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Am I ready to explore? 

I have been asking myself this question recently. Even though I work as a physiotherapist, I have been moving less and spending more time on my laptop during the last few months. I have also had more pains and niggles. I am working on exploring the nature of these pains and niggles, alongside increasing my movement in a way that I enjoy. This blog may be useful for people who are managing pain and also for those who are considering increasing their physical activity.

I want to share with you an approach that has been helping me personally and also many of my clients when exploring movement and pain. This approach begins with looking ‘within’ prior to taking action. The aim is that by exploring inwardly, I am allowing the right action for me to become clear. I want more and more of the actions I take to emerge from my own internal impulse and be less driven by external stimuli. In this way, exploration of my movement and of any pain I experience will be an exploration of myself – my body, my inner world and my purpose. 

Are you ready to explore? 

Let’s start by exploring our awareness of our movement.

Whether we feel in good shape or that we have been neglecting our body this process can offer benefit. Let’s be very honest but also non-judgemental with ourselves in answering these questions. 

How often do we move throughout a normal day?

How do we feel in our body? 

Where do we feel strong and capable? 

Where do we feel weakness or vulnerability? 

What does our body need help with (physical, nutritional, emotional)?

Our body is our nomadic home! It is engineered for movement. It can:

Perhaps we haven’t engaged in some of these movements for a while. However, where ever you are physically right now, that is exactly where you need to be. We do not need to be critical of this place. Let’s welcome this as our starting point. 

One thing I can guarantee is that your body is an adaptation machine! If you challenge it, it will adapt and create change. If you don’t challenge it, it will also adapt, and become accustomed to not being challenged and not needing as much muscle mass etc.

We know that there are many benefits to movement. We also know that it is healthy for us to engage in resistance and cardiovascular training each week. This is useful to know but isn’t always motivating. Can we approach our motivation for movement and exercise from a different perspective? Can we find the motivation to move from within us – from a place of fun and enjoyment?

Maybe you have fallen out of love with movement or maybe out of habit. Maybe exercise was never something you enjoyed. So how can you find ways to move that you enjoy? Do you like the social element / do you like personal space? Do you like to move in nature or in a gym? There are many ways of moving. The key is that you find a way of moving that brings fun!  

Here are some examples of a variety of movement options: physiotherapy-led sessions, personal training sessions, group classes, yoga, walking, pilates, dance, zumba, parkour, gymnastics, martial arts, field sports, hiking, rock climbing, running, weightlifting, horse-riding, swimming, surfing, cycling etc… 

Do any of these call out to your body? 

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to move your body in the way it needs without it ever being a chore or a ‘to-do’ list item. Would you be open to exploring how you can become empowered through movement and enjoy connecting with your body?

Let’s now look at exploring pain and our bodies.

On a simple level, a pain experience is ‘feedback’ from our nervous system warning us that it is not feeling comfortable with something. 

How do we approach this ‘feedback’ when it presents itself? 

As pain arises, being able to pause and listen to the ‘feedback’ it is offering can be helpful. Start with a mental scan through your body from your feet and up to your head. As we scan can we accept how we currently are without wanting it to be other than it is. This can be very challenging as we often have our own stories and strong emotions alongside areas of pain/discomfort. Let’s try to leave our stories and thoughts about our pain to one side for a moment. Let’s tune into the actual sensations that we are feeling in an area of pain/discomfort, as they are. 

What if we take away the word ‘pain’? Can we describe any uncomfortable sensations with more specificity: e.g. right now in my neck I feel a heaviness and an ache in my left jaw. Can we map the territory of these sensations? I notice the ache is centred around my jaw and moves through my gums. I notice the heaviness is coming from the bottom of my skull to my shoulders. As I notice these physical feelings I am not getting stuck in judgement or frustration that they’re there – I’m simply observing and listening.

As we scan we may notice we are holding tension or tightness in certain areas. The next step is to give these areas the opportunity to soften. Can we allow our breath to gently deepen as we relax our body. As I write I am checking in with myself and noticing tension in my jaw, and also that I’m leaning towards the screen and my shoulders have elevated. I now take longer and deeper breaths, I allow my elbows to drop, I soften my jaw and I relax my neck. It takes a few seconds, and it brings my awareness to patterns of tension I may be holding, and allows me to change them.

As we explore parts of our body an emotional response may arise. Emotions are felt physically in the body and often have thoughts associated with them. Difficult emotions can be quite uncomfortable to experience. If you feel able to, see if you can allow an emotion to come up without pushing it away or trying to change it. Thich Nhat Hanh, a buddhist monk, talks about the practice of welcoming uncomfortable feelings. We can speak to an emotion as it rises: ‘hello my anger, you are welcome’.

This is a tool to enhance our awareness of the feedback from our bodies and nervous system. This will help us on our journey to managing pain. It will also involve movement and may involve medical support/therapy as appropriate.
If you would like support with pain or discomfort or to get help with movement please feel very welcome to contact me (www.restorephysio.ie or [email protected]).

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