What gets us off our asses more than anything?
Let’s face it, guys – we don’t tend to orient towards prevention or listening to the small signals. We’re brought up to not fear or feel pain. We’re told to push through the pain — no pain, no gain.
As a tense and rigid man running an integrative medical clinic, I became a pain expert. Yet my experience as a Rolfer showed me that pain is very subjective.
Some of my clients were physiatrists (physical medicine doctors) specializing in soft tissue pain, the most elusive physical pain. They were the first to admit that they could see five men from the same car accident and one man would experience no pain while another was in severe and constant pain.
I could see all five men for Rolfing sessions. Inevitably, the man with no pain would have a relaxed body. The man in intense pain would be hyper-tense – a light touch would make him jump. I learned that the man who was in pain was constantly stressed out, code for uptight.
Beyond repetitive motion injuries caused by a misaligned structure or movement patterns or a specific injury, most physical pain comes from stress. When we cannot fully experience a situation on a physical and emotional level, we will store the trauma or stress in our fascia, the connective tissue that holds us together.
Hans Styles, MD wrote Stress of Life decades ago in which he called fascia the organ of stress. Out of necessity or habituation, when we go into the freeze response (the autonomic nervous system response when we cannot fight or flee), the energy of the fight or flee response is still in us but not being acted upon. Without action, there is no release. Without a release, that energy builds tension in our fascial system.
We feel this acutely. When you have a stressful encounter, your shoulders may tense. After years of stressful encounters, you end up with a tight body stuck in its version of a freeze response and disconnected from somatic and emotional awareness.
That stressed-out body’s lack of resiliency is the consequence of surviving pain and injury. The pressure of gentle touch can produce pain from feeling the tension that is not usually felt. A little pressure brings awareness to the area. You immediately feel what you have not been feeling and it does not feel good. Be it physical or emotional, often the first sensation we have when awareness is brought to an area that was disconnected is the pain we avoided feeling.
In that moment, you have a choice. Do you resist? Do you try to do what you are conditioned to do — fight the pain or disassociate from it? Or do you breathe and surrender to the pain allowing it to hurt more for one moment? If you allow the body to accept and feel, you are set up to release a small bit of that chronic tension and pain.
The more you release, the more resilient and relaxed you become. Pain goes from something you avoid to a guide to release past tension and stress. Moving out of an old emotional pain pattern works the same way. You are slowing and dropping down to feel what was not felt and then speaking what you feel as you feel it.
What is your relationship to pain? Do you deny, run from, or become a victim of it? Or do you let pain guide you to learn about your body, emotions, and relationships? Do you turn pain from your enemy into your teacher?
What is your relationship to your physical, emotional, and relational pain? Not just how you see it, but how you feel it. What do you do with it?
Pick a situation — a current one is best — where the pain takes you out. How are you avoiding dealing with it head-on? Get honest and vulnerable; what is behind that pain? What is not wanting to be felt, spoken, or acted upon?
What are the emotions associated with the pain? In other words, if you exchanged the pain for the experience of what is denied, what would you experience?
Another way to look at it is what do you medicate with your habits or addictions? What are you avoiding feeling and releasing?
What is the pain you have, and what is it covering up?