My few days away in Ireland has been so relaxing, although as well as possibly taking in too much of the black stuff (I LOVE a Baby Guinness!) I think I have over dosed on sea air. I literally feel drugged with the need to sleep. My mum’s house overlooks the sea and every morning I have run down to the beach and back. I am not a natural runner and have always been envious of those who are. However yesterday I felt so in tune with my surroundings I somehow ran 10km straight. I was enjoying the stillness of the sea lapping the shore and the salt in the air that I literally forgot how far I had run. Now if only I could take this feeling back to Bristol!
I am currently staying in Kerry, possibly the most beautiful county in Ireland. I say ‘staying’ but I’m actually from here although you’d know by my accent it is a long time since I lived here. All my family now live in Ireland and I’m the only one in the UK. And for so long Kerry has never felt like my home despite the fact my mum, brother and sister live here. However of late, I have enjoyed coming here to switch off from the world. For so long I resented that not much went on here, now I look forward to it. Is that growing older or possibly realising that you need different parts and paces to your life? It’s like my running; when I think about how frequently I should run, or how I should stay out longer I always felt like I was battling myself. And I therefore battled with any sort of decent distance and regularity to my running and I certainly never enjoyed it. Today I just ran because I was taking in the beautiful views and feeling like the fresh air was cleansing my soul and somehow the distance just came. It was the first time I understood how some people talk about running as a kind of meditation.
It’s interesting how our motivations and intentions can have a huge impact about how we feel. I spend a lot of my days talking to clients about how there really is too much ‘should’ in their lives. They tell me, “I should hold my shoulders down and back’, ‘I should go to the gym more”, ‘I should relax more’, ‘I should have better posture’. My response is always the same “How about you have a little less ‘should’ in your life?” Which is an interesting concept. We are conditioned to believe that nothing comes unless you work hard for it. That no gain comes without pain. And that you can always do better.
I work with many people who are in chronic or long-term pain and I see such a pattern of holding, of needing to ‘do more,’ and often, when they really look at themselves deeply, of holding onto emotions. With Pilates we look to use movement to heal. With the machines and principles of Pilates we create better strategies for movement. If you move better you feel better. And often when people do they are surprised by the release they feel when they move differently.
In the past two weeks I’ve worked with three people with chronic neck and shoulder pain. Each one of them had seen dozens of specialists and the frustration they felt with their problems was understandable. Each one was working really ‘hard’ on their posture, telling their bodies to behave in a certain way. But actually all they were doing was putting more stress, more holding and more pressure on a system which was overloaded already. During our sessions we experienced some tears, light headedness, a feeling of lightness and often elation when they realised they could move, be pain free and that the key to the quest for ‘better posture’ and less pain was actually to do less. For some people this feeling can come pretty quickly. When they allow themselves to meet that place where they can inwardly reflect and listen to their pain, body and mind we see a powerful response.
Pain is ‘felt’, or interpreted, by the brain. It is not directly related to tissue damage and often what is going on around us has a huge impact on how painful our back, neck or knee feels, or how frustrated we feel that we can no longer run liked we used to or go rock climbing. Often the key to managing pain is to get an area moving in a positive way in which the body feels safe (which is where the Pilates machines come in!) and thinking about what pain is trying to tell us. I so often hear responses like “it’s telling me I should sit up straighter or walk taller” or “I shouldn’t ski anymore” but it’s the responses like “it’s telling me that I am massively unhappy in my job” or “my husband doesn't appreciate me” or “I need to spend more time on me and less on everyone else” which create the biggest impact. These statement are often combined with emotion which seems to come from nowhere. The body store emotions and trauma within it and often it’s these emotions which get ‘trapped’ and cause the body to behave differently and then move differently leading to ongoing pain. The root cause of pain can often be about empowering you body to move again and listening to the response when it does. When we get to this point we start to really understand that pain isn’t something else to be battled. It’s something to listen to. Our bodies and mind are both wonderfully complex and wonderfully simple. Sometimes we just need to stop and listen.