When tension or pain shows up in your body, if you’re like most people in our culture, your first thought is either to ignore it if you can, or to take some kind of drug to make it go away. But what if the pain is there for a reason? What if it has a message, or several messages, for you?
Take Medical Action & Emotional Action
I don’t have an “either/or” kind of holistic mindset, so if you were to go into my medicine cabinet you’d see Tylenol sitting right next to the Arnica. Sometimes when I have a headache I reach for the Tylenol, but often times I don’t end up needing to once I’ve tuned into the sensations of pain or discomfort and gotten the info my body wants me to focus on.
What I do is simple, and is something you can try, too. I always ask a few questions of myself as I tune in to any physical symptom that pops up in my body.
Question1: What’s going on physically?
This is where you take inventory of things like what you’ve eaten, how long you’ve been at the computer, how much stress you’re under, what activities might have contributed, the position you slept in last night, and so on. This is the logical and linear part of the investigating. The yang part, you might say, because it’s where you think, analyze, and use the process of elimination.
But don’t stop there! Even if it seems pretty clear cut, stay curious.
Why did you catch this bug that’s going around? (you don’t always catch whatever’s going around)
Why did staring at the computer hurt your head so much this particular day? (some special reason at play?)
Why did your child happen to get an earache now? (not last week, not next week
There are always germs in the environment. And there are always curbs to trip on, accidents to be had, papers you could cut your finger on, etc. So when something happens in one given moment, or when tension “sticks” to your body one particular day, there’s probably more to the picture than you’ve considered before.
I encourage you to follow through for more info to see what else you can find. It’s worth it – it often helps move through the “pain” faster. So ask a few more questions.
Question 2. What’s going on emotionally, or “personally” this week?
I always start my work with 1x1 clients with a check-in by asking, essentially, what showed up in their week. It never fails that a head cold, a sore throat, or a stubbed toe ends up directly informing the topic we left off with, or the emotional topic de jour.
One client, would always find when she had a sore throat, that there was something bothering her that she needed to either express to her husband (we were working on relationship stuff) or simply admit to herself. She’d take supplements and vitamins, but would find that when this emotional piece was brought into the picture, that’s what made the soreness dissipate. It worked every time.
Others find that there’s predictably something to be discovered behind tense shoulders, cold sores, wheezing… you name it. The emotional piece, as it relates to shoulders, sores, and wheezes, might be straight-forward and easy to identify. Or it might be a little more subtle.
But either way, I invite you to investigate every symptom of pain through this emotional lens. The more information you have about what’s going on with you, the better. Logic will help you to an extent if things are relatively straight-forward, but if you get stuck finding an emotional connection to the symptom, try to access your intuitive knowingness, your gut instinct.
It’s not that hard to get intuitive information, it’s just something we’re under-practiced on. Simply breathe deeply for about two minutes to still your body, and get your mind focused solely on your breath. Then, “presence” yourself with your throat (we’ll stick with that example). In other words, let yourself focus on the sensation of pain or discomfort, visualize a picture of your throat, or imagine you could have an interview with this one body part by giving it the microphone.
Then ask it what you need to know. Listen. The information you get might come in one quick download, or it might come in scattered pictures & half-thoughts that you’ll need to assemble, like a puzzle. Either way, just try to see what you can gather – without censoring out the things that seem illogical. This is the yin approach. The yang had its turn already.
Question 3. What's this about on both levels?
To recap for yourself all the contributing factors for your sore throat, make a mental list: not getting enough sleep, not speaking up to your husband, stress at work over this project with your boss.
Sometimes this step helps shed light on how much more a “non-medical” issue impacts your body than you’d previously realized. Like, “Wow, both with my husband and my boss there’s a pattern of me not being heard. I guess that’s a bigger deal than I thought.”
Question 4. What actions can I take – again, on both levels?
Alright, it’s totally fine to take whatever medical action makes sense – in fact you SHOULD attend to your body/complaint on that physical level. Just make sure you make a plan for the “non medical” aspects as well.
Ask that body part, in our example the throat, what all it wants you to do. It wants some vitamin C? Great. A really good couple of meals? Got it, makes sense. And for you to make a space to communicate with your husband? Ok, will do.
Question 5. Connected to other body parts?
This is kind of an advanced step, but I think you’re ready for it.
Once you’ve gotten all the info you need about your throat, which is maybe a 3-4 minute process max, tune in again and ask if there are any other body parts connected to any of the issues you identified. In Chinese medicine, there are always interconnections between various body parts, so whether you do or don’t get much info on this question the first few times you try this, just remember that a throat imbalance might go hand in hand with some other body part.
If nothing comes up, you’re done. But you’re not looking for anything fancy here. If you ask the question, “Where else in my body do any of these issues show up?” and an image comes up in your mind of your calves, great. If a shooting pain goes down your wrist, great. Just go with it. Repeat the process with those parts (questions 1-5) that pop into your awareness.
It’s Easy, Once You Practice It
Following the logical (yang) part of this process is usually easy for everyone. The intuitive (yin) part takes some practice, because most of us haven’t spent 12+ years in school honing it the way we have our brains.
But the upshot of this whole thing is that finding out everything you can about a symptom usually supports the body in healing more quickly. So it’s really worth the 3-4 minutes of effort, even if part of it feels a little clunky as you’re getting used to it.
Sometimes a symptom goes away quite quickly after asking all the questions – like the gas alert in your car that goes off the minute you leave the gas station. Other times, 24 hours is enough. And yes, sometimes when we’re working with symptoms that are accompanied by a complex or life-long story, the detangling (both medically and “non-medically”) can require several months or professional support.
Just remember, the next time you twist an ankle or your hemorrhoids flare up – the body has a message for you both on the surface and under (sorry, that wasn’t a hemorrhoid joke). :)