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#30days – a pain in the neck or a process of discovery – you decide

Just over 30 days ago I was having a bad day and I made a decision to change that, I set myself a sadhana (resolve) to recommit to my practice. My intention was to bring back in some practices that I had lost, to try out some new ones and to just see how it impacted upon my life. To see if my life was made happier, more joyful as a result of these practices.

I committed to a daily asana practice which I have pretty much done – still though my practice is still something that very much gets fitted in and around both my family and working life. Whilst this is fine, I still feel a sense of discontent over this and wish to find a way that works better for me. Ultimately I do know that the only way is to just get up earlier but I am sensing a little internal resistance to this. I have however been starting my day with pranayama & meditation – the alarm is set for 5.30am and I have 30 minutes before everyone else is up and around and in general it is a time that I love but I have to be careful to not set too much store by this time and to not let it become a chore. But even as I write this I know that all I am creating for myself is another story with which to make myself feel bad about – where do we draw the line between discipline and self shaming? I do not have the answer to this – instead I shall simply keep trying to figure it out.

What became very apparent during this time was that the persistent pain I was feeling in my neck & shoulder was not going to go away. So I took the time to go back to what I know about the shoulder, to read and research and come up with a good, tried and tested therapy program for my shoulder that I would work with daily. This is an ongoing process and shall continue to be so. However, what I have talked less about is our relationship to pain and to what it really and truthfully means. So I started from the beginning and went back to one of my favorite TED talks – see below – with Lorimer Moseley – who speaks in 2011 about what pain is. I urge you to listen, it really is brilliant, it is also very entertaining, so if nothing else, it will make you laugh.

Pain, according to LM’s research, is an output of the brain that is designed to protect you and NOT something that comes from the tissues of the body. In fact he says, PAIN IS A CONSTRUCT OF THE BRAIN – now I do know this, I have read enough, learnt enough to know this to be true. But when it is you experiencing the pain it becomes extraordinarily hard to believe this concept. Pain is happening because my shoulders are not in the right place due to sport, computers, stress etc and this is putting a strain on stuff etc etc………right? That seems easier to wrap the head around though doesn’t it because then surely all I need to do is fix the pain by fixing my shoulders. WRONG!

Well not totally wrong. I mean, of course there is so much benefit to stretching the muscles to create space, engaging the muscles to create strength and working to find greater release in and around the connective tissue. This is all very valid and worth doing, I will never say do not do this. In fact the old RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) plan is slightly flawed as we know now that movement, even if very gentle, is better than none at all during times of injury.  However, if we can understand that the more the neurons in the body recognise pain then they simply get better at producing pain and so the levels of pain may well escalate. So my shoulder pain, is it real? If I had a MRI and didn’t see any  damage would that suddenly take away the pain or is it that my nervous system is right now firing too many alarm bells and creating the pain. So is my pain real or perceived? Please understand that I’m not trying to dismiss the pain you or I experience, pain is something we suffer both physically  & emotionally & to ignore that would be utterly without compassion. However by exploring the root of our pain we can empower ourselves to feel able to do something about it.

So then I thought about the location of my pain. Shoulder and neck. What does this mean? Cue more reading, more research and I found this interesting set of words which resonated with me so very much. (In  fact the whole article was pretty interesting to me

“If we are having neck and shoulder problems, we need to question ourselves. Are we being too inflexible in our thoughts? Are we being too rigid? Are we afraid to see what’s on the other side of us or behind us? Are we taking too much responsibility on our shoulders? Are we taking on responsibility that is not ours. Do we refuse to see other’s point of view or perspective? Do we allow other’s refusal to see our perspective affect us.” The Healer’s Manual ~ Ted Andrews

OK so let’s just say that perhaps what I am experiencing is less about the body and more about me……2017 has been a year of many ups and downs. My work is flourishing, I could not be happier with where my work and teaching is going. I love where I live and my family are in a really good place. But there are challenges to life – Hong Kong is not straight forward and certain circumstances have arisen that are pretty high on the stressful list, nothing is new, it is all old stuff and it feels that 2017 is the year to confront it all, to turn around and face down the shadows within me. My awareness is growing, I am slowly learning to accept what has happened to me over the years but it is time to really fully adjust my habitual patterns of behaviour. I have a sense that 2017 is proving to be a year of huge transformation and growth for me, I know that as a result of these challenging days I shall emerge a new person. If I were to look at it from a traditional yogic viewpoint, 2017 is about tapas (austerity / purification) – by this I mean it is time to burn away the old habits that do not serve me and merely cause me pain. This pain I’m experiencing is merely providing me with a reminder that it is time. It is time to be who I need to be, to speak what I need to say and to do what I need to do.

Also in my sadhana I committed to more self care through diet, rest and managing my digital intake. For about 2 weeks I was really on top of it. I pre-made my food for the next day, it makes a huge difference to the quality of my day when I do this and this is simply about being organised. Through a skills exchange I was given 3 floats at Float On HK ( and I had one of these for 3 weeks in a row – I have committed to signing up to a monthly package when I return from the UK this Summer as I really loved these sessions. Floating is such a great therapy for the whole being and I truly recommend them. I gave myself rest time when I could and I did my best to keep the social media intake down. In these last few weeks though I have found myself being sucked back in, for various reasons. World events combined with the need to promote events online drew me back – it is clear to me though how addicted we all are, and that includes me, to social media. I know how it can influence me and I know how it can impact me, for the sake of my mental health this is something to be addressed.

Getting out into nature is important to me. Running the trails always lifts me, the humidity I find off putting however I am looking forward to a few weeks this Summer in the UK where running will be infinitely more pleasurable.

Booze – I decided to give up alcohol – I could write a whole blog post just on this alone! Challenging. I do not even drink that much but a glass of wine at the weekend I see is something I rely on. I noticed some edges creep in, the mental chatter around would my weekend be as nice and as fun if I was not having a drink. What would I do in social scenarios, would it stop me from wanting to go out? To be honest we have not been out much and so that has not been challenged a huge amount but the thinking was enough to create some unease. And then last Sunday came – a friend was coming for lunch. I did not even feel like a drink, there was no craving for it, in fact I think I did not even really want one and yet I felt the social thing to do was to open a bottle with a friend. 2-3 glasses later and BANG – a migraine struck me. I do get migraines and the trigger is invariably alcohol, even a tiny amount can do it, I am able to be functional with them but they are exhausting. This lasted for 2 days & yesterday I crashed – instead of writing this blog I fell asleep for 3 hours. Waking up I still felt unwell and it was not until I stepped onto the mat to breathe and move very gently that I started to feel ok again. So what was that about? What was going on there? Very simply I did not listen to my body and that was that. Now I am not about to become teetotal – I know that come this Summer I shall love to drink a glass of wine with friends and family, but I do also know that alcohol clouds me, it can feel like I am under a fog of something that I can not come out of and so I know that I need to really listen to my body more closely and instead of habitually having a drink because of societal pressure, I shall only have a drink if it feels absolutely right and my body feels ok with it. Not an easy one but an interesting experiment for sure and something I have learnt a huge amount from.

In summary I have developed for myself a really nice program around massage, myofascial release, postures and meditation that is working for me right now. I have used Yoga Glo less and have followed my own instinct more for my self practice, I am genuinely trying to listen to my body right now and go with what it needs. On some days, that is simply lying on a bolster and breathing. Setting the intention to renew my commitment to my practice has allowed me to engage with myself in yoga and it has also allowed me to engage with others in yoga. It has given me a new sense of direction, it has given me a sense of myself and what it is I need right now. It has also shown me in absolute clarity that as much as I have work to do and as much as my family need me, I need me too; I need me to be present, engaged and fully living life and that through this I shall continue to transform to be the best of myself, the happiest of myself and the most joyful of myself. In order for this to happen though I shall not try to rush the process but instead enjoy the journey of discovery.

The lesson of the butterfly 

A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.

The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.

The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.

What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.

Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.

By Paulo Coelho

Om shanti – peace x


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