This is my fifth day of using Michael Moskowitz’s visualisations for chronic pain. The relaxation response is starting to become ingrained. In Day One I noticed that when I stopped whatever I was doing, closed my eyes and went through all the steps (establishing intention, crafting a visual map of my brain’s pain system, and then shrinking them in my mind’s eye) that I became more calm. In response to this, the pain, always in my peripheral awareness, eased to 1-2/10 and my whole body, but especially neck, shoulders and core, relaxed. Today, it seems all I need to do is start the process, even visualising with my eyes open and the relaxation starts to take place — not, perhaps, to the same degree, but subjectively still very noticeable.
Two things from this. Firstly, an observation and some speculating. On Day One, the relaxation response was so pronounced that, as I said, the pain all but disappeared and this disappearance was accompanied by feelings of freedom and blissful breathing that I’ve hardly experienced all these years since the accident (June 2012). Since then I’ve been able to access this level of pain relief only a half dozen or so times in total across the four days.
Could it be that my body-mind is accustomed to the new level of comfort, and though the relaxation response is actually occurring to the same degree, my experience of relief has faded? Or is there some objective difference between the way I was visualizing and the effect it had on Day One vs the way and effect of subsequent days? Perhaps some inhibitory response has begun taking place alongside the visualisation that wasn’t present on Day One but is now having a dampening effect?
Perhaps (and this seems most likely to me) the newness of the practice and the novelty on Day One stimulated my brain to higher levels of concentration and this, combined with early placebo effects, led to greater temporary relief than in the days since?
Regardless, the practice does not actually rely on achieving a certain level of temporary relief in each session. The aim is to reassign the duties of certain networks of the brain that also happen to process pain input (the posterior parietal lobe and the posterior cingulate as well as the prefrontal area which is involved with creativity). By relentlessly coaxing these systems to work with stimuli other than pain, we make structural changes in these areas so that the neurons are less dedicated to pain processing. So, while I suspect that having a greater sense of temporary relief equates to stronger motivation, deeper concentration and therefore more vivid visualisation and greater engagement of the above brain regions, which we could assume would lead to faster progress, in the long run, repeated effort will still create the desired result — it may just take a week or two longer. Still worth it.
Secondly: a cautionary realization that I must follow the full practice through each time, from setting intention to creating visual maps to shrinking them, and not simply stopping when I feel the realaxation. While that may be tempting, such a method skips the step of engaging the specific brain areas mentioned, so will not lead to the kind of neuroplastic change that this technique is designed to engender. Instead, I’ll become reliant on the temporary relief of relaxation through visualisation, which although real and beneficial, is in the end just like any other form of pain relief in that when stopped, the pain returns.
The ‘I’ in MIRROR stands for Intention and the intention is this: to focus the mind, in order to change the brain.
“Mental efforts help build new circuits and weaken the pain networks.” Norman Doidge, The Brain’s Way of Healing
“If focus is merely on immediate pain control, positive results will be fleeting and frustrating. Immediate pain control is definitely poart of the program, but the real reward is to disconnect excessively wired pain networks and to restore more balanced brain function these pain processing regions of the brain.” Michael Moskowitz, Neuroplastic Transformations Workbook