The practice of Integrative Medicine requires an open mind, receptivity and the confidence to share knowledge and experience. At our monthly team meetings our practitioners come together to learn from each other and expand the opportunities for healing for our clients. This blog is a great example of what was born from our last team discussion on pain. Tell us what you think, we would love to share your feed back. – Dr. Erin Wiley Clinic Director
By Crescence Krueger, BA
When the clinical team at the Integrative Health Institute got together for a meeting last week, our topic was pain. It’s what often brings people to the clinic and having a clear relationship to it is vital to healing. In a time when our social attitude towards pain is generally avoidance, becoming truly intimate with what you feel can be difficult to do. But it is essential. Like any other relationship, the one you have with your body flourishes when you come to it with utter receptivity. To receive another is to love them; when that “other” is your own sensations, feelings and thoughts, you love yourself, and in that, healing becomes possible.
Pain is the terrain of my work as a doula, helping women through the process of giving birth, and it is also the focus of my work in passing on a real understanding of yoga. In fact, both birth and yoga bring one into an unmediated experience of life’s power to regenerate and sustain itself, and pain is integral to the process. Being able to feel is vital to a woman’s ability to give birth, so vital that while pain receptors in the body of the uterus disappear in the nine months of pregnancy, they remain in the cervix, the outlet. Why? A woman needs to feel the dramatic transformation her cervix undergoes because it is this feeling that specifically triggers the release of the hormones that contract her uterus, alter her brain state and make it possible for her to give birth. Without feeling, the process stops, which is why women who get epidural anesthesia in the first part of labour usually need to receive a drug version of oxytocin, the hormone that contracts the uterus. Without it, they would never give birth. Of course, sometimes an epidural is the compassionate response to what a woman is feeling. Intelligent use of technology is a gift in giving birth, just as it is in all other realms of life. But an epidural rate in downtown Toronto hospitals of around 90% is reflected in a society whose first instinct on feeling any discomfort, from a headache to sore muscles, is to obliterate the feeling with drugs rather than listen to it. This speaks not of intelligence, but of a deep reactivity and fear of pain, which only causes more suffering as one separates from one’s experience, and with it, from what is real.
The thousands of years old technology of Yoga understands that it is your strength to receive your experience that leads to physical health, peace of mind and an abiding sanity. Feeling everything, including pain, allows the nurturing force of life to freely move through you. Pain is a sign that your body is responding well to your given circumstances. Pain is not the enemy; its presence tells you that change is necessary and, in fact, is already happening. Without pain, we would die. We wouldn’t know what our bodies needed. From hunger pains to the pain of sudden or chronic injury and illness, pain is our guide.
However, a numb or disassociated system needs extreme sensation just to feel “something”, and the idea of “no pain, no gain” can lead to using pain as one’s only reference, when much subtler sensations would be the appropriate touchstone, the result being continuous injury. A joint needs 60% damage before an MRI will show any damage. Additionally, addiction to the endorphin high that comes with pain can happen. Runners, or anyone doing an extreme sport, often get addicted to the high they get in pushing their bodies to their limit. While feeling great, people are actually hurting themselves. The opposite also happens. One can get a feeling of pleasure in being a victim of pain because there can be a kind of power in it, a feeling of virtuousness, or an opportunity to gain another’s kindness, or simple attention that feels otherwise impossible. We have a tendency to weave meaning into our pain, relating present pain to our past experiences of it. In giving birth, past trauma can be reawakened in the present, so having a means to integrate it, rather than react to it, is one of the things I give the women I work with. It can mean the difference between feeling whole and strong after giving birth or feeling overwhelmed and fragile. So a distinction needs to be made between the pain we are feeling and the suffering we may experience in association with it. Even when pain is persistent, much can be done to reduce suffering. To be with another in their pain and fully receive them is the heart of compassion and the essence of healing. We need to be received first before any pain can be “fixed”. Sometimes this is all that is needed for life to restore us.
The great American modern dancer Martha Graham said, “The body never lies.” Our bodies speak what we may not be able to put into words. In opening to pain, you open to every aspect of your experience; the integration that results is the definition of healing and also of spiritual “enlightenment”. To heal doesn’t mean you need to solve an issue but simply be able to live fully with it. In love.
Crescence Krueger has a deep understanding of what women need in order to give birth. Over the last twenty-one years, her work as a doula has brought her again and again into the heart of women’s authentic power, as they give birth not only to their babies, but also to themselves as mothers. Crescence practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.