Ep #08 The Science Behind Cross Mapping: From Pain To Possibility

by | Dec 21, 2023 | SCA Podcast

SCAP | Cross Mapping


Cross mapping is a revolutionary method that you can use to transform your life. Whether overcoming chronic pain or any negative emotional state like stress or anxiety… you have the power to change. Imagine this: after years of suffering, chronic pain disappears, anxiety fades away, and lives are changed for the better. In this episode, Ani Anderson and Brian Trzaskos talk about how this happens. Tune in now to find out! 

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The Science Behind Cross Mapping: From Pain To Possibility

We’re excited that you decided to join us for episode 8. We want to let you know that if you like the Somatic Coaching Academy Show and you want it more easily, come join us at the Somatic Coaching Academy Library. If you go to SomaticCoachingAcademy.com, you’ll see in the top menu that says Library. You can be a nerd like us and get your library card. Brian, everybody is busy, but the cool thing about that is we bring all our stuff, videos, episodes, and articles we write. Everything you’re going to see out there, we put it into the library so that you only have to go to one place and not multiple places to find all of the things and content that we put out. That’s the easiest place to find the show.

We’ve been busy filling up that library. That’s what we’ve been busy doing and we’re going to keep being squirrels. My squirrel power is filling up the house. It’s videos, audio, trainings, webinars, and all that stuff. It is in the library, so if you haven’t been there yet, please check it out. It’s a wealth. I can’t even tell you how much the stuff is in there. It’s amazing.

We keep adding to it. I’m so excited for episode 8. We need to talk about cross-mapping. Why do you start us off for this conversation?

What is cross-mapping? For those of you who are new to the show and for maybe some of those who’ve been hanging around a while, you might have heard the word cross-mapping. Cross mapping is a proprietary somatic coaching tool that Ani and I have developed. We’re going to tell you a little story about cross-mapping. We’re going to tell you the origin story of cross-mapping. We’re also going to talk about the science of cross-mapping. We’re going to give you the five-step process and share a couple of case stories of some people we’ve worked with over the years who have benefited from cross-mapping over time.

Cross-mappings have foundational tools that we use at the Somatic Coaching Academy. It’s one that some people, like rehab practitioners, massage therapists, and coaches come in. They learn that tool and off they go. It’s also a tool that we use as a foundation for somatic coaching when people want to learn somatic coaching skills. It is interwoven into what we do here. The bottom line is that it rewires the nervous system and changes who we are at a cellular level. Let’s talk about how it started. Where did you learn cross-mapping, Brian?

Years ago, I was working in a small hospital in Northern New York, where we live now. I had an accident. I had bilateral shoulder separations. I separated both shoulders and it was pretty horrible. I couldn’t lift my arms above 90 degrees. I always had ice packs on my arms. When I talk to physical therapists or occupational therapists when I travel and teach, I’ll say, “Have any of you ever gone to work and realized that you were in worse shape than your patients? That’s how I felt. I couldn’t demonstrate exercises. I couldn’t do anything. I can only do manual work if I could lay my hands on the table. I could do what we call occipital releases all day long. I could put my hands on the table and my fingers pointing up.

That’s all I could do. I couldn’t lift my arms. It was getting pretty horrible. I’m a smart PT. I’ll do the laser therapy and the ultrasound. I’ll try some passive range of motion and nothing helped it up. At that time, I had been practicing Qigong for probably about 8 or 9 years, but to be perfectly transparent about it, I wasn’t practicing it as a regular thing. I was using Qigong as a rest day activity. I was active. I was doing a lot of mountain biking, rock climbing, and all that stuff and I realized that the only thing I could do without pain was this very simple Qigong practice that I had learned years ago.

You mean with your shoulders separated.

Yes. It’s the only thing I could do without pain. I was pretty depressed, by the way, too. I was sad, depressed, and angry because I couldn’t use my body and all that stuff.

You’re a very active person at that time.

I committed to doing this very simple Qigong practice. I started doing this very simple practice and it was interesting because, after about a week or so, I wasn’t as depressed, so I realized that the body-mind methodologies had a huge value. My physical body hadn’t changed much, but my mental attitude was rapidly improving. All of a sudden, I came out of this fog, and I started to see that my body was waking up again. It’s becoming more vital. It’s a little sidebar, which is why we wrap these amazing somatic practices and everything. We do this Somatic Coaching Academy because it increases vitality in the body and cross-mapping is a tool that does that as well.

I’m giving you the whole origin story here. I realized that we have to do something with our bodies in a certain way in order to amplify our vital state in our bodies and wake the body up in a certain way. That was the first little thing that happened. My body wakes up, and I’m doing these little movement practices that I’ve learned. I’m moving from having my arms down low to getting them a little bit higher. They’re coming up towards 90 degrees now as I’m doing some things. I was progressing without much discomfort, which is pretty interesting. At a certain point in time, I realized that my left arm could go higher than my right arm. My left arm had a better range of motion than my right arm did. As I was reaching up overhead to do this little practice.

I noticed that there were some muscles on my right side that were not working on my left side around my shoulder blades. I don’t know but I got this instinct or intuition that said, “Make the good side better.” I focused on consciously activating the muscles that were working on the good side by moving the good side. After doing that, all of a sudden, the muscles on the other side woke up and they started activating better. My range of motion got better and this all happened within about ten minutes. I was like, “What just happened?”

I had to go back to work. I used to go down to this little park and practice every day. On my way back to work, I remember walking back to the hospital and wondering, “What the hell happened? I had to know.” I dove deep into the research around mirror therapies and cross-education. There was already a bit of this somatic mindfulness. I was a part of this, too. I started doing a lot of deep study around it. I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew I had to try this with my patients.

Can I ask you a question?


Why mirror therapy? I know we don’t have time to go into every single thing, but why mirror therapy? Why did that occur to you?

I had read some things on mirror therapy leading up to this. I wasn’t putting those pieces together, but there were some fascinating stories on mirror therapy, especially around what we call Phantom Limb Pain, that when a person has an amputated extremity, sometimes, they’ll experience pain in their foot that’s been amputated. They’re experiencing pain out in space where their foot was. This whole debate started with whether or not there are pain sensors in the body because if there’s a pain sensor in the body and that foot is not attached to the body anymore, how could that possibly happen? It’s got to be something else that’s creating the pain experience. Now we know it’s the central nervous system.

The brain creates a pain experience perceptually and then projects it back out onto the body. When I was studying and reading about that, one of the things they had done with people with phantom limb pain was putting a mirror box over the phantom limb. They had people exercise while looking at a reflection of their intact leg such that the brain thought the leg that had been amputated was the one it was exercising and their pain went away. I thought, “There’s something going on there. That’s crazy.” I had to know more about that, and I started to look a little more into cross-education, too. There’s some interesting stuff from cross-education.

A lot of people know that if you break your arm, for instance, and you are put in a cast, when you come out of the cast in six weeks, the muscles are atrophied in the arm that’s been in the cast. That works even if you don’t break an arm. If they put somebody in a cast who has no broken arm, the muscles will still be atrophied from disuse. That’s a pretty commonly known thing. There’s been some research to show that if someone is in a cast on their left arm, let’s say, but they exercise their right arm, during that time when they take the cast off the left side, there’s no atrophy in the left arm. That’s when we started to talk about cross-education. It’s super cool. When I started learning about that stuff, I was like, “This is wild stuff.”

I started practicing mirror therapy with my clients. Mirror therapy works great when you’re doing ankles and wrists because they’re farther away from your eyes. It’s because your eyes have to be able to look at the mirror box and look like you’re moving the other side. I’ll do some stuff with people with ankle fractures and stuff and it worked great. However, when you start getting knees, hips, and closer to the back, you cannot adjust the mirror in such a way that it will fool the brain anymore. I thought I was working in a general orthopedic clinic, so I saw a fair amount of people with all kinds of things, not the majority of ankles and wrists.

I saw mostly people with knees, hips, and backs, so I had to figure out a way. How am I going to use these tools to help these people because there’s something amazing going on here? That was the origin of cross-mapping. It created an exercise that I call mirror therapy without mirrors. We’ll talk about this a little bit. The way we created it was through steps of the coaching process. It’s coaching questions along the way in such a way that it’s creating the same effect that would be created if you were using a mirror box around something.

You started to use cross-mapping with your clients with physical dysfunction of all kinds in the clinic and had some pretty good success with it.

Yeah, amazing success, especially when we paired it with somatic practices. When we did those pairings together, body, mind, and movement practices like Tai Chi and Qigong, the results were outstanding when we paired cross-mapping with that. Not only that. I could explain it. It took me probably about ten years of research, to be honest with you, to be able to explain it well. I had all the research and studies. I had to come through lots and lots of stuff. It’s almost like I went back up my Master’s degree in it. It’s my own Master’s degree profile in this idea.

When I left the hospital, that was one of the tools I took with me. I don’t know anybody else who’s developed that tool, so I developed it. I would like to say it developed in me in a lot of ways, Ani. The way that insight came to start it, I don’t think it was me. It was given to me as a divine opportunity to make a bigger difference in the world. I happened to be foolish enough or smart enough to follow it because it required a lot of time and effort, but it was so exciting to do that.

That was cross-mapping for physical dysfunction. I remember the first time you introduced me to cross-mapping and it’s probably not what you remember. It was when we first met. I was running because I used to be a dancer, and I couldn’t find anywhere to dance in the new location where we lived. It’s a teeny tiny town so I started running instead for physical activity. I was getting horrible cramps on my side. That’s the first time that you introduced cross-mapping to me. I started to use it while I was running when I would get cramps, and it helped me get to a place where I could run without cramping up anymore.

I don’t remember that.

I had forgotten it as well because I’m a busy mother, working mother, and a lot in my brain. As I was remembering you talking about it, I remembered that time, but then I forgot about it, but it fixed my problem. I forgot about it. It wasn’t until we were in the clinic again together. When we were in our wellness center side-by-side offices, I’d hear you talking about cross-mapping all the time with people. That’s when I remember asking you about it. I was like, “Here you are talking about cross-mapping all the time and your clients are talking about cross-mapping all the time. What is that because I’d probably like to use it with my clients, too?”

You want to tell that story. Ani did something. She completely blew it up. What’s amazing is what happened next because I was using it for physical pain. I guess I’d shared it with you and you heard me talking about it.

Most of your clients were coming to you for things like back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, and physical dysfunction. Most of the people were coming to me for stress and anxiety. I guess I was passing you in the office one day. We were having regular conversations and I asked you about cross-mapping. In hindsight, it’s funny because you hear how things were invented, like velcro was invented by accident. The sticky note was invented because the adhesive wasn’t sticky enough for something else. It was like that with emotional base cross-mapping because I have a tendency to half-listen to everything. Brian collects facts and I distill them.

It’s not frustrating at all.

I’m sure it’s not for you at all. I back at you sometimes. I was half listening to how he described cross-mapping and thought I understood. I did understand the key pieces of it because I went and started trying it out with my clients as well. Part of the reason I thought I got it was because I used it for running. I remember I had experience with it, so I went and started using it with my clients and later said, “Brian, that cross-mapping thing you were teaching me and telling me about, it’s working great.” You pause and I remember you quizzically looked at me and were like, “You’re not working with people who have physical dysfunction. What are you doing with them?”

I was using cross-mapping slightly differently. I was using it for people who were having emotional distress rather than physical pain. I remember my embarrassing moment as I had to describe to you what was going on in my room, but then you were fascinated because you’re like, “It can work for that, too?” That opened our eyes to the evolution of cross-mapping into emotional dysfunction as well as physical dysfunction.

Cross-mapping jumped into Ani, too. It also had some type of download or something to begin shifting it. It’s almost like through all the time we’ve been doing this on cross-mapping, it has a life of its own in a lot of ways. It’s one of those sourdough things. It keeps growing and turning into all kinds of goodness. You can make bread and pancakes.

It’s a lot. The person who gave us our sourdough starter that’s in our fridge made us name it. It has Georgie Porchy and it’s in the fridge. I remember I wanted to get rid of it one time and he’s like, “You can’t get rid of Georgie Porchy. You’ve got to give it back to me.” It’s true because, with sourdough starter, you can take a piece of it and give it to a friend, but it has a life of its own. We love watching how cross-mapping works through and within the context of our student’s lives and the way that they use it with their clients. It’s expanded upon to help people with all kinds of stuff, from physical dysfunction and to emotional dysfunction. People are using it for all kinds of cool stuff.

What’s been one of the most amazing things for me, Ani, is I’m still learning more about the science of it. It’s fascinating. We’ve got the process well developed. We know what makes cross-mapping. We know what to do to make it work. We know all five steps. You have to follow the process. It is an important process to follow. What was fascinating was that I’d be reading science articles and something about a new methodology. Even a new way they’re discovering that the brain is working, I’d be like, “That’s why cross-mapping works.” It’s pretty amazing.

The science is still catching up.

At least it’s still catching up in my awareness. There’s a lot of science out there that I haven’t read, obviously, and that has not been done yet, but the more I read, I can’t tell you how often I come across something with the whole understanding and the importance of interoceptive dual awareness. That’s a million-dollar word. Let’s break that down for a second. Interoception is our capacity to sense what’s going on inside of our bodies and how that is the foundation of emotional regulation. That’s coming to the forefront now. Of course, that’s a huge key component of cross-mapping. It is developing our interoceptive awareness that we can begin to consciously shift and modify it.


SCAP | Cross Mapping


The idea of dual awareness, the capacity to be able to hold two interoceptive inputs simultaneously, how that correlates with cross-brain function, increases corpus callosum function, the idea of what we call grated exposure, which is one of the most important ways of helping people to change behavior, and to engage in something that’s been previously antagonizing for them. That’s baked in the cross-mapping too.

There are all these things I keep reading and it was like, “That’s another reason why it works.” That’s why I say it almost found us because the process wasn’t like, “Here’s all the science. Let’s build a method.” The method was very intuitively created. It was an intuitive download and process to get it going and now it continues to redefine itself and to validate itself. That’s the thing. Cross-mapping continues to validate itself every time I read an article.

It could find you because of the different methods that you studied. You studied manual therapy, mindfulness, different neuroscience and physiology, and all these different things that combined perfectly to form the basis of the cross-mapping method. You said behavior change, and that’s interesting because when we’re working with people, we are interested in behavior change, whether you’re a therapist, coach, leader, or manager, or helping people live into their optimal potential.

On the way to optimal potential comes a challenge, and we need to meet challenges with behavior change, whether that includes physical distress or emotional distress. We can use tools like cross-mapping to help to bridge that gap. We say rewire the nervous system because it does come down to the physiology. We want to change somebody’s behavior. Let’s talk about the process of cross-mapping. What does that look like?

It’s a five-step process and it’s embedded within the framework of transformation that we teach at this Somatic Coaching Academy. We have four steps. You have to become aware of something, decode it, modify it, and then reframe it to create something new. That’s the four-step process and cross-mapping fits into each one of those steps. The very first thing is to become aware of something that someone is experiencing. Now, most people will be like, “I have physical pain. I know what I’m experiencing.”

The thing is two things. Number one, when we have an overwhelming sensory experience or interoceptive experience, whether that’s what we would call physical pain or emotional distress, both of those are heavily interoceptively informed into the brain. The brain is paying attention to something that’s going on in the body. We make an assumption that that’s the only thing that’s going on in the body. Let’s do a little example now. Wherever you are now and you’re tuning into this episode, pay attention to your left big toe. Feel what your left big toe feels like. Ani, how would you describe going on your left big toe?


Mine feels wiggly and loose sort of thing. Do you think your left big toe started sending you signals now when you started paying attention to it?

I wasn’t paying attention to it before.

That’s my point. Your whole body is sending check-ins to your brain every single nanosecond. Your brain is getting check-ins every nanosec from all over your body, but we’re only paying attention to 1 or 2 things most of the time. Most of the things we’re primarily paying attention to are the most threatening because they’re the most loud.

It’s the fires that we need to put. It reminds me of when I’m in the kitchen and everything is going fine, but then a kid comes in and this happens. Another kid and this happened. There are fires to put out.

We’re paying attention to the fires. We’re not paying attention to all this other input. By the way, that’s healthy, normal, regenerative, nutritive input. We’re paying attention to the noxious stuff. The more we pay attention to the obnoxious stuff and wire it, the more formulated the neural pathways come to paying attention to those stimuli. The first step is becoming aware. What are you becoming aware of? Is it what you’re becoming aware of helping you or not helping you? That’s the first step. That’s the first thing we do with cross-mapping. That’s number one. We then start to decode what’s going on. What’s the real reason that that’s happening? What’s the real reason that you’re having that pain experience or emotional experience?

Often, it’s easy to blame it on whatever is going on in the moment. We again forget about all the other input and all the other history that lives in our bodies. We start to unravel what’s going on because if we don’t know what’s going on, we can’t change it. We end up trying to put out a fire and then another fire pops up again in the same place or we’re trying to put out a grease fire with water. It doesn’t work. We have to know how to approach it. That’s the second step. The next step is once we know what’s going on and once we have a better idea about the causation, not until we have those two pieces of information can we fundamentally change anything. Most people don’t even realize they have a choice to change it.

Most people we run around our whole lives are thinking in order to feel the way we want to feel, we’ve got to arrange our external circumstances. We have to get a new car. We have to make sure the kids are quiet so other people do things. Our spouse needs to change their behavior for us to feel the way we want to feel. We’ve run around doing that and we let go of our own agency in a deep way. Most people don’t realize you can consciously change your own intercept of experience.


SCAP | Cross Mapping


We don’t have to be a victim of what’s going on around us to activate that introspective experience. We can empower that consciously. That’s the next step that we do. From that grows the creation of however your life wants to be. You can create your life then from what we talk about from the inside out. That’s what cross-mapping helps us do through all those phases of work.

Do you remember a story of somebody who used cross-mapping with whom you can illustrate those steps?

I give you a simple one. Not long ago, I was doing a consultation with a client who was experiencing a lot of nerve pain in his arm and shoulder. He couldn’t lift his arm above 90 degrees or so. One arm was good. The other arm wasn’t so good. He came to me saying, “I’m trying to lift weights and do exercises on this side, but it’s not getting any better. My hand goes numb after doing a couple of those things.” As we were doing a little work together. I asked him, “What’s your other side look like?” He showed me the full range of motion on the other side. I had him start doing some bilateral movements. I had him basically tap in and ask him. I did all this virtually, by the way. That’s the beauty of this practice. You don’t have to do it hands-on with somebody.

Most people run around their whole lives thinking that in order to feel the way they want to feel, they have to arrange their external circumstances. Click To Tweet

It’s not hands-on. You don’t even have to be in the same room with somebody. A lot of our students are growing amazing practices on their own by doing this stuff virtually with people. It is why one of the reasons we think it’s so important to get this practice out here in the world is because it’s so easy to do. I get back to this story. I had to move his arms bilateral. I had him tap into what was working on the good side and then we identified what wasn’t working on the other side that was having pain. Sure enough, there is an imbalance of muscular activity on those sides.

I started to activate better what was working on the good side and then we were done. I sent him off. I got an email from him a couple of weeks later. He said, “I’m already feeling better. That muscle is activating better.” I had one little tweak I needed to make to it. By email, I sent him a tweak. I said, “Put this next stage in. It’s the last step of the process.” He emailed me back a couple of weeks later and said, “It’s way better. My arms are moving overhead now. I don’t have any more numbness on that side. Where can I get trained in this?

It’s one of those things that as soon as you see it for yourself, you’re like, “That was so cool. I’m going to do it with other people.”

Absolutely. It’s simple and easy. Once you get it dialed in, it makes a lot of sense for people and your nervous system. We walk a person step by step through it.

Brian, I remember the first time that we did a session together to help somebody using cross-mapping and it was a person who had been experiencing physical chronic pain for 30 years. He had to see everyone. You name it. The chiropractor, the doctor, the acupuncturist, etc. and he’s still having trouble with chronic pain. The first session was so powerful because we had her look for in her body anywhere that didn’t have chronic pain.

It was literally like the big toe thing that she found, like my big toe. I remember she exclaimed it was a miracle. That’s the first time I’ve experienced something other than chronic pain in my body. In so many years, I can’t remember it. Watching it happen was so wild and awesome, and she floated out of the office with that awareness. She went on to transform all kinds of patterns because it turns out the chronic pain was keeping some behavioral and emotional patterns in place. That’s a story in front of the day. That was pretty cool.

Ani, can you share a story of someone you’ve used cross-mapping for emotions?

I’m thinking of somebody in particular, but it’s a very typical story and it goes back to what you were talking about, Brian. We have experiences. We have things that are going on in our bodies all the time, but we’re not paying attention to them and queuing up. I remember this person who came to us specifically so that she could transform her anxiety.

It’s very common.

It’s a very common thing to use cross-mapping with and it’s pretty simple. She also had been to the doctor multiple times on medication and psychotherapy for many years. We did cross-mapping. I remember session one describing it and in session two, we practiced with it. It was session three where she came and was like, “I have experienced not the anxiety now and I’m astounded.” That was the beginning of transforming everything, but the thing was, she didn’t realize that she had the choice and the empowerment to find, focus on, flourish, and thrive in other than the anxiety that she was experiencing. We had to help her modify and reframe how she was thinking about it because, at first, it was not anxiety.

We had to identify what that was and, for her, it was groundedness and inner peace. The same thing with her. Once she started to tap into the fact that there was other than anxiety happening in her body, she was able to find all kinds of decisions that she was stuck on and things that she wanted to move forward in with her life that she was feeling very foggy about or felt the regular old stuckness that she was so used to. Things started to open up for her and she started making powerful new decisions in her life.

It’s pretty amazing. The other thing that’s coming to me and I didn’t talk about it before because it’s not only science in the way Western science looks at it but, at some point in time, I’m looking forward to being able to do an episode on the natural laws. It’s one of our favorite topics that we talk about. Of course, natural laws permeate everything in nature. We’re in nature. Humans are a part of nature. The way that these natural laws operate is something else we discovered. That is imbued in the cross-mapping, the Law of Polarity, and the Law of Relativity.

They’re part of that process. You can even start to bring some of these trends and dental ideas into the practices that we’re doing. Again, it’s the things that were revealed to us over time. We’re like, “That even gets even more and more amazing.” We start to notice, as you’re talking about that, using a tool, method, process, or however you want to talk about it, cross-mapping transcends a person’s anxiety or physical pain. It helps us reorganize not only neurochemically and neurologically in our wiring internally but also rewires our perceptions in a powerful way.

One of the reasons why we decided to do this episode is because people ask us, “What is cross-mapping?” We told you a lot about the origin story, the science, and the method. We even give you a few examples. You might still be asking yourself, “What is cross-mapping?” If you are, come over to Somatic Coaching Academy and get a one-on-one session with one of our coaches and you’ll be able to experience it for yourself. That is one of the interesting things. Sometimes, I’m hearing about it. You’re telling me about it. Once you experience it for yourself, you’ll be able to have that a-ha moment.

There are resources in the library, too. There are some resources in the library and studies. We’re doing group cross-mapping practices in there. There it is. The stuff is there. Go for it.

Thanks for joining us for this episode. Cross-mapping, as I said, is a foundational tool in Somatic Coaching Academy. Those foundational tools are what are going to create practical transformation. It doesn’t have to be a mystery and it’s not about following your intuition and hoping it works. When you follow the practical processes, then you’ll be able to have transformation with your clients every single time. We look forward to seeing you next time.

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