What is the pain body?
In Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling book ‘A New Earth’ he introduced the concept of the pain-body to describe the “energy field of old but still very-much-alive emotion that lives in almost every human being.”
This pain-body is also what challenges us in our ability to live more conscious and awakened lives. It is seen as an obstacle that we must all face as we try to become more present in the moment.
Although Eckhart describes the pain-body frequently as a kind of energy field, it actually has a very real and tangible explanation when looked at from a somatic perspective. What he is describing is chronic stress or trauma (pain) and nervous system dysregulation (pain-body or trapped emotion).
When I first read this book, it changed my life in so many ways. It all made so much sense, yet the question remained: what can I do to help release, or relieve, the pain body?
This same question has been presented to Eckhart Tolle many times over the years, and both he and his wife Kim Eng have spoken about it in many of their talks. The answers I’ve heard them give are very much about cultivating presence by “feeling your inner body”. In somatic language, this would be translated to what is called “interoception”. On it’s own, this advice can feel like an unsatisfying answer. It is true that cultivating presence is very important, but without the tools or understanding of how to do that, it can be very difficult.
During my training in various somatic and trauma healing therapies, I finally found the missing pieces of the puzzle to help heal my pain-body and this now forms the current basis of my work and teachings.
How to help heal or release your pain-body
- Understand how your nervous system works. Learn the Polyvagal Theory by Dr Stephen Porges. This explains how we behave unconsciously and get triggered by people or situations.
- Learn and practice mindful awareness in relation to your body and your nervous system. This will help to cultivate presence and to feel the inner body. In MBSR training you learn to do body scan meditations which amongst various other mindfulness techniques, can help with this. Mindfulness will help to start to create space between event and response, and empower you to self-regulate your emotions better.
- Release the energy in your pain-body. In the ‘Power of Now‘, as well as in ‘A New Earth‘, Eckhart Tolle describes the story of two ducks who get in a fight and then flap their wings afterwards and act like nothing happened (read the actual quote below). For humans who have built a lifetime of pain in our bodies, simply shaking it off consciously is not enough and not always appropriate. The most effective and powerful way that I have discovered to release the pain-body is through the regular practice of neurogenic tremoring as taught in TRE (Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises).
Although TRE is itself not religious and is not aligned with any spiritual practice or philosophies, my training to become a Certified TRE Provider did result in an unexpected and powerful acceleration in my journey of awakening. I have heard many other TRE practitioners report similar things.
While there are so many wonderful ways to work with the body therapeutically to heal ourselves, some of which I have trained in, I have not experienced anything that comes close to matching the innate intelligence of the body to neurogenically shake off and release energy that is no longer needed. This is why teaching TRE is one of my core offerings. I believe it is the missing piece of the puzzle in healing therapies.
What we can learn from the story of the two ducks
“Occasionally two ducks will get into a fight…The fight usually lasts only for a few seconds, and then the ducks separate, swim off in opposite directions, and vigorously flap their wings a few times. They then continue to swim on peacefully as if the fight had never happened. When I observed that for the first time, I suddenly realised that by flapping their wings, they were releasing surplus energy, thus preventing it from becoming trapped in their body and turning into negativity. This is natural wisdom. And it is easy for them because they do not have a mind that keeps the past alive unnecessarily and then builds an identity around it”
“If the duck had a human mind, it would keep the fight alive by thinking, by story-making…On and on the mind spins its tales, still thinking and talking about it days, months, or years later. As far as the body is concerned, the fight is still continuing and the energy it generates in response to all those thoughts is emotion, which in turn generates more thinking. This becomes the emotional thinking of the ego.”
How the pain-body relates to the human nervous system
The somatic or biological explanation for what Eckhart describes is what happens when our nervous system become stuck in survival mode. When we are stuck in fight/flight or freeze state, which can happen through chronic stress or trauma, the mind is biased towards negative thinking and will ruminate over things the greater the degree of stress. This has a very real survival function, it’s how our bodies protect us in the face of threat. The body wants to eliminate any possibility of danger before determining we are safe and can relax. So it will assume the worst until it can know for sure we are safe. However, sometimes the response that arises is not appropriate to the situation which is why we feel stuck in unconscious patterns. There is nothing wrong with us, we are literally biologically wired to be this way.
How to heal the pain body
Ultimately, the only way to break the cycle is to help down-regulate the nervous system, to find the dump valve for our adrenaline, the exhaust pipe for our burning emotions, the release of our stored up pain and tension. This is where TRE comes in.
TRE alone will not solve all our problems in life, however, it will help to release a lot of the pent up energy and pain that obstructs our ability to be present in the moment. And by learning to become more embodied and more present, we can finally come into alignment with other things including our inner stillness and intuition.
If you’d like to learn about your nervous system, self-regulation and TRE, I invite you to join my Intro to TRE course, which I offer regularly online and in person.