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Gabby Bernstein

Gabrielle Bernstein

Published: 09/27/2022

Driven by the desire to learn more about the mind-body connection, I began to study the work of Dr. John Sarno, the author of Healing Back Pain and The Mind-Body Prescription (and several other life changing books). Dr. Sarno worked as the professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine and as director of the outpatient department at the Rusk Institute.

Over the years of treating pain through physical therapy and medicine, he struggled with a harsh reality: Lots of people were not getting better. As a result, he developed a thesis that he referred to as TMS, tension myoneural syndrome (not currently accepted in mainstream medicine) that attributes many types of pain as a psychosomatic condition (a physical condition caused by inner conflict or stress).

The core principle behind Dr. Sarno’s work is the philosophy that physical pain derives from impermissible rage, fear and unresolved emotional distress. Dr. Sarno believed that the brain would use physical pain as a way to distract us from otherwise facing our deep-rooted unconscious emotions. This would happen on a subconscious level. It’s as though the brain uses the body as a coping mechanism, and just like our other coping mechanisms, physical  problems become a form of distraction from true underlying healing. (Note that Dr. Sarno would always encourage patients to also seek medical care and treatment.)

Applying Dr. Sarno’s theory requires that the patient be open to seeing the pain as a psychosomatic condition rather than only a physical diagnosis.

These days I am consciously aware of how my body responds to stressors, fearful thoughts, triggers and feelings. Instead of being distracted by my body and physical pain and ignoring my inner emotional landscape, I can now take my body’s cues as direction to turn inward and look for emotional disturbances that need tending to. Today, I can respectfully honor my body for all of its hard work and for taking the brunt of suffering in trying to protect me from impermissible feelings.

Several practices in particular really helped me establish a spiritual relationship to my body. These practices proactively soothed my nervous system, calmed my mind and addressed the thoughts and feelings behind my body’s response in the moment. This began my journey of undoing my fear of my body and reclaiming the spiritual presence of peace within me.

As I share these practices with you, you may not be able to contemplate a world without physical pain or a chronic illness. Once you identify your fears, your stress or a trauma, don’t expect your body to be released from tension instantly. All I ask is that you open up to the possibility that your physical issues could have a mental or emotional component. We can open up your conscious awareness of your emotional connection to your body through prayer. Take a moment to say this prayer out loud and welcome Spirit into the process:

With love and compassion, I witness my physical suffering. Thank you, Spirit, for helping me resolve all emotional distress so my body can be restored back to peace.

Shine Light on Stress

What I loved most about Sarno and his approach to physical healing was how spiritual it was. I could see clearly how my stomach would flare up every time I went into a panic or defensive state. I was able to identify how each thought I had affected my beliefs and, therefore, my body. My conscious awareness of how my thoughts affected my body began a new relationship to my physical well-being. I committed to heal by addressing the root cause of the stress that was wreaking havoc in my body.

When we shine light on the thoughts rather than the physical symptoms, the symptoms can subside. What we focus on we create more of. Therefore, if we redirect our focus off our body and onto shifting our perception, we can experience great relief. The first step to healing the body is to shine light on the mind-body connection.

Take note of the ways your body responds to stress, fear and overwhelming emotions. Do you have back pain? Migraines? Do you suffer from insomnia or dermatological issues? Have you been diagnosed with IBS or another gastrointestinal disorder? Do you have a diagnosis like fibromyalgia or another inflammatory condition? Now consider the ways your thoughts and emotional condition may affect your physical condition. When you’re really stressed, do your symptoms increase?

RELATED: The Stress-Hormone Connection

It may be hard to track in this moment how your body responds to stressors, but the next time you notice back pain, or a migraine or a stomach flare-up, ask yourself, “What am I thinking?” or “What emotion is behind this right now?” This simple inquiry will begin the process of helping you track your own mind-body connection.

Instead of pushing past the pain or addressing it only from an allopathic approach, consider the emotional disturbances that could lie beneath it. There is no shame in taking medicine or seeing a doctor, but give your body the chance to speak to you. Your physical pain is a clue that there is emotional pain that must be addressed.

RELATED: 4 Simple Breathing Exercises to Feel Calmer Instantly

Talk Back to Your Brain

Your willingness to consider that your thoughts and emotions are affecting your body is a step toward undoing chronic physical conditions and setting your body free. Bringing attention to the mind-body connection gives voice to the unconscious emotions that deserve to be brought to the surface for healing.

Remember that Dr. Sarno taught that the brain creates physical symptoms as a way to distract us from unconscious negative emotions. One of the key steps in Dr. Sarno’s method is to repudiate the pain. By literally talking back to your brain and saying something like, “You are not my pain. I’m just avoiding a repressed emotion,” you send a message to your brain to interrupt its process in order to protect you.

In less severe cases of repressed emotions, simply repudiating the pain is enough to instantly stop it. Awareness that the symptom is created initially in the brain rather than the body stops the protective mechanism and the symptoms can subside.

"It’s a brave act to allow subconscious emotions like rage and fear to come to the surface."

In the previous chapters you’ve begun to identify the emotions that you’ve been running from or fighting. The work you’ve done thus far has brought a heightened level of awareness to the emotional distress in your life and where fear may be an underlying emotion. Now let’s take a closer look. While you may not yet absolve yourself of emotional distress, you can give it a voice.

It’s brave to allow subconscious emotions like rage and fear to come to the surface. The exercise below is a powerful way to allow your unconscious emotions to come forth in a safe way. If you practice this method regularly, your physical symptoms will begin to subside and, hopefully, disappear. When you give voice to the discomfort, it no longer has to hide in your body.

RELATED: Energy Medicine Treatments for Anxiety

Rage on the Page

One of the major spiritual pathways to freeing your body is through exposing impermissible feelings such as rage and fear. I started doing this practice after talking to my friend Nicole Sachs. Nicole is a therapist who specializes in the work of Dr. Sarno. When I mentioned I was struggling with TMJ, she told me about her journaling method that she recommends to everyone. She calls it “Journal Speak” and adapted it from Dr. Sarno.

Nicole suggested that I journal for 20 minutes about all of my anger, rage, fear and discomfort. Then, after 20 minutes of writing, she instructed me to meditate for 20 minutes to allow the emotional release to set in.

Ready to relieve my jaw tension, I was willing to do whatever she suggested. I made a few of my own tweaks to the practice as she described it. For one, I renamed it "Rage on the Page." Then I decided to add bilateral music. Bilateral music rhythmically stimulates each side of the brain to help fully process thoughts. It opens our “window of tolerance,” which is the psychological state when we’re best able to respond to whatever comes our way by building emotional resilience. Emotional resilience increases our ability to process stress and big emotions, keeping them from getting stuck in our subconscious.

RELATED: How To Start Journaling (Even in a Crisis)

Twenty minutes of "Rage on the Page" brings your unconscious rage and fear (or worry, sadness, judgment or any other repressed emotions) to the surface. Then, in your meditation, while listening to the bilateral music, you allow yourself to become more present with those feelings so you can take the tension and pressure off your body.

Note: You may resist the idea of putting your rage on the page because you were taught as a child that it’s wrong or unsafe to feel angry or afraid. Many people grew up with parents who repeatedly said, “You’re fine; let’s move on” or shushed you when you cried.

Even these simple remarks can create the belief that it isn’t safe to feel discomfort. Many parents haven’t worked through their own emotional distress and, therefore, cannot hold space to experience a child’s emotions. When a child’s emotions are repressed, they can form a belief that it is not safe to express anger, rage, sadness or other forms of distress. This results in an ego perception that we must do anything we can to avoid those impermissible feelings.

“When we release our unconscious emotional distress, we clear our energy field and return  to emotional balance.”

Nevertheless, you may find that this process is too much for you at this time. My friend Sarah did this practice and it was too activating. After the 20-minute practice of raging on the page, she felt scared that she let herself “go there,” as she put it. Sarah was brought up in a home where no one ever talked about their feelings. She’d never seen either of her parents cry (even when close friends or family members passed away). Sarah’s emotions, too, had been repressed for decades. So when she started to rage on the page, she was terrified and ashamed by what was coming through. Shame is a common response to expressing how we truly feel if our emotions were repressed as children.

Once I was able to help Sarah calm down, we both agreed that "Rage on the Page" wasn’t right for her at that time. I suggested that she come back to it when she’d done more of the work I share in this book and felt safer to face big emotions.

If Sarah’s story sounds familiar, feel free to skip this practice right now and return to it when you feel ready. Alternatively, test-drive this practice with less charged emotions such as a minor annoyance or frustration. Sometimes the small stuff reveals the big stuff. So starting off lighter can be very effective. Do what feels safe, and don’t push yourself.

If for any reason your intuition is telling you that this may bring up too much for you, then save it for another time. Throughout the book, I will continue to share self-regulating practices to help you support your nervous system. You can always return to these practices when you feel stable enough to process them.

As challenging as "Rage on the Page" may seem, it may make it easier if you remember that no one will see this journal — this practice is an opportunity to give voice to repressed emotions. Also keep in mind that journal entries about anger will not manifest more negativity into your life. It is quite the opposite. When we release our unconscious emotional distress, we clear our energy field and return to emotional balance. In this state we become a Super Attractor, spiritually aligned and a magnet for what we desire.

The Rage on the Page Practice

1. Turn off your phone so you’ll be uninterrupted, then set a timer for 20 minutes. Press play on the bilateral music. Flip your phone over so you aren’t watching the timer.

2. Open your journal and write for 20 minutes (you may need to start with 5 minutes and  build up). Journal about anything that’s been triggering you — from your anger about an ex-boyfriend to frustration about a disappointing breakfast. There’s no issue too big, too small or in any way off-limits. Let it all out onto the page: rage, anger, frustration, fear, worry, doubt. Remember, if you feel resistance to this process, take it slowly and start by journaling minor annoyances rather than major emotional distress.

3. When the timer ends, stop writing. Adjust your position to make sure you’re sitting comfortably.

4. Gently close your eyes and continue listening to the bilateral music. Let whatever feelings need to come up move through you.

5. Just breathe, and feel your feelings. Follow this breath pattern: Breathe in deeply through your nose as your diaphragm extends. Exhale completely out of your mouth as it relaxes.

6. When thoughts come into your mind, gently let them pass through and let them go. This meditation is a free-flowing practice of breathing deeply and exhaling completely. Let the music take you on a restorative journey.

Meditate for as long as you wish. It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes at first. Do what you can, and every time you return to this practice, meditate for a bit longer until you’re at 20 minutes.

If, for any reason, this practice triggers you or makes you uncomfortable, then you can visit the resources on my website for more therapeutic support. Take care of yourself, and do what feels good.

If this practice supports you, the best way to get great relief is to make it a daily habit. After practicing "Rage on the Page" for over a year, I now turn to my journal in any moment of distress and release any unconscious emotion so it doesn’t get repressed and stuck in my body.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace by Gabrielle Bernstein. Book is available wherever books are sold.

For over sixteen years, Gabby Bernstein has been transforming lives — including her own. The #1 New York Times best-selling author has penned nine books, including The Universe Has Your Back, Super Attractor, and her latest, Happy Days. In her weekly podcast, Dear Gabby, she offers up real-time coaching, straight talk, and conversations about personal growth and spirituality with unique and inspiring guests. What started as hosting intimate conversations with twenty people in her New York City apartment, Gabby has grown into speaking to tens of thousands in sold-out venues throughout the world.

Gabby was featured on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday as a “next-generation thought leader.” The Oprah Winfrey Network chose Gabby to be part of the “SuperSoul 100,” a dynamic group of trailblazers whose vision and life’s work are bringing a higher level of consciousness to the world. The New York Times identified Gabby as “a new role model.” She co-hosted the Guinness World Records’ largest guided meditation with Deepak Chopra, and appears regularly as an expert on TODAY and Good Morning America, among other publications. She connects with her community through her books, her Miracle Membership, and her podcast Dear Gabby. To learn more about Gabby, visit gabbybernstein.com.


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