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Self-Regulate the Body and Mind for Pain Relief

by Cheryl Reynolds

For those that suffer with chronic pain and choose not to use opioids, a highly proven technique that has been around for nearly 80 years can be used to gain relief; it is called autogenic training (AT). Autogenic means to self-generate or self-regulate, and it’s a way to talk to the body with fixed attention so it self-produces what we ask it to do. We actually create a real psycho-physiological response with our focused self-suggestions.

AT was first introduced in 1932 by a German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz when he noticed that his clients would tend to feel heaviness and a warm sensation in their body when they deeply relaxed. By using autogenic training, individuals can diminish or alleviate acute and chronic pain, anxiety, stress, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, digestion disturbances and more.

According to the Autogenic Training Institute, NASA astronauts and pilots used AT for motion sickness and to improve psychomotor performance. In another publication, Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain states, “Tension headache can be reduced in the first month of learning AT, while migraine headache frequency reduces after three months with medication use decreased as well.”

Autogenic training works through a series of self-statements about heaviness and warmth in different parts of the body which works on the autonomic nervous system. This system has two divisions: parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Usually when we feel good our PNS, which is known to be the “rest and digest” activation, is in control, but when we are stressed we activate our SNS which increases our flight/fight response.

By using AT on a routine basis, we can easily bring our PNS back in control which not only makes us feel better, we also become more aware, calm-minded, focused and able to take better control of our body.

For pain control, autogenic training works with our body-brain communication center to alleviate pain. The hippocampus in the brain (storehouse of memory, including pain memory) communicates with the nerve center of the body to activate the pain response. By using AT, this activation is significantly slowed down, which not only decreases pain, it also decreases our anticipatory pain response. Anticipatory pain is the fear about getting the pain which causes us to avoid any activity that might cause pain.

It is noted in the American Journal of Nursing, “Chronic and acute pain is reduced, and chronic pain patients reduce their physician visits by 36 percent.” By using AT, individuals are able to decrease their brain waves to that of a state of relaxation like in hypnosis or the pre-sleep state of relaxation before drifting off into slumber. The process consists of six standard exercises that make the body feel warm, heavy and relaxed.

The technique consists of relaxing the large muscle groups causing heaviness and warmth in the limbs, then bringing focus to the heartbeat, breathing, abdominal warmth and coolness in the forehead. Practice is usually three to five minutes a day, three times a day, and most people can see changes in two weeks.

Autogenic training is not for everyone. Children under 5 should not use AT, and those with a severe emotional disorder could find an increase in anxiety. Since AT can lower blood pressure, it is advisable to talk to a physician before starting any new alternative modality.

Autogenic Training Process

The process should take less than 10 minutes. Start off slow, and increase to at least three to five times a day. A strong auditory suggestion reinforces the process, so either talk to yourself out loud or repeat the words in your mind. In AT, the word “heavy” is used, but some people feel lightness or tingling or some other sensation. The terminology is not as important as the experience and the results it gives you. If you don’t like the sensation of warmth because of a medical condition (neuropathy, menopause, etc.) or preference, just use the word heavy.

Find a quiet place, rest your hands on your lap or chair, take in a few deep breaths, close your eyes and state, “I feel comfortable and relaxed.” Now bring your focus and attention to your arms, repeating to yourself slowly, my left arm is heavy x3. My right arm is heavy x3. My arms are heavy and warm x3. I feel comfortable and relaxed x3.

Focus your attention on your legs. My left leg is heavy x3. My right leg is heavy x3. My legs are heavy and warm x3. I feel comfortable and relaxed x3. My heartbeat is calm and regular x3.

Focus on your solar plexus located between your sternum and belly button. My abdomen is warm and relaxed x3.

Focus on your forehead. My forehead is cool and relaxed x3. I feel comfortable and relaxed x3.

When you are done, take in a deep breath, open your eyes and go about your day in the most wonderful way.

Autogenic training has been around for many years and is an excellent way to decrease pain and stress, and manage other ailments on our own. When we learn to self-regulate our own body, we can easily begin to regulate our life.

Cheryl Reynolds is a registered nurse with more than 25 years’ experience, a consulting hypnotist and owner of Mindful Living Hypnosis. She is certified in pain management, with extensive training in mindfulness and stress reduction. Learn more at MindfulLivingHypnosis.com.