#7 - Are you torturing yourself? - Upright Health

#7 – Are you torturing yourself?

Today, you’ll see how the CIA manual on torture explains why you make the decisions you do when you’re in pain; you’ll discover a few enhanced interrogation techniques; and you’ll learn how to beat the torture you inflict upon yourself.




Murga position

CIA torture manual



Hey, everybody it’s Matt Hsu from Upright Health. And this is Episode 7 of the Upright Health Podcast. Today’s topic is: “Are you torturing yourself?” Today, we are going to talk about self-inflicted torture. We’re going to talk a little bit about how you’re doing it, and talk about the psychology behind it. And even talk a little bit about how the United States Central Intelligence Agency looks at torture. I know it sounds amazing that we’re going to cover all those things, but we’re going to do it all here, in hopefully under fifteen minutes.

So, we’re going to start today by talking about stress positions. I was talking to a client a couple years ago about stress positions because he actually was in the military, and he knew some stuff about it. So we are talking of these things called “stress positions”, which are basically uncomfortable positions that you put somebody in to get them to feel a bunch of pain, and really, really, really, really want to do anything to get out of that position.

Some common examples are something like a wall sit. This is something that sporting teams will do just not exactly as an interrogation technique, but as a method of helping torture somebody in a, I would say, a more productive, playful way.  Basically, you sit up against the wall. You’re staying with your knees bent and you stay there for a long period of time. That’s a very common stress position, but probably not one that you will see in an actual torture chamber.

I’ve found another example actually online called the “Murga Position.” That’s spelled M-U-R-G-A, if you wanna look this up. I had never seen it before, but it’s actually one that’s done in India, Bangladesh, and apparently sometimes in Pakistan. I encourage you to look it up because it looks very uncomfortable and also quite funny, if you have any sort of a sadistic streak in your blood. I’m sure it’s not comfortable and I’m sure it’s not fun to do. And that is why it is called a stress position. It is hard on your body and makes you really want to get out of it.

So the worst part about these stress positions are not just the physical toll that it’s taking on your body. Physically, these stress positions get uncomfortable because you’re stuck in the same position. And the stress of maintaining the position is put on just a few groups of muscles that eventually, as with any muscle, eventually have to give out. So you could really turn anything into a stress position if you make somebody stay in it long enough. If I made you hold dumbbells over your head for (they could even be five-pound dumbbells), if I made you hold those over your head for twenty five minutes, your body would start to complain quite a bit. So these stress positions, they’re designed in any case to really get some muscles working hard and working beyond their capacity, and then forcing you to stay there for a long, long, long periods of time.

The United States Central Intelligence Agency specializes in creating these kinds of techniques. They had a manual that they created for the Vietnam War for interrogation and torture techniques. It was called the “KUBARK Manual”. And “KUBARK” I guess was the code word for “Vietnam War” for the CIA. So they create this manual. And in this manual, the they have a very interesting idea. They are talking about how physical violence, (in the sense that we normally think of torture), physical violence itself is actually useless. So threatening somebody with death is “worse than useless” because the prisoner feels like you know, they’re going to be basically condemned even if they do comply with what you want. Like, “You’re beating me now. If I comply and tell you what you wanna know, you’ll probably still going to beat me. If you threaten to kill me and I tell you what you wanna know, you’ll probably still going to kill me.”

So the CIA kind of figured out that there are some better ways to get the information that you want out of people if you’re going to torture them. (And by the way, I’m not in any way condoning or encouraging torture, I’m only bringing this up because there’s some very interesting psychology to observe here.) So the CIA made a revised manual in 1983 and it’s called the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which really does justice to what you’re doing there.

So there’s a quote here. They say, “The threats to inflict pain may trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain. In fact, most people underestimate their capacity to withstand pain.” So they suggest: “Keeping a victim in stressful positions or other uncomfortable situations for long periods actually will then help create an internal pain.” And this is the key piece here: “Since the pain is internal rather than external, the victim maybe more likely to come to view the interrogator as someone who can help him or her.”

So essentially, what they’re saying is if you have somebody who’s hitting you or inflicting pain on your body, you’re going to view that person as somebody that you just start developing more and more animosity. You still maintain your resistance to that person who’s giving you the pain. Now, if you are sitting in a position that is painful and really uncomfortable, and you are feeling the pain come from within and somebody comes in and says, “Hey, stand up. Let me show you how to feel good,” then, you are much more likely to start to view your “interlocutor” we’ll say, instead of “interrogator”. You’re likely to view them as more possibly friendly.

And so I find this really interesting because you and me, and many of us tend to subject ourselves to stress positions on a regular basis. So we sit in our chairs for eight, ten, fourteen, sixteen hours a day; whether it’s the office seat; whether it’s the couch; whether it is a conference room, meeting chair; whether it’s on an airplane; whether you are driving to and from work for an hour (god forbid) — all these things, all these positions are the same.  We sit there. The stress  or the position goes to just a few muscles. We’re smashing our hamstrings. We’re smashing our posterior hip musculature — meaning our butts. And many of us are also then forcing our lower back muscles to actually work overtime, to keep us sitting in a somewhat upright position. Then we put our hands on a mouse and keyboard and type, type away or we slouch into the couch and then just hit the clicker and watch whatever we’re watching, checking out what’s going on north of the Wall (that’s a Game of Thrones reference, in case you don’t watch Game of Thrones.)

So if we’re doing this to ourselves and causing pain to ourselves, it starts to get hard to think clearly. And I’ve actually seen this in many, many, many, many, many, many, many, clients where the pain is chronic, so the hip starts to hurt, the knee starts to hurt, you feel fatigued all the time — I’ve seen this with myself — you start to get desperate and you start looking for somebody else to help you. You will go to all kinds of people to try to make this pain go away, because you think somebody else can actually do it for you. And that is true sometimes. When you tweak something or something just gets a little bit jammed up and you need somebody to help you open it up, or you need somebody to help you understand what’s going wrong, and they can help guide you to do the right thing, yes absolutely in that sense can get help from the outside.

But let’s say you’re in an interrogation room in a stress position, nobody’s going to come in and give you a pill that’s going to make that position actually good for you, right? If you’re sitting in the same position for 8 hours, there’s nothing anyone can do for you that’s actually going to make those stressed out muscles and squashed muscles feel better and work better. The only thing that’s going to relieve the pain that’s coming from the stress position is your getting in different positions and letting those muscles move in ways that they need to.

So this whole episode was inspired by a conversation that I had with a client that I had the other day. I’m going to call her “Amy” though that’s not her real name. She got a bunch of hardcore massage done on her upper traps. So that’s her shoulders and upper back. She had somebody just go in and smash and smash and smash her holders to try to get some of the tightness and stiffness out of her upper back. And she actually had bruises on there, which to me is a sign that you’re pushing way too hard. But in any case, we talked about it. And I’ve mentioned this to her before, and we’ve both observed it. When she does exercises that mobilize her shoulders, that make the muscles of her shoulders work, they get blood moving through her shoulders, not only does she get stronger over time, but in the short term, the pain and stiffness in her shoulders and neck go away. And she knows that’s. But when the pain is there, she starts looking for outside help. She looks for somebody to do the massage and knock it out for her. And sometimes it does work. But she could also just do a little bit of exercise, move things around to make things feel much, much, much, much better.

And what was interesting was she actually said, “If I just did twenty minutes of exercise every day, I think I’d be totally pain free. I’d feel great.” And I think she’s completely right. It’s that when we’re putting ourselves in these stress positions, when are literally torturing ourselves, we actually mess with our own psychology and make ourselves feel like, “There’s got to be a solution to this outside myself.” When in fact, the whole problem is that we are torturing ourselves.

I know some people have trouble believing that we’re really torturing ourselves that much. So I want you to imagine filming yourself to see what you do all day. Just kind of sit there, close your eyes and imagine how your day looks from a positional point of view starting in the morning. What positions are you in? How quickly are you then transitioning to sitting? Or how quickly are you transitioning to the position that you’re going to be in for the rest of the day? Think about how many hours you are in the same positions, and then you’ll see how little your body actually gets to do anything outside of the same few motions that you’re programmed for every single day. Just because you’re looking at a computer all day doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need to move into a different position. I’m pretty sure you could put somebody into the wall sit, or the Murga position with their iPad or their smartphone, and they wouldn’t be able to maintain it longer than if they were forced to do it without any mental distraction. So just because you’re distracting yourself with your computer doesn’t mean that the stress position you are in is actually good for you.

So what can we do about our self-torture? Hopefully, you’re thinking about a couple ideas right now. I think the best idea is to make sure that you are doing some sort of exercise. Especially if you’re an office worker, you need to be doing something with weights, that your upper body needs to work against. Typically, people need to be doing exercises that involve scapular retraction. And also, practicing moving your hands up overhead. I can’t tell you how many people I have seen who actually just never, never reach up overhead. It’s then not really surprising when they reach up overhead with speed or they need to grab something high on the shelf and then their shoulder doesn’t seem capable of doing it. If you’ve never practiced it, it’s not going to be easy or simple.

So scapular retraction, overhead pressing — anything really that puts your arms outside of their normal little box that they are in. Raising your arms out to the side starting with lightweights and gradually moving it up, those types of exercises are simple to do and easy to do. Having a couple pounds of weight near you just to do that throughout the day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, could be hugely beneficial for your upper body. For your lower body, it can be a little more complicated, but doing squats properly to use the right muscles, making sure you stand up every now and then and do a little bit of stretching and loading of your hamstrings, meaning forcing yourself to actually practice picking things up and putting them back down using your butt and hamstrings. For anyone who’s not really practiced that before, it’s a good idea to get a trainer to help you understand exactly what I’m talking about. You could also look up Romanian Deadlift on YouTube and check out a couple videos to see what that looks like.

All these different exercises help push blood where it’s normally being kept out. And they help muscles work that way they’re supposed to. So I’m begging you — pleading with you — to please stop torturing yourself. Get up. Move around. Get your body used to doing stuff it should be able to do, so that you can go ahead and enjoy your life without pain. Don’t let yourself torture yourself into thinking that you really got to get help — a pill, some sort of magical cream or whatever it is — to get better. Start thinking about these stress positions you’re putting yourself in. Start thinking about how you can yourself out of those positions and how you can make that a regular part of your life.

This is Matt Hsu from Upright Health reminding you that pain sucks – life shouldn’t.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.