Humans shun pain. The pang of a stubbed toe, the agony of losing a childhood friend, the ache of a wrenched knee or twisted ankle, back spasms after a day raking leaves, or the pain of embarrassment when stammering in front of a crowd. From the first throbbing of labor contractions, pain is an inevitable part of the human experience.
As a survival mechanism, our brains unconsciously create patterns of behavior to avoid pain. You don’t have to think about how to avoid putting weight on a sprained ankle. Your body (brain, actually) automatically transfers the weight through different muscles so you feel less pain. Long after an injury heals, echoes of these compensation patterns often remain. Likewise, when we experience emotional pain, our brains create patterns, usually of anger, blame, or denial, to relieve us of the discomfort. The more unconscious the compensation, the more likely it is to persist.
When pain is present, the natural reaction is to try not to feel it. Usually we do this by holding our breath and limiting movement. Feelings are e-motions or energy in motion. Stopping motion is one way to stop feeling. When used for this purpose, consciously or not, not moving is also a great way to get stuck.
We must move through pain to get unstuck. It’s good advice to breathe when stressed, but often breathing isn’t enough to get to the other side. Breath is only the beginning of movement. Here’s another option.
Take a moment to feel your pain; don’t push it away. What shape does your body want to take when you feel? Emphasize that shape with small, slow movements while breathing and feeling. That doesn’t mean to create injury in your body. If you have a back spasm or a sprained ankle or a wrenched neck, you don’t want to make it worse, but you can explore the edges of the pain for the length of a breath. Then come back to a neutral shape, either seated, standing, or lying down and breathe and feel. Go back and forth—undulate—between the positions of where your pain is felt and the positions of neutrality.
By putting energy in motion, your body’s wisdom will uncover the underpinnings of pain so you can move past it. Pain is part of life, so is growing from the experience. It’s what we do with pain that makes us remarkable.