About a week ago, I went to see a physical therapist for my recent shoulder injury and the subsequent pain I was experiencing (even more intensely than usual) in my neck and along the ridges of my shoulders.
During our time together, I spoke of long-term, chronic pain in my neck and shoulders. It has always been there, for as long as I can remember. It has gotten worth with time and pain in my right shoulder that I dislocated my sophomore year of college (April 1st, to be exact; that was a fun one).
After examining the muscles in each area, my PT told me that the pain I have been living with could go away.
It is caused by stress and anxiety, she told me.
Duh, I thought.
My sibling came for a visit the week before, and we had talked about the defenses children create to help them survive in the world while they figure out who they are. We had talked about the fact that we had likely worked through these defenses in our adult lives. I have spoken with pride about the self-work I have done. Well, it appears that my ego has been casting a shadow over the final bulwark, which has been stubborn in its continued presence, so much so that I have not even realized it has been working both for and against all of these years.
Yes, I have dug through and peeled back many many layers to find my own inner voice and to listen to it; I have been learning how to create healthy boundaries rather than presenting my self in the way I think others want to see me. However, all the while my brain has been continuing to send messages to my body to hold tension in specific areas just in case of an attack. Right before and beneath my very eyes!
According to Amy Weintraub (2004), When we experience trauma or loss and it is not fully acknowledged or accepted at the time of the experience, energy can be trapped in the body…Yoga can provide a safe way to release this trapped energy, stored as tension in the body. We may have a symptom, like chronic neck pain or a constriction in the chest or abdomen, something that mirrors in the physical body what is blocked in the emotional body (pp. 212-213).
My body has been under the impression that it needs to protect me.
More specifically, the muscles in my neck have been under constant tension because my jaw clenches in response to anxiety and any situation where stress is experienced. She spoke of a muscular metaphor about a bridge being held open, but I cannot recall the details. Suffice it to say that my body has learned to remain in a state of constant tension. So now, all I have to do is try to convince my body that I am no longer under attack.
I experienced something akin to epiphany as she was putting pressure on the peck muscles on the right side of my chest. I had been wondering how I could convince my jaw to stop clenching while she was taking note of the state of the muscles in my upper chest.
I am hoping that I can convince them to let go with a little pressure, she explained.
Hmmm, I mused out loud. I wonder if I could talk to my muscles.
That is a great idea! She exclaimed. You are so creative with your writing that I bet you could create a dialogue with your muscles.
And she began a dialogue right there.
Dear muscles. I know that for a long time you have sensed that I needed protection. I am thankful to you for protecting me, but now it is ok to let go.
(Something like that, anyway.)
I could give the marble in my neck a name, too! I was getting excited. The marble was a particularly painful muscle knot that had taken up residence in the right side of my neck.
Perhaps, if I could befriend my muscles and muscle knots, I could convince them to ease up, let them know there was no longer any danger.
I think about this for much of each passing day and into the evening. As I feel pain in my clenching jaw, I take note and attempt to loosen its grip. I hold my head and lengthen my neck like my head is filled with helium. I rock my head from side to side and around in a circle, first in one direction and then the opposite.
I am convinced that with time, practice, patience, and compassion, I can overcome this last standing wall and see what lies on the other side. Whatever may be waiting for me, I am ready.