10 New Rules for a Body in Pain

For the last six months or so, I have been in the tilting, lumbering waltz of back pain. There was a specific point in time not so long ago as the days were getting short and my own outlook was bleakening, I realized it wasn’t about the outside world fixing the inside of me. No number of specialists on either side of the east-west divide would be able to help me end the dance of discomfort until I changed the way I was with my pain. Otherwise, I would continue aggravating the tender part of me that was trying to heal. I would have to gain the patience and presence of mind to sit with what was happening inside, and be more responsible and more responsive to my own healing message.

A Healing Hand

For any who have experienced it, sciatic pain curtails many aspects of life, almost like living locked in a room that keeps getting smaller with a wild animal that keeps getting bigger and hungrier. It gets harder and harder to imagine life without the searing limitations of pain. In my case, the intense pain would wake me from a dead sleep and then every adjustment made it worse. Then returning to sleep became harder and harder as each waking startle brought more adrenaline and cortisol to my grapple-dance. It turns out that the food the waltzing monster most wanted was sleep.

Upon waking Sunday after a night of deliciously waltz-free snoozing, I thought I would write out other rules for healing the body that I have found in the course of my six-month pain process. And finding something to be grateful for in all of this has been at the center of my healing. What is my pain telling me? Slow down. There is no rush. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.

And one of the things I happen to be able to do now is share the following rules:

1. Get up mindfully. When first waking, before immediately succumbing to habit and habitual motion, really tune in and see what this your body wants to do. How does your body want to move? Break big motions into smaller parts, so you can pay attention to where your pain begins. Listen to the message and adjust accordingly

2. Eat toward health. Starting with your first meal, eat foods that will assist you in healing. Specifically in my case, collagen-rich broth for bone/tendon/muscle health, lots of greens and protein for repair. (Look for a future post here soon focusing on eating for healing…)

3. Remember you are healing. Remind yourself that you are healing. As often during the day as you’d like but especially when pain is overwhelming or you feel yourself slipping into despair, give yourself permission to heal. This most recent frustration or burst of pain is not you, it is a temporary condition. “I am healing,” also reinforces consciously what this your body is trying to do on a second-by-second basis, or rather is already doing.

4. Love your pain. This is not the same as being a masochist. This is about respecting and getting to know your pain. As long as we resist pain, it will stick around like a house guest with nowhere else to go. So, don’t pretend the guest isn’t there sitting on your couch, and don’t offend your guest with an obscene gesture or a slap to the face. Get to know the guest and find out what the pain wants. (Pain wants to move on, too, usually.) Keep a pain journal. Keep track of what aggravates it and when you feel best. You could even develop your own rules for healing, so you and your guest can both get on with the lives you want.

5. Visualize what you want to be doing. When you hit a wall and can’t do something that gives you joy or that you are used to doing every day, close your eyes and take a second to see yourself doing that thing. Biking, hiking, playing tennis, skiing, walking the dog, or just sitting in your favorite chair for half an hour pain-free by a warm crackling fire. The more vivid and specific the image, the more effective it is in supporting your healing toward its realization. As an added bonus, the more you flex your visualization muscles, the clearer and more potent they become, moving you toward your intention.

6. Don’t make yourself wrong. It is very easy to slip into this trap, I know. A vicious cycle of self-blame, heaping on the epithets, born of frustration or remorse (Why didn’t I listen to my body then? Instead I just kept on moving those boxes…) If you saw a friend beating themselves up for not being able to do something, you might say, “It’s not always going to be this way,” or “It’s going to be okay.” So, hey, be a friend to yourself.

7. Stretch throughout the day. Remind this your body of its full range of motion. Breathe into the parts that get neglected first. Breathe deeply as you gently stretch, and fully oxygenate the body. Building this in as a habit can also guard against future injury.

8. Educate yourself on the healing process. Every day, spend a few minutes taking in information. Talk to someone who has had this experience and is on the other side of pain. Look up a book on healing at the library. Sweep for blogs. Search the medical databases. Educating yourself can also help you visualize more specifically, and you will be able to hone your visualization mojo to support what needs to happen inside.

9. Visualize your healing. This is about getting clear on tissues and systems, finding a way to understand the shape and process of your healing. And you know the gist of what comes next; the more you can see clearly and the clearer you see it, the more this your body will move in that direction.

10. Call a buddy. The healing power of being in loving company goes beyond words. Don’t hurt alone. Some downtime of course is necessary, and pain’s natural effect is to get us to slow down, hunker, isolate. At some point, though, we need to reach out and start saying yes to the get-together. You can be selective, too. Honor your heart’s choice. What makes the hea feel better steps you toward healing to your fullest and happiest future. Heal on!

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