Last month a family member had knee replacement surgery. They replaced the bottom portion of his femur (thigh bone), the top of his tibia (shin bone), and gave him an all-new knee joint – WOW!
Being me, I talked to Dr. Carol about it to find out if there was anything I needed to know to support him as he heals from the surgery. I was relieved when Dr. Carol said that knee replacement surgery has been successfully for 20 years now, and that as long as he listens to what the doc says, all will be good.
I am both thrilled and amazed at how many parallels with therapeutic yoga I am seeing and hearing during his recovery:
- After the surgery they got him moving almost right away – move it or lose it!
- The homework was all physiotherapy based – lots of simple strengthening and range of motion. The requirement is to practice daily.
- Move only in your pain free range of motion.
I’ll be honest; the last one was a pleasant surprise 🙂
From a yoga perspective, the idea of “no pain” comes from the most basic tenet of the practice, Ahimsa. Ahimsa means “non-harming” or “non-violence” in its traditional translations. I also appreciate the translation of “love, reverence and compassion for all beings, including ourselves”.
The basis of a traditional yoga practice is to approach everyone and everything we do with respect and love – this includes recovery and rehabilitation from illness and injury. Sometimes we lose patience, even with our healing. I know for me, being in pain (especially when it feels like it’s all the time) is exhausting… my fuse gets significantly shorter.
Perhaps this is why we have the tendency to try and move through the “healing” part quickly. Interestingly, healing is a huge part of the journey… the integration of new experiences into our existing being. We are doing this all the time. Yet sometimes we try to rush it. I remember years ago reading an article that reminded the reader that rushing was a form of self-harm. I also remember thinking to myself, “Sheesh, I rush all the time!”
Another aspect of the “no pain” idea is biological. Our nervous system basically asks one question – “Am I safe?” When the answer is yes, phew. When the answer is no, our stress response kicks in (fight-flight-freeze) and an entire bio-chemical reaction unfolds.
The stress response is governed by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. When it activates, the following changes occur in the body (and yes, these changes absolutely affect the mind too):
- Heart-rate, respiration, blood pressure and blood sugar increase;
- Blood clotting factor increases;
- Stress neurotransmitters (epinephrine), hormones (cortisol, dopamine, epinephrine/adrenaline and norepinephrine) and neuropeptides (increases alertness and sense of urgency) are released;
- Blood is directed to the hind brain (primitive) and major muscle groups (increasing muscle tension);
- Blood is directed away from the digestive tract, reproductive organs, periphery and complex thought centers of the brain, and;
- Immune system impairment (white blood cell count is reduced due to the secretion of corticosteroids).
Our body goes into high alert, and this is a good thing. Should you need to run away from a lion, dinosaur, or attacker – you need this stress response. Where things get a little sticky is if your stress response becomes chronic, which means it does not turn off when the trigger stops. Chronic stress is thought to be responsible for a host of dis-eases including digestive disorders, heart dis-ease, obesity, diabetes and cancer – to name a few.
What does this have to do with no pain – well, pain is a trigger for our stress response. Every time we feel pain (physical, energetic, emotional, mental or spiritual) our body goes into the stress response. The bio-chemical shifts that take place actually slow down our body’s natural healing abilities – all the energy goes to other things!
In order to heal, we need to reduce our stress response – we need to do our best to be PAIN FREE! One of my therapeutic yoga teachers is huge on pain free movement.
When I was working to heal my shoulder, I remember not having any movement that was pain free – it was hard and uncomfortable. I remember at one point the range of motion was so small that I could not understand how it was doing anything. I thought I was wasting my time and still not getting better. It was very frustrating. Over time, I figured a few things out:
- Tiny pain free movements are training the body to move pain free and stress free. With the wiring of our nervous system, we cannot go through pain to get out of pain – we need to stay out of pain altogether). If we can stay patient and present with the process, one day we will notice that we are making progress 🙂 This begins with baby steps, especially if our body is accustomed to a lot of pain.
- Healing takes time – there simply is no rushing this process. Pushing the body will not result in healing faster. The likely result is longer slower healing.
- Rest is VERY important. When healing, the body needs extra rest. Healing requires a lot of energy and patience.
As usual, I hope there is something in this newsletter that is helpful to you. At this time I invite you to inquire into your experiences: Is there a way you can reduce the pain in your life (body, energy, emotions, mind or spirit)? How do you currently practice ahimsa? Are there new options or opportunities for you to practice ahimsa?
I found a great healing blessing online 🙂
Bless this day with healing,
Bless this day with radiant sun energy,
Fill each cell of the body,
Bringing a flood of healthy energy to the body,
Banishing illness and disease, as healing grows.
May the abundant powers of health flourish within,
Each day may they expand and grow stronger,
Bringing the gifts of vitality, strength and wellbeing,
Blessings flow now with ample energy & happiness.
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),
Mona Warner, ERYT500 & CYA-E-RYT500