About a year ago, the New York Times ran an article about the Kripalu yoga and health retreat center in Lenox, MA. The article’s theme was that Kripalu took chances and tried new ideas for health and healing. Those of us who are working with people with Mind Body Syndrome (MBS, or Tension Myositis Syndrome, as named by Dr. Sarno) are continually trying to find better ways to help our patients. I developed a comprehensive and structured 4-week program designed to uncover and address hidden emotional reactions that are linked to a variety of chronic painful and associated psycho-physiological symptoms. Maybe there would be some benefit from an intensive retreat format for getting people started on this work or to help them get unstuck in their progress.
I submitted a proposal to Kripalu, thinking that it would be a long shot. To my knowledge, no one has ever conducted such a seminar based upon the particular model initially proposed by Dr. Sarno. I didn’t hear from Kripalu for several months. One day, I mentioned the proposal to a close friend. Serendipitously, his sister, Annie Price, had just started working there and he called her to see if my proposal was being reviewed. She pulled it out of the pile and within a few weeks, I got an email asking if I could arrange to spend a week at Kripalu leading this retreat.
After working with people suffering with chronic pain and other syndromes caused by MBS for the past 6 years, it is becoming clear that there are a variety of paths to healing. For some, it only takes learning that emotions can cause pain and simply applying that revolutionary concept to their own life. These are the miraculous stories that most doctors (including me) love to tell. For others, it is necessary to look deeply into their life and work diligently and courageously at clearing the emotions that have been creating underlying mental conflict and tension. Others need to challenge the associations that have developed by pushing through pain that occurs with movement or exercise. In a blog I wrote on September, 2008, I described several steps that are often necessary to fully heal MBS (and heal one’s psyche at the same time). I have listed them here as well.
1. Learning that MBS exists, that emotions can cause pain.
2. Understanding one’s own emotions, prior stressors, core issues that have lead to the physical and emotional symptoms.
3. Starting to uncover these core issues and emotions in writing and reflecting.
4. Speaking the truth to oneself, through writing, meditating, reprogramming the mind.
5. Reclaiming our bodies by doing the things which have triggered symptoms and using affirmations and self-talk to reprogram the brain so that these triggers (such as movements, exercise, certain foods, times, places, people) stop leading to MBS symptoms.
6. Recognizing hidden barriers in our own mind that may prevent us from getting better (see week 3 of the program); honestly asking ourselves the question: Why might my mind prefer to hang on to these symptoms?
7. Speaking the truth to others, telling others what you need, expressing anger or apology or forgiveness.
8. Accepting what needs to be accepted; forgiving what needs to be forgiven.
9. Doing things that we need to do, physical things (activities), but also things we want to do, and most importantly, figuring out what things need changing in our lives and actively working on those.
10. Letting go of past issues, recognizing that what has happened “should” have happened and that fighting reality is a horrible way to live (see the work of Byron Katie in week 4 of the program).
11. Creating our new self, deciding who we want to be and making that a reality, deciding how we will respond to issues and making that happen.
Because it can be complicated and difficult for many to overcome MBS (see some recent blogs of stories from brave people who have persevered to become symptom-free, for example, Joe’s story from October, 2009), we should be looking for innovative ways to help in the recovery process. The retreat at Kripalu was an attempt to create such a program.
From my perspective, the retreat went very well. I interviewed people separately to help them uncover the emotions that were creating their specific symptoms. Everyone was accepting of the MBS diagnosis and they all began to accomplish the first of the steps towards healing. There was enough time for people to bond together and share their stories. Kripalu is a healing environment, with healthy food, yoga classes, massage therapists, a great facility, and beautiful grounds. We had time for several directed meditations and mindfulness training. And they were away from their usual work and home lives, which allowed them to concentrate on their own healing and reflect on their lives. Everyone seemed thrilled with the retreat experience. I will solicit some of their stories in future blogs and get their input about this form of MBS work. Many of them began to see results in their attitude, mood, energy level, and pain within a few days. Time will tell if this experience worked to jump-start their recovery. They are now beginning the long, difficult work of going through the 4-week online program. I have tremendous faith in them and am grateful to them for attending this first MBS retreat. I’m not sure yet if this format will continue to be offered, but I think it holds great promise. There is clearly a need for new and different ways of doing this work.
I currently teach a 4-week class for healing MBS in the Detroit area. There is also the online program and now there may be a retreat format. I am coming out with a book in a couple of months. This will provide yet another option. I will write about that soon.
Send me your thoughts about the retreat format for healing MBS. I’d be interested in your feedback.
To your health,
Howard Schubiner, MD