If you have chronic pain (heartache and backache equally count) that last thing you want to hear is that you should move deeper into it to emerge on the other side.
This is because we’re taught that moving deeper means feeling the pain more intensely or reliving the memory. But this is not the case.
Moving deeper can mean letting go of the expectation that the pain is a burden; choosing to align with the gifts hidden in the pain; realizing you don’t have to hold the burden all by yourself — or at all.
We chase away our pain with pills, conversations, tears and deep breaths. When we move deeper, we get into the real reason for the pain, which is much more complex than, “She died” or “I was injured.”
Our pain stems from being asymmetrical in a world that compels us to be symmetrical.
Often, we do not feel free to ache in the way we crave to ache. We fall into familiar patterns of avoidance. On the yoga mat, our bodies get so used to one side being “easier” than the other that even our bones believe we’ll never be balanced.
Pretty soon we’re mimes of ourselves — going through the motions, unable to speak our truth, aching – always aching — for relief.
Using yoga for pain relief
Before you resolve your pain there can be an unsettling “sitting with.” Sitting with the feelings and thoughts and behaviors that got you into the painful situation. Make too big a deal of them and they take over, molding the pain into a bigger deal.
The couch went through the door frame (barely) so surely it will go back out, right?
But you didn’t pay attention to how it got in the house, so backtracking isn’t an option. You have to find a new way to move the couch out.
When pain piles up in our minds or bodies, we often forget how long it took to get there. We want it gone right away, of course. But the way out isn’t always as quick as the way in.
Over time, yoga can be a sustainable pain reliever. It doesn’t numb the symptoms or ignore your asymmetry. Instead, the practice of meeting yourself where you’re at brings attention and awareness to parts of yourself you otherwise wouldn’t.
Maybe, you’re not ready to let go of the pain. Maybe, you’re desperate to.
Whether the pain has been around for years or weeks, the path through always starts in the present.
The present is where you listen to You. When you move deeper, the symmetrical world that defines healing cannot reach. This is new territory and new rules — your rules. It means there is no timetable or one-size-fits-all.
It means your healing is unlimited. And it starts now.
Try it: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, Ardha Matsyendrasana
To see which side is your “easy” side, practice this pose. Your body’s asymmetry will be evident in your hips, shoulders and spine.
Whichever side feels more natural, or twists deeper, is a clue to bringing the body back into alignment physically (i.e. the other side needs some opening). But for today? Gratitude for being okay right where you are.
- Sit with both feet planted on the mat in front of you. Bend the left knee and slide the foot underneath your right leg, bringing the left heel by your right hip.
- Step your right foot to the other side of your left knee and firmly plant the foot down into the mat. Flex your left toes back and hug your right knee toward your torso until you feel a stretch begin in the outer right hip.
- Plant the right palm a foot behind you and tent your fingertips. Inhale, lift your left arm to the ceiling and, exhaling, twist to the right, placing your left elbow on the outside of the right knee. Soften the tops of the shoulders down.
- Inhale from the base your spine to lengthen the torso, and exhale to twist deeper. Your gaze may be straight ahead or, if it’s comfortable, turn your chin over your right shoulder. Stay for six deep breaths.
- On an exhale, release the twist and come back to center. Unwind both legs and straighten them in front of you. Pause to notice the sensation in the hips and spine. Draw the knees back into the chest and repeat on the other side, twisting to the left.