Pain is, well, painful. It’s an unpleasant feeling you get when something’s gone wrong with your body. That feeling is not just physical; it’s psychological.
Your first instinct when you feel pain may be to make it go away, and of course you should. But if the way you do it is by avoiding it or masking it, then you’re not solving the heart of the problem. Pain is your body’s way of talking to you, so if you want to solve the reason for your pain, you have to listen to it–you have to listen to your body.
Many mind-body practices such as qigong or yoga are designed to help you do this. They train your mind to focus on your body. With your inner “ear” directed on your body’s sensations, you’re better able to notice more precisely what feels good, what doesn’t, and when it doesn’t.
If your pain is signaling that you have physical damage that needs medical attention, that can be pretty obvious and you should get it right away. But even while you are getting medical treatment, or if it’s an ongoing pain that requires management, or if it’s simply soreness from life’s activities, listening to your body can be part of the healing process. As Ilchi Lee, creator of Body & Brain Yoga and Tai Chi, writes in his recent book, The Power Brain: Five Steps to Upgrading Your Brain Operating System, “If you have a problem in your body, it’s normal to hurt, and you apply your mind to the source of that pain. The energy delivered through that mind is essential for healing.”
In Eastern medicine, in addition to a physiological or a psychological aspect, pain also has an energetic aspect. When the subtle life energy that travels through channels in the body becomes blocked for any reason, pain is often felt as a result. Focused awareness moves energy, so by concentrating on painful areas of your body, you can unravel the energy blockage.
Your brain can also be sensitized to feel the body’s subtle energy itself through meditation. Many such energy meditations are illustrated in The Power Brain. If practiced consistently, these meditations can increase the power of your focus and make your ability to feel and move energy ongoing and immediate.
Your state of mind as you focus on your pain and energy is very important. Stress and negative emotions such as fear and worry can make pain worse, or even cause it in the first place. As you focus on your pain, breathing can help calm your stress and emotions, help your focus, and relax your pain. It’s helpful to emphasize exhalation when you breathe through your pain, as if your pain is leaving your body with your breath. Focusing on your pain and breathing it out through your mouth is a simple meditative way to address pain that keeps you in the present moment. Dealing with just one moment at a time and one breath at a time reduces worry and fear. At the same time, it helps you listen to your pain.
In addition to breathing, you can give the painful areas of your body soothing messages, telling it everything will be OK. These messages will change the nature of the blocked energy causing the pain from hurting to healing. Ilchi Lee suggests that you tell your pain from your heart, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” If you do this, he writes, “you’ll be able to heal the problem much more effectively.”
To this set of pain relieving tools, you can add physical movement such as vibration, tapping, and rubbing. When you pay attention to your pain, your body may feel as if it wants to move in a certain way that will give it relief. Following your body’s desire will help work the pain out. Rubbing a painful spot is known to short-circuit the pain signals to your brain, providing some relief. Vibration from gentle shaking and tapping the area helps relax that area and break up the pain.
These holistic pain management guidelines can help you get through the many painful moments in your life. They are a means of tapping into the wisdom of your body. When you are in better tune with it, you can also manage your movement and your lifestyle choices so that pain is prevented in the first place.