Thursday, October 13, 2011

Curing Back Pain with Yoga: personal testimonial

I'd already identified the hip flexors as a longstanding problem area for myself, and that the right hip was noticeably tighter than the left.  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.  
There is a posture called Child's Pose, fairly easy in physical complexity and rigor (photo courtesy of Yoga Journal): 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 completely devoid of any sexual feelings or thoughts.  When it was over, I felt brand-new, reborn.

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 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 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 un-wellness or dis-ease .  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.

Another idea is that a facet of the psyche had been dislocated when i experienced my head trauma accident at 13 years.  I remember complaining of hip/pelvic pain and having been X-rayed but diagnosed non-conclusively.    On impact, the fractured aspect of psyche had retreated into the injured hip to recuperate, and had perhaps gotten trapped there, struggling to be found and freed.  While far-fetched, I must appeal to the distinct senses of return and wholeness I experienced, and a noticeable change in mood and countenance (as reported by a witness of the event) for substantiating this intuition.

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