Core Work: Yoga, Beer, Hypnosis, Chronic Pain, and My Belly

Yoga for Body and Mind

One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning is by attending Yoga and a Pint at Lake Monster Brewery with Viv. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of Yoga and a Pint, you go to a micro brewery, do yoga for an hour, and then you get a pint of beer or soda or something and chat afterward. There are things like this all over the Twin Cities, but the one at Lake Monster is especially good — okay, I’ll admit that it’s the only one I’ve tried, but when I find something this good, I tend to stick with it. 

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of Yoga and a Pint with Viv, there a few “bonuses” to the yoga class, one of which is a pretty intense set of core work at some point during the class. At the beginning of this section of class, Viv always lets us know that we can do the exercises at any level that is right for us, and if our core work for the day is just to lay down on our mats and say nice things to our core, that’s fine, too.

Being in Your Body Reduces Pain and Stress

I have never taken the “saying nice things to my core” option, even though I like the idea. Each time this option comes up, I think, “That’s right. I really should take some time to appreciate my core a bit more — after all, it hasn’t failed me yet, even after I put it through two pregnancies with three babies total. Sure, it’s much squishier than I wish it would be, and it doesn’t always fit into the pants I would like it to, but it still has really been good to me.” However, the thoughts following that initial impulse to say the nice things go like this: “No... I’m not going to take the easy way out — I’m going to a yoga class to move my body, and I need to earn that beer I’m going to drink after this.” And so it goes each time — I get a glimmer of the idea of self-love and then I’m right back into the idea that I need to “earn” my reward. (To be clear, I do enjoy the feeling of core work (after it’s done), and there is nothing wrong with doing core work, but my problem is slipping into this toxic mentality that I need to pay for any enjoyment I have in my body. Oh well, we’re all a work in progress, right?)

 But then, a thought occurred to me the other day as I was swimming laps. I had gotten to the point in the swimming where I had gotten out of my head and was really truly in my body. I had stopped thinking about how long this was going to take, how many laps I should be doing, whether the lifeguard was secretly laughing at me getting dangerously close to the wall while doing the back stroke, and I just felt my arms and legs moving, the perfect temperature of the water, and the rhythm of my breath synchronized with my movements. It felt really good, which reminded me how essential being in one’s own body is to reducing pain and stress.

Clinical Hypnosis for Chronic Pain

This was on my mind because a few weeks prior I had attended a workshop on using clinical hypnosis to address the opioid epidemic. This was put on through the Minnesota Society of Clinical Hypnosis by Dr. Mark Weisberg and Dr. Al Clavel. They are both wonderful teachers, just like Viv, except they don’t provide beer after each class. I try not to hold this against them. One of the main points in their workshop was that dissociation, or disconnection from sensation and emotion, perpetuates chronic pain. The way out of this is to learn to tolerate difficult sensations, and in doing so, we teach our brains that the sensations we have been pushing away are not as threatening as they seem, which, in turn, reduces the intensity and distress of the sensation, that is, it reduces pain.

One of the hypnotic experiences we had during this training involved tuning into our core as a way to become aware of sensation in our bodies, including the sense of calm and inner strength that comes from being aware of one’s own core. I had a reaction to this exercise that was not the intent of the exercise, but productive nonetheless. I found myself becoming more and more aware that I really struggle to connect to my core. In fact, it is terribly uncomfortable for me to do so. I actually found myself getting angry that they were asking me to do this. (That was okay, though, because as a therapist I know that all emotions are welcome and informative.) I became aware of kind of a numbness in this area of my body, and then became very sad, which brings me back to the idea of saying nice things to my core. It suddenly dawned on me that saying nice things to my core is not the easy way out. Then I pictured myself doing this in yoga class, and I realized the vulnerability involved in this. I realized it would actually be much harder work than boat pose. I also realized that I needed to stop thinking of it as the easy way out, because it most certainly is not.

Vulnerability and Self-Acceptance

The vulnerability of accepting oneself, one’s own body, and the experience of sensation in the body requires so much courage. I see this courage in my own clients on a daily basis as they work to find their way through their pain, and it is profoundly beautiful.

So, will I say nice things to my core next time I go to yoga? I might, but to let myself really feel what I need to feel, I will probably do this in private at first, just until I get used to it. But, even if it’s not at yoga, I know I need to do this kind of core work. Maybe you do as well. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Brandel Dykhuizen, MA, MSW, LICSW is a psychotherapist who offers counseling for adults with PTSD, trauma symptoms, and chronic pain in St. Paul, Minnesota. She also works with individuals via remote, online counseling throughout the state of Minnesota. You can schedule an appointment and learn more about Erin’s Twin Cities therapy practice at erinbdlicsw.com, or reach Erin by phone at 651-998-8991.