About 11 years ago, this weekend warrior participated in a good old fashioned Sunday morning touch football game. As I extended my left leg, outstretched to defend a receiver from catching the ball, I felt a pop in my left hamstring. I came away limping, unable to put any pressure on it. With little rehab, I was back running in a few weeks—big mistake! About 8 months later, I started to develop pain in my left hip and to this day, that hasn’t changed. I still am very physically active and fit, but my running days are behind me—or so I thought.

Over the years, I saw two orthopedists that both, before examining me, read the x-ray , and concluded that I had some arthritis in my left hip joint. But those exams were 5 years apart and little had changed, so I doubted the diagnosis, because of the lack of other supporting evidence. Going to a chiropractor, whom I highly respect, we went over the films and what they were calling “arthritis” is really the way my pelvis is tilted together with the shortening of tightened muscles, giving the appearance of a narrowing of the joint space. The appearance is rather similar on both sides (suggesting something with which I was born). The appearance was a little more pronounced on the left, likely due to my injury and lack of proper rehab.

After seeing “alternative” practitioners (as chiropractors, acupuncturist, and Feldenkrais), I learned something about myself, my body, and my automatic brain (AB). For my new readers, the AB is our primitive brain that responds only to danger, threat, or vulnerability. Danger for everyone is different, but the response is the same—fight or flight. These “dangers” could arise from danger memories developed during childhood, adulthood, or some can even be genetic. One of the key, unconscious, automatic qualities of the fight or flight reaction to perceived danger is that it causes shortening and tightening of muscles. In our prehistoric ancestors, this was vital as short, tight muscles were needed (kind of like a spring action), to flee or fight environmental dangers and predators. Additionally, injured muscles or bones were protected by the short, tight muscles to minimize use. The automatic brain circuitry is laid down and keeps these muscles short and tight in constant protective mode, to hold us back from further injury (i.e. danger). The ironic thing (as is the case with all false protection from our AB), short and tightened muscles end up narrowing joint spaces and, in bodies that lack proper nutrition or have to withstand excessive pressure from weight, lead to wear and tear and eventual arthritis, a far worse danger than the AB was trying to protect against.

So that is the dynamic, but what did I learn about myself. I realized that whenever my AB detected danger, real or imagined, a signal was being sent to muscles that were already tight (for me my hip muscles) to tighten some more to prepare me for the fight or flight. What dangers could be triggering this? How about simply moving ahead or changes in my career. Shortly after my injury, I transitioned my practice to a smaller, personalized one, thus exposing myself to great financial risk. Our legs (hips, knees, ankles, and feet) are responsible for our movement, flight forward. This tightening of muscles was reinforced by my AB as it continued to fire to “protect” me from such forward movement (an idea that a chiropractor brought to my attention sharing with me the work of Louise Hay). But we have subtle dangers all around us—people one-upping us on line in the supermarket or on the road, disagreements with friends or family, or more simply stated, just about every moment in our life, to the AB, represents some form of potential danger. Once the circuit is in place, the AB has an evolutionary, very steadfast way of maintaining the connection.

A few weeks ago, I reached an epiphany of sorts. I received the Feldenkrais method, performed on me prior to my interviewing the practitioner on my internet radio show. This procedure is very gentle, but powerful. As he moved my hip in a certain way, I felt more pain. As the procedure progressed the pain seemed to cease and something very interesting happened. Suddenly as he moved my hip in a position that typically caused pain, but now did not, I had a subtle feeling of anxiety. Anxiety is a flight reaction, which always means that some danger had to have caused it. In a sense, I had been so used to the pain, it was so familiar to me, that not having it was unknown and “dangerous.” Not only that, not having pain and able to move ahead— strong, willing, able—might make me the target of onlookers forming opinions of me (“Oh, who does he think he is?” “He has it all, doesn’t he?”). All of this is below the level of awareness/consciousness, but that is the arena from where the AB operates.

The first step in breaking the AB circuitry is awareness that it is in operation 24/7, from simple daily interpersonal reactions to major life changes. The second step, and for me what has been the most difficult, is allowing myself to receive the authentic safety, peace, and success that lie beyond the AB.

If you are struggling with any type of challenge—physical, emotional, financial, spiritual—try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself without this challenge. What do you feel? I bet, for most , you experience at least a little anxiety, as I did when I had no pain. That means your AB detects danger in not having the challenge. Allowing yourself to receive physical health, emotional stability, financial security, or spiritual peace does not mean fighting your AB. It simply means not believing, trusting, or taking direction from its influence; that is, fighting or fleeing that which is right for you.

As I move forward, despite the physical manifestations of my AB, I continue to allow my mind to guide me. My mind knows that there exists no danger in receiving grace, balance, and peace. And even if the circuitry of the AB remains, as it most certainly will because of its hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary programming, it cannot interfere with my ability to receive, openly and fully, because that, is our free will and the choice, ultimately, is yours and mine.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Glassman began distributing a weekly motivational email message to patients and friends in January 2007. By May 2008, his distribution list had grown so much—as people on the list told others about it—
and interest in his messages had become so high—Dr. Glassman decided to turn his philosophy and advice into a book. That’s how Brain Drain came about. Starting in May 2008, his weekly messages—now distributed to an even larger audience—formed the basis for chapters of this book.
To date, Brain Drain has won in the Spiritual category at the 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival and received honorable mention at the 2009 New England Book Festival. Brain Drain has also been awarded the 2010 Pinnacle Achievement Award for best Self-Help book by NABE and is an Eric Hoffer Award winner.

Through his book, private practice, public appearances, continued weekly messages,and Coach MD (medical coaching practice) Dr. Glassman has helped thousands realize a healthier, successful, and more abundant life.

He lives in Rockland County, NY with his wife and their four children (and dog, Ginger).