Pain and Movement; how we talk with our bodies
At the end of this blog post is a video that doesn't talk about movement at all. I watched it and thought all about movement, because that is what I teach. This post gets into the bio-psycho-social aspects of movement practices or lack thereof because this is of interest to me and there is an assumption made that you reading this means it is of interest to you. If you get totally lost by the following but your curiosity is aroused, come take a Pilates class with me. *wink*
There’s a narrative I’ve heard over the years about taking ownership of all parts of you; from your mindset, beliefs, body, culture, and identity. And, while I agree in theory to this ethos of authenticity, I feel that this is asking a lot of an ever-evolving and adaptable human ego. Authenticity can be incredibly reductive; akin to being held accountable to a photograph of yourself. Imagine that.
Person with a photograph: This is you!?
You: Yes, that was me.
Person: No, this is you.
You: Yes, but I’ve changed.
Person: Oh, I see you totally differently now.
How incredibly annoying would this be? Can’t we allow pieces of our stories without making them our definition? Now, imagine this same scenario happening all the time only this time it is you doing it to yourself in your expectation of and reactions to your body. How many snapshots of your story are you still holding your body accountable?
You with an x-ray: That’s me?
Body: Yes, that was me.
You: No, this me now.
Body: Yes, but I’ve changed.
You: Oh, I see me totally differently now.
We all fall into the pattern of the blame game. My knees can’t take a long hike anymore. My hip won’t do that. My wrists can’t take that. And so, we simply stop doing those things and blame our bodies for failing us. But what if, by stopping, we are failing our bodies?
We can own the photograph as a piece of our past and all the thoughts that brought us to that moment without losing sight of the journey we’ve travelled forward from that moment when we look at it. So, why is it so very difficult to do the same with our bodies? Pain can be a snapshot of memory that brings the x-ray of an injury forefront. Hurt doesn’t equal harm, so the sensation of pain doesn’t always mean the injury is present. Your body is also an ever-evolving open system that is constantly adapting to new input.
Discomfort tells us more about what is going on throughout our systems than comfort. Comfortable can be ignored. So when your body really wants to bring your attention to something and make you explore it more fully, what sensations would you expect?
As with any communication, if ignored, it eventually stops. This could be your body adapting, compensating, or repairing. How do you know which? When should you pay attention and when can you ignore it? As in any partnership, the more you communicate and the more open the lines of information, the more you’ll know.
I pulled this concept from a TED talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert titled “Your elusive creative genius” (linked below). Her talk really clarified a concept I had already been using with clients who arrived for movement and described to me all the ways in which their bodies have betrayed them and their struggle to force movement out of broken bits of themselves. They had taken on injuries like badges that proved their worst thoughts of themselves. I would say things like, “A knee cannot be good or bad all on its own. Discomfort is your body communicating and you are telling it to Shut Up because it is being bad. You describe it as though it isn’t innate to you. Partner up with your body in this exploration. It is going to heal and it’s exceptional at doing so given very little input and some time. Let’s discuss what feels good and move forward from there.”
As we progressed through movements and pain showed up, we’d explore (Better? Worse? The same?) or move on as needed without judgment or need to label. By the end of an hour, there’s usually a new respect for how many options are available besides stopping and how well our bodies respond to even small adjustments.
There’s room for error in our lives and with our bodies. We do not have to own every piece of the story and keep it present. Start over. Build a new story with you as you are now. Learn through movement, explore discomfort and respect pain, and build a partnership with your body in which both evolve.
"Your elusive creative genius" - Elizabeth Gilbert, TED Talk 2009