Hang around on this planet long enough, and Life will eventually deal you some pain and unpleasantness. My feeling is, we get plenty of it without asking, just by showing up. We certainly don’t need to go looking for it, or inviting it in the door. If you’re a hard-core WHATEVER, my ideas here might offend you. The pursuit of extreme endurance and physical punishment is your choice — have a good time. However, it is a dangerous and completely inappropriate lifestyle for people who have real pain.
For people with chronic or persistent pain (including emotional pain), it’s reality and it’s non-stop. There is no glory in hurting, and pain adversely affects your life. You MUST liberate yourself from our senseless “No Pain, No Gain” culture that drives you to ignore your common sense, your physical sensations, and your own well-being in pursuit of a bogus promise that pain will make you better. Even if you simply have occasional aches and pains, here are seven techniques that can help you find your way out of pain — naturally.
Disclaimer. This ain’t magic. As my colleague Irene Gutteridge says, “Slow and steady wins the race. Quick fixes are man-made. Not Nature-made. Real change requires time. Not impatience.” Engage with the process, give it some time, keep an eye out for changes — and you can get out of pain.
1. Whatever you’re doing — stop.
You don’t have to stop it forever, just stop for right now. Just for a few minutes, for Pete’s sake. Stop. Really.
It’s like the old joke:
“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
“Stop doing that.”
Stop for a moment, and feel all the muscles that have snuck up on you to wind themselves into a frenzy of tension. Take a break to REST — 10 minutes, a few hours, a day — and you’ll be stronger and more comfortable when you continue.
2. Slow down.
Perhaps you can’t stop what you are doing immediately. Take a few moments to notice the rhythm of what you are doing. See what happens if you slow down. Does the movement feel more difficult, or more easy, at the slower pace? If you slow down, you can actually feel what you are doing. You might notice that you are working harder than you need to for the task. Slow down and see if you can streamline the movement with a minimum of muscular effort. You may need a few tries to “dial it down.” Taking time to slow down can make your movements more pleasurable.
3. Keep breathing.
Chances are, you’ll find you’ve been holding your breath, or just barely breathing. Notice what you are doing, before you try to change it. Pay attention to your breathing as you continue. Experiment with what works for you: does it seem to make sense, or feel better, if you inhale during the action? How does it feel to exhale during the action? You may find a way to synchronize your breathing with what you are doing so that you are immediately more comfortable. Your muscles and your brain need oxygen, in steady supply, and on a regular basis, to function well. Notice when you hold your breath, and see if you can resume your breathing, lightly and easily.
4. Think before you act.
Take a moment to consider: is this action safe? Is there an easier way? Like it or not, we are all subject to the laws of physics. Gravity can work for you, or against you. If you are lifting something (even a purse, briefcase, or diaper bag), face the object and line yourself up with it before you lift it. That means no picking up something heavy while reaching behind yourself. I see lots of people with very sore shoulders who have hurriedly tried to yank their purse out of the the back seat — an unwise action, resulting in completely preventable pain. Think, move smart, and keep yourself out of pain.
5. Respect your limits.
If you are in pain, you will not solve your pain problem by ignoring it and pushing through. I know IT SUCKS to not be able to do what you want, exactly as you want. Tough. This is reality. When you feel yourself getting tired, or knocking at the door of pain, BACK OFF. Work for shorter periods of time, and take frequent breaks so that you can rest. It’s the RESTING that helps you recover — NOT some ego-driven idea of “refusing to acknowledge defeat.”
Frequently, people with persistent pain will have a day when the terrible dull ache lifts. It’s as if the sun comes out. They actually feel GOOD. And on that day, the person will try to do everything that has been delayed, piling up, postponed. They go non-stop for several hours, shopping, gardening, doing housework, cleaning the garage, socializing. And the next day, they are worse off than before. This discouraging cycle can be stopped if you pay attention to your limits and stay within them.
6. Change your position frequently.
Human beings are not meant to be still or stuck in one position — no matter how “correct” you believe it to be. For example: Your concept of good posture, handed down from parents, teachers, or your drill sergeant, might be too rigid and too generic to work for the long haul for you. Fidget in your seat, get up and walk around, slowly and gently move your shoulders, arms and legs. Extreme stretching, or quick movements to crack yourself, will not produce the long-term solution you seek. Keep moving, just a little, to keep comfortable.
7. Learn how to move, your way, from a Feldenkrais teacher.
You can make significant progress to improve your situation by exploring these experiments on your own. However, if you need a little guidance, you can see a Feldenkrais teacher to help you learn more ways to move and live without pain. As you learn new ways of moving — or reconnect with the effortlessness you felt when you were younger — you can learn your way to a more comfortable existence.
[The preceding post is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment where advised. If your pain does not subside within a reasonable time, consult your healthcare provider.]