By VANESSA HAMPTON
We, as humans, are people of compassion and empathy. We all know that feeling. That deep desire to help someone when they are in pain. Think about your children when they hurt, or that friend that is suffering. We ask them tenderly, “What do you need?” or “What can I do for you?”. We do this without a second thought for others but, for some reason, when it comes to our own pain, we are all too often harsh and judgmental of ourselves and our bodies.
Pain can be overwhelming and cause us a great deal of frustration. When it’s chronic pain that lasts weeks, months, or even years, it can send us to a dark place. It’s a place that feels like this is our “permanent”. I have felt that very vividly in the past with low back issues and, more recently, digestive issues. I was discussing my stomach problems in a recent visit with a Chinese Medical Practitioner. During the conversation she said to me, “Well, have you asked it?”. When I looked at her questioningly, she repeated “Have you asked your stomach what it needs?”. Well, um…no.
She began to tell me her own story about a point in her life where she was experiencing a frozen shoulder. She couldn’t lift her arm and it was continuing to get worse. She had tried everything to help it and nothing was working. She was at the point where doctors were advising surgery. As a last-ditch effort, she went to an alternative medicine doctor who asked her the same question that she had just asked me. “Well, have you talked to your shoulder to find out what it needs?”.
She continued on to tell me that the doctor insisted she literally look at her shoulder and question it. So, she did. She said that, in that moment, she had the profound realization that she was in a season of life where she was shouldering a lot of extra responsibility with some big life changes. She said that this realization was huge for her and just this awareness allowed her to start letting go of the heavy emotional load she was carrying. Within days, she was able to start moving her shoulder again and it continued to improve. Over time, she regained full range of motion and could lift her arm over her head again.
I was very moved by her story but, honestly, had not thought much more about it until the other day. I was driving down the road and my stomach issues began to act up again. At first, I did my typical practice of trying to analyze the problem and think about what I had eaten or done differently to fire it up. It was then that I remembered the conversation about her shoulder. So, I stopped and put my hand gently on my tummy. Out loud I asked it, “What is it that you need?… What can I do for you?”. Just then, something wonderful happened.
No, my stomach didn’t miraculously get better. However, what did happen was a complete shift in my perspective. I became filled with that same tender feeling that I have for my son when he is sick or hurting. It totally changed how I perceived what I was feeling and, for the first time, I felt compassion for my body. I wanted to help my stomach instead of being irritated with it for hurting.
I am a strong believer that our body reflects our state of mind. We harbor stress and our emotions throughout our body. Some people tense their shoulders. Some people have hip pain because we can hold stress there too. Some people feel aches or pains in other joints or organs. If we are suffering emotionally, our body suffers as well. What is really cool, though, is that we have control of it. Only we decide how we approach our pain.
So maybe next time we are hurting we try a different approach. Maybe we side step the harsh criticism and resist frustration. Maybe we try practicing self-grace and treating ourselves with tender loving care. And just maybe this will allow us to begin letting go of our pain and start our journey of healing.
So have you? ….Have you talked to your pain?
Vanessa Hampton, owner of Body Balance with V, is a personal trainer, yoga instructor, and CrossFit coach (CrossFit Cool Springs, Brentwood). Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @bodybalancewithv or email her at email@example.com.