27 May 2011

Inhabiting Our Bodies: An Important Part of Pain Management

In my previous post, I used the phrase, "inhabit your body," which I would think is unfamiliar unless you have read some Eckhart Tolle.  I have found it to be an essential tool in my pain management (PM) repertoire, having gone beyond the initial reaction of, "Inhabit my body?  With all this pain?  Why would I want to do that?"

To repeat a bit from my previous post, the thought of inhabiting the body that is causing us so much physical pain is jarring.  Yet here in this paradox is the fulcrum providing the essential balance that frees my mind and spirit to do the more creative and productive work of PM.  I simply cannot manage my pain well when my mind is screeching with frustration, anxiety, fear, and whatever emotions arise along with chronic physical pain.  And since more and more medication is not an option (not that I am averse to medication, but that the 9 pills monthly allowed by my health care plan leave me with as many as 9 migraines unmedicated), good PM skills have become essential.  Calming my mind and spirit includes calming my body, and this is best done by being fully present to my body, inhabiting it - feeling, as it were, every cell.

So, on to the phrase, "inhabiting our bodies."  Eckhart Tolle uses this phrase in his book, The Power of Now.  This book, which I have both read and listened to on CD, mentions nothing about pain, illness or PM, yet it has been instrumental for me in developing the life skills for living with chronic pain: so much so, in fact, that I will soon begin a series about the book similar to the one I wrote in April and May about Toni Bernhard's book, How To Be Sick

The Four Steps to Inhabiting Your Body in Pain Management
1. Gentle Stretching
2. Breathing
3. Inhabit Your Body
4. Pain Management Practices

Step One - Gentle Stretching
Tense muscles are a natural by-product of physical pain because the body's natural response - for survival's sake - is to flee or otherwise fight the pain.  Our muscles respond to the adrenalin coursing through our bodies in automatic response to the pain stimulus by tensing.  That aids survival in the moment, but becomes a complication with chronic pain.  So I find that a gentle stretch of my major muscle groups from whatever position I need to assume - standing, sitting, lying down - is the best way to begin this pain management practice.

Step Two - Breathing
I've said it before, I'll say it again: we all breathe all the time.  How handy a tool is that?  During and after my stretching, I make sure to breathe deeply and slowly.  There are various ways to practice conscious breathing: a few deep, slow breaths; breathing regularly and counting to ten on the inhales; sipping air through the mouth and letting it out in a sigh - there are many ways to become conscious of our breathing so to calm our mind/spirit/body.

Step Three - Inhabit the Body
In whatever position I have assumed, I then focus my attention on feeling the life in my body.  There are other ways to say this: Eckhart Tolle often uses the phrase, the inner body; Christians refer to the Holy Spirit descending; Native Americans feel a sacred connection to Mother Earth.  Though these phrases are all different and come from varied theological and philosophical places, I believe that they point to the same thing: the sacred life energy that enlivens all sentient beings.

But, philosophy aside, how does it work?  If you have never tried it before, allow yourself to begin with one part of the body.  Don't try to feel the whole body the first time you attempt this or you might become frustrated and quit.  Focus on your body and discover if you notice a warmth, or tingling, or energetic feeling in any one part, perhaps your hands or feet.  Simply focus on that feeling without judgment or expectation and letting go of the thoughts that arise.  Just feel it.  That is your practice for now: once that becomes natural, expand your focus gradually to other areas of your body until, after more practice (it does not matter how much or how little), you experience that feeling pervading all of your body. 

Step Four - Turn to other PM Practices
Now that you have gently stretched, breathed, and inhabited your body or at least part of your body, you can turn with quietly creative attention to other PM practices like meditation, prayer, prayer beads, listening to music or relaxation CD - whatever works for you.

As with all new practices, go easy on yourself.  This is obviously not meant to add to your stress, it is meant to reduce it.  If you don't "get" inhabiting your body, let it go for a while and try again later, or better yet, find a copy of Tolle's book and read it for yourself. 

May your practice lead you to spiritual freedom and reduction of physical pain.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.

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