control are 3 key traits that people with chronic pain develop that often leads them to feeling more pain and ends up making them feeling more depressed and anxious. That is where a major concept that Yoda teaches about, mindfulness, comes into play.

Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try

This other iconic Yoda quote is often misunderstood as having something to do with confidence and effort. It actually is much less about either of these ideas and much more about mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn who is largely responsible in bringing mindfulness to the West defines mindfulness as, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,  in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”  This sounds a bit Yodaish doesn’t it?

What he and Yoda are speaking about is first deliberately being aware of the right now. When Yoda says do or do not, there is no try, he is referring to not falling into past behaviors and attitudes while also eluding future expectations. Yoda is far less concerned about whether or not Luke succeeds, but to believe in the possibilities of his actions in the right now. It is Yoda trying to teach Luke to let go of the fear of failure and once we let go of that fear of failure we can truly see the value of our efforts. The goal isn’t necessarily the result of success either.

There is a bit of the concept of Chinese concept (Yoda was largely based on a buddhist monk so this makes sense) wu wei. Some have a hard time with the idea of wu wei which is often defined as “effortless action”. In reality, it speaks to the fact we should move through life with a sense of ease and flow. It doesn’t mean we don’t try, but we do what we have control over and no more, we don’t get caught up in the result as long as we took the appropriate action steps. THIS is hard for a lot of people and has a big carryover to chronic low back pain even though it seems like it may have NOTHING to do with it!

To illustrate the importance to helping chronic low back pain, physician-scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) developed a 12-week mind-body program that takes a new approach to chronic back pain. According to the researchers, “experimental program, termed Psychophysiologic Symptom Relief Therapy (PSRT), is designed to address underlying stressors and psychological contributors to persistent pain as well as conditioned pain responses and fear avoidant behaviors. Treatment strategies include educating patients about the links between stressors and pain, as well as the relationship with emotions. Armed with this knowledge, participants learn healthier ways to process stress and express emotions. The program also focuses on desensitization or reverse conditioning to help patients break the associations that often are formed with triggers of pain such as bending or sitting.”

What they found, even though it was a somewhat small sample size, was that 83 percent decrease in reported pain disability in the PSRT group. This beat mindfulness based stress reduction and usual care programs by a lot! The BIG difference researchers are finding between “just being aware” (mindfulness) and dealing with the emotions and reinforcing the importance of not feeling damaged and being safe seems to be making A LOT of the difference.

One simple way that this can start being implemented by anyone is the use of mantras. This sounds maybe silly but research shows that repeating mantras like the one below can help turn down the alarm system of the brain that causes so many of these issues with chronic low back pain to be ramped up.

Have some fun with this (fun is actually an important part of feeling safe), stand in front of a mirror, stand tall, even put your hands on your hips and say this about 5 times. Know that the first time you will feel silly, but if you practice this a few times a day, the silliness wears off and when you notice that you don’t react the same to sensations you find it even more of a motivator…

“I’m healthy

I’m strong

There is absolutely nothing wrong with me

I’m not afraid

I’m in charge, I can do what I want

I’m safe, I’m not in danger, I’ll be fine”

I wanted to share some of these tools from the most current science on chronic low back pain because first, education has been shown to help symptoms. Helping people understand why they feel the way they do gives them a sense of control, helps reduce the catastrophizing, and more. Then simple tools that cost nothing, but aren’t easy because they require us to work with our mind can be helpful in reprogramming the issues our brain has created.

If we can combine this with lifestyle habits, exercise that seems accessible, and even potentially other therapeutic approaches (maybe even cognitive behavior therapy), people can get better!

I remember reading somewhere that Star Wars as a kid has us enthralled with the light sabers, the battles, and so forth (okay, they are still pretty cool as an adult), however, as we get older we can appreciate the deeper wisdom that was at the foundation of the stories themselves.

If you want to find out more about how to use these innovative approaches with exercise, I hope you will join us for our upcoming 6-week CEU online Low Back Pain & Pelvic Control Masterclass. Our early bird is only available a few more days, so I hope you will make it! Just jump over HERE