This month’s we’ve been focusing on non-pharmaceutical approaches to pain relief. (If you missed the previous articles you can click to read part one and part two.) The Chinese Medicine concept that’s been central to our discussions is that all forms of pain are caused by stagnation, and furthermore, that the mind and body are inseparable. So, many of the holistic approaches I’ve mentioned are beneficial for both psychological and physical pain. Let’s look at some more ways to promote movement in order to alleviate stagnation and pain.
- Exercise. Exercise can be a delicate subject when it comes to treatment of pain, since many conservative doctors still advocate immobility, especially with injuries. But immobility tends to exacerbate stagnation. And long term immobility due to pain can be a nail in one’s coffin, since it often leads to weight gain, poor circulation, as well as loss of strength, balance, and flexibility. We must keep moving, even when we’re in pain. There are always ways to move that are non-damaging. If you can’t come up with an exercise regimen that works for you, consider seeing a physical therapist.
In recent years, progressive trainers and doctors have even employed immediate controlled movement for injuries such as sprains, with athletes often making astoundingly rapid recoveries. Moving the traumatized area is vital for promoting movement of stagnant lymphatic fluid. Meanwhile, in the psychology community, there has been an impressive rise in the recognition of the value of exercise in psychological pain – such as anxiety and depression. Moving the body moves the mind, helping us to get out of an uncomfortable rut.
- Visualize. A great way to mobilize the mind is through the deliberate focus on a desired state rather than our usual tendency to focus on what we don’t like and want to be different. If you’re in pain, thinking about the pain itself and how much it sucks only makes it worse. What we focus on naturally grows to dominate our experience.
There are all sorts of useful ways to visualize for pain. A good starting point is to imagine yourself happy and pain-free, doing something you love. Spend five minutes a day doing this with your eyes closed. Really try to build the feeling you’d expect to have in this state – relieved, grateful, ecstatic, triumphant. See it, touch it, taste it, rev it up. If nothing else, it will be a five minute break from the usual despair, but I believe it’s likely to do much more. You need to have a clear sense of your destination if you want to get somewhere, and this exercise will really help with your pain, whether it’s physical or psychological.
- Stop Resisting. As I touched on in the first article of this series, resistance just begets more stagnation. As often as possible, try to catch yourself resisting your pain, fighting it with your body and mind. The pain is like a crimped hose, and the resistance is like clenching your fist around the crimped hose – it certainly doesn’t make it better, and can often make it worse. When you catch yourself tightening up inside in response to the pain, the most efficient thing to do is just stop and relax. Breathe. Let it go. Then choose a new focus – like whatever task you’re engaged in, or helping someone, or making music, or learning, or playing a game. Don’t let yourself feel bad that you’re not over it yet. Don’t blame yourself for resisting again. Don’t try to figure it out. Just let it go, then let it go again, then let it go again.
This isn’t a technique that you’ll just do once and your pain will disappear forever. It’s a discipline that you commit yourself to. But as simple as it seems, this alone can be profoundly life changing. Resisting your pain is like arguing with reality; you can’t win – you can only make it worse. Letting go of this fight isn’t the same as giving up or asking for more pain. It actually frees up your energy and lets the pain run its course.
Even if you’re not in pain, I invite you this week to try to notice when you’re resisting your circumstances – the external happenings, or how you feel, or your own thoughts – and without doing any thinking about it, let go of the resistance. Tell me what happens.
Dr. Peter Borten