Pain has been on my brain: Where did it come from? How can I make it go away? Brian & I both embrace an active lifestyle — mine primarily through yoga & (spurts of) jogging, his in triathlon training & cycling. We also love the water — wakeboarding and water skiing occasionally, countered with spring break trips to the mountains that give us an annual opportunity to take on the slopes. As we age, we are forced to confront the realities of our bodies’ less than enthusiastic response to that which we ask of it. We just don’t bounce back like we did. This is an obvious fact borne out by our respective nightstands which house a collection of ace bandages, ice packs & ibuprofen. As if adding insult to injury, my reading glasses herald in that chorus, resting on top of my new favorite reference book: Listen to Your Pain.
In the first sentence of that book, Dr. Ben Benjamin states: “Pain is a signal that something is wrong.” (I paid good money for this.) But seriously, it reminded me of a post I wrote last summer about the importance of distinguishing pain from discomfort and the different response each requires. I thought it was worth revisiting, so here ya go! (It’s my blog, I can repeat if I want to!)
STOP ~ YIELD ~ U-Turn: Reading the Signs in your Life & Practice
During this morning’s class, I talked about listening to your body, the importance of discerning discomfort from pain. When we feel something in our yoga asana practice, we need to take notice and discern if it is discomfort or pain. Pain is a STOP sign. It says, “Stop what you’re doing right now. Do not pass ‘go,’ do not collect $200!”
Discomfort, though, is like a YIELD sign — saying, “Slow down here & pay attention. Consider your next move carefully.” Some of us are too quick to move AWAY from discomfort to a more familiar, less challenging, place (which we unknowingly deem “safe”) AND thereby miss out on an opportunity for growth. Many times if we can just stay in the pose, breathe, & work through the discomfort, we become stronger, more flexible, more steady. We deepen our practice. We strengthen our resolve.
But sometimes, that “Discomfort YIELD” sign IS signaling, “Hey you’re possibly moving in the wrong direction here (read: alignment). Stop sign — PAIN — just around the corner!” When you experience discomfort, YIELD & decide the appropriate course of action. An adjustment in your alignment may be all it takes to continue. But when you experience pain, you must STOP!
The same thing is true in your life off the mat. (Isn’t it always!?) Discomfort in our life (relationships, profession, health) is a sign to YIELD and figure out our next move. If we are too quick to revert to our comfort zone, we miss out on important opportunities for growth.
Consider this idea in the context of a partner relationship. Maybe one’s tendency when things get tough is to turn to other people, popping off to friends & family complaining about your partner. There is comfort in that, perhaps, but not growth. And if that’s what you’ve always done, then it’s so just so easy to take that path every time. It is as if you’ve seen the trusty U-turn sign: “Take me back to my safety zone!”
The alternative, the yield sign approach, is to pause and consider your next course of action. Maybe we just need to endure, hold fast & steady and in that very action we find the deeper meaning. Or maybe we need to adjust our alignment, maybe WE really need to change something, like the way we communicate or address conflict in our lives. Could it be a signal to change our very ATTITUDE!?
Only you can decide what the sign suggests: sometimes the best course is endurance and sometimes — as in your asana practice — you really DO need to “adjust your alignment.”
FINAL THOUGHT … When we don’t acknowledge & address life’s discomfort in some way, it almost always moves from discomfort to PAIN.
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.~ M. Scott Peck
May the signage in your life be clear & well placed,