The lessons of pain.

We’ve all suffered from pain. Sweet pain, sour pain. It arises as an alert; we’re meant to pay attention and change our behavior. Usually, once we do, it passes as we heal. Sometimes, for many, it doesn’t. And for far too many these days, management of chronic pain becomes chronic use of medication, traumatic surgeries, a bit of rehabilitation and a lifestyle that limits movement to limit compounded pain.

And yet the pain persists.

We’ve known for a while, as humans, that pain is more than a physical response. Two thousand years ago, Roman philosopher Seneca wrote ‘Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; … in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.’ Unfortunately, our doctors sometimes forget to have this conversation with us. For a few hundred years, our culture has relegated the pain experience to something disconnected with emotion and behavior.

Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; … in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.

Seneca

Thankfully, old knowings are finding their way back to credibility as science finds its way to proof. Any consideration of pain from a purely physical perspective misses the very important contributions of our emotions, thoughts and beliefs about pain as well as our cultural and contextual relationship with these psychological factors. In other words, pain includes a bunch of stuff that pills and surgery won’t actually address.

Which means medication and other biomedical approaches in isolation are an insufficient response to the presence of pain. We can do better.

We can work together.

The tools of yoga therapy– including gentle and appropriate movement, breathing practices, intention-setting, visualization and meditation– are effective methods for establishing a relationship with chronic pain. Chronic pain is like an alarm system that doesn’t shut off. The system itself isn’t faulty, just not working properly. We sometimes think that we are only reactive beings, constantly bouncing off one impulse toward another. The truth is, we are highly responsive. And every impulse offers an opportunity to turn toward the experience instead of bouncing away from it. To do so requires practice and patience.

We have the means to communicate directly with our own nervous system. Breathing practices provide a lovely, peaceful and efficient route to establish this connection. Cognitive reframing, or the yogic art of pratipaksha bhavanam, is another effective means of changing perspective to establish a response that nurtures our well-being. Likewise, developing careful and simple, pain-free movement sequences to develop strength and range of motion will help to rewire the patterns of physical and emotional tension that prompt the persistent alarm. As the urgency decreases and silence grows, we discover our resilience.

If you’re ready to learn more about yourself and to discover creative, effective, nurturing responses to your pain, please reach out. Let’s see what we can learn together. Likewise, if you’re a medical professional ready to collaborate, please send a note. I’m always honored to share. Let’s work together.

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