Explore Your Pain
A few years ago, on a visit to my sister in Boston, in the middle of a walk around town, my left foot started to tingle. At first I felt confused (why was my foot falling asleep while I was using it?) and then alarmed. The more alarmed I got, the more the tingling increased, to the point of numbness. I sat down and rested, and after a minute or two, the tingling and numbness subsided. But in the following weeks, it started happening with some frequency. A few months later, after picking my daughter up at camp, my lower back started hurting. I figured I must have "thrown it out" while moving the heavy camp bags around in the trunk of the car, even though I didn't feel anything at the time. I did a lot of driving that week, and my back got worse and worse. By the end of the week it was hard to walk, bend, sit or turn over in bed. I had pain in my low back, and in several spots down one leg. I saw a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, both of whom helped quite a bit—in the short term. I stopped practicing yoga, as that seemed to trigger the pain. But it always returned, sometimes on the right side, sometimes on the left, sometimes with "sciatica" running down the left leg, sometimes down the right. At one point, I was limping around town, on the verge of tears, thinking that I was going to be a cripple for the rest of my life.
In desperation, once I got home, I pulled a book off the shelf that had been sitting there staring at me for 10 years, The Mindbody Prescription (Grand Central Publishing, 1998) by John E. Sarno, M.D. Dr. Sarno is a professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine who has devoted most of his professional life to researching and treating patients with chronic pain. He has discovered unconscious rage and other emotions at the root of his patients' symptoms. What I read in his book resonated strongly for me, and after the first day of reading, where I read about half of the book, I felt probably 70 percent better. 70 percent! From reading a book! I continued reading and applying his ideas, and when I finished the book, I turned it over and started it again. (It's hard to undo years and years of conditioning of how we think about pain.) My pain fluctuated a bit, but gradually, over a period of months, went away completely. This has been an incredibly empowering experience. I also love Dr. Sarno's The Divided Mind (Harper Perennial, 2007), and I keep his books in near-constant rotation, so that I am always marinating in this new way of thinking. I recommend them, whether you have pain or not, as there are many unexpected ways that the universal phenomenon of unconscious emotions can manifest in our bodies, aside from the very common back issues that I experienced. I believe that Dr. Sarno's theories and methods represent a true medical revolution.
Deborah Donenfeld is an HYL-certified health coach who encourages her clients to go deep, and specializes in helping people to understand the mind-body connection, uncovering the deeper factors contributing to health issues and stuck-ness. She lives in Manhattan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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