Experiencing Safety: Solving Chronic Pain: An Immersive Weekend Retreat

posted in: Recent, Stage 2, Stage 2: Step 6

We are holding a weekend retreat on May 21-23, 2021 based on our past experiences at the Omega institute in Rhinebeck, NY and Talaris in Seattle, WA. These workshops continue to be the highlight of The DOC Journey experience for us. This will be a virtual workshop with a special guest Dr. Les Aria, an experienced (and personable) pain psychologist. He has tremendous experience in helping people out of chronic pain and is an expert regarding the autonomic nervous system. We currently holding Facebook Live sessions called, “Dynamic Healing Moments” every weekday morning at 7 am PT on the FB page drdavidhanscom.



My wife, Babs, and stepdaughter, Jasmine, and I have done these workshops together since 2013. Each year, we are energized and inspired by the shifts in mood, outlook, and physical symptoms that occur within a just few days. We have been perplexed for years why this is such a consistent outcome and the last few years of neuroscience research has now explained what happens. It revolves around experiencing threat versus safety.

Fight or flight/ rest and digest

Any mental or physical threat, real or perceived, fires up your body’s flight or fight response through the sympathetic nervous system. The reaction includes stress hormones, inflammation, and elevated metabolism (fuel consumption); and you are on alert, anxious, and agitated. If the perception of danger is prolonged, then your body will respond with many different symptoms and often illness. Chronic stress (threat) keeps you in this heighted state and has been documented in many studies to be deadly. (1)

The essence of the solution lies in finding safety, which creates a “rest and digest” state that allows you to regenerate, drop inflammation, and slow down your metabolism; you feel relaxed with less pain. There are many ways to induce this state of safety. The workshop creates an atmosphere that allows this to happen. Dr. Robert Dantzer and several other researchers wrote an extensive review looking at the interaction of social factors influencing inflammation (pain) and how the inflammatory condition impacts your behaviors. (2) The main ones with most impact are:

These workshops address all these issues and each of them is calming and directly anti-inflammatory communicated through the Vagus nerve (10th cranial nerve). Dr. Stephen Porges, through his research and writing on the Polyvagal theory, has nicely laid out the afferent input into the midbrain and its efferent output allows safe human interaction. (3)

Social Connection

There are few times and places where you can feel safe with others. Life is competitive and it’s challenging to get a break. School has many layers of stress. Bullying is rampant. Close friends often turn on each other. Social media has intruded on privacy and quiet time. Research has shown that only about a third of families are relatively free of chaos. Other stressful arenas include sports, music, the arts, employment, and social status. Where’s there a place to rest?

We quickly realized that we didn’t have to do much after we set up the weekend. Participants in a safe and structured setting healed each other. It was also a remarkable experience for us being in the presence of those who are so supportive of each other. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone that is secreted in safe and social situations and is anti-inflammatory.

Positive affect/ play

The  weekend is also focused on re-connecting people with each other by sharing enjoyable experiences. Many of the activities are held in small groups of four or five. Participants can feel safe and it’s remarkable how quickly healing occurs. Much of the weekend is spent in play, which is a great venue to feel safe.

Babs and Jasmine are important contributors by leading you in rhythm, song, relaxation exercises, and sharing.

 Sense of control (The “ring of fire”)

There are many tools that allow you to regulate your own body’s neurochemistry and responses to threats. Just this sense of control is anti-inflammatory. Additionally, understanding the nature of chronic mental and physical pain will enable you to personalize solutions.

Awareness of your current state of being is the first step and we use a tool called, “The Ring of Fire.” Being aware of which color you are in at the moment, allows you to choose your direction. The green center is where you rest and regenerate. Blue is “life.” The red ring of anxiety and frustration is an inherent part of life that must be navigated skillfully. The goal is to be able to exist in any part of the “circle of life” on your own terms.



Hope/ optimism

People in chronic pain lose hope. The loss of hope contributes to the actual pain by increasing inflammation by speeding up nerve conduction. We will be sharing many stories of hope with the group. Regaining hope is powerful.

Comments from prior classes

“I’m still high from the weekend. And off all pain meds (even Advil) after 10 years on opioids…………..    Interesting how the class responded to my hooping (hula hoop). I can see Babs and Jaz doing a session, maybe a half-hour?  What do you think? Neuroplasticity, endorphins, fun!  Whether people catch on right away or not, laughter will be a result.  It could take practice, just like learning the cup song.  And for any resistant males, emphasize that it will improve their sex lives!”

“The program has been enormously helpful, and I can only conclude that it’s helping me to live in a more authentic way, which I feel makes my unconscious happy! I think when you have an abusive parent you have to suppress your feelings so much that suppression, avoidance and denial become your coping mechanisms. But as you know, it’s no way to live your life.

It’s possible I may still need surgery eventually, but if so, I feel that thanks to following the program, I’d be able to do it in a conscious and aware manner. Before, I felt very strongly that It would be a mistake.”

“………….  My family and co-workers are amazed at my progress. I am especially committed to no longer talking about my pain and to writing on a regular basis. I am getting (have gotten) my life back!”

Several commented, “I feel like I just spent a weekend away at camp.”

Reconnection to you

We have always been aware that when returning home, the pain will recur. But tasting freedom from pain is powerful. Every cell in your body is created to survive and thrive. If you allow yourself to be open to possibilities, it is a matter of time before you find your way to healing. Many participants have leveraged these workshops to a more enjoyable life.


  1. Rosengren A, Orth-Gomer K, Wedel H, Wilhelmsen L. 1993 Stressful life events, social support, and mortality in men born in 1933. Br. Med. J (1993); 307:1102–1105.
  2. Dantzer R, et al. Resilience and immunity. Brain Behav Immun (2018); 74:28-42. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2018.08.010
  3. Porges, Steven. The Polyvagal Theory. Norton and Co., New York, NY, 2011.

































































through the Vagus nerve (10th cranial nerve).