The Pain of Pain

Comments Off on The Pain of Pain Written on August 8th, 2012 by
Categories: General

Pain Sucks. I know some say they like it. These folks might enjoy finishing a marathon or getting something pierced, but absolutely nobody gets all excited about elbow tendonitis. Why? Because those other types of pains are temporary and a result of something we do like. We create them and we can stop them. Hurt from injury is difficult not only because of the pain itself, but because of the frustration and hopelessness that accompanies it. Will this thing ever go away? Why does it seem to go away and then keep coming back? Is this how life is going to be from now on? Pain leads us to feel victimized and powerless. It makes us feel old, and we find ourselves saying dramatic things like, “This is the beginning of the end! Now begins the slow slog to Death.”

Some injuries occur in an instant and turn our lives upside down, and some bubble up slowly, from some misalignment or overuse. However the damage happens, it usually leaves us a little flummoxed wondering, “Why this? Why now?”   In the beginning of the injury cycle, most of us can learn to accept what has happened. We realize we have to be careful and make some room for this inconvenience in our lives. We might need physical therapy, a brace, possible surgery, or a life style change. Some don’t want to make any accommodations for their injury, but ignoring it completely is hardly ever a useful strategy. However, rarely does the hurt disappear immediately as a result of our efforts. Then the frustration starts, “But I’m doing everything I can for this damn thing, why won’t it heal already?!!” This part of the process is when everything starts to suck and the actual work begins. It is at this point that we learn real patience, understanding that we aren’t in control, and our own physical and emotional patterns that are helping or hurting us.

I’ll be honest here. Yoga has probably caused me as much hurt as it has healed. Logically, one might ask why I would be such a glutton for punishment. I keep doing it because every injury has taught me more. I used to have an aggressive yoga practice, and I didn’t understand my body well. Over the years, patterns started to manifest which caused me issues. I could have blamed my teachers or the practice or myself for not listening, but I only knew what I knew when I knew it. How could I know what I was doing wrong unless my body stopped me? Every bit of harm has lead to another epiphany. Only now do I know when my body is truly ready to do a pose and when it is not regardless of what anyone else says. I am truly grateful for each bit of knowledge that makes more sense out of this incredible puzzle that is our physical being.

However, describing what you have learned from pain is a very different experience from being in pain right now. You don’t get excited about what you are going to learn as you throw back another painkiller because you just can’t take it anymore. When I have asked my yoga teachers about what to do in that moment, the moment when you are really hurting, the answers are never quite satisfying. Some say one should just learn acceptance and simply let the pain in. This however, feels dangerously close to resignation, just learning to live with it. Plus real constant pain is an incredibly powerful distraction. Most of us don’t have the power to have pain and live a normal life too. Others will tell you to keep trying different things until something works. This attitude can lead to incessant futzing and thinking of your injury as a problem that can be solved by just trying hard enough. This can lead to a emotional face off with your injury and built up anger. So what to do?

The ideal of course is to find acceptance while still working on different things to heal it. You put in the work without any attachment to the fruits of your labor. Hah!  Usually, you just remain stuck for a while. The pain comes and goes, and you wax and wane between acceptance and activity. This period can last a week or a year. What I can say from experience is not to speak to your body like it is alien to you. If you treat your wounded part like a frightened child rather than like a backstabbing bitch, it’s easier to be kinder to it. You can’t drag your body kicking and screaming back to health; you have to coax it there. Even the language you use to describe your injury matters. I know it sounds crazy, but if you allow resentment to creep in to your voice, it will hear you and punish you for it. Pain is not a simple stimulus/response mechanism. Your emotions and stress have everything to do with how much pain you feel and how fast you heal. Your patterns of thought around physical pain are usually reflected in other area of life as well.

For many of us, our doctors often just tell us to take a pain killer. You don’t want to numb it unless it is truly making you not function, then do what is necessary. The key is to keep listening to it. The pain is a guide and sooner or later your body will tell you how this happened, “Hey buddy, you let the inner thighs slack off for about ten years. Maybe they could help us out a bit with this knee here?” or “Do you realize every time Joe calls you get a pain in the right side of your neck?”

Very few people get through life without pain of any sort. It is part of being human. And yet when it actually occurs, we are always caught by surprise. But pain is not senseless, and almost always has the capacity to soften us instead of harden us if we give it the chance. Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is a choice. And I know, I hate when someone says that too.

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