There’s a certain amount of ‘pain’ to be expected in yoga. In order to stretch our muscles we often have to go to our ‘flinch point’* – that moment where your body acts on its own to get itself out of a painful situation – and hold ourselves there while our minds learn to let go.
*Imagine holding your hand over a candle, then slowly lowering it towards the flame. Eventually your instincts will over-ride your mind and pull your hand away. That’s the flinch point.
It can be painful, but it’s a dull, expected pain, and we can learn to overcome it. What we need to look out for is the sudden, unusual, sharp, unexpected pain. That’s when the alarm bells should ring and we should take notice.
I didn’t take notice.
I hurt my lower back in a yoga class. It was my own fault. I already had some discomfort after going to the osteopath the day before, and when it started hurting in the sun salutations I decided to soldier on thinking it would sort itself out. Big mistake.
That afternoon my lower back seized up and I couldn’t walk properly.
Now, a week later, my back seems fine, but I’ve got horrible pains in my hip and leg. It’s sciatica, caused by an inflamed muscle pinching a nerve in my lower back (for those that don’t know I’ve found this excellent video that explains how sciatica works). It means that sitting, walking, or lying down for too long causes me pain. How fun is that?!
The only thing that helps is stretching and moving around. It’s painful at first, but the increased blood flow through the area brings some relief. That’s also why I’m on the Deep Heat.
I don’t normally take medicine if I can help it. I like to let my body deal with things on its own (good diet and exercise being the cure), but at some point I realised I wasn’t getting any better, I was miserable and in a lot of pain, so I just gave in and got me some anti-inflammatories.
And you know what, they work. Coupled with exercise it’s made a big difference to how I feel (things like Deep Heat or ibuprofen gel open up the inflamed muscle, whilst exercise moves healing, oxygenated blood through the area). It’s still going to take ages to get better, but hopefully it’ll be a lot faster than if I was depending on exercise alone. And the positive effect on my moods is undeniable.
Because that’s the other side of pain; the emotional part. Long term pain can be depressing, and frustrating, and infuriating. Its tough to live with when all you want to do is get better. It’s an exercise in patience, one which I sometimes fail.
That’s why, as well as treating myself with medicine, I’m also treating myself with treats. Just little things now and then to say “Well done you”, for whatever reason it is. Maybe it’s for stretching or for going for a walk. Or maybe it’s just for making a joke when you’ve not got much to laugh about. Whatever the reason, you’ve got to recognise when you do well and acknowledge it somehow. You’ll feel a lot better for it, I guarantee.