Alyssa Chang works as a brain-based health and movement coach. With the health industry currently saturating the market with “quick fix” and “cookie cutter” approaches, she aims to challenge these norms. With over 8 years studying neuroscience, she works with clients on improving their connection between their brain and body, so they can heal their metabolism, rewire their mindset and move pain free.”
“I needed to just heal my nervous system and recover the state of my body; Your brain and your nervous system are always working for you. We are inherently intelligent but culturally and info makes us second guess everything about ourselves.”
Interview with Alyssa Chang
People know that mind and body are connected,
to what extent do they affect each other in regards to treating medical conditions or treating pain? What role exactly does our brain play in our physical well being?
When people start to understand the role of neuroscience, it’s a big paradigm shift. Pain is simply a behavior change tool to address something. The brain is always scanning your environment. Our body increases pain signals when our body is asking us to do something; for fitness, it’s equivalent to joint pain or muscle pain. We have a holistic approach to understand pain expression to better understand what we can do to better help your body. We are conditioned to ignore pain and not let it change our routine, but I have noticed my patients start to get curious about body signals and trust that their bodies are working with them.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions you believe people have about the relationship between body and mind?
I think how health and fitness are usually approached -(eat less, do more)- or we need to do this to be healthy- I want to debunk this belief; if you’re going for aesthetics, your body will always choose survival mode over aesthetic. I don’t believe in calorie in/calorie out- in most scenarios women are highly anxious when they eat less and do more; you can’t heal your relationship with your body by starving her.
Honor what she tells you when you have pain.
Most people believe they need to take pain medications, diet, workout more, etc. to achieve a better self image, reduce pain and attain better health. Do you believe achieving overall well being is unattainable without these
We live in a fast paced culture; if we didn’t have medications, what would we do?
The fast pace of our culture and society, along with relatively accessibility to buy medications makes it tempting to want a quick fix. When you’re busy, taking medicine is convenient. However, there’s a lot of things you don’t need to do that we’ve been led to believe we need .Medications alter chemistry, energy, digestive health, etc. and these are all linked together; your body will be under more stress.
People veer towards quick fixes a little too fast. However, I do believe that medications can be good for some people and can help once someone has exhausted other resorts.
Why are some people more tolerant to pain than others?
I have patients that have many different experiences and ‘traumas’ with your bodies; these experiences can affect your personality to deal with pain. Patients experiencing pain everyday might focus more on what they’re thankful for since they have experienced chronic pain.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to rewire and think differently- it is the ‘science of hope’. You can rewire the brain on how you perceive pain- there’s a lot of moving pieces in our brains.
What are some of the tactics you recommend to manage pain?
I think when you take a step back and look at everything your body has been through, there is this huge way to reflect on how your body has shown up for you. It has healed from scars, woken up after anesthesia, etc. and there’s all these pieces your body has done to keep you alive and safe
I encourage clients to think about reflecting on instances and remind yourself of how much you’ve healed
I like to use this bucket analogy: you have a bucket and throughout the course of your day you add stones that represent ‘troubles’ or challenges in your day. Add a rock if you slept poorly, add more rocks into the bucket if you had a bad drive, etc. Throughout the day you have more threats and more weight, and the rocks get high up in the bucket- this is when you’ll have pain. When the bucket gets heavier, assess what’s getting put into the bucket to avoid putting too many rocks into the bucket.
Some strategies I recommend are breathing exercises and vision training. We detect 70% of our environment through our eyes; our bodies can become more stressed if we have difficulty ‘reading’ our environment. This is why older people may shuffle when they walk or have difficulty detecting parts of their environment due to decreased vision. If different parts of bodies aren’t able to regulate pain signals, you’ll experience more pain. This is why it is critical to exercise vision and breathing techniques to reduce stress signals in our bodies.
Another tip I recommend is to eat with mindfulness- use your meals as a time to unwind and to take your time to enjoy your meal. If you eat fast or are stressed when eating, etc., it wasn’t the food that caused stress.
What is the biggest realization you have encountered through your personal experience with balancing physical and mental health?
All of us crave being in a cohesive and honest relationship with our bodies- what steers us down the path of not trusting ourselves has nothing to do with us but more with marketing, cultural influences etc.
If we think to ourselves ‘I want to be happy so I’m joining this dieting plan’- we relinquish our autonomy to authoritative figures; we go further away from our intuition and relationship with our body. We know our bodies better than anyone else or any dieting plan.
The more I began to dismantle diet culture, I realized how smart my body is; it’s about getting more in conversation with your body; it’s not your fault that you’ve steered away from your relationship with your body; you don’t need to relinquish yourself to others; you know your body best.
Many people feel discouraged if they ‘cheat’ in their diet or miss a day to workout, and possibly feel like they ‘failed’ as a result. What is one piece of advice for people who are struggling with this?
I’ve been that person- I have lived in a black and white situation where there was no room to experiment. When we do this, we relinquish our voice and intuition to a plan, program, diet- but this is unsustainable.
You’ll lose yourself in these plans.
Have compassion and grace with yourself- you’ll find that nothing will shake you- you’ll be more grounded in who you are.
What is your routine to practice mindfulness, to unwind, practice breathing techniques, etc?
When it comes down to my background with neuroscience, I’ve learned how each person is so unique.
For some people, meditation can make them feel panicky- the key is to pivot with your body to see what works best for you.
Guided meditation meets me where I’m at. Complete silence is not for me. I use Calm- it’s good to revisit the same topics to focus on our body. Some of my patients tend to over breathe and over oxygenate as well; – we are over oxygenated by breathing a lot, yawning a lot etc. These are pointers to pain, thirst, and other signs our body is telling us. Bad breathing causes pain- Co2 needs to grab on to 02 to work; when we don’t breathe correctly, this can lead to muscle pains or body pains.
The first thing I do with patients is to make sure they are breathing correctly before anything; when we are stressed we usually have sharp and shallow breaths, which can lead to oxygen not spreading properly in our body.
Could you share your favorite story of a client that recovered from pain or benefited from your work in a way that transformed their life?
The human brain is hardwired at a fast rate- after one drill, many people already notice a difference. You want to develop resiliency to better address pain.
We perceive 70 of the environment with eyes; if eyes don’t move well, it can create depression because eyes don’t move at the same rate and we can’t focus on an object. When we don’t do this, our ability to perceive the world gets smaller. Our eyes affect our body movement, and this can create pain in body
For example, if our right eye is dominant, we may shift our spine or neck in a different posture to use our right eye, leading to possible back pain or other pains. Our eyes should be able to converge, diverge, focus on an object etc. and this can be practiced through vision training.
I tend to have patients that are anxious and experience decreased gut health. Both the cerebellum and frontal lobe (manages decision making) should work together to inhibit anxiety and unwanted thoughts. Vision training also helps coordinate these. When these don’t coordinate, people become prone to anxiety. Some people move shaky, too slow, etc. signalling a mismatch in functions.
I had a patient who was attacked by a dog on their right leg and so every time they looked at their lower right they experienced anxiety and stress. With neuroplasticity, we can train our visualization and lower our stress levels associated with certain life experiences.
Anyone who’s rear ended can be anxious whenever they look to their upper right; this is because drivers may have looked into their mirror and seen the car that rear ended them. This association creates stress for them whenever they happen to look to their upper right. Thankfully we can train our bodies to not react stressfully to certain eye movements.
Some people in our community suffer from severe cramps, hot flashes, chronic hormonal conditions…what advice can you offer them?
A lot of students I work with are female; When it comes to PMS, cramps etc. we can break it up at different phases in our cycle; for example, during ovulation, you can do more gentle exercises.
We should eat more during menstrual cramps and make sure to eat enough. Heat is also hugely therapeutic- it sends signals to our nervous system and helps our bodies deal with cramps;
Focus on breathing as well, deep full exhalations. It allows us to be in touch with our parasympathetic side of the brain. Pain is shallow and fast during pain, but breathing deeply sends signals to bodies to say we are safe and we’ll get through this.
Thank you for reading our interview with Alyssa Chang! We hope you learned more about the relationship between our mind and body and learned some tips to balance our mental and physical health. Visit Coach Alyssa Chang to learn more about Alyssa and her coaching work.