The End of Back Pain (As You Know It) eBook Coming Soon!

In the late 1990’s I started writing a book on the causes and remedies of a type of back pain that affects upwards of 80% of people who suffer from the condition. This most common type of back pain is easy to understand and with patience and consistent effort, it can resolve. It’s taken me nearly two decades, but I’m now back at my computer committed to finally finishing the eBook. If you or anyone you know suffers from chronic low back pain, you’ll want to read and share this post. The following is an excerpt from the eBook that tells the story of my back pain history.

My Back Pain History
I believe it imperative to tell you about my own back pain experiences so you can appreciate and trust that my knowledge of this subject runs deeper than what is possible to learn through books and clinical practice alone.

My back has hurt countless times, sometimes very intensely. Just a few years before colleagues and I developed this program, my back often hurt chronically, for months and even years at a time. I experienced much anguish and frustration as a result. If you have a long standing back condition, be assured I have compassion for what you’re going through, and I want you to feel better as soon as possible. Life’s too short to spend years hurting and not knowing why, or worse yet, what to do about it.

I was 20 years old and into my 5th week of Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School when I first experienced low back pain. One day our training involved repeatedly bending and lifting other candidates onto our backs and then hustling across an open, pock-marked mine field. That activity heralded the beginning my back issues. This first, intense, short-lived bout of back pain lasted for only about two weeks.

Before I knew it, half-a-dozen years intervened, and I experienced more back pain of a similar nature. Despite the pain, I continued to exercise. I remember lifting weights and practicing Taekwondo karate, and although I tried to discover a pattern, I couldn’t seem to attribute my back pain to any particular activity. It seemed like it would just start for no reason; the causes remained unknown to me. Because of the seemingly random nature of the problem, when it hurt badly, it felt out of control. I was at its mercy. The pain, coupled with my confusion, was maddening. At the time, I was in my middle 20’s and enjoyed being active. I needed to work too, but at least two or three times a year, sometimes for a couple of months at a time, I was totally out of commission because of my pain.

It was for this reason and the fact that I was always injuring myself in Taekwondo, that I developed an interest in physical therapy. I wanted to learn how to take care of my body so I would not have to suffer from so much pain all the time.

Very soon after starting physical therapy school I injured my back again. I was 27 years old. This particular incident, I hurt myself while lifting weights. I hurt it “leg pressing” more weight than was reasonable for a person of my size and strength. The pain came on slowly but intensely. After a tough two weeks, the pain diminished but did not cease again for another year and a half.

Of course, as part of my physical therapy education, I was taught many methods and modalities designed to alleviate back pain; nothing I tried seemed to help, however. In fact, most of my attempts at relieving the pain made it worse. At that time, I had no understanding of the real causes or remedies of my pain. Both of my parents had had significant back pain histories; maybe it was genetic? Looking back, I remember feeling disheartened and wondering if I was doomed to live with this pain for the rest of my life.

Once I graduated, the hurting slowly and unaccountably subsided. I had finally recovered from that long episode of back pain. You would think that I should have regarded that favorable circumstance positively. I did not. Because I did not yet understand what the causes or the cures of my pain were, I reasoned that it was only a matter of time before I’d injure my back again. Furthermore, working as a physical therapist and not possessing the requisite knowledge to help most back pain patients was a source of great anxiety for me, the only solace was that most every other medical professional I knew was as equally perplexed as I was.

For these reasons, I was compelled to learn more about this puzzling condition. I read many books and took a lot of professional continuing education on the subject. After a particularly disappointing weekend class on another type of back pain therapy (read: bogus!) my frustration peaked and I honestly considered closing my practice and changing professions. But as providence would have it, my quest for answers to the questions of back pathology, diagnosis, and treatment was fulfilled. In January of 1996, I met my teacher, Omer Matthijs, DSc., PT, MOMT, and my orthopedic education took off under his tutelage.

Omer taught me to see the spine as a system of interdependent parts which are subject to an age-related process of degeneration. As the spine ages, certain parts may wear excessively and therefore, sometimes cause pain. If one understands the process, and then acts to mitigate the stresses that might exacerbate or accelerate it, the condition can stabilize and more often than not, heal and feel better. Under Omer guidance, I started to connect the dots between the causes of particular back pain conditions and the subsequent cures. After Omer’s tutelage and following his advice, over a year passed in which I felt no back pain.

It was the spring of 1997. I was 36 years old. One morning as I was getting ready for work, I bent down to pick up my cat’s food dish when I felt a little “twinge” in my back. Two hours later I could not stand up straight and was in a lot of pain. Although the pain was familiar, there was something different about this episode. This time, for the first time, I understood what was going on in my back. This time I was not afraid. Instead, I was inquisitive, wondering how the course of this incident would respond to my new informed treatment approach.

May 6th, 2016. Squating 225 Pounds!

I went to work that day, and aside from strictly applying the movement patterns that I will teach you, I didn’t change a thing. I even decided to go out for a short two-mile jog the day after my pain started. Astonishingly, especially to me, within four days I was completely pain-free again!

Because of what I’ve learned, and how I apply this knowledge in my own life, my back pain episodes have decreased from about 3 per year to maybe one minor bout every two or more years. The way my back feels now (strong, stable, no pain), compared to what it’s felt like in the past (weak, touchy and painful), represents a triumph over a condition that disables more people in the industrial world than any other.

Had it not been for this approach, you might still include me with those unfortunate many who continue to suffer. And as for the emotional anguish I experienced in the past, well, I recognize that on rare occasions I might feel a little back discomfort, but I also know its source, how to treat it well, and that it won’t last. As a result, I have no fear and therefore no emotional distress. This peace of mind and sense of control are the real jewels hidden within this approach.

No one can prevent every episode of back pain. That is not what this program promises. What it does say, however, is that if one acquaints oneself with the causes and cures of back pain, and, skillfully applies the proposed treatment regimen, your experience with this condition should not get worse (as is currently the norm for chronic back pain sufferers through the age of 60). But rather, your situation can improve significantly, as measured by your pain’s intensity and duration, and the frequency of occurrences. If you don’t have an extreme pathology (see RED FLAGS), and put forth the necessary effort, it is not hyperbole to suggest that this program can teach you how to create the causes for healing whereby you will eventually develop a healthy, fit, and pain-free back again.

I’ve ended my back pain, and thankfully, I can now say that my patients recover faster, more completely, and with fewer reoccurrences as well; that’s the real validating proof of the efficacy of this program.

If you would like to receive periodic excerpts and updates on the progress of this eBook, please subscribe to this blog and email me at Put “End Back Pain” in the subject line.

About HSP’s — Highly Sensitive People

My wife Lynda and I just watched a fascinating documentary titled: Sensitive – The Untold Story. It turns out, the genetic trait of high sensitivity is found in 20% of the population. It is found equally in men and women and in over 100 animal species. The scientific term for the trait is SPS or Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This trait is not a disorder, but it does pose challenges for people who possess it, as well as those with whom they live.

What SPS means is, certain people are more tuned into subtly of words, emotions, environments, threats, meaning, sounds, beauty, loss, poignancy, world events, human suffering, the list goes on. On other words, the brains of highly sensitive people (HSP) not only process more information, but they also process it more deeply. High sensitivity can be a blessing or a curse. Because practically speaking, HSP’s feel more. So their emotions are not only more keen and profound, sometimes they’re more gripping. For this reason, HSP’s can get easily overstimulated in environments that are chaotic, loud, or otherwise intense. Overstimulation is the challenging aspect of this trait, both for the HSP and for those with whom they live. I imagine many stress-related illnesses – addictions, depression, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, and more – are correlated with HSP.

Mark as a babyI am a highly sensitive person. I even joked about it in my guided meditation booklet when I wrote:

“When I was a kid, I don’t remember people thinking that I was spoiled, but I do remember being overly sensitive. I would throw a fit if there were wrinkles in socks when my mom put on my shoes. I’ve always liked things to be just so. I can recall my Dad even telling me to “unfuss myself.” So I guess that’s my life’s journey, learning to accept and allow.”

Being an HSP has been a journey – an educational one – where I’ve had to learn about myself. Learning to meditate and be more mindful has been a big part of that journey. Since I started meditating, my sensitivity has not toned down. Rather, it’s even stronger than ever. But the remarkably positive difference now is in the quality of my sensitivity. I’m no longer reactively sensitive, throwing a fit when I get tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or otherwise when circumstances don’t go my way. Instead, now, I can sit for extended periods of time, experiencing relative discomfort with composure. I’m still sensitive, but now, I’m groundedly sensitive. That’s the blessing that makes all the difference. I now know how to open up and have complete experiences, riding the waves of energy around me. In this way, I can experience the fullness of my gift for sensitivity without it throwing me into an emotional tailspin. The blessed gift of grounded sensitivity heightens one’s senses, and that, in turn, makes life more precious. If you are an HSP, you have the potential to make the shift from reactive to grounded sensitivity yourself. If you need support, I’m here to help.

If you think you’re an HSP, let us know. Add your comment to this post. We want to hear your stories. Also, if you know other HSP’s, share this post with them. They want to know they’re not alone.



Doing Leads to Being

Ever been to a social gathering or a meeting and introduce yourself this way, “Hi, I’m Mark, I’m a _________.’ Funny how we identify ourselves with what we do. It makes sense. I’m not quibbling about it. But it’s also strange if you think about it. A Noun (being), arises out of a Verb (doing).

For example, if I start smoking, at some point, I become a smoker. In the case of smoking, it’s hard to say exactly when that transformation happens. Are there milestones that identify the shift? Once a person crosses an invisible line it is inevitable, smoking-1026559_960_720the consequences of the actions (smoking) start to emerge. Smelly breath, morning cough, higher blood pressure, lower blood oxygen, possibly even cancer can be effects of smoking. Interestingly, the activating force behind these results begins to fade once a person stops smoking. Changing the actions (not smoking) then attracts different results–better overall health. Also too, the now ex-smoker will eventually stop identifying him or herself as a smoker. The label (the noun) evaporates away as well.

As you know, I’m in the business of trying to inspire people to start meditating. I do this because the same potentiating force that turns doing into being is at play here too. If you start to meditate, you will initiate actions that lead to predictably positive results. Studies show that people who meditate are happier and healthier. The enhanced awareness that goes with a skillful meditation practice also improves relationships at work and home. Simply put, meditators learn skills and perspectives that enable them to suffer less and their life gets easier.

EVERYONE WANTS THE EFFECTS OF MEDITATION. But to my great dismay, less than one percent of people will do what it takes to achieve those positive results. People get so totally lost in the world that they won’t prioritize the one activity that will shift things for them.

One of my meditation teachers, John Yates, PhD., (Culadasa), wrote a book, The Mind Illuminated, that details the ten stages of meditative development. His formulation teaches that a person masters stage one as soon as they develop a consistent practice. If you are part of the one percent and are interested in cultivating the positive results that come with the activity of meditating, find my free guide on starting a practice. I’ve attached a PDF to this blog. Click the link at the end of this paragraph. And please, share it with your friends too. Begin-at-the-Beginning-M1. This PDF is a part of a more comprehensive 6-module online course on learning meditation and mindfulness for stress relief. If you feel inspired, you’re invited to check out that resource as well.

Remember, Being arises out of the Doing, and, when Doing changes, so does Being. Become a meditator. Then, reap the rewards!


In my mind, the word “ritual” conjures religious overtones. Today, I choose to use it in a much more mundane way. Here, let ritual mean any activity you engage in that captures your attention on a daily basis. I’m talking about ingrained habits, like walking the dog in the morning, watching TV after work, reading the Huffington Post at lunch (me), or posting on FaceBook after putting the kids to bed. We all have rituals we devote precious allotments of our time to every day.

Thoughts and feelings come to reflect whatever are our cumulative preoccupations. Capturing attention as they do, rituals lead to habitual emotional states. And, emotions felt habitually, eventually grow from states into temperaments. That is how mundane rituals mold us over time.

How the power of focus can create a positive spiral in your life
How the power of focus can create a positive spiral in your life

If you want life to be better, consider examining the effects of your mundane rituals. How are you ritually prioritizing your time each day? You may discover that some rituals are not serving you. Giving yourself over to them is costing rather than adding to your life.

If you decide you’d like to replace some of your rituals with a daily meditation practice, I’d like to offer you a quick lesson on how to get started. Just click here to gain access to a free webinar that explains the basics of how to use meditation for stress relief. On the webinar page, you’ll be able to watch a video and also receive free downloadable audio meditations. These are the same meditations that come with the first month of my 13-month guided program. Enjoy them. They’ll get you started.

My mission is to help as many people start a meditation and mindfulness practice as possible. The reason, I want the world to be a better place. So, if you’ve been thinking about taking up the ritual of meditation, go for it. I assure you, you’ll gain more happiness, mental and emotional clarity, compassion for yourself and others, more creativity, confidence, grounded sensitivity, peace, a sense of purpose, deeper sleep, and a better memory. If you want to improve as a parent, to be less impulsive and reliant on medicating substances and behaviors, to develop increased tolerance for distress, then begin to practice the ritual of meditation and mindfulness. IN ALL THESE WAYS AND MORE, THIS RITUAL WILL MOLD YOUR LIFE INTO SOMETHING WORTH CELEBRATING. I’m here to support you if you’d like to get started. Please share this newsletter with anyone you want to be happy.

As always, I wish you peace, health, and happiness.



Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 12.55.02 PM

I wanted to pass on some exciting, and super valuable news to anyone interested in THE BEST EVER BOOK on the stages of meditation training. I’ve read many books on the subject, but this book is the most informative, clear, and thorough by a long shot. The book is titled, The Mind Illuminated, and it was written by one of my meditation teachers, John Yates, Ph.D. I’m excited about this book because it’s simply the best resource on the topic. Please check it out for yourself. Reading this book will totally jumpstart your practice. Also, please share this post with anyone and everyone who is interested in learning to meditate for the purpose of self-change and/or healing.

Wishing you well,


Kids These Days!

“Kids these days.” How many times have you heard someone speak these words? How many times have you thought or spoken them yourself? We adults are perfect projection machines—chastising children for their behavior while at the same time forgetting it is a reflection of our own. Sure, each person is born with a unique temperament. Nevertheless, the environment of the home and culture radiates a powerfully influential force that molds them as well.Fighting Children

It might be helpful to think of children as biological recording devices. As such, they come into the world equipped to record and playback everything they experience. How do we imagine children learn to feel, sit with, and process their emotions? Clearly, it is through the process of modeling the emotional responses of those closest to them. Kids learn to speak kindly to others or not, depending on whether or not they hear kind words spoken to them. They may learn to respect others and their feelings, but only if their feelings receive respect first.

Likewise, by modeling the adults in their lives, children learn to become anxious, depressed, aggressive, distracted, impatient or disinterested. Unfortunately, most often our medical system treats these emotional issues as medical conditions. Pharmaceutical companies create pills for dampening all such “symptoms.” This misguided polypharmaceutical approach has no endgame. Lab testing our kids by pouring psychoactive chemicals into them is not the answer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying in all cases. Sure, in rare instances medicine can be a solution. What I’m saying is that pills won’t solve problems related to an unsafe environment, or the unavailability of tuned-in, emotionally skillful caregivers.

Happily, there’s another alternative to taking our children to the doctor. Humans never exhaust the capacity for growth and evolution. Meaning, grace is embedded in the practice of parenting. But, progressing along the path towards positive change requires pulling yourself out of your routine, and then, learning something new. Happy ChildrenIf you want to change your child’s behavior, start by working on yourself first. When you learn to experience your emotions more skillfully, speak more kindly and respectfully, be more compassionate, you’ll become perfectly enabled to model that skillfulness for your children. Then they’ll change.

Dr. Mark Pirtle is a meditation and mindfulness teacher who works in the recovery field. He contracts for Sierra Tucson, Miraval and is a faculty member of the Center for Integrative Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Arizona. He teaches Skillfully Aware, a 6-week class that teaches the brain science of emotional literacy and the practice of meditation and mindfulness. For more information on classes go to

Intentional Families Thrive

Hi all,

Karen Putnam PhD., childhood development and parenting expert

Last week, I had the great pleasure of teaching alongside Karen Putnam PhD., a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development and parenting. We spoke to an engaged group of parents interested in implementing evidence-based strategies for promoting health and happiness within their families. Karen suggested something simple, but profound: being intentional and setting agreements for family behaviors. Simple yes, but who among us has been so proactive? As intentional as Lynda and I believe we are, we’ve not taken this step. That’s going to change! We’ve already begun to craft our own family agreements document and intend to enact it. Family harmony seems to stem from cooperation, kindness, skillful communication and emotional self-regulation. As a result, we wove these attributes into the fabric of our agreements. Our document is still a work in progress, but here’s what we have so far:

Pirtle Family Mission: to consciously wish for, and actively support, the health, happiness, growth, and success of each family member

In the spirit of this intention, we each endeavor to live by the following agreements:
1. We agree we each play a part in the well-functioning of the family
2. We agree to mindfully contribute to the well-functioning of the family, both emotionally and materially
3. We agree to give our full attention when communicating with one another
4. We agree to speak kindly and listen to each other without judgment or interruption
5. We agree to be honest with each other
6. We agree to acknowledge, accept, and tolerate the feelings of others
7. We agree to share our feelings openly, but in a respectful and kind way–we don’t dump or dramatize
8. We know we can ask for support, yet we each agree to be responsible for ourselves and our feelings
9. We agree to try to understand one another, and ask clarifying questions
10. In every way, we aim to be kind, cultivating empathy and compassion in all our relations

That’s it so far. Let me know what you think. I’m open for suggestions.

Also, for those of you who live in Tucson, Karen and I are going to teach a parenting workshop on Saturday, April 18th. Here’s a link to a flier for more information. To register, call: 520-981-9911. Given the positive response to the short talk we did last week, the workshop promises to be well-attended. Seats are limited. Hope to see you there.

If you don’t live in Tucson, but you’d like Karen and I to come to you, just contact us through the website. We’re eager to share simple techniques that may positively transform your family dynamics.

All the best,


Meditation Changes Everything

Meditation will change you, and eventually, change the world. I got support for this hypothesis from a dear friend, and super accomplished and successful business woman Cristina Burgess. She turned me onto this video of self-described “skeptical” journalist Dan Harris waxing philosophically about the many benefits of meditation. Watch it. It’s compelling.

Mark at 48 years oldDid you watch it? If so, now’s the time to act! Go get yourself a teacher and start learning how to meditate. Your partner, spouse, kids, family, colleagues, community, nation and the world needs you to be at your best. YOU need YOU! And don’t worry, if you need support, I’m here to help. The important thing is that you get started. Let’s do this.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Robin, it didn’t have to be this way

Were you as shocked as I was when you heard the tragic news of Robin Williams’ suicide? I just stood motionless for a time, wondering why. Of course, people are complicated. I didn’t know Robin Williams. Sure, the comedian and actor that struggled with addictions and depression, but all that’s just surface stuff. His wife and kids knew he was in pain. But not even they knew how much. One’s struggles are so deeply personal. I’m sure they were as shocked as we were, probably more so. My guess is that he hid his pain from them too, out of love.

I’m sad. My heart breaks for him and his family. It breaks for all of us collectively too. The world just lost a unique and wildly creative perspective. Few people ever see the world as idiosyncratically as he did. We need perspectives like Robin Williams.’ People like him help the rest of us open our minds a bit further. His creativity was such a gift. Not as obvious though, but way more poignant now, was that he also carried its curse. There’s a dark side to creativity.

Williams_Robin_USGov_cropI’m reminded of the famous Jack Kerouac quote, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” The burning, that’s what I want to explore. Because Robin, you were a Roman candle too. We all burn out eventually. I’m just wondering if maybe you didn’t snuff out your light too soon? I may be wrong. Again, each of our struggles is so deeply personal. But I can’t help but think it didn’t have to be this way.

I watched Wolf Blitzer interview Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN this week. Wolf astutely hit on this Jack Kerouac theme by asking Sanjay, ‘if the traits that made Williams a great comedian might also have contributed to his deep depression?’ Sanjay speculated this was so, and I agree. It’s easy to imagine how an innately strong, inborn passion could push a person’s emotional pendulum from manic to depressive and back. In fact, it’s so common that it’s almost cliche–the depressed and addicted comic, musician, artist, or writer. Sanjay went on to remark that there are no easy answers. And he’s right again. But if we’re to understand this problem better and hope to prevent the next artistic genius from killing himself, we’re going to have to make sense of the shadow side of creativity, and learn to work with it. I’ve found Jungian and Buddhist psychological to be very effective in this respect.

Secondarily, may I suggest that we start by thinking about disorders like depression and addictions more critically? Sanjay started the interview by reminding us that depression is a disease. I’m not criticizing or even contending with Dr. Gupta. The subtext of his comment was that depression is a serious condition and that it warrants serious treatment. I wholeheartedly agree. Yet, I cringe when I hear the word disease. I know, it’s my issue. But I do so because I know that words are powerful, and in this specific case, it can be misunderstood. Everyone regards cancer as a disease. But does the word disease mean the same thing when applied to depression and addictions? To anyone listening, it carries the same weight. Sure, depression and addictions meet the definition: a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person. But are we talking about the same thing?

Cancer is primarily a disease of the body. The most-effective treatments for cancer target the body. Psycho-spiritual-emotional interventions may help on the margins. But affirmations, prayer, healing touch, meditation, group therapy and the rest can’t hold a candle to the power of the latest biological and chemotherapies. Depression and addictions are different. They are primarily diseases (qualities, habits, and dispositions) of the mind and heart. Yes, they affect the body too, it’s a whole system. So brain circuits do malfunction. But these conditions are primarily diseases of meaning (thoughts of self, needs, wants, losses, threats, urges, inadequacies, injustices, etc.). For that reason, they are extremely context dependent. That is why a change in meaning can result in a change in being.

Long and short of it is lumping all these disparate conditions together under on label seems like a mistake. If we continue to call both cancer and depression diseases, then we need two categories: one for the diseases of the body, and another for diseases of the mind and heart. Treat the former with biologic and pharmaceutical interventions supported with integrative approaches for symptom management. Treat the latter primarily with integrative interventions, talk and group therapy, shadow work, and most especially meditation and mindfulness. Then, offer pharmaceuticals to manage symptom intensity. That’s what makes the most sense.

The myriad ways humans manifest repetitious patterns of suffering require us to be a little more thoughtful in our approaches to curing them. I’m going to miss Robin Williams. Had the context shifted somewhere in his past, through mind training, I believe things could have been different.

If you found this post interesting or insightful offer your comments. Please also tweet and retweet and otherwise share it within your social media networks.

Mark Pirtle


People rather shock themselves than be with their own thoughts!

I heard a rather disturbing story on the radio show Science Friday this past week. Researchers at the University of Virginia were amazed to discover that many people would rather self-administer painful shocks than sit quietly with their own thoughts for 15 minutes. This research proves to me that people just don’t know how to work with their own thoughts. I find this both sad and worrisome.

thinkingMost of us think we think. But of course, this is not true. Spend anytime watching your thoughts and you realize that thoughts arise unbidden, in a chaotic stream. Which means we don’t often consciously pick our next thought.

Thoughts that arise do so because they carry emotional relevance. We tend to think about what we like and dislike. Most of us get stuck in traps of negative thinking because of a natural negative attentional bias. I think this is the reason why people would rather shock themselves than sit with their thoughts—too much negativity.

What if you had the ability to influence whether your attention fixated on negative thinking? What if you could allow thinking, but not be the thinker? You’d be free. That’s what meditation (mind) training can do for you.iStock_000004431227Mediumcmyk

The mind (not thoughts, but pure consciousness) can focus on itself and come to know its own nature. The nature of mind is like space: quiet and empty. Thoughts are like objects in the space. If you learn to see the difference between the two, you can choose to rest in the quiet peaceful space of your mind even if you are thinking.

I’d like to ask those researchers to test meditators (not just those who know how to be “mindful”). I know from personal experience that I’d have no trouble sitting alone with my thoughts for 15 minutes, or even an hour for that matter. I’d just meditate, which I find interesting and peaceful. You can learn to meditate the same way I have. Once you do, you won’t have to resort to shocking yourself to escape your thoughts, you’ll know how find peace anytime you choose.

If you’d like to learn to meditate, check out my guided meditation program. I want you to be happy.

Wishing you well,