“Healing is a process of clarifying our values and changing our behaviors to reflect them.”
(Art Brownstein, 2001, p. xii)
My Yoga Intensive Studies gatherings happen the last weekend of every month; my individual yoga intensive happens every day.
This past month has been a challenging one for my body, which seems to have communicated to me the need to slow down, reflect, and refocus my energies on work that will bring the most meaning for me and create opportunities for building empathy in the world.
On the morning of the last day of our April yoga gathering, I bent over to pick up my ukulele before going into the studio. I had set it down to open the door. When I stood up, I felt a shock of pain ripple across the middle of my back.
“Oh no. Not again.” I heard a voice inside of me.
The last time I had felt this pain, I had wound up lying immobile on the hardwood floor of my home in Alaska, an unpacked U-haul waiting empty in my driveway.
This time, I was determined not to wind up on the floor. By shear will, I made it through the day, in pain but able to move.
The next morning, I went through the motions of my morning, preparing to go to work at the bookstore. It would be my full week of work before leaving to become a full-time, unpaid songwriter.
I took a shower, drank coffee, and took my dog Okami outside for his morning constitution and breakfast.
Okami was still not accustomed to the run my partner put up for him in the backyard, so I walked out with him. When he finally went potty, he was overcome and began jumping up and down. I was excited, too, and did the same.
Then came a second ripple of pain in my back. I walked inside the house and slowly lowered by body onto a bench beside our breakfast table. And that was all I could do.
Panic set in. “How can I call work? I can’t move.”
My phone was charging in an outlet outside my bedroom and might as well been miles away. I could not bring myself to move to get it.
I found my breath and inhaled and exhaled for a few moments. Finally, I pushed down on the bench and eased myself into a standing position. I moved ever so slowly to my phone and texted my coworkers that I was barely able to move and would not be able to go into work.
My body had decided for my mind that it was time to slow down.
I reached out to my online community in an effort to learn from people who may have experienced back pain.
Book recommendations came soon thereafter, and I began reading one by Art Brownstein that filled my heart and mind with hope.
“If you are in pain, you can be healed” (p. xix), Brownstein wrote.
His words seemed to echo the pain I had experienced in my back in Alaska and in the present. This pain was directly connected to stress and events in my life that I was trying to control.
“I now see that my back pain was a catalyst for a profound personal transformation in my life” (p. 13).
Brownstein had ignored his body for much of his life and never considered that he could fix the pain in his body through practices that did not involve myriad surgeries.
“While pain descends upon your life initially as an unwelcome visitor, if you have the courage to study its deeper lessons, it will be a consummate instructor” (p. 14).
Through the help of my body, the deep layers of pain in my life were coming to the surface of my conscious awareness where I could confront the pain, understand it, and then release it. As I did, my body began to heal, so I knew I was heading in the right direction. I decided to follow the pain in my body. It was really as simple as that (p. 12).
And so I read Brownstein’s words while propped up on the couch amid pillows and ice backs and as I lay on the floor looking up at the ceiling.
I chanted prayers I had learned from yoga gatherings.
I thought about the timeline of events that had led to each occasion of pain in my back. I reflected on what I could to restore balance to my life.
“Pain helps you grow and change when you need to take better care of yourself” (p. 43).
What did I need to do to take better care of myself? I realized that lying still, breathing deeply, and taking the time to wonder was the first step.
While pain may have become noticeable when it declared its presence through my back, it ran far deeper than I initially appreciated.
Pain was a messenger. And pain was sending a warning message to my entire self that to live a life more free of physical discomfort required spending time learning how to recognize and heal emotional discomfort.
I am still in the process of listening to my heart and body to learn more about creating balance. But I am thankful to Art for his recommendations, including this most poignant suggestion:
“Follow your pain, and it will show you the way to healing—not just the healing of your back, but to a much deeper healing of your entire being” (p. 60).
Art Brownstein. (2001). Healing back pain naturally: The mind-body program proven to work. New York, NY: Pocket Books.