The first step to a meaningful relationship with yourself is to be curious. Because to be curious is to be present. In the moment. Throughout my career as a bodyworker I have often heard patients say, “Fix me. I’m broken. Do whatever you need to do. I can take it”
They are resigned to handing their body over to yet another healthcare practitioner. A tinge of desperation colours this scene; they want to be healed, shriven, pronounced whole and unblemished.
They have become detached from their bodies, passive onlookers in the process of healing. This may be due to chronic pain, recurrent injuries, trauma, childbirth… and so on. Their relationship with their body has become dysfunctional. There is no room for joy, for play; pain is a serious business.
Acute pain occurs to warn you of damage. This is a protective mechanism, and helps to prevent you accruing more damage. For example: The pain of a sprained ankle stops you from walking on it and further straining the ligaments.
Pain drives inflammation and vice-versa; in acute cases this is beneficial, instigating and maintaining the healing process. However, chronic pain (pain lasting more than six weeks) and chronic inflammation have deleterious effects on mood and on the immune system. It leads to changes in neuromuscular control and communication, and one of these manifestations is in an antalgic posture. One common example is whiplash, where the muscles of the neck seize up to protect the vertebral column. Historically, patients were prescribed neck braces to support and immobilise the neck. It is now that this protocol of immobilisation actually retards recovery. Movement; conscious, embodied movement is key.
Yet this is something that you can so easily forget when you are in pain. It seems to freeze the mental conceptualisation of the physical body, in much the same manner that emotional trauma can stunt the psyche. Every action is planned to avoid causing pain, a habit which becomes so deeply ingrained that it is wholly unconscious. And so you run on autopilot, maintaining movement patterns that were perhaps useful once upon a time, but are now no longer needed, and may instead become unhelpful.
Is it possible to have a rewarding relationship based on avoidance?
Do you allow your best friend, your loved ones, to act differently from day to day?
At the beginning of every relationship, there is a sense of curiousity, and the vitality of a good relationship depends on maintaining this element of wonder. It keeps you present, so wonderfully aware of the other person. What they say, how they say it, their likes and dislikes… every discovery is celebrated.
Imagine. You could be the greatest love affair of your life.
Pain can be terrifying, but it can also be a way in to connecting with yourself. Your body is so marvellous at performing millions of interactions every day that you take them for granted. You only notice when something breaks down.
And then it is up to you to choose. To be aware and embodied; or to shut your ears and go about business as usual.
Your body is talking. Are you ready to listen?
Inspired by Ana Forrest and Kim Ann Johnson