Saturday, October 4, 2008

There’s No Such Thing as a “Bad Back”

There is a tendency, for those of us with problems (i.e. everyone), to focus on the problems and forget everything else. First and foremost, we need to remember the good, and appreciate the gifts, not obsess about the challenges. For those of us with physical ailments, we often blame and criticize the parts of our bodies which are challenged and struggling – when those are the parts which most need our love and support, instead.

There is no “bad back” or “bum knee.” There is a back and two knees that have worked their hardest for decades to keep you as mobile as possible, despite your misalignments, overwork, lack or excessive exercise, stress, and repetitive strain. You’ve been pushing your body around all these years – going to work when you’re sick or tired, skipping lunches or eating on the run, pushing yourself to athletic achievements or slouching on the couch eating potato chips, ignoring the occasional aches and pains or silencing them temporarily with Tylenol or Advil, and now your body is screaming at you to slow down and rest.

One common problem we all have is ignoring the early warning signs of imbalance, pain, and illness…until things get much worse, and then it’s much harder to reverse course. We ignore headaches, backaches, stomachaches – we pop a pill and keep working. We ignore PMS and other signs of hormonal imbalance, such as water retention, even joking about it, instead of seeing the signs of an imbalance that needs correcting. If we can’t sleep, we knock ourselves out with yet another pill (temporary symptom-relief that does nothing to address the cause of our insomnia). If we’re exhausted, we whip the tired horse with caffeine or sugar, forcing ourselves to keep going.

If we would only listen to our aching, irritable, bloated, tired-and-wired bodies, we would realize we have strayed far from our natural rhythms, and are headed for disaster. Mild symptoms lead, eventually, to moderate-to-severe symptoms. Intermittant symptoms lead to persistant symptoms. If we don’t listen to the voice of reason (slow down, eat well, take care of yourself, relax, live in harmony with the seasons and the Earth), then the voice of reason will get louder…and bring out the giant mallet. Whack! Arthritis! Whack! Lupus! Whack! Fibromyalgia! And on and on.

Collectively, we need to relearn respect for the natural wisdom of our bodies. The unlearning of that natural wisdom began in childhood:

You’re hungry? It’s not dinnertime yet!
You’re tired? It’s not bedtime yet!
You want to run and dance and play? Sit in your seat, be still, and turn to page 143 of your textbook!

We become trained, from an early age, to be obedient to external authority, and to ignore our inner wisdom, to neglect our self-care in favor of being “good.”

Too tired to go to school today? Too bad! Get going!
20 years later:
Too tired to go to work today? Too bad! Get going!

Instead of parents, teachers, and other authority figures telling us what to do, all day, every day, now we fill that role ourselves – our minds boss our bodies around just like abusive parents. Just like abusive parents, our minds order our bodies around, neglect their needs, and refuse to listen.

The change begins with self-love. Become a nurturing and caring parent to your body. Listen to it. Be gentle with it. Give it what it needs. We can re-learn the ways of natural, inner wisdom, through loving, nurturing, and befriending our bodies. We know what we need. We just need to listen, and heed the message.

Too tired to go to work today? Hmm…what’s wrong? A little run down….Let’s stay home, do a little work from home, have some soup and extra vitamins, then take a nap. If we feel better, we can go to work tomorrow.

I promise, the world won’t crumble if you take a sick-day now and then. But you might crumble if you don’t! If you won’t listen when you’re tapped lightly on the shoulder, look out for the big mallet. Severe illness or pain is a sure-fired way for your body to get your attention. Don’t shoot the messenger. Listen up before out comes the giant sledgehammer – which you might not survive. Heed the message. If it hurts, don’t do it. If your back hurts, don’t call it “bad” and silence it with drugs. Rest it, ice it, massage it, bathe it, help it feel better. The same goes for any challenged and struggling part of you, including your mind, all your internal organs, and in the case of systemic illness, your whole self.

In the case of chronic, all-over illness or pain, you may begin to see your whole self as “bad.” You are not bad. You’re not a failure, a loser, weak, or to blame. You are hurting. You are challenged and struggling. You are ill. You need rest. You need help. You need healthy food, nutritional supplements, plentiful water, fresh air, sunlight, gentle exercise, and most of all, loving support and assistance, to get well. Please don’t beat yourself up. Think of yourself as a good friend who is hurting who needs your help to get better. Treat yourself the way you would treat your youngest child, or your best friend.

There is no need for guilt or shame – such negative feelings hold us back from taking care of ourselves, and from reaching out for help. The people who care about you want to help you – please don’t be shy about reaching out to family and friends. The ironic thing is, most people will readily go out of their way to help the people they care about, yet we neglect to take care of ourselves, and resist asking for help when we need it. So break the cycle – speak up, reach out, and give the people who care about you an opportunity to be there for you.

And, as much as possible, reach out to holistic health providers for professional assistance. There are many healing techniques – Massage, Chiropractic, Ayurveda, Yoga, Chinese medicine, and Naturopathy, to name a few – that can help you heal. Allopathic, traditional Western medicine is often clueless when it comes to chronic, systemic illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain. The allopathic approach offers mostly temporary symptom-relief, addictive medications with long lists of side effects, and no cures. Complementary medicine, on the other hand, offers holistic approaches – many of them tried-and-true over thousands of years of use – that delve deeper, down into the underlying causes of systemic illnesses and pain, and heal the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.

But most of all, you need your own loving support to heal. No one else can “cure” you. Healing comes from within. In order to heal, you must give yourself the love you so richly deserve. Love heals all. Baba Nam Kevalam – Love is All There Is. All You Need is Love. Believe it or not, the signals of pain and debility you are currently experiencing come from self-love. Your body is issuing a cry for help, a loving plea from within begging you to slow down and nurture yourself and transform your way of life to be more in harmony with your natural rhythms and your basic needs. Heed the call. Love yourself. You can do this.

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