When is pain gain?

Pain that’s not gain…

Lately some of the final tight places in my head, neck and shoulders have been opening. There’s so much shifting in my neck and head that I’ve been hovering at the edge of nausea, dizziness and shakiness every time I do exercises that affect that area. Yesterday I had a Bodypatterning treatment in which Kreig was able to get into some places in my shoulders and neck that no one has been able to reach before and some of the releases he achieved also affected my abdomen. Later I had a terrible stomach ache and indigestion – and I normally have no problems ever with my stomach.

All this got me thinking about progress and pain and how often one follows from the other. In the physical realm, some side effects can be purely physical and some signal emotional issues. The emotional issues show up also in a lot of spiritual practice. To me the moments of angst or pain or dizziness that result from really shifting something are great. I know I’ve gotten somewhere and that when the pain or nausea or whatever passes I will feel much better than I did before.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of people back away as soon as there was pain or crying or any unpleasant feeling. Often they’ll express that the practice or the treatment is obviously not for them or they wouldn’t feel this way. I think the practice or treatment is exactly for you if it creates that discomfort because that means it’s reaching into you and releasing whatever holds you. The assumption that you should never feel pain or discomfort from any bodywork or spiritual pursuit will keep you from progress.

The tricky part is knowing the difference between the pain that’s telling you you’ve opened a muscle or released an issue and the pain or other discomfort that means you’ve overdone an exercise or been given a bad treatment by a practitioner. Most of the time if you’re doing some sort of spiritual practice or exercise and you feel emotional or hurt you can guess you’ve just touched on some buried issue. With the more physical side there are differences but they’re going to be your own and you have to get to know yourself well enough to know what pain is okay and what pain means something is wrong.

In yoga, deep stretching postures often reach places where you’re holding onto emotional memories or issues. Most of us have an impulse to back off and come out of the posture when it gets close to tapping in. If you keep holding though, you have a chance to release something. I occasionally hold a posture and start to feel teary or feel really anxious and I just try to stay with it and let go.  Note:  When it comes to yoga I have given more advice in another post.

If you have a lot of issues with tight muscles in your neck and up into the back of your head, anything you do that starts opening that up is likely to produce some dizziness or possibly a little nausea. It isn’t a bad thing, it just means you’ve changed your equilibrium a little by shifting that holding pattern. If the symptoms are severe there may be something wrong.

Those are just a couple of examples but I’ve encountered so many different ways that progress has a phase of pain or discomfort that I have to say anything you do to heal your body or emotions or spirit is likely to have pain on the way to gain. Just get to know yourself well enough to distinguish the good pain from the bad. I’ve even reached the point where I’m happy to get the pain or other symptoms. I’m ecstatic at the dizziness and nausea because they are part of opening the seemingly impenetrable muscles issues in my head and neck and I know all the years of work are about to pay off. Pain is part of the journey so I say, embrace it.  

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3 thoughts on “When is pain gain?

  1. This is a fascinating observation. I do not know exactly how my body/spirit knows when pain is too much vs. when pain is release. Somehow, though, it does. I am thinking, specifically, of half pigeon and the intense stretch I used to get in that asana when I began practicing. It hurt, but it hurt, well, GOOD. I will be mindful of this distinction in the future as well. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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