Are You Bracing Against Pain?
When we have pain, we tend to hold and protect the area that hurts. Initially this may be helpful, but over time, holding parts of yourself still creates more problems. When parts of ourselves are “on vacation” instead of participating in our actions, other places have to do more work. This often leads to strain and injury.
Moving is usually the best thing you can do to feel better, even when you’re in pain. If your usual exercise or physical activities exacerbate your pain, you can look for other ways to move that are easier and match your current capacity. For instance, taking a short walk in a flat place instead of your usual hiking in the hills, or taking a gentle swim instead of doing your weight-lifting or cardio machine workout.
The Power of Micro-Movements
Even when your pain has you laid up on the couch, you can still move. Surprisingly, a lot can change by just doing micro movements while lying in bed or on your couch. The key is the friendly, non-judgmental attention you bring to yourself and your sensations as you move.
In order to pay attention to how you move, you need to go slowly. This gives you time to notice things like when do you breathe in and when do you breathe out? What is your contact like with the surface below—are you actually giving your weight to it? When you broaden your attention beyond where it hurts, can you find parts that feel neutral or even pleasant?
Benefits of Broadening Your Attention
When it comes to back pain, it’s useful to widen your focus beyond the place in your back that hurts. Observe what happens in other parts of your back and the rest of yourself. You might notice if there’s any place you’re holding that you might soften instead.
Another helpful approach is to think of distributing movement through your whole spine, from tail to head. Sometimes it’s not the painful parts of your spine that aren’t moving but rather places you never think about! In this case, if those places start to participate, the other parts are less likely to feel sore or strained.
A Little Love for Your Back Exercise
Here’s a 3-minute movement sequence to gently wake up and coordinate your whole spine, reduce muscular tension and help relieve back and other pain.
These movements are best done lying on the floor on a mat or carpeted surface. If any part of this sequence isn’t comfortable, pause and make adjustments to be more comfortable. For example, you might change the position of your feet or make the movement smaller, slower or even just imagine it.
1. Tilt Your Knees to the Right
Lying on your back, bend your legs and stand your feet flat on the floor. Have a little space between your feet and knees.
Slowly tilt both knees a small amount to the right and return to the middle. What’s important here is not the distance you go but how you tilt your knees. How gently and smoothly can you do it? Here are some other things you might notice:
- Do you breathe in or out as you lower your knees? As you come back?
- Are you holding in your chest, neck or elsewhere? Is it possible to soften there?
- How far up your spine does this movement go?
Rest and observe: Are there any effects from doing these movements? For instance, has your contact with the floor or your sense of length, width or comfort changed? Are there differences between your right and left sides?
2. Repeat #1 to the Left
3. Tilt Your Knees Right and Left
Go slowly and find out:
- Is one direction easier, smoother or goes farther without extra effort?
- How far does this movement travel up your spine when your knees are to the right versus left?
Again, pause and look for any differences or echoes from the movements.
4. Roll Your Head While Tilting Your Knees
Let your nose follow your knees as they tilt right and left. Allow your whole spine to turn from tail to top of head. Coordinate your head and legs to move together at the same speed. Find how to make this movement a little lighter and more enjoyable each time.
5. Again, Tilt Your Knees to the Right (as in #1)
Has anything gotten easier or clearer since the beginning? What does your head do now that you’re not intentionally rolling it? Can you allow your head and neck to be free to respond to the movements of your legs?
After a few times to the right, switch to tilting your knees to the left. Do you feel the movement farther up your spine than before?
6. Notice Differences as You Lie, Stand & Walk
Rest on your back and notice any differences. Then slowly stand and feel the weight on your feet, the length of your spine and the quality in your back, neck and shoulders. Finally, walk around and observe whether any part of you feels a bit easier or more comfortable after doing just a few gentle movements with awareness. As you go about the rest of your day, you might listen for echos of these movements of your pelvis and back or ask yourself, “Is there any place I can soften right now?”
This is just one of the many gentle movement sequences designed to help ease pain and stiffness and develop your body awareness so you can move in greater comfort.
If you’d like relief from back, neck or shoulder pain, sign up for one of my August class series: A Little Low Back Love that Will Free Your Neck and Shoulders or Walking: One of the Best Medicines for Neck and Shoulder Problems.