How To Master Pain

Okay, I’m BSing you. Forearm stands aren’t painful. 

They used to terrify me, however. Going upside down would make my brain shut down. I’d be asked to do a forearm stand in yoga class; I’d make a sort of wounded-penguin attempt at flipping my legs up, then huddle in child’s pose for the rest of the class.

Then one day I paused. For thirty seconds, I visualized myself doing a perfect forearm stand. Then I tried again. 

It was easy.

Lately, I’ve been tackling something way harder than forearm stands–fear, anxiety, and pain. When I notice myself doing things like surfing social media for hours, reaching for sugar, carbs and alcohol, finding ANYTHING to do except the next thing on my task list, that’s a red flag. I’m suppressing feelings that I don’t like having.

The remedy is this: Stop, sit, and feel the feelings. 

As soon as I bring my attention to that panic, shame, discomfort, and notice it without judging, avoiding, or trying to ‘fix’ anything, the feelings start to shift. The knot in my gut moves to an iron band around my head, which flows into constriction in my sinuses, a panicked clench in my throat. More rapidly than I think possible, they melt.

After maybe ten minute of this, thing are really different. I’m no longer craving a cookie or a Facebook binge. I’m ready to tackle the Big Scary Thing. 

Because the way out of negative feelings is through them.

There is reason to suspect that this applies, in some ways, to chronic pain as well. Research has indicated that taking painkillers in the early stages of recovery from injury may correlate with the development of chronic pain syndrome later on. It’s as though the brain has to experience the injury in order to recover from it.

So I’ve started bringing mindfulness to my massage clients, as an experiment. When we hit a problem spot, I encourage you to be with your sensations, as far as possible, without judging, avoiding or trying to change them. Preliminary results indicate that pain starts to melt then, too.

Let’s see what happens. 

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