Everyone’s experience of pain is unique. Generally, people don’t like to talk about their pain. Stories of hurting are often kept silent. The silence is so deep that we often don’t even like to think about our own experiences of pain.
How can we break the cycle of pain that ebbs and flows between our body and mind? How can we find ease in our bodies and minds when the discomfort feels unbearable? How can we begin to find relief naturally as to limit the harmful effects of many medications? I ruminate about these questions daily, but the answers are certainly longer than I can cover in a short blog post. I will attempt to scratch the surface.
Before I begin, please know that I do not claim to be an expert on pain. Pain is an extensive topic that requires in-depth study, and perhaps a lifetime of commitment, to develop a comprehensive understanding. I also sincerely recognize that my experience of pain is not chronic or extreme, and that for many people, their picture of pain is much different. I will simply share my experience and perspective on pain; as a woman, mother, massage therapist, feminist, trained counselor, and yoga teacher. I will then offer some simple natural solutions that have helped me heal over the years.
I will begin with my stories of pain and discomfort, as an offering, and to open up this difficult conversation. To the best of my recollection, here is a brief outline of my experiences of pain over the years. There are also some stories too personal and painful to share here, but this will give you a sense of my history.
-The earliest I remember, is the painful separation of my parents. They were divorced when I was 4.
-When I was a young child, I had numerous, throbbing, burning, nearly deafening ear infections.
-In my teens, I injured my neck during Nordic skiing and could not turn my head for several days. I remember the lack of feeling in my hands, and how scary it was to not feel in control of my body.
-In my late teens and early 20’s, I struggled with intense emotional pain. I was most definitely depressed on some level for many years.
-In my late 20’s/early 30’s, I had terrible stomach issues, that left me cramped over in pain for several hours at a time with little relief.
-In my 30’s, I experienced the pain of childbirth. And grief. So much loss and grief.
-In 2017, at age 41, I birthed my 3rd child at home which was amazing, exhausting, painful, beautiful, incredibly empowering, and humbling, all at the same time.
With a bit more detail, I will share my story from today. This is the beginning of my 42nd year of life. I rolled out of bed this morning in stealth, slow motion, as my 11- month old slept soundly beside me. I felt heavy and unmotivated to begin my day. My neck was sore, my hands were achy, my shoulders were tight and my low back muscles were twitching. This is my current typical experience of pain. My pain can best be described as the general achiness that comes from being a woman, a parent, caregiver, and a massage therapist. I do physical and emotionally challenging work that sometimes causes discomfort. This pain was uncomfortable and tenacious for a few hours, but luckily it did not stay with me. As the day moved along, and I took a hot shower, carried my children, chased the dog, sat and meditated, practiced yoga, drove my car, and worked with clients, I felt much better.
Pain is a small word with enormous meaning. When I observe and touch the often painful areas on my clients’ bodies, I do my best to consider all of the parts of pain. Pain may be described as achy, numbing, tingly, throbbing or sharp. I hear these words frequently in my healing arts practice. But, beyond these words, there is always a story. A story of heartaches, loss, stress, injury, surgery, illness or insomnia. There is a huge mental and emotional component to how we experience pain. Pain may start as physical pain, but quickly cross over into the emotional realm; leaving us sad, stressed, depressed, angry, frustrated and usually exhausted. Or, pain can travel the other way around. The pain may begin as a feeling or emotion, and then seep and spread into our physical body and take on a subtle (or very dominant) expression of headaches, abdominal discomfort, neck or back pain. The story of our lives speaks to us through our pain, and it’s important to listen.
As I listen to the stories of women’s pain, I do my best to listen with my heart and my hands. Sometimes clients do not say a word, and my hands lead me to the place of pain. I may observe the imbalance or discomfort in their posture, facial expressions or movements. From another perspective, a client may share they have intense neck and upper back pain, and I find their breathing muscles in spasm. Later I learn, they are not sleeping due to ongoing anxiety. They are holding their breath in worry and fear, and that is causing their breathing muscles to spasm. It all circles around. It is all part of the puzzle of pain.
Recently, I started looking at how my clients are healing and sometimes fully recovering from the pain in their lives. Of course, I do believe that massage, bodywork, energy work etc. can all be catalysts for healing. Our body stores memories, and many healing modalities are effective at getting to the root cause of pain. But let’s look at the bigger picture first. Here are some of my ideas on how we can begin to heal our pain.
Identify the pain
First it is important to tune into our bodies. Where do we feel the pain? What kind of pain is it? When does is bother us the most? Are their things that help? Simply bringing our attention to our body, our mind and how we feel in our bodies in different environments can tell us so much about our experience of pain. We often move through our lives without any body awareness. We go about our days, months and years, not realizing how much pain we are carrying around with us.
Listen to the pain
Listening to the pain involves feeling it, experiencing it and allowing it teach you what it needs to bring forth in your life. This may sound crazy, but it is vital to not skip this part. This goes along with believing in our body and mind to tell us the truth. We must find the courage to confront the discomfort. Just like having a difficult conversation with a friend or family member, addressing the tender spots on our heart is probably the last thing we want to do. However, it is imperative. It must be done to move forward and move through the painful experience. The pain is telling us a story of past, present and future. Be brave and breathe as you listen.
Short visits are enough
We all know that pain can be miserable and wretched. And the point is to get rid of it, right? No one wants to live with pain. So once we identify and embrace the pain, we need to find ways to let it go. Learning to let go of pain, may involve finding the right medicine, or the right treatment for a disease, or it may mean developing a regular exercise, meditation or yoga practice. There are as many ways to reduce and eliminate pain, as there are ways to experience it. Explore the ways of dealing with pain that work best for you, and then dedicate yourself to it, so you can encourage the pain to move on as fast as possible. If something is working, do it more. If something is not working, try something new.
Throughout my lifetime, movement has always been a key to helping me deal with pain on many levels. I grew up deeply involved in the world of ballet, and contemporary dance. The most meaningful dances were the ones that happened with friends in my college dorm, alone in my room after a long day or with my family to relax at the end of a full week. This is when I feel the organic, satisfying ability to let go of mind-body pain. Whether I am stressed, overwhelmed or sad, dance almost always helps me to feel better. Try this method. Dance as often as you can without worrying about what others think or say. Dance can be so simple. You can sway back and forth or hold a loved one in your arms and spin in circles. Dance is the ultimate way to release what is bothering you, inside and out.
Similarly, I discovered yoga in my 20’s, and fell in love with the way it made me feel. I developed a slow, gentle, private, personal practice that taught me to be kind and compassionate with myself. Yoga in many ways brought me out of some of my more depressed and anxious times. Yoga is an incredible healing modality that helps many people with varied types of pain.
Next on my list of helpful tools is receiving professional bodywork. Following my skiing accident in high school, I received my first professional massage. In a couple sessions, it not only reduced my pain, but made me feel stronger and more focused. The impact of those first massages, are what led me to becoming a massage therapist. I believe the power of touch can make a difference in the lives of people of all ages. Sometimes sports/therapeutic massage works wonders on pain, and other times, gentle touch or Reiki can support and shift a person’s experience of discomfort, loss or pain for several days or longer. Bodywork is a wonderful modality to try to bring forth the connection of the body and the mind, and support the restoration process.
Lastly, I will close with my more recent discovery of the world of aromatherapy. Over the last few years, I have studied the incredible benefits of plant essences or essential oils. I have seen lavender oil take away a headache and rosemary oil lift the spirit of a client experiencing grief. I have seen bergamot oil soothe an upset stomach and sweet orange oil relax my child after a long day. There are too wonderful aromatherapy approaches to mention for now. If you’re interested, please read my article about aromatherapy for pain here.
Pain is the part of life that helps bring us back to ourselves. It is a reminder that we are human. With each experience of pain, we have the opportunity to rise to resurface and appreciate the simple, comforting times in our life. Listen to your story, chapter by chapter, and explore the tools that help you feel alive and well.
Jenny Baltazar, MA, LMT