Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Difference Between Discipline and Dissociation

It's quite a conundrum. How do you live your life fully present in your body, and, at the same time "ignore" your aches and pains and keep going?

A lot of us live our day to day lives and aren't really "in our bodies". I feel this when people lie down on my table, I touch them and there is some disconnect, you can feel that the spirit doesn't full inhabit the body, its held in the upper chest, or in the neck and face, or its only in the feet and knees and there is nothing solid, grounded, present in the body.

I experienced this same strange dissociation with my own body when I went to massage school. I was in this car accident while I was in school, and started getting body work regularly. My body alternately hurt more than I could imagine, and was totally silent and stiff. I had spent so much of my life learning NOT to feel, my body or my emotions, that once I began to feel again, it was overwhelming to hear the volume.

I was fortunate enough to have gentle, loving, guiding hands of Tamara, Aubrey, and Amy to make space for me to grow. (I think about the Bug in the movie Men in Black, standing up and trying to inhabit this strange human body, so alien to it's form, skin not quite fitting right.)

Helping people find themselves inside their body is an amazing thing to do, watching them connect to themselves and honor whatever is in there is a beautiful, and humbling thing.

And that brings me to my own present situation. The insurance company, State Farm, is the company that insured the driver who hit me two years ago. The driver was texting and going 45 miles an hour and ran into me while I was stopped as a traffic light. Because I was hit so hard, I have injuries that are quite painful, and quite long term.

The insurance company is confused about why I am not on disability, why I still ski, why I still do massage  (although not to the extent that I used to). There must be an injury that debilitates the body in a way that the body can no longer function. Why do I refuse to take Lyrica? If I'm in intense pain, as my medical charts describe, why am I not at home, not working, and taking Lyrica?

Because I don't believe that those things are good for long term health. I also know that there are three things I can do here: One, I can give up, and let my body slowly atrophy and die, lose my health, fitness, passion, love and ability to be outside. Two, I can put my head down and power through every situation, because I know I can. I can swallow my pain and fear and escape from my body, continuing to increase my strength, but also endangering my body for further injury.

I choose the third path. I don't want to take drugs to mask pain, because I think its important that I feel pain in my body. It helps me to know where I am in relation to my injury. Feeling, and acknowledging are different than being ruled by, or ignoring.

Just as in any meditation or yogic practice, we have opportunities all day to observe ourselves with curiosity. To make space between the physical sensations that we experience and our emotional connection to them.

Being able to differentiate between the kinds of pain is important, as well. I was in yoga this morning, and I could feel my thighs burning, because we had been moving from chair pose to warrior 2, over and over, with no relief or straightening of the right thigh.

This is not bad pain. This is lactic acid building up in the muscle. I can observe myself in this posture and  look with curiosity at the fact that my thigh has a burning sensation. Then I can look at my emotional connection to that sensation and see that my emotional response to the physical sensation is one of an immediate desire to unbend my leg. I feel panicky that I'm not strong enough to stay here, I feel like I've proven I'm strong enough, the posture should end now.  I have a little fear, I have anxiety, and I have the physical sensation of pain. But this is not bad pain. With the ability to observe, I am able to experience the physical sensation and ask myself to observe the emotional response to the physical sensation.

In this way, the emotional response becomes something which I have a choice about. I chose to observe these responses as an invitation to surrender to the pose. Let the pain, the physical discomfort of the posture function in the same way that pressure in your every day life does: It is an indication that you need work here. You have pain, and emotion here, because this is where your attention, focus and dedication are needed.

On the other hand, there are some postures that the pain I feel does not invite me deeper into. My neck injury precludes me from doing Plow, because the compression on the discs into my spine makes my vision go dark and my ears roar. This is bad pain. I choose to observe this pain from the same place, and the emotions that accompany it. The emotions here are more maternal; careful, this place needs protection.
Choose to be here, when your mind feels like the Los Angeles Freeway and every car is a pain impulse. Find this place, instead.

I move through the postures in yoga slowly and deliberately, feeling my body in each moment as acutely as I can. This means I am reading it, hearing it, growing with it, learning to discipline it, learning to discipline my mind not to be ruled by it, and growing stronger at the same time.

Yes, I chose to walk and hike and do yoga and work out and stay strong and keep skiing, even though I am injured and could have a valid excuse to sit on the couch and live on disability. But I also know that while many people may feel that is the option they feel comfortable with, I have never felt good about that choice. My choice is to fight for my health unless I am literally and completely incapacitated. I want to keep my muscle, I want to grow my shoulder girdle and core strength so that the limitations of my injury are minimized.

I suppose what I am trying to say here is that because I am pushing through and working with pain, does not mean I am ignoring pain, leaving my body, denying feeling. These things are toxic behaviors. It means that pushing through and working with pain is teaching me how to listen, how to let go of my ego, how to let go of the stories that my mind wants to tell me about how my body is feeling. And in the process, I choose not to let that pain rule me.

I choose to fight for my health. And the strongest muscle I have for that, is my own mind.

1 comment:

Windy said...

SUE the bastards, there MUST be GREAT insurance settlement lawyers in Aspen somewhere...
They will push you until you give up, been there, so don't hesitate to become a thorn in the side. You really need to take care of yourself, b/c you hear and feel immense pain; sooner or later, the body says 'enough'... and that will be it.
Git 'er done...