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Coping with Pain – the Yoga Way

By Arun Goel 

Physical Pain is perhaps the toughest thing to manage. When it strikes, it seems to tear us apart completely and nothing really helps us in overcoming it.

Pain may happen due to temporary or chronic conditions; it may be short term or unfortunately, it may be long term or even permanent. Most of our fears draw their strength from perceived pain, so it goes without saying that if we can manage pain, many of our fears would be overcome.

Conventionally, pain is managed through painkillers. While some of the Painkillers work by inhibiting the chemicals (prostaglandins) generated by the stimulus from reaching the brain, others work on a narcotic level by "dulling" the brain. Both of these methods, while necessary as a result of our conventional lifestyles, should be recognized for their limitations:

  • They interfere with the natural mechanism and this can have its own repercussions that are perhaps not fully known.

  • Their effects are temporary and known to produce chemical side-effects.

  • Eventually the mind works its way around these painkillers reducing their effectiveness.

Is there any hope? Well, yes actually. Pain, as has been proved time and again, is really a condition of the mind. Of course, it is our natural response to unfavorable stimulus. But at the end of it, it is the mind which is translating the effect of stimulus into pain.

Managing pain is a tremendous challenge for mankind, primarily because man has a 'clever' mind and we haven't really figured out how to guide the mind - it is quite the other way round really. Often, when we have a nagging pain, we can't really seem to get over it as our mind is preoccupied with a constant focus on it - the region of the pain and the pain itself. Nothing seems to help. The more we try to tell the mind NOT to think of it, the more it dwells upon it. In such a situation, if we are fortunate to experience a diversion - something that "captures" our mind or is of truly a greater interest to our mind, we find that the pain is forgotten by the mind. This may be just a fleeting or a temporary phenomenon, but it DOES happen and therein lies the clue for pain management.

What transpires is that if the mind can be effectively diverted or disassociated from the region of pain, we can save ourselves from much of the suffering. But how do we do that? The mind is such a 'guileful' creation of nature, that the more we tell it NOT to do, it does exactly the same thing with an even greater intensity. So, never ask your mind NOT to think of pain - the result will be quite disastrous!

The best way out is to indulge the mind into pursuits that it is truly passionate about - sport, movies, a game of Bridge…. whatever - something that your mind TRULY enjoys (don't try to fib the mind… it won't work). Quite simple isn't it, till you realize that -

  • This depends upon external factors beyond yourself (you do need a Bridge partner after all),

  • It is temporary, which may provide relief but certainly not a cure.

But most importantly, these 'sense gratification' measures have their own after-effects or lingering side-effects which can be quite a handful for the poor mind in addition to the pain that it has to cope with.

So, what's the way out? The only PERMANENT way is to tackle what is essentially a mind problem using the mind itself.
No external dependencies - we must use the SAME resources that the mind employs into rendering pain as something irrelevant.

That is where Yoga comes in. Yoga, through its various mind rotation and withdrawal techniques of Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) and associated relaxation techniques, provides a way to train the mind into effectively dissociating from the senses. These techniques help us use the power of the mind into methods that first help us disassociate from the senses and eventually help us unshackle ourselves from the bondage of the mind itself.

That is the purpose of yoga - beyond the physical toning postures to which many have sadly restricted their understanding and practices.

It is of limited use to begin practicing these techniques when pain strikes. Why? Because when pain occurs, the senses have a vice like grip upon the mind - their hold is the strongest and it is often futile to train the mind under such circumstances. That is why the practice of yoga is called "Sadhana". It must be actively pursued when the body-mind complex is trouble free and persevered with at all times. What happens is that eventually we perfect the techniques and are able to use the resources to manage the mind-body complex when we need it most.

So, move your yoga practice to the next level - use it for a higher meaning beyond physical fitness because as Buddha indicated through one of his Noble truths - "Pain and suffering is inevitable to mankind".

 

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