Chronic Pain + Mindfulness
The weather has certainly been off to a SLOW start this summer, and so have I ...
Last week I experienced a flare up of an old back injury. This was not my first rodeo with back pain, however it has never been this severe. I could not sit, stand, or walk, let alone teach yoga, without an incredible amount of pain.
So what’s a yogi to do?! I did the only thing I could do ... SLOW DOWN.
I spent two days on the floor with my guard dog in a restorative yoga position to unwind tension in my lower back (pic below). It was the only way I could find any relief. The truth is, when you can’t move around, you have a lot of time to think. After the initial furry and panic that are often associated with pain had passed, I began to tap into my mindfulness practice. I could choose to suffer, or I could choose to make friends with my body and get curious about its present experience with a compassionate heart.
Here’s a little snapshot of my internal dialogue:
What am I feeling right now in my body?
“I am in pain.”
"I am tense."
"I am tired."
What does the pain feel like?
“It feels intense and fast, like electricity.”
"It feels hot and sharp, like a knife."
"It feels familiar. I have felt this before."
What are the current qualities of my thoughts?
“I’m angry this is happening.”
“I’m anxious about missing work.”
“I’m worried that I’ll feel like this forever.”
What can I do right now?
“I can breathe.”
“I can pet my dog.”
“I can ask for help.”
So I did. I practiced a gentle breath awareness technique that we teach in almost all of our mindfulness presentations. I tapped into the strong, steady nature of my dog, Lola. I asked my husband for help sitting, standing, walking and eating. I asked my parter, Nicole, to help me find subs for our classes so we could keep our business running smoothly.
As I slowed down, my healing sped up. Within two days I was feeling better enough to walk around. I was still in pain, but at least I could move. Through mindfulness, I began to understand what made it feel worse and what made it feel better. I was able to say “Ok, back pain. What do you need today?” I began to treat my pain like like an old friend who was here for a visit (perhaps to deliver an important message?), rather than a permanent, unwelcome roommate.
Once I was finally able to walk, WOW did it feel good! I felt a surge of GRATITUDE for such a simple movement. My pace was slow, the placement of each foot was deliberate, and my attention was focused on one step at a time. I was not walking as a means to get from point A to point B. I was walking because I simply needed to get my body moving again.
Walking became a mindful movement practice. It was also a means to build up my confidence and uplift my spirit. Walking meditation is a technique we teach a lot in the summer months to our corporate clients. People often are a little confused before signing up for a Walking Meditation Program. Participants quickly learn that it’s much more than just walking; it’s a meditation technique to connect you to the present moment through mindful movement.
Any injury is an opportunity to practice mindfulness, self-compassion, and even (gasp!) gratitude. All discomfort and frustration aside, my back pain is part of my path. In fact, the reason I started learning about the therapeutic benefits of yoga was because of my first back injury. This lead me to yoga teacher training, which eventually gave me the tools I needed to stay healthy while working a very demanding corporate job. It also armed me with a knowledge base to help so many students navigate their own chronic pain.
I began to understand the value of self-care. If I was not healthy, I could not live an engaged life. I know first hand how debilitating chronic pain can be, which is why I’m so passionate about sharing the benefits of yoga and meditation with YOU.
Cultivating work/life balance was also the inspiration behind Unfold. Back when we were dreaming up names for our business, we landed on “Unfold” because it speaks to what is possible. When you feel great, you can be your best self and connect with the world around you in ways that matter to YOU. Rather than forcing and pushing your way through each day, you can allow your life to Unfold joyfully.
Thanks for reading!