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King of Pain

For people that live with chronic pain, it can be difficult to keep up one’s energy; day after day feeling unwell, unbalanced, in the body. Whether it’s a niggling, small pain, or a significant pain that is felt through the entire physical system, its no secret that prolonged dis-ease in the body can lead to a unsettled mind.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of living with pain is the lack of control; the sense that nothing can be done to shift the pain. The emotional aspect of this coupled with a lack of sleep and inability to stay present due to the constant peripheral physical pain can lead to apathy, lethargy, and depression.

For many, doing something about their pain means taking a pill. Not only is this a reactive approach that merely masks the pain instead of alleviating it longterm, but the body quickly adjusts to the dosage, becoming less and less potent the more often the medication is ingested. Then there are the side affects and long term damage that pain medication can create in other areas of the body.

An alternative approach to taking pain killers is finding movement based therapies that can help one to better understand the energetics of the pain. Stagnant energy is thought to contribute to disease, so the more energy that moves through the site of the pain, the more freedom, space and mobility becomes available to shift the pain naturally. Emotionally, doing something to help release the pain is a better solution for the mind and body than doing nothing as it empowers one to feel they can take some responsibility for their well-being.

My relationship with pain has changed dramatically over the course of my life, and is something I continue to explore to this day. At three I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis/Crohn’s Disease; by thirty-two I had developed a progressive liver disease as a result of the longterm digestive illness. In the decades between this time among other things I was a marathon runner, a late night disco queen, and amateur daredevil. I had an extremely high threshold for pain that some said bordered on abnormal. The truth was that I had grown up with daily pain and learned to ignore it to the point that I no longer identified it as an unhealthy feeling in my body.  It was my yoga practice that led me down the path of becoming more physically and mentally/emotionally aware of the relationship at play between the mind and body. I came to realise that I had spent the majority of my life in such constant abdominal pain that I lost the boundaries of what was tenable and what was debilitating. I didn’t believe living pain free was possible, and swallowed the pain into the rest of the body without having any outlet for it.

By the time I was diagnosed with the liver disease PSC, I had already been practicing yoga for seven years, and was acutely aware by that point of every new sensation in my body. I had an increasing amount of pain in my liver area that seemed to get worse with certain therapies, and better with others. It has been through exploring the space and senses in the body and experimenting with just about every alternative therapy in the book that I have come to understand that more immediate pain doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’ and less pain doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’; sometimes as a result of energy moving through a region that is heavy and blocked pain occurs in the short term, but that can lead to an increase in long term vitality. In these instances, what is required is a shift in perspective. The mind is the ultimate master of the pain threshold. Through my work with craniosacral therapy both on and off the table, I’ve experienced both the buildup of pain in fulcrums in the body, as well as sudden and deep physical and emotional release. Whether mental, physical, or both, pain is a part of being alive, and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the body is a powerful mechanism to understand and move through pain.

A great Tibetan master says the biggest cause of suffering are hope and fear. Hope sets up expectations for the future based on preferences; how we would like things to be, and sets us up for inevitable disappointment. Fear holds us clinging to the worst case scenario for the future.

The breath, the quintessential life force that enables movement and detoxification, is the grounding force that holds us to the present moment where everything is ok. Even pain is absorbed into the present, if we can just learn to focus on the breath for long enough to move through it.

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