Do you know the difference between pain and sensation? Do you really?


 

Key Points

  • Trauma can cause dissociation
  • dissociation is an escape from feeling emotions and physical sensation
  • Yoga can heal dissociation
  • The difference between pain and sensation is “well, pain hurts and sensation doesn’t” – Crystal Gray

Rose in deep meditation

 

I didn’t know the difference between pain and sensation. Yoga taught me both

 

 

I didn’t know the difference between pain and sensation.

 

In my yoga classes I tell my students ‘don’t push yourself to the limit, go to where you feel sensation not pain.’ I learned this phrasing from my Yoga Teacher Trainer. She said it so matter of fact. As though it was obvious. Such easy advice. So, when I asked ‘how do you tell the difference between sensation and pain though?’ her answer was simple

 

 

 

 

“well, the pain hurts and the sensation doesn’t.”

 

Oh, duh. Thanks, crystal!

 

I have been dissociated from my body for a long time, probably since before I was 13. In fact, in Second grade (7 years old) I told the school therapist I had a ‘day dream problem.’ I am certain this was the first time I told a social worker what was going on. I went for one reason, for a jolly rancher. Otherwise, it would have been a complete secret. He called my mom. She said to stop looking out the window in class. It was right in front of them but invisible. My invisible monster.

 

Dissociation as webster’s dictionary defines ‘the disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected.’ In psychology the term describes escaping your body and mind. Feelings dull both physically and mentally.

My vision would lose focus, like a daydream with no substance. I was a quiet, modest girl by nature. I liked to listen to other people have conversations and learn.  Because of my inherent temperament it was easy to rationalize what was going on in my head. But I was not really listening. I was escaping from the chaotic environment before me in a way no one could notice. Adults would say I was such a well-mannered girl.

 

Back then, in my young teens, I would self-harm to allow a sense of departure from my emotional wounds. I would not suggest this but at the time it made sense in my naïve youth. It gave me the desired affect I wanted. To feel something.  To direct my attention to something. To briefly escape from something. Though it worked, I did not know what these somethings were.

These somethings followed me from adolescence and into adulthood, morphing from one vice to another. Razor blades, hitting my head against walls, alcohol blackouts, binges, purges, staying up late, sleeping during the day, meeting strangers with complete disregard for my safety. These were all normal for me. To someone else, the only word I can describe these things is pain.

But it was normal.

I never stopped feeling the pain to the point where it became my status quo. In my mind sensation and pain were synonymous. It hurt to feel something. It hurt to feel anything. But everyone wants to feel something. 

So pain was what I would feel.

It was 3 years ago I realized the difference. The pain became so intense I felt like I was dying. It was frightening. It took me 4 months of constant feeling of heart attack when my aunt took me to the emergency room. Drinking her hot bone broth in the ER was when I decided to make a real change. I was told I was having panic attacks

 

I would decide to try to live and begin to feel everything. For the sake of my partner, for the sake of my aunt, and for the sake of the little girl who deserved to know peace and never had the chance. I count this as my rebirth. The woman from before that day is a woman who I love dearly, but I now see her as a completely different person. We are sisters. She is my past.

It was that year I started to do yoga on a regular basis.

You learn a lot of things when you start to do yoga. Things come up. They bubble up to the surface and there is a release of emotions with every one of my classes. Some classes I would cry, others I would  flash back to seemingly inconsequential moments in my life. They were consequential apparently.

 

Because I was had been so disconnected from my body, I started to actually see what I looked like and feel what I looked like. I think I hadn’t looked into a mirror in years so this was a huge change. I started to know what the texture of my skin, the feeling of thirst, how much space I took up (as apposed to how much I thought I took up), then more and more subtle sensations like the pulse of my heart in my thumb.

But what was sensation?

Doing yoga every day was the way I figured it out. It was when I tried hanamanasana, splits, for the first time. I was not even close to ready for this contortion. I went into the pose and my bum was two feet off the ground. Then I let go to go all the way into a pose I was definitely not ready for.

 

Sharp, sudden, hot, weak, swollen, pierced me in my right abductor. Ahh! I fell out of the pose immediately. I thought oh this is pain. I hadn’t hurt myself in such a while, and had started to feel myself on daily basis, I could finally tell the difference. Like Crystal had said, well, the pain hurts.

 

A numbness came over me in savasana . An old familiar feeling. It comes into my third eye and sweeps down into my neck where my throat feels swollen. The dissociation was back while I laid in savasana, corpse pose.

But I could feel the shift. I could name it. I knew how it came to be. And I knew it would be over at some point. By the end of my extended corpse pose I would try to walk.

It was hard. I limped for a few days and it took a whole month to heal from the sprain of my inner thigh. I was reminded of my fresh wounds of adolescence, taking weeks to heal as I would scratch at the scabs and make them bleed again. Not this time, I promised myself.

 

For the next couple of months, I allowed myself only beginner poses, with beginner modifications. Because of yoga, I was learning to take care of myself and heal from pain. Ever before I had never felt the need for healing.

I would be my own mother and nurse the little girl inside of me.

We are good friends now.

 

Have you ever been so into a movie you forget you’re in the theater and just soak up the experience? Well, when you go to a movie that’s what you intend to do. I think we should try to let those fluttering thoughts come and go without judgement, so that we can stay connected to the true present moment and into what our bodies feel in that moment.

 

So, I ask you this.

Do you know the difference between pain and sensation? Do you really?

When was the last time you felt pain and what did it feel like? How often do you feel pain? How long does it last? Where does it start and where does it end? What can you do in that moment to comfort yourself? Even if you don’t suffer from dissociative episodes, these might be fair questions for you.

 

 In our busy modern lives, it is easy to focus on your mind. All your racing thoughts. ‘the kids need to get picked up’ ‘I can’t be late for my appointment,’ ‘my sibling really did a jerky thing to me,’ ‘why is the guy in front of me taking so long at checkout?’ all of these kinds of thoughts take us away from the present moment and away from our bodies.

Let them come and go like clouds, and embrace every good feeling while you can taste it. Pain is inevitable, but when you can tell the difference, you can savor the good feelings I promise.

 

 

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Summary

  • Mindfulness can help diffuse triggers
  • A trigger is a topic that floods a patient with anxiety
  • Sometimes trigger warnings are helpful and other times they are not
  • Mindfulness, Journaling, Taking notes on habits, & Tracking mood can help you figure out what your triggers are

Trigger Warnings: a contemplation


By Rose Moore, 4/21/2021

Yesterday I made a mindful observation about my unconscious habits.

 

I noticed I’d weighed myself 3 days in a row. You may think this is a normal practice since it is important to be mindful of your body in a multitude of ways, but to me it is a red flag. One of the outcomes you may face with mindfulness practice is that you see patterns in your life. In yoga these patterns are called samskara which means the wheel of life. You can see this wheel across cultures and eras. When we have habits, they are hard to change and likely to come back up in your life at a time when this pattern is triggered.

 

Can we talk about the word trigger for a second? My goodness what a loaded term.1 A trigger is an incident that creates causation. It is the instigation to your result. It is the catalyst to an event. In the pop psychology sphere trigger is a term used by people with anxiety, PTSD & phobias to describe what causes their anxiety to flare up. Many psychologists have adopted the word and are used to describe the things which can happen in life to flood a person with emotion.

 

It isn’t a joke, and it isn’t something to berate. If someone gives you a ‘trigger warning,’ basically a forewarning of sensitive topics ahead. It is a helpful message to prepare yourself emotionally or to leave the conversation. In academia, group therapy settings, or within even a small social book club a trigger warning can help someone with PTSD decide if they want to take the class or read the book.

 

One of my triggers in medical horror. As a person with diagnosed PTSD, I have learned that this trigger is my responsibility and mine alone. No one is forced to give me fair warning of medical horror, and why would they? How would anyone know that this popular horror trope, would put me into a panic attack? There is no way since I don’t talk about it normally and it isn’t on the top ten trigger list of tumblr.

 

So, you know what I do? If I am going to watch a movie that isn’t a romance or comedy, I google the movie first to see if there will be anything of this nature in the film. This gives me back my power, helps me filter out media, and demands nothing from anyone besides myself. It has taken a long time to get here.

 

I am also triggered by a pungent fabric softener scent. Now how the heck is anyone going to give me a warning for that? It is a common household item, and I would be out of line to request all my friends, family, store clerks etcetera stop using fabric softener because I don’t like it.

 

I think the word I’m trying to find here is entitlement. If you feel entitled to a trigger warning before all events, you will find yourself suffering often and out of control in your life. It simply isn’t going to be something you can count on, and the media you consume is not at fault.

 

However, I do see where the mockery can come in from normies who are not invested in self-help. Partly they may do so because of pushback to language policing, or the performative nature of a trigger warning. Whatever their reason happens to be, it is (in my humble opinion) the rude attitude which ends up dividing us, not their complaints.

 

For instance, one thing I see a lot on Facebook is the use of user trigger warnings followed by a picture of the triggering subject completely unmasked. There is no way to hide an image or video on your feed, all your friends will see it. Putting a trigger warning above an image of someone in a choke hold will not warn anyone since we can see the traumatic image either way.

 

These are a performance, and often where the mockery stems from. In some circles, trigger warnings are made for food, regular food, because food can trigger people with eating disorders. In an ED support group this would be effective, but in a group about your favorite internet podcaster, or a forum about nature, probably not useful in any way as everyone eats food and it is a common conversation that even toddlers engage in. These trigger warnings in places outside of the context add to this mockery despite how well intentioned they appear.

 

I feel deeply for people with eating disorders. I had one in my twenties. Managing to overcome bulimia meant taking control. Ironic since bulimia stems from a desire for control. This is where we circle back to the mindfulness at the beginning of this essay.

 

I can catch myself now, before I start into my bad eating habits. This is where you can take control of your triggers too. Find out the step that comes just before the melt down. Then think of what step comes before that. Then what comes before that?

 

In the line of habits that form my bulimic tendencies, there is weighing myself every day, looking at body influencers on the internet, limiting my food pantry drastically, and forgetting to eat meals for more than a day. I didn’t know all of this until I started journaling, taking notes, and tracking my mood

 

Mindfulness

Journaling

Take notes on habits

Track mood

 

 

If you are suffering from your triggers, from an eating disorder, or any other kind of mental health crisis here are some organizations where you can find help near you

Eating Disorders: https://anad.org/get-help/about-our-support-groups/

Mental Health crisis Line: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

All kinds of mental health resources: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml

find help: https://www.nami.org/Home

 

 

1 pun intended. Puns are always intended.

 

 

 

 

Grounding with Tree Pose

  • Roots
  • Balance
  • Nutrients
  • Hydration
  • Change

Tree Pose, Balance, and what I mean when I say Grounding


An essay and contemplation by Rose Moore

4/7/2021

Grounding is a term to describe the praxis of coming to the present – Royoyoga

Anxiety is caused by thinking about the future. Depression comes from thinking about the past. Think to yourself, do you find yourself thinking about the past of future more? How do this correlate with your depression or anxiety symptoms? Grounding is a term to describe the praxis of coming to the present. A dulling of the future and past.

How can tree pose ground you then? First let us meditate on the idea of a tree.

When we think of the broader concept of grounding a tree you might think roots going down into the ground, a large trunk to keep the tree from falling over, healthy nutrients so that the limbs of the tree retain durability, water, to soak the cells so not to shrink, or even the cycle of life when in the fall leaves may fall literally onto the ground.  

So how can we relate to these conditions of a tree? Next time you come into this asana I want you to really think on the subject.

 

Roots? What are your roots?

For some people it is their home, for others it is their family, some even connect their roots to their ancestors. In a smaller sense your roots can also be what is the motivating factors for your current project. All of our ideas have a root in our prusha, our lens of the world. In this sense, tree pose can signify a cleaning of this lens, clearing out the distractions so that you can see the roots in your life—meaning what makes you tick, what makes you swoon, and everything in between.

Balance? Have you ever fallen over?

I recently cut my heel. I was running around my back yard barefoot, carefree, and sliced my calloused heel open on a small stump from a bush I had cut down last year. In a literal sense, I fell over.

 Since then, I have had a limp on my right foot slightly. Being injured from the base of my body has changed my yoga practice, and I am unbalanced. Funny thing, it is not the cut which caused the imbalance, no. It is the cut which brought my imbalances to life.

When you practice yoga these kinds of imbalances physically can help you with your emotions, mind, and soul as well. Do to the cut on my right foot I have been practicing tree pose on my left side, which is the side that represents the sun (the HA in Hatha yoga). Now, having contemplated these symbols for a while, I said, aHA! Something is imbalance in my daily life, rather than a deeper undercurrent in my life. This is because the THA in hatha represents night, and what comes out at night?

The moon, which takes a month for a cycle. Daily tree pose on the left side has helped me come back to my daily habits and I wouldn’t have made this choice to focus on my left if I had not gotten injured. Much like a tree with a limb cut off, branching out the opposite direction to keep up tall.

Food? How do you feel different when you get the nutrients you need?

We all must eat, even trees. In a way, trees compete with grass for the nutrients in the ground. Who do we compete with for food? Yes, there are outer competitions for beauty, health, prosperity etc, but Id challenge you to look internally. What have you eaten recently and how does your body feel in return? What issues do you have with food, emotionally?

A lot of us have emotional eating patterns and tree pose can be a time to contemplate where those thoughts are coming from. If you stop and appreciate a single slice of orange*—the texture, the flavor, the pulp in your mouth, the feelings can dissipate, grounding you by allowing you to appreciate the food coming into you.

Tree pose helps with digestion because of the balance you receive from sucking in your belly during the pose. When you do this, you will feel more grounded, meaning less likely to fall! Your center of gravity happens to also be where your body digests food,

*I choose orange because it is the first food I picked for mindful eating. It is not just enjoying food, there is a whole process. More on this practice coming soon.

Hydration? When you drink water, how does your body react, and how does this help with expansion?

Like I said earlier, water expands the cells in a tree. It also expands the cells in your body, plumping them up giving a reserve for which your cells can keep working. When you do not drink water, you may notice particular sensations. Your mouth may feel dry, you may get dizzy, your urine changes colors. All of this is effect from dehydration. It is easier to deal with difficult situations, over pour with gratitude, and live your best life when you are hydrated. Just like a tree!

Trees know when it is going to rain. They curl their leaves into a cup for water and get ready to be drenched. You too can prepare yourself for water with the tree pose asana. Taking a moment to check in with your body, decide what affects you are feeling from more or less water, and make a plan. Drink the water! Merely taking the moment to check in is grounding. You are feeling the root of your body’s sensations.

Change? Where do you find yourself when you feel your leaves falling, entering a new phase in your life?

This contemplation is fun! As humans we stay the same forever in our consciousness which never goes away, a deeper lesson on yoga that deserves its own blog post. You know what does not stay the same??? Literally everything else, from the world spinning to the emotions which may rock you like waves. The same goes for a tree, which is always the same tree despite its reactions to the time of the year. There are some trees which will die in cold climates, they tend to have juicy leaves, flower, or have fruits. They go barren in the winter and come alive in the spring.  These are called deciduous trees.

Once you go north you will see trees with needles, that do not appear to shed during the winter or change in the summer. These are called coniferous trees. Both types of trees are ever changing, however. The pine trees shed their needles often and drop cones filled with seeds, much like the fruit of a cherry tree.

Are you a fruit tree with dramatic, visible changes in your life right now? Or a pine tree, constantly shedding but also keeping up a constant image to the world? Change is hard, so let these contemplations guide you through tree pose when you feel something new coming along.

To conclude

Woah, trees are more like humans than we thought eh? The yogis have known for centuries. Not because of education for which a yogi has much, but because in yoga we can contemplate how we are human, but also no different than any other aspect of the world. Something you cannot learn in a book or from a guru. It must be experienced, thus suffering (that anxiety and depression we talked about earlier) be quelled from the mind. We have a lot in common with our tree friends when we can come into the present, leaving the past behind and the future as something for later.

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