Can you acknowledge the parts of your body that don’t hurt?
Can you give them some love, honour them for what they do for you every day?
We’ve all had pain at some point. There is a huge range of definitions and experiences of what that word means, though, and nobody can truly understand what someone else’s experience of pain feel like.
If you have the occasional headache, maybe had your appendix out or had a baby, you have an episodic relationship with pain. It hurt at the time and that is not to be dismissed, but it doesn’t affect the way you relate to your body and all of its separate parts.
If you have chronic pain it’s a whole different story.
I used to deal with chronic pain. It was what brought me to Pilates, and finding a safe, regular kind of movement was a game changer for me. If I had known about Restorative Exercise then I would have done that, too. This is how I ended up here, teaching and sharing my love of moving.
I have a client who has suffered with way more stuff than me. She is funny and cheerful and loving and gracious. She is an inspiration to me. We have an understanding that when she says something doesn’t hurt I have to be really clear about what we both mean because she is used to everything hurting! Things are getting better, though, and she doesn’t hurt as much or as often as she used to. We were working on something the other day, and I asked her to move her body in a particular shape and it became apparent that she wasn’t relating to parts of her body. Not because they did hurt, but because they DIDN’T!
And that got me thinking…
Your brain and your nervous system get together and bring your attention to the parts that need it, that feel pain. You spend a lot of time with those parts: thinking about them, measuring how they feel, how to make them hurt less, organising the way you move or the way you live your life to minimize the pain. That takes up a lot of mental and emotional space! Your life and safety don’t depend on the parts that don’t hurt, so there isn’t a mechanism for keeping track of them in the same way. My client didn’t feel that her leg was really hers, because it didn’t hurt and so didn’t fit her brain’s template of “important things to pay attention to”.
But it IS her leg! And it was working, doing its job and not hurting!
It’s hard to do, I know! We can get pulled pretty far into that dark place where it feels like EVERYTHING HURTS! It is scary and infuriating, and pain can take over your day, take over your life and affect your whole world. Pain can become so ever-present that you don’t even report it anymore. When someone asks “How are you feeling?” your answer might be “Not bad” and you might actually mean it, because you can’t go through life acknowledging a 9/10 pain every day. So your system stops accurately reporting how you feel. It is a very effective survival strategy, and it helps you get through. But it doesn’t leave you space for the little bits that can shine.
Feeling ownership of a part of your body that isn’t failing you is incredibly powerful.
Take a moment right now, and scan your body. Scan for a peaceful spot, a place that is quiet and pay attention to it. Picture it in your mind’s eye or open your eyes and look at it. Feel it with your hands, stroke it with your fingers. It could be as little as your ear lobe! But some part of you is probably ok. If you like the idea of meditation, make this a meditation on body love.
Movement can have a similar effect.
I have another awesome client who I love dearly who experiences pain on a daily basis. When she comes in, I ask her how she’s feeling, and she gives me a report. And if it’s a bad day, I ask her what doesn’t hurt. And we start there. One day, the only things that didn’t hurt were her elbows and forearms. So we started there! We did forearm rotations and elbow flexion and extension. Then we used the Yoga Tune Up balls to massage the skin on her forearms and hands. Then we were able to move down to her fingers and up to her shoulders. Then to her back and neck. We kept increasing her circulation and finding a little bit of movement and release, expanding from our starting point like ripples. The goal was to never make it hurt, only to allow the parts that could move to encourage their neighbours to come out into the light and play.
Can you find a movement that doesn’t hurt? It doesn’t matter how big or small the movement is, but finding something that doesn’t hurt is a step to finding ways to inhabit yourself and retrieve a connection to the bigger world.
Your body ( and the brain and nervous system included with it) is an amazing, endlessly plastic and changeable thing. Not easily changeable and some paths can only go to one ending place. But your experience of the path can be changed. Please understand that I am not belittling pain and suggesting that it is your fault you have it, or that thinking about your little finger is going to change the trajectory of your whole situation. But if you can maintain a connection to your whole body instead of only the parts that suffer, you may find a lightness in that.
I am lucky. I have always been a ridiculously optimistic person, and I love living in a human body, even when it was temporarily on strike. I didn’t know that wasn’t universal until I started talking to others who dealt with chronic illness and pain. I know now, because some amazing humans have shared their experiences and opened my eyes, that for some people living in a body is a strange, foreign, odd experience. If that describes your relationship with your human vessel, would you try the experiment? Find one little part of you and see if you can love it. Allow it to be embodied. Really embodied. Give that little part of you the chance to live in connection with your skin, your sense of touch, your internal picture of yourself and with your environment. I can tell you that you may hate this experiment… there is absolutely NO right or wrong about this process. There is no pass/ fail here! Your body, your pain and your relationship to it are yours and yours alone. Nobody has the right to tell you it’s all in your head (cause hey, your head contains your brain and the processing centre for your whole body so what goes on in there is intricately connected to your entire biological being!), that you can or can’t change it, that it will or won’t last. I am absolutely NOT trying to be the boss of you!
What someone else *might* be able to do for you is provide you a mirror from the outside to reflect your powerful self and give you permission to move a bit, to explore the boundaries of your pain without surpassing them. To identify where the anticipation of pain is overloading the system and can be calmed down to de-sensitize an area and allow for a greater range of motion and a building of strength and function. I love working with clients who live with pain and finding those places that can work well, that engender hope and the possibility of freedom, of hearing that they feel better when they leave than when they arrived. That doesn’t have much to do with me- it is all about them and how brave and amazing they are for finding the path that leads to a lessening of their pain and an increase in their sense of self-confidence and control over their experience.
If you live with chronic pain, please know that in some circumstances there are strategies for change. Please know that I hear your frustration and your fear and that I support your right to feel like shit! Know, too, that I support your right to find the best approach for you, the best body work for you, the best movement for you. It’s different for everyone and I hope you find your path!