Today we’re going to be talking about letterball catching and juggling, and how that may influence your pain.
Years ago I had an incredibly interesting chronic pain client, and the only thing that actually helped her was juggling. It was one of the weirdest experiences that I ever had and for many years I tried to understand why. What we found over the course of the years is that as we included more vision work and a lot of other things with people, that we’ve seen some incredible changes in people’s lives from learning how to catch, from learning how to do a more complicated tasks.
If you remember, several weeks ago we put out a blog on catching. We used this cool little device called a letter ball. The whole idea is that we play catch, and we have to track the ball all the way into our hand and call the letter that we see whenever we catch it. Now we put that out there kind of as a sports performance gift. Right? Because lots and lots of athletes that are in contact sports like tennis, volley ball, soccer, they can benefit from that drill. Plus, lots of people that have never been able to catch actually learn how to catch whenever we teach them letter ball. I was excited about giving that information out there. It’s a simple drill, but it’s really fun and it’s really powerful.
We got an incredible testimonial back from the client of one of our Z-Health trainers who said, “You know, letter ball catching was one of the very first things that impacted my pain, my chronic pain of fifteen years. It, in fact, I believe, helped eradicate it.”
Now when I saw that it immediately made me flash back years and years and years ago to this client who had had a horrible history, was in chronic pain, but found that juggling actually would completely, in her case, eradicate her pain at least for a while. That became one of drills was she started to feel bad again, juggle. It was amazing.
Now, years later we probably have a lot more information about why that happens. If you’ve heard the Z-Health lecture around pain, we talk about this idea that we have a threat bucket. The idea is that there’s this big what we call super system in the brain that’s taking in all the available input coming in from our eyes, from our inner ear, from the rest of our body, and it’s judging that based on how threatening it is.
If things are really threatening very often the response of the brain is to give you some pain in order to make you alter your behavior.
Now, I’m going to take a little side track from that and talk a little bit about meditation. One of the big things that’s happening in the chronic pain world right now is looking at what’s called mindfulness and meditation. Meditation increases activity in a variety of the areas of the brain. One particular place in particular is called the insular cortex. In the insula, we believe, is an area that kind of controls how bad pain feels. What’s been found is that in chronic meditators, people that have meditated for a long time and are good at it, it really changes the activity in the insula and, in fact, they become more pain resistant.
Now there was a great study that I believe helps explain why letter ball catching may actually be a form of moving meditation. When you look at people who are trying to use meditation to control pain there are two different groups. You have new people and you have people that have been doing it a while.
The way that they need to meditate is different.
The people that have been meditating for a long time, they actually do very well with an internal focus where maybe they’re focusing on their breathing, or their heartbeat, or body sensations, et cetera. However, whenever you make new people do that they very often feel worse. Instead, what we find with new people when they begin this kind of mindfulness training is that they need to practice what’s called focused attention.
Focused attention is usually on some kind of object or event external to themselves, and whenever they perform that focused attention work very often their pain control increases. They’re able to control pain more and pain goes away in some instances. Letter ball, if you want to think about it, is a form of focused attention where we’re playing catch and instead of just kind of generally guessing where the ball is going to be, I have to follow it. Track it as it comes in, and catch it, and call the letter.
It’s a very, like I said, simple form in my mind of moving meditation or mindfulness training. Again, there’s a lot of cool research about how that impacts in this threat bucket in the brain, decreases overall threat, and decreases pain.
A lot of people when they saw that Facebook post were asking some questions like, “That’s really weird. How in the heck does that work?” To some degree we can’t go, “Here’s the one research study that proves it.” There’s a lot of stuff that we can look at that’s associated, so we can make some pretty good theoretical guesses, if you will, at why this works and why it’s so powerful for so many people.
If you haven’t give letter ball catching a try, get a tennis ball, get a marker, make your own. Play with a friend. Go back and watch the blog so you know exactly how to do it and let us know your results.
If it helps your pain I would absolutely love to know that.
Again, it’s so simple and easy to implement in people’s lives. There’s no reason for people not to know about it.
If you have any questions let us know. Otherwise, good luck.