Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How I Cured Chronic Back Pain

I'd already identified the hip flexors as a longstanding problem area for me, and that the right hip was noticeably tighter than the left.  Please keep these in mind as we proceed.  In early February, I found myself doing yoga poses to loosen my hamstrings and groin muscles.  Additionally, i was working on loosening the hips muscles.  Over the previous month or so I'd noticed some improvement in mobility in my skating.  Just before the yoga one evening, I'd warmed up my lower body in the bath.
(photo courtesy of Yoga Journal)
There is a posture called Child's Pose, fairly easy in physical complexity and rigor; the magic of this position is the extreme passivity of it.  Gravity does most of the work here; all the practitioner need do is breathe rhythmically and relax; alternately, the arms may be raised to rest on the back for more downward force.  I entered this and remained in it a minute or so, enhancing the stretch by leaning and rocking from side to side.  I started to feel significant discomfort from my right hip.  The discomfort built, peaked, and plateaued at a manageable level.  It was then that I realized that the hip was open!  Opening a joint like the hip largely means that you have flexed or extended it fully.  Believe me, if this sounds insignificant, it is not.  This is merely the beginning of a healthy relationship with a joint.  After a series of other poses, I reclined on the couch for a breather.  On a whim, I pulled my right knee into my chest and felt the sensation of full flexion without the resistance and pain that had long accompanied that kind of movement.  
I remember saying joyfully, "My hip is back!" as I wrapped my arms around my right knee as I held it to my chest and hugged myself.  What followed was absolutely amazing.  Words don't fully capture the spectrum of emotion I experienced in the next moments.  Grief, loneliness, guilt, sorrow, and more rushed out of me like a faucet, and I heard myself say "Where have you been?  I've missed you so much!"  It was like recovering a long-lost relative.  The tears began to well at the corners of the eyes and my heart soared with the force of its newfound buoyancy.  Again, this description does the experience very little justice.  The only way I can describe it meaningfully is to say that in an instant I felt reconstituted and whole, as though a vital piece of myself had abruptly returned from long hiatus.  I was overwhelmed by the lightness of my being, and wracked by the force of the sobs that tore free from my breast.  Then, after a time I was at peace again, though confused by the power, unexpectedness, and power of the experience.  As I struggled for ideas, thoughts, and words to describe what had just happened, it happened again, but differently.  The first time was a release of pent-up pain, fear, and loneliness and the lightness of being that immediately ensued.  Then, it was the complete feeling of joy and gratitude for what had just occurred; and *that feeling*, dear reader, is completely ineffable, beyond description.  It was like an orgasm in its intensity and the feeling of release, but devoid of carnality.  When it was over, I felt brand-new, reborn.

The writer would be lax to omit the events that initiated this healing.  I'd been in danger of losing my home since graduating in May because I could not find gainful and full employment.  On the first Tuesday of 2010, my home was sold to HUD in a foreclosure sale.  I experienced this as shameful and an embarrassment; that, however, was a choice I had made on how to construct the experience.  The 7 months leading up to the foreclosure were full of uncertainty and anxiety.  I'd read an article in the NYT about foreclosures and how homeowners who were "upside-down" or "underwater" (owing more on their mortgages than the asset was worth) were beginning to walk away from the property in significant numbers.  The threshold for this behavior was a loss of 25%, meaning that once the value of the asset fell below 75% of the mortgage homeowners were far more prone to walk away from their property.  My last tax assessment indicated that I'd lost 45% of the value of my home.  After reading the article, I realized that there was no use in trying to hold onto the home and that there was no reason to feel ashamed.  It's one thing to assert a truth, it's another thing entirely to live that truth.  In order to force myself to come to terms with my new-found truth, I revealed the details of my foreclosure in a Facebook status update in the first week of February.

Around the same time, I decided that I was sick of being sick; that I was done with experiencing fear, resentment, sadness, regret; and that I would consciously choose to experience joy, contentedness, and inner peace.  This too was confirmed through a Facebook status update during the first week of February.  I resolved to make peace with everyone in my life where it had been absent.

Now that I've had time to reflect, I submit the following hypotheses and explanations:  
A hip muscle had been locked, to various degrees, in a contracted state over a period lasting several years, limiting mobility and causing discomfort and pain through skeletal misalignment.  Clearly, this was the source of the back pain I had learned to tolerate and accept as part of my experience.
There is a mind-body connection, and it is bidirectional.  Psychic/mental inflexibilities can manifest as stiffness (refusal to bend, stretch, or extend in certain directions) which produce pain.  In turn, the body's physical inflexibility, it seems, can also entrap (parts of) the mind, hide, or disguise it, thus separating it from the whole.  Refusal to confront the source of pain amounts to tacit acceptance of it, thus locking one in a mental cage from which only one may free oneself.

The mind can repress affect (feeling), thus manifesting it in flesh as illness or pain as in the case of my hip.  Pain is not inherently bad; it is a signal of dis-ease or un-wellness.  When we respond to pain in such a way to alleviate it, we engage in active self-love.  Conversely, ignoring pain or suppressing it leads to suffering, which is altogether unhealthy because it does not promote self-love.  Suffering pain over a long period is like living in a prison.  The pain profoundly affects the mood and psyche in ways that we may not discern directly.

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