How They're Related, and ...
Some Practices to Feel Better
I'm just back from a week's vacation where I didn't have to think of a thing except what to make for dinner. With all that time to ponder, I spent some time thinking about how physical and emotional pain are related.
(Had I not known I had a newsletter due for you, I might have thought less and slept more. Ah, the exigencies of a looming deadline! :)
We are nearing the end of a 400-year period of belief that mind and body are separate. Western science is now catching up with ancient Eastern thought in understanding that the mind and body are inextricably linked (see June's newsletter here for more discussion on this topic).
Which begs the question: if mind and body are inextricably linked, shouldn't physical pain and emotional pain be affected and helped by the same practices?
Well, yes, this is entirely possible, as it turns out. As the Buddha said, suffering is part of the human condition. All pain is real, but suffering can be overcome and transcended, because it's our resistance to pain that causes suffering. Resistance comes from the stories in our minds. And every thought and attitude, every story, has a biological equivalent - something that happens in the body. Maybe it's an increase in heart rate and some pain in the chest, as when you're dreading a meeting with the boss. Or maybe your blood pressure lowers, as happens when you practise relaxing Restorative yoga. Our mental and physical practices change us. We feel pain, but we can practise letting go of suffering. As Maria Gonzalez, a long-time mindfulness teacher, says, "by not grasping at the pain, suppressing the hurt, or denying how difficult it is...by not resisting the pain that arises, you do not experience the suffering. In time, the pain will subside and eventually dissolve."
In other words, change the story and you change the pain. This is true whether the pain is physical or emotional. But this is not to say that we become happy Pollyannas, tuning out all the negative stuff that arises. Yoga and mindfulness practices teach us to become aware of what is happening in each moment, positive and negative, and to accept the truth in the moment with equanimity, with evenness of breath. And that is when change starts to happen. Calm breathing is a signal to the brain and the nervous system that no matter what we are experiencing, whether the pain be physical or emotional, we are safe. (Here I am talking about chronic pain, where pain has become entrenched in the nervous system and any acute injury has been deemed to have healed; and mild depression or anxiety, which most of us experience at some time or other in our lives. If you're seeing a doctor for any issue, physical or emotional, please don't consider this as a prescription to stop. Yoga and meditation under the guidance of an expert teacher can be excellent adjuncts to whatever therapy you are currently using.)
So begin to change the body (breathing and movement patterns) to change the mind. By slowing down the exhale, you can reduce anxiety. By opening up the heart centre with backbending and arm movement, you can reduce depression and lighten the spirit. When we practise activities that help to calm the nervous system, we can help to reduce chronic pain. Changing the nervous system takes time, and this change thrives on slow and subtle methods. Spend some time each day on three things:
For more practices on yoga for emotional pain, I highly recommend Bo Forbes's "Yoga for Emotional Balance." Bo Forbes is a highly respected clinical psychologist and yoga therapist.
Ready to find some "me" time this summer? If you want to relax, unwind and find some blissful time away from it all (where you don't even have to think about dinner!) let's connect at the Healing Heart Restorataive Retreat at Tamarack Lodge from August 21 - 26, 2016.
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.