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Posts Tagged ‘pain’

PostHeaderIcon What Pain Has Taught Me

I was able to move through my childhood unscathed. Maybe a scratch or bruise here and there, shin splints or a pulled groin muscle that healed eventually. There was that minor concussion after full contact sparring when I used to do kung fu. Actually, maybe I did get injured more than I thought I did but when we’re young, you bounce back and tend to forget. Then we get our first chronic injury, the one that keeps coming back to haunt us. That happened the first time I hurt my lower back. I didn’t even know why or how it happened. These days, I have a good idea but I had to experience chronic pain before I could understand some of the underlying causes that we often overlook. I was barely 21 or 22 when the chronic back pain started and I remember thinking that I had finally gotten old and that it might be down hill from then on. At the age of 22, I thought that I had reached old age. These days, I see teenagers who look like they had already reached the end of their lives, backs hunched over from texting and video games and I now know that injuries have nothing to do with age. It could happen anytime to anyone.

The first thing I learned about injuries and pain is that it doesn’t have to be caused by specific trauma like a car accident. The pain can just start unbeknownst to us. We have no idea where it came from or why its there. It could have been caused by mental or emotional stress, a lack of sleep or recovery, overuse; or it may have been there for months but we were too pent up on adrenaline, caffeine or pain killers to notice. Then one day, we can’t hide from it anymore and the pain makes itself known.

My back pain recurred many times in my life, before I made the choice to commit myself to fitness and keep my core healthy for good. It came back again after I worked in an office. Maybe it was sitting in a chair all day that did it. The lower back would get so swollen and I would need to see a therapist or chiropractor but I had no idea why it would become inflamed and lock up on me. It occurred again after giving birth to  my son and that was the worst because it actually took me a few years to recover from that. The pain went away in a few months but my back would still bother me if I sat for too long or witness most forms of stressed. Training myself to be strong and athletic again, despite my weak link was an experimental journey that involved fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of being too weak, fear of resting it and not making it stronger, fear that making it stronger would be too much and finally the faith that came with believing that it will get better. I also hurt my knees and that took about a year or more to recover. This happened when I was teaching over 30 classes a week. My knees became worn down and I finally stopped teaching Zumba.

So I know what its like to be teetering on the edge of wanting to do something and wanting to not do something about our pain. We don’t know when we should be resting or when we should be building. Some people heal up after finally finding the right regimen, some never do and just accept their chronic pain. Some of us rest too much and allow ourselves to atrophy, others pound away at the injury, doing everything they can to strengthen their bodies when they should have just rested that area all along. We all heal at different levels and, unfortunately all the technology we have can’t always detect exactly what we should be doing. A lot of times it has more to do with how we stand, sit, sleep, think and eat.

Despite all the suffering I felt, I have to admit that being injured is one of the best things that has happened to me (knock on wood). I’m grateful because it taught me mindfulness. It made me realize that healing is not as easy as some people make it out to be. I also learned that healing modalities such as yoga, tai chi, pilates etc. may work or may worsen an injury and you have to figure out what is best for you. It also made me realize the true meaning of mind body. It isn’t taking a power yoga class because you want to look like a hot, new age chick in a bikini. The initiation of yoga and pilates into conventional gyms have changed the original mind body approach of these modalities. Yoga is meditation. It’s learning the body’s limits and strengths. We breath and move with awareness so we can learn what works and what doesn’t. Bringing conscious awareness into how we move helps us understand ourselves. It helps us to gauge if we are doing too much or too little, if our soreness is healthy or a sign that we are doing something incorrectly or abusively. This kind of awareness is priceless.

Injuries have taught me to be deeper, to make my work outs an internal art, to meditate, to incorporate mindfulness, mental illumination and emotional reflection into my healthy lifestyle. I have learned to consciously engage smaller muscles that I never knew were there before. My search for a pain free life has opened me up to many ways of thinking and moving and has empowered me to share with others. No one’s body is the same. We all have different sized limbs and muscles but the more we understand, the more empowered we become.

Pain has taught me that I’m not immortal and has driven in me the lesson that I am no better than anyone else. This, I believe, is a good thing because it is the ego that creates judgment, hostility, dictatorships and oppressiveness. Pain has taught me compassion and empathy and these traits are the heart of love.

If you find yourself having to deal with pain, please read my post on the steps you should take in case of an injury:

What To Do In Case of an Injury

Do understand that there is no one panacea for pain. The best advice I can give in our quest for a cure is to be mindful. Pain is just a loud message your brain is sending you that something is not right. It may take you a while to understand the message but the search for an answer will help you in all aspects of your life. The pain may be a call to solve a problem you have been ignoring for far too long. Often, its a bad relationship, job or situation. Sometimes its just the way we have been treating body. Pay attention.  It may be a call to learn more about your body and mind so you can live a fuller or deeper life. Humble yourself and listen.

Here I am with my son turning 40 years old, and feeling less pain now than I did when I was in my 20s.

 

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PostHeaderIcon Be Kind, For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle.

Today, I took a yoga class with Chaz Russ and burst into tears in happy frog pose… again. The first time this happened, I was taking a hip opening class with Vinnie Marino at the Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival.

The trauma I hold in my hips, thighs and lower back stem from abuse, fear, poverty, anger and athletic injuries in the past. Some of these issues go back years and are invisible to me until I focus all my attention on those areas. When I indulge in my own practice, and experience my own pain, I become more compassionate towards everyone else living in this world who ever had to suffer. I become so grateful that I found the yoga path and that I share the same room with people who are going through the same thing. Years ago, I thought I was alone.

There is a famous quote that has been attributed to Plato and John Watson (aka, Ian MacLaren) that goes: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

This quote is my mantra of teaching. It is also the hardest part of teaching. I know that people come to class expecting to suffer. I know how hard it is to have a body that might have been neglected or traumatized by injuries, aging or disease. The courage that it takes to focus on something that most people choose to ignore is immense. When we challenge ourselves with any fitness regimen, we have to face our greatest weaknesses. We have to fight the demons and the shadows that put us down because we aren’t as energetic as athletes, or strong as superheroes or beautiful as supermodels.

When I say, “isn’t this fun?” while teaching a class. It’s a bit of a Zen koan. I am poking light at our suffering. After all, I wouldn’t want to make things worse. Also, I’m sending you a subliminal message that will hopefully make you want to come back. Yes, I know it’s not always fun but if I can shift your awareness for a moment by saying this, sometimes your grimace turns into a smile and when this happens, it makes my day. I think there is a reason why the pose that makes me cry is called “happy” frog. These funny names are chosen to make light of our struggles. Even though we have to face ourselves and our suffering, we don’t necessarily have to dwell on them.

A woman once told me that she was cycling up a mountain and really struggling to get to the top. She said that when she reached the peak, she heard my voice in her head saying “wasn’t that fun?” I was so pleasantly amused by this story. I am happy that she heard me say this over anything negative.

That being said, I still understand that we are all fighting our own battles, whether mental or physical, outward or inward, in public or in private. When you come to me with your questions and ask me about the trauma you experience in your body, I am grateful because it makes me realize that I am not alone in dealing with my own trauma.

Ian MacLaran expressed this state of compassion well when he said:

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.

I shall put my heart on my sleave share an excerpt from my diary. This was written a couple of years ago, after experiencing a huge crying fit during Vinnie Marino’s hip opening class:

He had us sit with one leg bent back and the other straight to the side and we had to fold into the center.  I don’t know why it hurt so much.  Probably ’cause I actually hurt myself a while ago, long story.  I found myself adjusting myself a lot and then it happened.  This uncontrollable sobbing just spewed from me.  It wasn’t sorrowful.  I hadn’t just dealt with loss.  I honestly can’t say what it was that made me cry but I cried and cried and continued with the class.  I’ve cried before in yoga. I cried once during shavassana after doing a heart opening workshop.  But this was half way through an hour and a half class, and the funny thing was, I couldn’t stop crying.  I was in a class of a hundred, in a huge tent overlooking the mountains.  Everyone was in their own world on their mat.  I didn’t stop crying until the end of class.

The teacher just gave us the poses and let us experience them.  He played very specific folky music with very significant lyrics.  Almost as if the songs were guiding us through.  I remember lyrics that dealt with letting go, with being okay with who we are.  One song said, “I know you’re in love.  I can see it in you.”  He didn’t have to explain anything.  The crying didn’t stop and I was okay with it.  I was breathing deeper than I ever did in my life as I struggled through the poses, yet I wasn’t struggling.  I was letting go of something that had wanted to be released for a long time. I once wrote in a blog that we are in love with everyone we have ever been and change is hard even if we are changing for the better, but its okay.  We’ll change when we’re ready.  I would deepen my poses, then ease off, then deepen them.  I kept breathing and experiencing everything and I felt that nothing else mattered than that moment and the crying was ecstatic almost.  I couldn’t be happier.

At some point, the teacher made us do happy frog and Danny started sobbing too.  I don’t know if it was because I was.  At the end of the class, I learned that other people had cried and Danny also didn’t know why he cried.  It just happened.  This was one of the most profound yoga experiences I ever had because it was completely out of my intellect.  It was pure acceptance and experiencing.  The only thoughts that went through my head was that I’m okay and that everyone is okay.  It was complete non-judgment and I loved everyone in that moment and it was okay if they were ready or not ready and it was good enough if they tried and I thought of my friends who were struggling with one issue or another and I thought, “they’re okay.”  No one was at fault for anything.  I also thought that we could all put our energy towards self destruction or doing things that would lead to growth, like yoga.  I felt cleansed after that.  That was the true beginning of my vacation, a real shift from my everyday tasks.