Using the Brain to Dissolve Chronic Pain: Les Fehmi, PhD

Today it’s my pleasure to bring to you Dr. Les Fehmi who is the co-author of Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain-Training Exercises for Overcoming Chronic Painand The Open-Focus Brainand has been a leader in brainwave biofeedback (also called neurofeedback), training individuals how to balance and regulate their brainwave patterns to improve mental, emotional, and physical health.

Today Les talks to us about how we can use our attention with an open focus to work through chronic pain for good and also some tips on what we can do.

Elisha: You mention that pain doesn’t exist in the body, but only in the brain, can you say more?

Les: Not only in the brain, but mostly in the brain. And the brain is where we can intervene to heal it. The common belief is that pain occurs solely because we do something to damage nerves in our back for example, or we have headaches because we have food allergies and ate the wrong food.

But most of our experience of pain is actually in the brain. The best example of this is phantom limb pain. People without an arm can still feel pain in that arm. Why? Because the neurons that caused the arm pain are still there and still causing pain. This explains the large number of cases of people who have pain with no seeming cause. And it can make real pain worse. But we don’t have to live with these kinds of pain, because the root cause is how we pay attention to these neurons, and the pain they hold, and we can change that.

Elisha: How is Open Focus different from mindfulness?

Les: I have not followed the approach of mindfulness practice.  I prefer my own approach, Open Focus, which may seem very similar to adherents of mindfulness.  However, our intention is to train four kinds of attention: narrow attention, diffuse attention, objective attention and immersed attention.  Learning to combine them optimally and bringing them all together simultaneously as natural awareness we call Open Focus.

Elisha: What role does our attention play in our perception and healing of pain?

Les: Our view and practice is that pain can be impacted by the four kinds of attention I just mentioned.  When attended to appropriately, and we make our awareness larger, the pain is no big deal, and it is possible to merge with pain and allow it to diffuse and dissolve.  Facing into pain, or merging with pain, is much less of an ordeal than one might otherwise think if we are using the right kind of attention.

Elisha: What role does memory play in shaping our perception of pain?

Les: The lion’s share of what we perceive is based on memories, perhaps, according to psychologists, as much as 90 percent. Emotionally painful memories that we carry in our body and mind also constrict our awareness, as we try to keep them from surfacing, and make our mode of attention more narrow, which makes the nervous system more reactive and which means we are more sensitive to pain.

Elisha: You have been a big advocate for biofeedback, can you tell us a bit about it and what we know today about who it is helping?

Les: The basic concept of biofeedback has to do with generating body information as measured by various electronic instruments.  Then this information is fed back to the user.  As a result, people can learn to control body function such as muscle tension, blood flow, and perspiration.  And even the brain electrical activity. Because the brain is so powerful because it runs the show, as it were, training the brain has a large number of beneficial effects, from better sleep to less anxiety.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who has been suffering for quite some time with chronic pain, what advice would you give them?

Les: First, I would ask him to broaden his peripheral attention, to allow his awareness to fill up this room.  Then my advice would be to stop avoiding the pain.  Third, I would ask him to include the feeling of space all around him and permeating his body including the pain.  Then I would ask him to allow himself to merge more fully with the pain and let it spread.  It is an easy thing to do for most people.  In our clinic, no more than 10 or 15 percent of our clients have difficulty dissolving pain, even chronic pain, in the first half dozen treatment sessions.

Thank you so much Les!

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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