Once upon a time, a nice woman named Susan walked into her doctor’s office looking for a solution to her terrible back pain. While there, she also asked the doctor about her anxiety, which was getting worse and worse. “You’ll have to see a psychiatrist for that,” he said.
Back pain and the emotions are unrelated. Or at least that’s how Western medicine sees it. They’re separate — so separate that they require different doctors, different appointments, and different treatments.
If this approach worked, it would be one thing. But it doesn’t work. Not for millions of people.
The story about Susan is true, by the way. It actually happened to one of my students before she came to learn from me. The doctor couldn’t heal Susan’s back pain, nor was the psychiatrist able to cure her anxiety. That’s why she came to me.
I’m happy to say that I helped her with both problems. Today, she is not only pain free, but she no longer suffers from anxiety. So how did I do it?
Well, for starters, I didn’t separate between physical pain and the emotions.
Chinese Medicine, Pain, and the Emotions
Here’s an interesting fact: Despite its 4000-year history, Chinese medicine never developed a branch of psychiatry.
Why not? It’s because psychiatry is included in every branch of Chinese medicine!
With Chinese medicine, you don’t deal with physical pain only, or emotional problems only. A Chinese physician would never expect to heal physical pain without also dealing with the emotions — because they are two sides of the same coin.
When we talk about Chinese medicine, remember that we’re also talking about Qigong and Tai Chi. Traditionally, Chinese medicine has several different branches:
- Qigong (and Tai Chi)
- Herbal medicine
- Massage (Tui Na)
- Traumatology (Die Da)
- Cupping Therapy
Qigong is the best of Chinese medicine. It requires no pills, no doctor, and when done right, it is more powerful than all of the other branches. And one reason it’s so powerful is because it is supremely effective at smoothing out the emotions.
It’s Not Just Physical!
Students are often surprised when I ask about their emotions. “Sifu, it’s my back that hurts! This is a physical problem!” It’s not true. Your back pain has an emotional component. I guarantee it. If you don’t deal with the emotional component, you won’t get rid of your back pain.
I used to have terrible low back pain that started about the same time as my depression. At the time, it never occurred to me that the two could be linked. Now I know that if I hadn’t dealt with the emotional aspects of depression, then I never would have gotten rid of my back pain.
Did you know that back pain will affect 8 out of 10 Americans? That’s 250 million people! That’s all the proof I need to know that back pain isn’t just physical. If it were, then Western doctors would be able to do a better job of fixing it.
But they can’t. Despite their space-age surgery techniques, the most powerful pharmaceuticals, steroids, or the best physical therapy — Western medicine is largely ineffective when it comes to back pain. (And please don’t get me started on the side effects of these options!) Western doctors don’t have a solution, and that’s because they’re looking in the wrong place.
Chinese medicine does have an affordable and effective solution. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Qigong and Tai Chi, and I’ve had amazing success using it to treat back pain in myself and my students. But I’ve also seen my wife heal back pain with acupuncture and herbal medicine. That’s because we are both using forms of Chinese medicine, and both of us recognize the emotional factors in dealing with back pan.
In other words, we’re looking in the right places.
Emotions and Western medicine
Everyone knows that heart disease has an emotional component, right? People accept that stress and the emotions are involved, even though it would be easy to view heart disease as a purely physical issue. But when it comes to back pain, no one wants to talk about the emotions. Why is that?
Western medicine is still very young and hasn’t worked out all of the kinks (ahem, including those little kinks that make it the 5th leading cause of death in the US). Often, it is inconsistent in its views. For example, Western medicine recognizes the placebo — which is concrete scientific proof of the power of the mind — and yet prefers to sweep it aside rather than investigate it. Similarly, Western medicine recognizes emotional factors in certain diseases, but not others.
Back pain is still viewed by most doctors and patients as “physical”. The emotions, according to both doctor and patient, aren’t involved. In fact, most doctors prefer not to deal with the emotions at all. They prefer to leave that stuff to psychiatrists and psychologists.
You maybe also be interested in reading my trilogy on chronic pain:
Back Pain and the Emotions
So how does it work? How do the emotions affect your back? The simple answer is that emotions block the flow of energy (or Qi) in the body. When the energy gets blocked, there is pain. And that’s a good thing. Pain is good!
Pain is a signal. It tells you that something is wrong. In the case of back pain, it tells you that your emotions are stuck. Stifled. Repressed. They are so repressed that, even now, you’re probably resisting the idea that your back pain could be anything more than physical. Talk about stubbornness!
Accept that your emotions are part of the equation. They are blocking your energy, and that energy is causing pain. The problem MUST be energetic!
I know what you’re thinking. Already, you’re slipping back into “It’s just physical!” mode. Let me ask you a question. How is that type of thinking working for you? How is it working for the 250 million Americans who suffer from back pain?
It’s Not Working!
There is a strange phenomenon in the world today. Alternative forms of medicine, like acupuncture and Qigong, get criticized as being unscientific (which, by the way, is completely untrue) even though they are clearly effective. Meanwhile, the so-called “scientific” stuff sometimes isn’t effective. In other words, it’s “scientific” to keep spending billions of dollars on methods that don’t work, while criticizing methods that do!
This is dogma, not science. Unfortunately, it’s rampant in the medical world. What’s worse is that there are some frightening stats in the world of medicine that are just getting ignored.
For example, did you know that half of the methods used by Western medicine aren’t even based on scientific evidence? Yes, you read that right. Don’t believe me? Then read Dr. Makary’s excellent book, Unaccountable, for more on this subject (and some terrifying stories about hospitals!).
When I make arguments like this, people sometimes accuse me of criticizing Western medicine. And that’s a bad thing how? I thought that it was supposed to be peer-reviewed and evidence based? Sorry, but when it comes to dealing with back pain, Western medicine gets a bad review from me (and 250 million other Americans).
If someone were trying to present Qigong as an excellent solution for emergency medicine, I would criticize it myself. It’s not! Go to the emergency room!
In other words, let’s recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each type of medicine.
If you’re ready to try something that works, if you’re ready to actually heal your back pain, then Chinese medicine provides excellent solutions. Here are my best recommendations, in order of effectiveness:
1. Learn Qigong
This is my number one recommendation. I’ve seen Qigong get results where surgery, pharmaceuticals, and even acupuncture were ineffective. But it has to be real Qigong, and you have to learn it face-to-face from a master. In the meantime, you can start right now with a free online course.
2. Get Acupuncture
Finding a good acupuncturist is hard, but it’s easier than finding a good Qigong master. Ideally, find someone who is crazy busy, like my wife, who sees 80-100 patients per week. It’s just like a busy restaurant — it’s busy because the food is good. Bad restaurants (and bad acupuncturists) don’t get that busy because they don’t get results. (An exception would be someone who recently graduated from acupuncture school.)
3. Get N.E.T.
The Neuro-Emotional Technique (or N.E.T.), which is based on the principles of Chinese medicine, is amazingly effective at resolving emotional blockages, and thus healing physical pain. Click here to find a practitioner near you. Those in Gainesville can see my wife for this technique.
You desperately need to learn to relax your nervous system. When you relax your nervous system, the emotions are able to flow again, and pain starts to release. This is the basis of meditation, as well as Qigong. My free audio lesson is a good place to start.
5. Master Your Fear
Fear is huge when it comes to back pain. According to Chinese medical theory, the Kidney Meridians correspond to all fear-based emotions. It’s not easy, but you need to master your fear. In the Zen tradition, this is called “dying before you die.” If you allow yourself to face and experience the things that you’re afraid of, back pain will often melt away, sometimes instantly.
Back pain is not just physical. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you can start to heal. I’m guessing that, if you’ve read this far, it’s because the orthodox treatments have already failed you. Luckily, there are other, more effective options. I know how painful back pain can be, and I also know that you don’t have to live that way. I speak from experience when I say that you absolutely can get rid of your back pain — as soon as you start to admit that it’s not just physical!
Do you know someone with back pain? Then please share this article using the buttons below. Or drop me a comment if you have questions. And if you haven’t already gotten your free online qigong course, then make sure to get it here. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.