Approaching Pain

Pain. Something our bodies and minds utilize to signal to us that something needs attention. My usual reaction to pain, to discomfort, has included hyper-focusing on what hurts, and then running from that pain, numbing it, whether it be through restricting food, exercising to create a new physical pain to focus on, etc.

Something I have been challenged to do many times, especially in my vinyasa practice, is to notice discomfort and pain and allow it. Notice it and let it be; let it teach me. How terrifying is that? To feel pain and to continue to feel that pain?

The thing is, running from these sensations that we hate, it doesn’t really get rid of them. Instead, they grow. A stretch hurts, we avoid it, the muscles continue to tighten, and it hurts, even more, the next time we stretch. For a long time, I would feel emotions that I couldn’t handle. I felt less than, I felt like I wasn’t enough, and so I fell into compulsive planning, my eating disorder, needing some kind of constant movement to avoid these feelings. These feelings grew. They didn’t go away because I avoided them; they grew and grew until I reached a breaking point.

I’ve never known how to deal with pain head-on. My favorite coping skills have always included distraction, avoiding, etc. My favorite joke is that, instead of Team USA for skating, I really should be on Team USA for avoidance.

In a recent yoga class, we were holding Warrior B, our front heel elevated off the mat. The instructor invited us to get 4 inches lower into the lunge. All I could think was, “This hurts, this hurts, this hurts,” and part of me just wanted to stop. To give in. And suddenly, without consciously deciding to, I breathed into the pain and found myself asking, “What is this pain telling me? What is this saying?” And somehow, by asking that question, I got lower. I held on. The pain felt a little more bearable, and instead of viewing my shaking legs and burning arms as this thing I needed to end and counting the breaths until we could come out of the pose, I felt grounded in the discomfort. This pain gave me something to hold onto, it grew into a mantra of “I am here, I am fighting, I am capable,” allowing me to find some sense of peace.

My ways of dealing with discomfort have changed vastly over the years, and this change has happened very slowly. There are still many things that I tend to avoid and need to figure out how to best approach. I’m now beginning to think that curiosity towards these negative feelings is helpful. Pain, physical and emotional, is a message to us. It can be a message that we need to rest, to vent, to move, to let go of something.

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