Photo by Mikhail Nilov
Changing pain is hard.
There is no singular medication, approach, or technique that works for everyone. And sifting through various doctors, therapists, and approaches to healing pain is time-consuming, energy-draining, and expensive.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were something you could try that was simple and accessible?
Enter somatic tracking.
What is Somatic Tracking?
Somatic tracking is a mindfulness practice popularized by psychotherapist Alan Gordon as a part of his Pain Reprocessing Therapy protocol for chronic pain.
During somatic tracking, the practitioner observes painful sensation through a lens of safety. With practice, this has the effect of retraining the brain to more accurately interpret signals from the body, thereby reducing, and sometimes eliminating, pain.
It can be a guided practice, although once learned, somatic tracking can easily be utilized by the practitioner on his or her own.
How Does it Work?
When you have pain, your brain is interpreting danger.
Pain when you touch a hot stove means that your brain is afraid that you’re in danger of burning your skin. Pain in the days after an injury means that your brain is afraid you won’t be able to heal if you don’t rest that part of your body.
Sometimes, however, the brain can interpret danger where there is none.
Research shows that the longer pain persists, the less it correlates with the state of the bodily tissues. When pain continues past the typical healing time for an injury, it is likely that the brain is misinterpreting signals from the body as dangerous when they are actually benign.
The aim of somatic tracking is to decrease the brain’s sense of danger and increase its sense of safety.
Because the purpose of pain is to protect you from harm, when the brain believes you are safe from potential threats, pain becomes deactivated.
The Key to Somatic Tracking
As far as tools for addressing chronic pain go, somatic tracking is among the most accessible.
The most challenging part of somatic tracking, however, is coming into the practice with the right mindset.
Before you try the exercise below, remind yourself that the goal of your somatic tracking session is NOT to make your pain go away. Rather, the goal of a somatic tracking session is to observe painful sensations from a neutral point of view.
When your goal is a certain outcome, there is pressure to achieve that outcome. Pressure creates fear, and fear is what fuels pain.
Similarly, the perception of pain as ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ generates fear and keeps the pain cycle going. During somatic tracking, it’s essential to reframe pain as a neutral, or even ‘interesting’, sensation.
Try It Now!
It’s best to practice somatic tracking when you’re experiencing mild to medium pain. If your pain is intense or becomes intense during the session, save this practice for another time.
Once you’ve got your mindset in place, stand, sit, or lie down to begin somatic tracking.
Start to tune into sensory information: notice the touch of the air on your skin, the touch of your body on the surface that’s supporting you.
Find a mild to medium pain or discomfort (nothing too scary) in your body to work with. Begin to observe the pain in the same manner you might watch the clouds go by.
What is the quality of the sensation? Notice where the sensation is, whether it is localized or diffuse. Notice whether it is moving, changing, or staying the same.
See if you can observe the sensation without judging it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Remember that you don’t need to change it or get rid of it. Allow it to be just as it is.
Observe the sensation for as long as you like.
Did you try it? What was your experience like? Let us know what questions you have in the comments.