Sensation and Pain: becoming intimate with yourself
A student inspired me to write on new and uncomfortable sensations in the body after she shared that she was experiencing new hip pain. Without trying to decipher, categorize, or fix anything, I want to share my experience and perspective on the subject of new, unpleasant sensations in the body. My intention for investigating this subject is to encourage your own inquiry in your body and practice. First, I think it is important to remember that our bodies are constantly changing, developing, growing, and even decaying. Without going into detail of the biological processes that occur, let us consider personal intimacy with our bodies as the ultimate resource for this inquiry of changing sensations and pain in the body.
Our bodies are incredibly complex and intricate. They constantly generate sensations and responses which themselves contain infinite depths of perception. In my yoga practice and in my teaching, I am constantly encouraging the surrender of the intellectual mind to the intuitive and equally intellectual body. The mind is such a wild place of endless possibilities that it can distract us with its creative judgements, expectations and stories. It might be impossible to turn off our minds - I do not know - but it is worth the effort to quiet it down so that direct sensation can be FELT by the body rather than interpreted by the mind.
When looking at sensations that come into the foreground of our experience, whether they are actually new or not, it is important to truly explore the depth of the sensation and the spectrum of intensity during movement. Exploring pain in the hip is a great example - and I myself can draw from my past experience of hip pain.
For me, I became acutely aware of sudden (maybe? or maybe I just noticed it finally?), sharp hip pain deep in the joint. Sharp pain in a joint, of course, is a huge red flag. It happened in a a new yoga class I attended, and my mind wanted to create justifications and rationalizations for this new pain: I was out of practice, I was tight from traveling, I needed more stretching, I am not feeling myself... Despite the very clear communication of my body, I continued doing the exact things (warrior 2 and open hip postures) that intensified the pain. Finally, my mental arrogance quieted down enough for me to feel my body more honestly. I opened up to the pain, I FELT it, and then I responded. I stayed away from all standing postures, and my practice was literally grounded as I stayed out of group classes to focus on nurturing my body. My body was speaking to me, and I became intimately receptive to its messages.
I don’t know WHY I experienced that hip pain. It doesn’t even matter to me WHY. What is important to me is that I finally quieted the chatter of my mind and became intimate with the sensations of my body. I stopped a “traditional” practice for almost 2 months - until one day, my body felt inspired to move more, and I did. And I was pain free. I have not experienced pain in my hip since.
What I learned: Feel everything. Feel deeply. Do what feels good. Stop doing what doesn’t feel good.
Seems obvious, right? But the ego is a tricky little shit and will try to convince you or rationalize you into doing something different than what the body is communicating that it needs.
Every time a new sensation moves into the spot-light of my awareness, the offer is to get really close and intimate with it. My body is changing everyday. The body I wake up with is different than the body I go to sleep with. Sometimes my right wrist really aches and I stay off my hands completely for days. This intimacy teaches me to honor my self and the present moment. When I stay present in what is truthfully happening in my body, I am informed by sensation rather than patterns or attachments.
I try to not assume anything about my joints, my movements, or my abilities in my practice. My ever increasing intimacy with my body’s sensations is what guides me in my practice - and my teaching. I get to meet myself for the first time, every time I step onto my mat. Every movement is an opportunity to fall in love with the endless possibilities of feeling the sensations in my body. There is so much to learn and experience!
So, to my dear student inquiring about changing sensations in your body - I urge you to not listen to anything I have to say. I beg you to FEEL your body’s sensations so intimately that you are inspired to honestly guide and nurture yourself.