Do-at-home, no-equipment-needed, non-invasive therapeutic skills are indispensable for effectively managing stress, anxiety, exercise burnout, pain and more.

The following three self-care skills and accompanying practices will help you understand and transform your experience of pain.

Self-Care Skill #1: Notice Your Pain Vocabulary

Pain may be a response to a physical injury, but did you know that emotional reactions can also cause physical pain? Emotional reactions are linked to pain areas in the brain.

Just thinking of the word “pain” can elicit a pain response. No thank you.

This is why updating our pain vocabulary can help us transform pain by reorganizing our bio-psycho-emotional relationship to pain.

Here’s another benefit to changing our pain vocabulary: Not only are we expanding our vocabulary, but in order to do so, we must listen to and name the sensations we are feeling. It’s interesting how often we skip this step and hop right over to p.a.i.n.

It turns out that we have almost 200,000 words in English, so it’s confounding that we overuse the word “pain” as much as we do.

Pain is a spectrum of sensation and as such, our verbal expression of our sensations should reflect that.

If you hear yourself talking about your pain all the time, begin to identify other words you can use besides the “p” word.

Try this:

Reframe Your Pain Vocabulary

Monitor your self-dialogue. Each time you’re about to describe your discomfort, take a deep breath, close your eyes and focus on the location and sensation that you are feeling. After taking some time to feel that sensation, name it something other than “pain.”

On your phone or in a notebook, start a list of all the different sensations your body is trying to communicate with you.

Practice coming up with other words to describe sensations you’d typically label “pain”

Here are some examples of other ways you might describe your sensation: discomfort, ache, strain, fatigue, catch, spasm, tight, burn, pinch, stab, throb, twinge, poke, sting, sear, itch, pierce, hurt, swollen, burn. 

Below you can continue updating your vocabulary through the self-massage practices on therapy balls.

Self-Care Skill #2: Get to Know Your Vagus Nerve

There’s no better way to tune in to your body, down-regulate, decompress and recover from injury than by reprioritizing your nervous system.

Your vagus nerve is the head honcho of your nervous system; it rules and regulates every vital system in your body.

The vagus nerve “wanders” throughout your head, neck and trunk

Breath practices, micro-movements, and self-care can help you restore your vagal tone and bio-psycho-emotional resilience, which is key for pain management.

Try this:

Chest Decompress Self-Massage Exercise

Lie, face down with a Coregeous® Ball (or a small, firm pillow) under your chest and ribs. It should be in the middle of your sternum. Alternately, if this position with your bodyweight on the ball is too intense, you can stand with the ball between your chest and a wall.

Resting your bodyweight on the Coregeous® ball might be intense at first so take your time

Let your shoulders slouch so that your arms cascade to the floor around you. You’re aiming for the majority of your body weight to envelop the ball.

As the ball presses into your ribs, it will massage your heart, lungs, esophagus, diaphragm and oh so many of those vital nerves! However, it might not be pleasant at first. 

As you ease into these instructions, listen to and name the sensations you are feeling. Describe the sensations you’re feeling to yourself.

  1. Breathe normally for about two minutes
  2. Inhale into the ball, retain your breath as you tighten up your muscles, slowly exhale
  3. Repeat 3-5 times
  4. Gently rock, left to right, seesaw-style over the Coregeous® Ball

Come off the ball slowly and take your time reorienting to an upright position. Which sensations did you feel? Add to your vocab list.

From a “Breath and Bliss” Immersion

Self-Care Skill #3: Update Your Sensory Input

The following client story is a great example of how pain skews our proprioception-to-nociception (body sense and “pain” sense) relationship:

After a period of being pain-free, my client’s back pain suddenly returned. After careful assessment, we identified that her pain always returned just after teaching spin classes. Additional intake inquiry revealed that whenever she wore her microphone pack clipped to the back of her pants, she’d have back pain.

At first, we thought “perhaps it’s the electricity?” but we soon figured out that the headset cord leading to the microphone transistor pack kept tapping her low back as she rode.

It didn’t hurt, but due to her chronic pain history, all sensory input to that area was automatically being processed as pain. We repositioned her audio equipment and her back pain went away.

Can you think of a time when you experienced some startling sensory event and you said “ow” even though it didn’t hurt?

Together with retraining our pain vocabulary, we can also re-condition our sensory awareness and change our experience of noxious stimuli so that it no longer registers as pain.

Shortly after I became certified as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher in 2010, I experienced debilitating back pain. The pain was overwhelming and it made exercise impossible. 

Rolling on therapy balls provided new, non-threatening sensory stimulation, increased blood flow, and improved my embodiment so that I could exercise again.

Try this:

Low Back Self-Myofascial Massage Rollout

This Low Back Rollout simply uses the Roll Model® therapy balls to massage achy, sore, tight and otherwise cranky muscles and fascia.

Another benefit if you’ve been stuck in cycles of pain, is that you can use self-massage on therapy balls as a way to re-stimulate nerve endings. Gradually, gently, you can recondition how you sense physical touch.

Once again, as you practice this technique, also try to pinpoint the best possible words to describe the sensations you’re feeling. Listen to and name those sensations.

Take your time noticing and naming the various sensations that accompany your self-massage

  1. Stand next to a wall
  2. Place an Original, PLUS, or ALPHA therapy ball above your waist, beside the lumbar spine
  3. Rest your weight into the therapy ball and take several breaths
  4. After you have acclimated to the sensation, rock your body right and left
  5. Continue until you sense a change in your lower back (greater ease, less tension, more sensation, pleasantness, etc.)

Conclusion on Managing Sensations of Pain

Keep the following guidelines in mind when sensations of pain arise in fitness and life.

  1. Be patient with yourself.
  2. Be realistic about your timeline for healing.
  3. Expect setbacks.
  4. Continue to find novel ways to fine-tune and understand your the vast spectrum of sensations that you deal with on a daily basis.
  5. Rest as needed but keep your eye on the prize, which is to keep moving so that you can return to your daily activities.
  6. When in doubt consult a trusted doctor or specialist.


Shop this post: For chest massage, get the Coregeous® Sponge Ball. For low back massage at the wall try the  Original Yoga Tune UP Therapy Ball, Therapy Ball PLUS or the ALPHA. Choose the size therapy ball based on your personal proportions.


Related ArticleHow to Slow Down and Restore Full Power

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Dinneen Viggiano

An experienced Therapeutic Movement & Back Pain Specialist with 18 years’ experience, Dinneen offers classes, workshops, trainings and online programming to optimize nutrition, improve mobility and Retrain Back Pain®. As a Senior Teacher Trainer for Tune Up Fitness® & Roll Model® Method, Dinneen travels the globe leading professional trainings. She is also a NeuroKinetic & CranioSacral Therapist and a Certified Health and Nutrition Counselor.

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I really loved this blog post. I just recently finished Embodied Anatomy and I have been studying trauma, shame, performance anxiety, and movement for many years now. I make wellness videos for stage performers. My most recent studying on the practices of Marisa Peer has been revolving around the word and dialog that what have for ourselves. How impactful that dialogue, positive to negative can have on the body. “Pain” so a topic I believe we all can relate to. As I’m slowly beginning to reshape the internal and external language I never thought to attach that mindset to the… Read more »


I really like the low back Self-Myofascial message Rollout routine, it is very effective!

Beth Damm

Awesome post, Dinneen! I tried re-framing just yesterday while I was at the dentist having some work done. Rather than ask for more numbing, I asked the dentist to help me remember to breathe. I was also noticing my reaction to the noise, vibration and fatigue from having my jaw opened for so long. Understanding that numbing was not going to address how my physical body was responding was helpful. Also remembering that I have the tools of my Yoga Tune Up therapy balls to address any soreness in the jaw helped me stay focused. Thank you for helping us… Read more »


Hi Beth. That’s so cool that you reminded your dentist to remind you to breathe! Still teaching, even during dental work, huh? It’s funny you mention being at the dentist, that is a particularly challenging place to apply these skills! Last time I sat in the dentist chair I found that I kept unintentionally arching my back in tension commensurate with my rising anticipation of discomfort. I had to remind myself to soften frequently. It was like “monkey mind” but with my whole body 😉 . Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog, I hope these discussions… Read more »

Dominique Lim

Yoga, tuneup and guided meditation have all helped me be more educated in my own body and my response to ‘pain’. Rather than instantly reacting, being more of an observer to understand what is really going on.


Hi Dominique, I appreciate that you bring up the issue of reactivity and I’m glad you’ve got a solid toolkit to make sense of noxious sensations. xo Dinneen

Dominique Lim

Yoga, tuneup and guided meditation have all changed my relationship to ‘pain’. It has made me more educated to my body’s response to different sensations and has made me shift from reacting to simply observing to understand what is going on.

Jessica Palmer-Gwaltney

Such important advice and techniques to help bring mindfulness and non-judgemental awareness to pain. The more we get to know our body through mindful movement and proprioception, the more we can reduce the way we identify with and manage pain.


Hi Jessica, you’re so right! It’s great to hear you’re already familiar with the inverse relationship between proprioception and nociception. Dinneen


Very interesting post! Makes me aware of how I describe my own pain and aches… will finetune my ‘pain’ words. Thank you Dinneen!


Hi Resi! I can’t wait to hear how fine-tuning your vocabulary affects your perception of these sensations. I know you were recently injured and I hope this helps you recover quickly. Big hug, Dinneen

Margaret Hillier

Such a great reminder. I have alleviated a weird, highly sensational, m uscle clench that I sometimes get under my ribs by lying on my Coregous. Ball. Is one of my, and my students, favourite tool. Always get a round of cheers when I pull them out for s class


Hi Margaret, it’s great to hear that you’ve used the Coregeous to feel and listen more closely to your body. Dinneen

Robert F.

What a great post!


I’m happy to see that you found this information valuable, Robert F.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.