We all have those days – your back is aching from your workout yesterday, or your entire body feels heavy from the moment you get up. When your body starts talking, how do you respond?
Our bodies are so incredibly intelligent; I think we don’t give them enough credit most of the time. They are the most valuable asset we have, the home we will reside in for our entire life. Our bodies enable us to do everything we do with varying degrees of challenge and ease. They heal themselves and retain patterns we repeat day after day.
If our body is our home, we should feel at home in our body, and yet so many of us don’t. We choose to ignore what our body is telling us, breaking the communication between body and mind until the signal is all too hard to find.
Everything we go through in life manifests itself in our bodies. Fatigue, fear and pain are the most common among the signals we read on a daily basis because these often occur at the extreme – symptoms of a problem we can no longer ignore, no matter how hard we try. We can stop before we get to that point, but to do so requires an awareness of the present moment that takes us away from our thoughts and busy minds.
Experience, the Best Teacher
I have been an athlete for a long time – for most of my life, actually. Gymnastics is not kind to your body, and I have a laundry list of injuries that tends to follow me around wherever I go. I am not broken; I simply had to learn to do my homework and heal myself at a young age.
There is a certain routine of maintenance I need to follow in order for my body to stay as active as I like to be. We are like machines in the sense that we require regular tune-ups, some grease and occasionally a major repair in order to keep moving. The sooner in life we learn this, the better. It will save us much pain down the road.
Some injuries just happen in life, in accidents that are somewhat unavoidable. When I broke my arm at age nine, sure, I was doing a stupid thing that, if I had told my coach what I wanted to do, they probably would have told me not to do it. I guess there are some things you just have to learn for yourself.
Most other times, however, an injury can be avoided simply by listening to what our body is telling us on a daily basis. If we come to practice exhausted one day, maybe it’s better not to push ourselves to work on our hardest skills. If this exhaustion continues, maybe it’s time to reassess our sleeping patterns, the way we are eating, or how we are managing all the stressors in our life.
Most often there are simple solutions to whatever we are working through; we just need the awareness and humility to acknowledge what is going on and then go do something about it. This extends to mental conditions, like depression, anxiety or even fear. If we go into a skill obsessing over the worst-case scenario, we are that much more likely to get hurt. I experienced this in a very real way in my own life and wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. It is important to acknowledge what is going on in your mind and talk about it because often the only way out of the fire is through.
Forcing your body to do something it doesn’t want to do at that moment hardly ever takes you anywhere good. We often push through fatigue and fight against pain until our body stops us, but this is no way to make progress or live a healthy, happy life. There is a fine line between discomfort and pain: if discomfort is the edge of the cliff we inch closer to each time we push ourselves to improve, ignoring pain is like jumping off that cliff without a parachute and feeling surprised when the crash landing hurts. There is a balance to be found, one that changes as we go through life. It is just another element of our practice.
Life has had to teach me this lesson many times before it truly began to sink in. Circus has been a lot kinder to my body than the daily pounding of gymnastics. I’ve found the risk to be more in slow injuries that occur over time rather than those that occur in an instant. In some ways, these injuries are harder to avoid, cunning little tricksters that sneak in when you’re not paying attention.
I’ve had to learn to listen to the pain in my wrist and slow down when we begin approaching a point of danger. It is a reminder to come back to my homework, to do my releases and get bodywork done. I have to pull back and be gentle with myself for a time. Maybe I have to take a break from hand balancing for a few weeks so that I may return, healthier and stronger than I was before (even if it seems impossibly hard at the time.)
Most recently, I found a yoga studio I truly love and began attending classes several times per week. An interesting addition to my training, it has changed the way I approach the sensations that arise as I practice. One day, we were holding a pose that can be quite painful for people who are tight in their hips. The teacher told us simply to observe the sensations that came up – where did we feel the stretch? Was there pain? If so, where was the pain? What kind of pain was it?
It was at that moment I finally understood the practice of non-reactive observation. This practice is immeasurably powerful; if we notice when pain comes up without immediately wincing, complaining or launching our body out of the position we are in, we can assess the situation for what it is without becoming emotionally attached. Is the pain a warning sign that we shouldn’t ignore, or is it the discomfort that comes with going someplace we haven’t been before? The only way to truly know is to learn these things for your self through trial and error.
Each of us needs to change our relationship with our body so that we may be able to continue to do the things we love for a long time. Instead of viewing our body as an inanimate object our mind controls we need to treat it as we would a partner in crime and learn to make decisions together.
When your body starts talking, how do you respond? What is it you truly need?
Maia Thomlinson is a collector of words and lover of stories, of the voices we don’t hear and the ideas we can’t yet fully understand. She is a poet and acrobatic storyteller who is passionately curious about life. Each week, she shares creative essays on her blog (www.mdthomlinson.com) and creates art to remind us all that we’re not alone.