Back Spasms -- The Inside Story

Back spasms catch us unawares

          so to speak.

But here’s the odd thing:  when a back spasm happens, it’s most often been coming for a long time.

The Back Story of Most Back Pain

Back during a period of prolonged high stress — maybe during an employment crisis or facing deadline after deadline after deadline — you got yourself used to driving yourself hard or used to being in a state of urgency.  Maybe you listen to too much news or talk radio and get "wound up".  Maybe you stayed too long in a situation you really wanted to get out of, or maybe you put and kept yourself in uncomfortable positions, by sense of necessity, that you would rather have gotten out of, and got part-way used to that, while keeping going.  Or maybe you just “trained” badly or trained on top of old injuries.  You’re musclebound, whatever the story, with a spasm in your back.

It’s been coming for a long time, your back spasm — you’ve been getting closer to the edge of cramp or spasm for a long time.  You got so used to being tense and stiff that, one day, you pulled on that tenseness and stiffness and it pulled you right back, something like an internally generated whiplash action. 

What If It Was a Whiplash Incident?

Maybe you were involved in an accident that yanked or jerked or jolted you a bit too much.

Then, you tightened up suddenly, got prone to sudden yank-back, and you knew you were caught — even if, at first, you didn’t realize it was a protective spasm you were feeling.

A Back Spasm Shows Brain-Muscle Conditioning

Caught in your own conditioning– think about that.  Your spasm is your conditioning.

We all caught in our conditioning, to varying degrees and in different ways.  Had you thought of it like that, before?

However, sometimes, it’s “just enough” (too much), and with just one more challenge we suddenly go hard-line, uptight, tense, caught in the grip of our own conditioning, in spasm, body and mind (two aspects of the same thing).  Think about it:  didn’t your back spasm stop you in your tracks? mid-step?  It wasn’t “a back spasm“; it was a "you spasm“.

The Problem with a "You Spasm"

Not enough reserve capacity, not enough tolerance for additional demand.  On edge, trying to be nice, perhaps.  Not much more capacity for stress, however.  Used up, or close to it, in the grip.

The solution?

Recover much of that reserve capacity by dispeling obsolete tension patterns.  Lose the excess tension.  Get back to normal.  Recover your reserve capacity.  Feel like a human being.  You may have forgotten what that feels like and you may not have known that you can do it, yourself.

Common Back Spasms are Simple

"Simple When You Know How"

Common Back Pain is a fairly simple condition to master.  It’s just a primitive “go” reaction (“Landau Reaction“) turned on too hard and too long.  You’re overheated; you’re idling too high.  You can learn to turn this reflex (Landau Reaction) down and up again, temper it, recover a bunch of reserve capacity, flexibility and freedom of movement.  No more spasm, no more back pain, more reserve capacity, more movability.

Back Spasms from Injury are More Complex, May Take More Doing to Clear Up

Back pain from injury may consist of a number of overlying contraction patterns.  However, bending over or twisting and getting a spasm isn’t an injury; it’s a malfunction that falls under “Common Back Pain”.  Recovering from a complicated injury isn’t more difficult, particularly; it just takes more steps, some sorting out, and more doing, of course.

The same principle applies, either way.

Recover voluntary (deliberate) control of the muscular grip and let it relax, then deliberately use it freely and so reclaim it.  Strength, reserve capacity, free control.  Security.

One Right Reason

That’s one very good purpose of somatic education — to get people out of pain.  It’s effective, it’s faster than more well-known or popularized methods, and it brings durable benefits under all life conditions.

Different -- and More Like Yourself

A larger effect of somatic education is to train people to free themselves from the excessive grip of their conditioning; to re-acquaint people with what it feels like to feel fine;  so people feel different and more like themselves.

Relief comes primarily from what the person does, secondarily from what someone else did with the person.  If you do sessions of this process, you contribute at least 50% to the change, moving between effort and non-effort (in clinical sessions), or more like 90% if you’re working at a distance from me (Lawrence Gold) following recorded instructional material and taking distance-coaching, as needed.

Because the person is contributing energy, intention, and intelligence to the process, and because they’re changing from within (if guided from out), the change is theirs — theirs to maintain or theirs to re-create, if necessary.  More than that, it’s faster than by externally operating methods, whether scalpel, laser, or stretching device ("spinal decompression"), longer-lasting than manipulations or interventions of many kinds.  It’s longer-lasting because it covers more of the bases and from the internal control center, the self, oneself, and faster because it works from the inside, out.


Esoteric Somatics and Tibetan Buddhism

In Tibetan Buddhism, the human being is regarded to have three interfitting "bodies", which correspond to the waking state ("Nirmanakaya" or dense/"gross" physical flesh/genetic body), the dreaming or imagining state ("Sambhogakaya" or "subtle" body), and deep sleep ("Dharmakaya" or "causal/most subtle" or "unborn, unmanifest" body). This entry discusses our experience of them and how they evolve as a given individual develops and evolves.

These bodies are not separate. I consider them "nodes" or octaves on a continuum. This continuum consists of the primal "substance" of existence, which is self-radiant awareness, which gives rise to "soma" (or "living, aware, psycho-physical person"); soma consists of these three "bodies" or nodes.

Of these three "bodies", two are manifest (limited and defined), consist of changing processes, and exist in time:  the Nirmanakaya (genetic body) and the Sambhogakaya (dream body). These two bodies are not static and unchanging, but exist as living, changing processes.

The third "body," the Dharmakaya, is transcendental, all-pervading, and is the ground of being from which the other two arise and in which they exist, consisting of self-radiant awareness.

This writing describes and explains the interrelation of the three bodies in terms of personal/conscious evolution. 

People who are just learning the process of deliberate growth and change, we call "proto-mutants"; people who are actively engaging deliberate growth and change, we call "mutants" -- after Thomas Hanna's usage in his book, "Bodies in Revolt".

"Pointing Out" Instructions

When the Nirmanakaya (manifested genetic/memory body) and the Sambhogakaya (imaginary dreamed-body) align (or attain a high degree of mutual congruency), as the individual remains consciously awake, volitionally present and at a sufficiently poised state of equanimity or balance (free attention), the Dharmakaya (deep, silent, formless body or field) may be intuited by feeling the content of experience and, while feeling it, feeling beyond it into what is deeper.

By "a high degree of mutual congruency", I mean that the genetic/memory body is sufficiently free of the grip, or "gravitational attraction" of habituated patterns to be able to transform freely and stably into new subtle perceptions captured by awareness in the dream/imagination body (Sambhogakaya).  Otherwise, subtle perceptions are fleeting and quickly replaced by the habits of dense memory seated in the genetic/memory body (Nirmanakaya).  They can't be captured, so subtle perceptions, new insights, and emerging abilities vanish and get missed.

The Dharmakaya is the "clutch pedal".  As the formless aspect of buddha-nature, "resorting" to it (or "taking refuge" in it) is the means of disengagement from, or relinquishment of, the memory-form of the moment.  Dynamic balance between the intuition of the Dharmakaya and intuition of the form and feeling of the Sambhogakaya (imaginary dreamed-body) allows the Sambhogakaya to transform.  Without that dynamic balance, the Sambhogakaya remains bogged in its current form, anchored by the Nirmanakaya's tangible memory pattern (present as physiological adaptation, neurological conditioning, and the patterning of the myofascia/soft-tissue), which feeds back the memory pattern to the Sambhogakaya in a self-perpetuating feedback loop.  You can't lift the foot you are standing on; you're using it.

The Nirmanakaya/genetic body is the densest seat of memory and is slower to (and more resistant to) change than the Sambhogakaya (dream-body), and so introduces a lag into the process of change -- which has survival value, but slows re-adaptation.

The "anchoring" of the Nirmanakaya is its habitual pattern; intuition of the Dharmakaya "lifts anchor". 

Ordinarily, the perception of the Nirmanakaya/Sambhogakaya dynamic fades in deep sleep, leaving only the Dharmakaya's formless nature.  This is rest.  Upon passage from the deep sleep state (Dharmakaya) into the dream state (Sambhogakaya), residual memories imprinted upon the Nirmanakaya (daytime body) "leak" into the emerging dream-activity of the Samghogakaya.  Dreams appear, whose elements are, every one, aspects of the dreaming individual.

The "Ins" and "Outs" of the Subtle/Dream Body (Sambhogakaya)

Though it has been said that dreams are the royal road to the Unconscious, it is better said that they are the royal road to pervading the Unconscious with Consciousness.  It is fruitless and misguided to consult "dream interpretation" texts for their meaning.  They are indirect, second-hand, and intellectually biased, if not outright arbitrary.

There is a better way:  Merely to remember each element of the dream and notice what you feel as you put your full attention on each element -- that action reveals the latent significance of the element attended to.  It's a "feel" thing.  The feelings are likely to be very familiar.  More than that, with recognition comes dissolution of the binding forces of those feelings.

With each recognition and dissolution come both greater access to intuition of the Dharmakaya and release of the physical form (Nirmanakaya) from hitherto unconscious patterns of contraction (or somatic/psychophysical shaping forces).  The body changes.

As the process of recognition and release continues, there appears a feeling of "straightening out".  The process gives meaning to a term that Castaneda used, "The Mold of Man".  (I think it was in "The Fire from Within").  The "straightening out" progressively approximates a feeling of more natural wholeness, of "self as you would prefer to be", which is The Mold of Man.

The process of that straightening out may involve passages through personal distortions, recognized as "damaged self", dysfunctional patterns or neuroses, some of which may be pretty hairy.  It gives meaning to the term, "Lions at the Gate" or "Personal Demons" or "The Dragon's Lair" or "The Green Knight" (but not The Jolly Green Giant).

As it proceeds, the energy-dynamic of the individual changes -- not wholesale and in some general fashion, but in specific ways energetically/vibrationally related to the material recognized and released.  A person gets more spontaneously intelligent in various ways.

The Special Function of the Formless or Most Subtle Body (Dharmakaya)

However, without the balancing influence of intuition of the Dharmakaya, transformation is slowed, rather than allowed -- hence the value of meditation -- and of a good night's sleep!  Paradoxically, as the process proceeds, the person may find (s)he needs less sleep and spontaneously spends more time in early-morning meditation.  Or maybe it's just insomnia.  But you can put the time to good use!

Now, as the energy-dynamic of the individual changes, the field of the individual tends to become quieter -- that is, less beset by occlusive noise -- more "resonant" to processes occurring within and outside.  The faculty of intuition becomes more available.  With less internal noise, the individual is more sensitive -- particularly to subtle forces guiding and shaping the emergence of actual existence.  In other words, the person may become spontaneously pre-cognitive, getting intimations of things to come through revery and streams of thought.  When those things come to pass, people call it, "synchronicity" or "signs of wisdom".

It's a natural result of doing "clean-up" which, by releasing the "glue" of memory patterns, allows the Nirmanakaya to change more quickly/fluidly, and the energy dynamic of Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya to be more congruent.  (The physiologically-based memory-"glue" of the Nirmanakaya makes it slower to change, and so less dynamic than the dream-body/ Sambhogakaya.  They get out of phase, as attention is trapped in memory.  Somatic education helps in the releasing of that "glue".)  As Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya become more synchronous and congruent, they seem more transparent and attention is more free to penetrate to the deeper layer or node of consciousness: the Dharmakaya.

As both Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya are simultaneously intuited, spontaneous adjustments in the field of the Sahbhogakaya (dream body) occur in the direction of felt balance and centered wholeness (these words being metaphors for a felt experience), these being how the Dharmakaya manifests through or as the Sambhogakaya.  The Nirmanakaya undergoes corresponding evolutionary mutations (at a personal, not species, level).


This simultaneous intuition may be fostered by the presence of persons or objects imprinted with the harmonic of "Nirmanakaya/Sambhogakaya Manifesting Dharmakaya".  Such is the virtue of spiritual masters, the localities of such masters, and the relics of such masters, of teachings generated from such intuition, and of groups of practitioners.

What may start out as an idealized state in certain aspects of the individual's make-up broadens to include more of the individual's functions, with consciousness of the Dharmakaya progressively pervading the dream-body and its manifested-memory (neural/genetic) body, to the benefit of ongoing mutation or "personal evolution".

The End

"The Controlling Moment"

Growth and Change are a Mystery to Most People.

This piece clarifies. 

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." So wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanac.

Failing that, another saying carries the point:  "The biggest problem could have been solved when it was small." So wrote Lao Tzu, a Chinese Taoist sage, in The Tao Teh Ching, an ancient text of wisdom.

Changing behaviors and entrenched conditions isn't as simple as it sounds -- a mere decision powered (at best) by enthusiasm -- as anyone who has worked to change a habit has found.

People do it by "trying" -- working harder to change -- rather than by uncovering their/our own remaining impulse to be "the old way" -- working smarter.

However, without taking into account the root of action, any change of action remains incomplete and in conflict with old ways of acting.  This understanding applies as much to social politics as it does to individual behavior and experience.  That's why, "You can't change minds with guns."

There's a way of "working smarter", rather than harder -- and that is part of what I cover in this entry.

There's a "Root" of Action?? The idea that there is a root of action doesn't occur to most people. That's because people generally experience action -- theirs and others -- only once it is well underway. The root of action, because it is small, subtle, goes unnoticed. So, I will, in this entry, illuminate the nature of the root of action (and it isn't psychological, but more primordial/rudimentary than that). In the process, I will show the relationship between the subjective experience of the root of change and the objective (and outwardly observable) bodily sign of the root of action. Let's get started. The Root of Action The root of action is so common as to go unnoticed, except in certain specialized situations.  Its word is, "readiness". Readiness is not merely an emotional state, a state of anticipation.  ("Yeah, boss!  Yeah, boss!")  It's a state of preparation, the first step of shifting from rest (unreadiness) into action.  ("On your mark, get set . . . ")  It's a "steering" action, the step of organizing oneself for a particular activity, generally based upon the memory of the action we are about to do, but also modulated by the relationships of the moment.    It's that subtle. Because it is that subtle, as subtle as memory and the subtle effects of a person or place upon us, it generally goes unnoticed. Memory and imagination go together, are two sides of the same coin. The act of getting ready is preparation for a leap into a (however vaguely imagined) future which has some connection with a memory. I call the moment of getting ready, "The Controlling Moment."  As we leap (or subtly drift) into action, we rally  our determination, springing (or gliding) forward from that controlling moment into full action. As we launch into action, we power up.  The controlling moment points our direction.  Powering up builds upon the controlling moment, and away we go. Now, here's the odd thing about human beings:  it's common for us automatically to redirect our launch, so that what we do after the Controlling Moment misses the mark we (think we have) set in our Controlling Moment.  The act of redirecting ourselves occurs automatically, involuntarily, and is based upon memories of life situations similar to the one into which we are launching.  Fears, conditioning, beliefs all change our trajectory, but "behind the scenes", without conscious awareness.  That means we get unanticipated results. Not only do fears, beliefs and other conditioning change our trajectory; they also disguise or obscure the Controlling Moment of that action, so that an observer of our action often can't tell what our precise intention was at the controlling moment -- and we, ourselves, find it difficult to tell why things went awry.  ("The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," a pathetic saying based on the presently-described dynamic). What we and others perceive is everything that followed the Controlling Moment of that action, but the Controlling Moment remains obscured and obscure. Why?  Because the experience of "powering up" is so much "louder" than that of The Controlling Moment.  The root remains buried. That's why it's so difficult to self-correct, to change habits, and to understand the motivations of others whose actions we observe.  Two "Layers" of Action We may regard The Controlling Moment as the core of an action (steering) and Powering Up as the extension of that core (acceleration). Another odd thing, however:  the two layers don't always go together.  Sometimes, we get ready for an action but refrain from carrying it out; sometimes, we do an action for which we are not really ready, and our heart really isn't in it, but carry it out, anyway.  We counteract our own Controlling Moment or we act without the precise internal guidance of a mature Controlling Moment.  In those cases, we have a condition of self-arrest (Controlling Moment without Powering Up -- ineffectuality) or poorly organized action (undeveloped Controlling Moment and lots of Powering Up -- stupidity or clumsiness). In such cases, a residue of the action (or lack of action) remains in memory.  The residue of self-arrest is regret, frustration and/or self-recrimination; the residue of poorly organized action remains in memory as a sense of guilt, shame, and/or lower self-esteem.   Integrity What's lacking when we have one but not the other is integrity. Integrity is intelligent, well-regulated, well-modulated power. In other words, when we have one but not the other, we fail either to exercise our intelligence adequately or we fail to exercise our power appropriately. What happens as aftermath when we act without intelligence or without well-regulated power is we experience our lack of integrity as disempowerment. What to do?  What to do? Forging Integrity Congruence between our Controlling Moment and our Powering Up shows up as integrity.  To forge integrity, we must correct one or both of our errors -- the error of acting without adequate intelligence or an error in the exercise of power. However, it's not sufficient merely to power up; we must power up to a degree of intensity appropriate to our circumstances.  Likewise, it's not sufficient merely to power up to an appropriate degree of intensity; we must power up intelligently, which means in alignment with the intention present in our Controlling Moment.  The Controlling Moment is the truth of any action. The kicker is that we can't have intelligence about a Controlling Moment buried by an unintelligent powering up -- and powering up always buries the Controlling Moment simply because it's louder. So, we have to uncover the Controlling Moment underlying any action or habit we find problematic. How do we do that? First Attention Self-correction requires that we catch the fault when it is small.  Otherwise, we have to deal with both the momentum of an action in progress and the direction of that momentum.  Think of turning a vehicle at slow speed vs. at high speed. Again, unfortunately, we may (and commonly do) miss the Controlling Moment. One way to catch the Controlling Moment is to slow down so that we can observe the first moment of action, the Controlling Moment. Another way to catch the Controlling Moment is to repeat the action with close attention each time, so that we ultimately catch the Controlling Moment. And yet another way to catch the Controlling Moment is to alternate doing an action with refraining from that action, so that, by virtue of the contrast between doing and not-doing, we get enhanced perception of the action. And yet another way to catch the Controlling Moment is to take instruction (and example) from someone adept at the intended action, so that, by virtue of the contrast between their competence and our incompetence, we catch our own errant Controlling Moment and correct it, with repetition, by degrees (successively accurate approximations). Whatever the approach, we must catch the Controlling Moment, so that we perceive the contrast (or difference) between our Controlling Moment and the subsequent Powering Up (which may be out of close alignment with our Controlling Moment) -- so that we can self-correct at the root of action. A master of anything is one who has done so.  I've just outlined the theoretical (not hypothetical) underpinning of action and of change of action.  I'm going to leave you with that basic understanding without outlining specific techniques so that you can form an intention to form your own Controlling Moment to improve your access and control of your own controlling moments. What follows is an addendum of interest to somatic educators and Rolfers.  To continue this consideration, please see this entry on The Big Pandiculation. We continue.   For Somatic Educators Feldenkrais pointed out, in "Body and Mature Behavior", that laboratory studies showed that we can sense a stimulus about 1/20th of the intensity of another, immediately preceding stimulus.  That means, when a stronger stimulus immediately precedes  another, weaker, stimulus as little 1/20th as intense, we can sense both, but if the weaker stimulus is less than 1/20th as intense, we may not be able to sense it. Thomas Hanna pointed out that to alter a pattern of function (or behavior) voluntarily, we must deliberately do the old pattern of function (to be changed) at a level of intensity at least equal to that of the same pattern, when done involuntarily (by habit or "kneejerk reaction").  By matching or exceeding the level of voluntary intensity to the intensity of the involuntary habit, control shifts from involuntary habit to voluntary performance.  At that point, lasting change is possible.  However, to make a change, we must reach, or catch, the Controlling Moment, and that requires two things:  that we:
  1. closely match the voluntary pattern of action to the habitual/involuntary pattern.
  2. maintain continuous sensory awareness from full intensity if the action all the way to zero intensity.
In practice, (1.) requires that we compare (by feeling) our voluntary action to the habitual action and self-correct until they closely match. In practice, (2.) requires that we either go slowly enough that the differences of intensity of neighboring (or successive) "takes" of sensory perception are less than 20:1 ("takes" of sensory perception can't be continuous due to the way our nervous systems function, in which our brains link successive "snapshots" of perception the way movie films and TV images present successive "shapshots" of movement that our brains link together -- via memory -- into the impression of continuous action).  Since, by tendency, we lack continuous perception of habitual actions, we may need to make numerous repetitions of the action to develop sufficient perception to apprehend the Controlling Moment and to make the change.  The Diamond Penetration Technique, which uses rhythmic repetitions combined with memory, is helpful to develop sufficient heightened awareness to change our habitual action. For Rolfers Ida Rolf made a distinction between "Intrinsic Movement" and "Extrinsic Movement."  She defined "extrinsic movement" as "immature movement" and "intrinsic movement" as "mature movement." Now to clarify those meanings. Intrinsic Movement is movement we originate with awareness of the Controlling Moment -- the root of action -- intention. Extrinsic Movement is movement we originate with more concern for how the movement looks or conforms to the expectations of others (or social standards) than by how it feels -- and so is immature movement that we may characterized as "obedience",  "conformity", "going through the motions". She also distinguished two "layers of depth" of the musculature and myofascial web:  intrinsic musculature and extrinsic musculature, or "core" (intrinsic") and "sleeve" (extrinsic). The intrinsic muscles are those most immediately responsive to the shift from rest into full activity, which corresponds to the shift from rest (or unreadiness) into readiness for activity. Examples of intrinsic muscles include the finest, deepest muscles of the spine, the tongue, the muscles of focusing, the psoas muscles.  The extrinsic muscles add power to the pattern of organization set by activation of intrinsic muscles.  So, it may be said that visually seeing organizes the body for motion.  Thus, "Look where you're going," has an intuitively understandable meaning. Another distinction she made was of two variations of poor integration:
  1. soft (open or free) core, hard (restrictive or tight) sleeve -- conformity -- "going through the motions," "going along to get along"
  2. hard (restrictive or tight) core, soft (open or free) sleeve -- outwardly obedient, but internally resistant behavior
She distinguished another pattern, which she defined as the desirable, mature pattern
  • open core, free sleeve
That pattern corresponds to a kind of rest, rather than activity. I distinguish yet another pattern:
  • freely responsive core and cooperative sleeve
This pattern is neither defined by a rest condition nor by an active condition, but by free modulation between both states, characterized by freedom from entrapment in either state.  In other words, there's relatively smooth continuity between an "open core, free sleeve" condition and a freely responsive core empowered by a cooperative sleeve. Paradoxically, it's impossible to tell by a moment's observation whether a person is entrapped, since their state of core and sleeve may be a momentary response (or even a frequent one).  Only over the long term can we tell whether an action pattern is free or compulsorily maintained by habit.  We can't even tell, about ourselves, unless we are aware of our own Controlling Moments and the continuity of those moments with the movement into full rest. Again, paradoxically, spontaneity shows up when the person moves easily from state to state.  A true "Controlling Moment" arises from the 'open core, free sleeve" (undefined) condition -- Source. Again, habitual fixation in a pattern at the Controlling Moment or in Powering Up interferes with this free condition, since a person can neither move freely from action to rest, nor does their action, when carried out, reflect their direction, as determined at their Controlling Moments. Ultimately, an approach from the outside, in (such as passive bodywork) can lead only to immature patterns of function, since we activate our core from the inside, out (intrinsically), and outside-in approaches, even those that contact the intrinsic muscular or depth, are inherently extrinsic (at least at the beginning).  Hence, the absolute necessity, with all kinds of bodywork, Rolfing included, for training in self-mastery to complement the changes of an outside-in approach. That training may start as movement education, but should mature toward Transcendental Realization and stages of personal (and cultural) evolution. (See Ken Wilber's AQAL -- "All Quadrant, All Level, All Line" Kosmological (yes, spelled correctly) model) A final quote from Ida Rolf:
Comprehensive recognition of human structure includes not only the physical body, but also the psychological personality -- behavior, attitudes, capacities.
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