Is pain a habit?
If you expect pain, then you will find pain, even when the source of the pain is gone.
This is a lesson I’ve discovered in the past month. 29 days ago I committed to doing yoga every day, I’ve kept my commitment to myself, this is the first time I actually manage to keep a commitment like that.
Being a beginner in yoga, or a beginner in anything in general, brings us face to face with our own limitations. We see the masters and their prowess, and find ourselves so incredibly far away from that. I’ve gone through a month of seeing how stiff my body has become, how I’ve lost the ability to do things that before were easy, how I have small injuries I wasn’t aware of.
I knew I had lower back pain, and I knew I had a painful shoulder, but I wasn’t aware of just how deep the injuries were, nor how painful. It is like I’ve been living in a state of numb stiffness, the more it hurts the more it gets numb and stiff. Muscles around an injury get stiff to prevent further injury, stiff muscles bock blood flow, and so we feel less pain. Over time it is easy to ignore the pain. Following a serious daily practice of yoga is forcing me to face these injuries, to feel them as I release the muscles and blood flows again.
I’ve managed to gain more movement in my neck. I can now look back over my shoulder without pain. However, when I am not thinking about it, I find myself being careful to look back and expecting the pain to come, tensing the muscles to avoid feeling it. It is a habit, I had the pain for a couple of years. My brain expects the pain, and sometimes it comes back although I feel the muscles much softer than before. Still room for improvement, but they are considerably better.
Chronic pain is not only in the body, it is also in the brain. It’s been proven in extreme cases where limbs have been amputated, and yet the patient still feels the pain caused by the limb that is no longer there. To get rid of chronic pain you have to teach your brain that such and such movement do not cause pain anymore. It takes a lot of conscious slow movement and breathing, repetition, and relaxing whenever you involuntarily crunch up again.
All things physical translate to spiritual and emotional states. When we expect emotional pain we will find it, inevitably. Just like training the body, we must also train our minds to find healthy patterns of thought and emotion. I realise that as I am feeling stuck and stiff in my body it is because I am feeling stuck and stiff in my emotions. I’ve numbed myself down, to avoid feeling. Through my body I am accessing all those self defeating thoughts and emotions that hold me back from my spiritual purposes.
I’m celebrating my achievements, still a long way to go with my lower back pain, but at least now I can turn my head with more ease. I’m happy and grateful.