Music from San Jose

Neil Pearson

For the past few days I have been teaching at a beautiful yoga centre in the hills just south of San Jose, California. Mount Madonna holds the same peaceful feeling as its sister centre on Salt Spring Island (where I often lead retreats), even though it is much bigger. The natural settings and calm attitudes of the individuals working and living in these centres seem to make it easier to breathe more freely and let go of the busy aspects of our lives.

Every time I see or hear ‘San Jose’, a song, popular in my childhood days, starts to play in my mind. As one might imagine, I have listened to the song quite a few times over the past few days. Thankfully, this is a tune that I don’t find annoying. It is attached to pleasant, carefree memories. Other tunes that continue to play in our heads can be less pleasant.

The idea of considering pain as “a tune that the brain can play” was passed on to me by pain specialist Lorimer Moseley. I can hear ‘Do you know the way to San Jose’ playing in my mind, even without the music coming from the radio, an iPod or stereo speakers. Pain can do the same thing. Even without signals coming from our body, the pain tune can play. It feels real, just like when a song gets stuck in my head. It is difficult to turn off, just like the song that has lodged into my brain. When something reminds me of the tune, it can play, whether it is a music tune or my pain.

Many of us will experience this sort of thing as the holiday season comes upon us. Yet some, like me, would prefer not to have these songs playing incessantly this far away from Christmas. Our brains seems happy to pick up and replay the old holiday tunes when reminded of them by the musac playing during our trips into coffee shops and stores.

While at Mount Madonna, and during one of the morning yoga sessions, we practiced breathing “longer”, “smoother” and “softer”. At the end of the practice, one of the students mentioned how much she liked using these words while she breathed. She described her pain as the opposite of this – tight, rough, jagged and hard. It helped to breathe in a way that was contrary to the way her pain felt. Unlike music, her pain tune wasn’t about sound, it was about feeling. Breathing in a way that was different from the pain tune was helpful for her.

It’s worth a try. See if you can identify aspects of your pain tune. Then start playing a tune that is different. It won’t work to try to suppress the tune that is playing. It’s best to come up with another tune and start playing it over and over, as one way to help in making the other tune quieter.

Travelling to places like Mount Madonna and Salt Spring Centre of Yoga provide us with opportunities to change. It really is quite a luxury for those of us who are able to do this. For those who come and find ways to stop those unwanted tunes from playing, I can only hope that once they return home, this glimpse of something different will allow them to find and practice the same new tunes in their homes and in their daily lives.

  • Neil Pearson’s book, Understand Pain, Live Well Again, helps yoga teachers and practitioners to provide students and clients with a new optimistic view of pain management.
  • [tags]Breathe, holiday, mount madonna center, musac, music, pain, pain tune, San Jose[/tags]

    Author: Neil Pearson

    Neil Pearson is a yoga therapist, physical therapist and Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC. He provides therapy exclusively for people with complex pain problems. Neil shares his knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pain and pathophysiology through

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