Flowing Freely Again
We have all experienced pain. Nearly everyone is in some kind of pain at some time... and for some of us, it just won't stop. Today we will look at one very important principle in working with our pain. This key to working with and healing our pain comes from Chinese medicine (think acupuncture and herbal medicine), what I study and practice in my clinic. There is a reason why you keep hearing or reading about acupuncture in the news and how it helps people in pain. It does! But pain doesn't just mean physical pain... we are talking pain on every level.
But how? And why? Big questions! But first…
Let’s talk about pain.
Pain is a Signal
What kind of pain do you feel?
What is it? Where do you feel it? It is from an old injury? Is it new? It is in your stomach? Your chest? Is it a result of emotions? Past abuse? Does it keep you up at night? Does it distract you from your work? Interfere with your relationships? Is it sharp or dull? Does it come and go?
Pain is an alarm alerting us that something isn’t right in some way. That sounds simple, but think about it. Pain is a signal. It is what we do with that signal that makes all the difference in our experience of our pain. And let’s be real- what we really want to do is END it, make it stop once and for all! But for those of us who have experienced pain, which I imagine is everyone, we have learned that there aren’t many quick fixes to make pain stop immediately and for good. So what can we do for ourselves? What are our options?
Pay Attention to Your Pain
First of all, we have to dial into the pain signal, really pay attention to it, and figure out what it needs in order to make it stop. Not all pain is the same, so it shouldn’t be treated in the same way. If you bang your knee on your dresser in the middle of the night, that feels a lot different than if your back aches from working long days lifting boxes, which also feels a lot different than the hurt we feel when someone betrays us. Each of these scenarios is an experience of pain, but they are vastly different, and should be treated differently. Makes sense, right?
Once we figure out the type of pain we are experiencing, we are better able to address it. This is one reason why using Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine can be so beneficial. The treatments for pain are not one size fits all. The treatments depend entirely on what kind of pain you’re experiencing.
Why Pain Happens
The key when working with pain is to remember this: you hurt because something is blocked. Blood, circulation, hormone production, feelings, thoughts- something isn’t moving freely. Where things once flowed freely, there is now a blockage. It could be physical, like an injury to your shoulder that causes pain. It could be emotional, like persistent anxiety after a stressful experience (PTSD is an example). The idea is that something happened, some kind of impact, and where that impact occurred is where things have stopped moving properly. In Chinese medicine, we refer to this as “stagnation.” And stagnation (of many varieties) is the most commonly diagnosed condition in Chinese medicine.
So how do you treat it?
Flowing Freely Again
We have to restore movement where movement is blocked in order for pain to fade. How do we get things moving? One of the powerful effects of acupuncture is its ability to help restore flow and balance in the body. For instance, your chronic neck ache can be alleviated with acupuncture because it helps to clear up the stiffness and congestion that are causing your neck to hurt. Your grief that sits in your chest and weighs you down can be alleviated with acupuncture because it helps to move what has become stuck.
Pain makes us feel stuck, like we can’t move freely, like we can’t live our lives in the ways that we want. It feels like our pain is holding us back. THAT is stagnation. We have all felt it in some way, probably many ways and many times. When it doesn’t go away on its own, when we can’t un-stick ourselves, that’s when the power of Chinese medicine can really come to our aid and help us flow freely again.
Feel free to email us with questions or comments. And stay tuned for part two!
-Cailin O’Hara, MAcOM, LAc, Dipl OM
Cailin O'Hara, MAcOM, LAc, Dipl OM, is a licensed acupuncturist and board certified Chinese herbalist based in Phoenix, Arizona.